By Nicola Hall (Semester 17/Aug 2003)
University of New South Wales

During our holidays from our Indonesian university studies, some of my friends and I flew from Surabaya to Ende in central Flores – and by fly I mean up, down, up, down, up and down in the plane 3 times, with max 30 mins actually in the air. So it was a long trip for what should really have only been bout 2 or 3 hours if we went directly. We also had the joy of flying in this tiny as plane – it was hideous.

We stayed in Ende for the first two nights – cute little town – although the serenity is seriously destroyed by al the little mini buses that speed around with their rap/hip hop music blaring out so loud that the earth almost shakes.

From Ende we woke up at 2am one morning and drove to Kelimutu to see the coloured lakes. They were beautiful. When we were walking up to the view point it was pouring down, and there was some serious fog. But luckily by the time we made it to the top the fog had cleared so we could see the view, and it was amazing. There are three lakes – one turquoise, one brown and one black. According to the locals the lakes are the resting place for the souls of the dead – the turquoise for the young, the old in the black and the evil in the brown.

After the coloured lakes we took the bemo down thru the rice paddies and stopped at the hot springs, which were awesome. Just imagine rice paddies as far as the eye can see, all terraced with the little farming huts randomly sprouting up everywhere, then right in the middle is a small rock pool, crystal clear water,…and it’s hot. It was the first hot shower or bath we’d had in ages, so we took full advantage and stayed there for a long time. Beautiful. I think the locals who were there too got a bit of a shock seeing all the tourists there.

Our driver for the day then took us back to his house to meet his family. So, as we were having our tea slowly but surely the rest of the villagers gathered around the doors and the windows all hoping to get a view of the white people. They had their heads sticking in wherever they could – it was a classic. All the kids were so cute.

From Ende we began our trek to the west on the bus. NOT FUN. There is only one road that goes through Flores, so everyone has to go on the same buses, and the roads are hideous. There are bends and bumps and psycho drivers the whole way, and the unforgettable music selection of the drivers. Always blaring out so loud you can’t even here yourself think. This bus trip had CD highlights such as the power of love, Rod Stewart, and some 50s and 60s classics which the locals gladly bopped along to. There’s nothing like it.

After 8 or 9 hours of pure fun on the bus we arrived in Ruteng. This place is in the hills, so was a bit of a climatic shock for us. It was freezing – the first time I’ve slept with a blanket in months. We walked around the market that night, or I should say led the crowd of hundreds of locals who decided that they would join in our market browsing. They randomly plucked up the courage to ask us where we came from. Most of the time they got mixed up between “how are you”, and “where are you going” – which becomes, hello miss (although usually mister)…”where are you?” Every time we stopped to ask about something the circle would become smaller, with all the locals watching intently. The market itself was very colourful though- so many spices it’s not funny, fruits, vegies, clothes, meat, pig heads, cows, you name it, they had it.

The next morning we woke up and took a 6 hour truck ride- yes that’s right, truck – to a small village called Denge. In true Indonesian style we left the terminal about 2 hours after we were supposed to, and they crammed thousands of us into the back of this truck. The highlight musically was Britney’s “Oops I did it again”, which played on repeat for the majority of the trip. It was pretty funny, all these Indonesians stuffed into this truck going through all these tiny villages with Britney’s music blaring out – like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And of course there are not just people crammed in – we had chickens at our feet, goats on the roof, along with the 10 or so people holding on to the side for dear life.

As we approached the village we were staying in, the crowd following the truck became bigger and bigger – so much so that by the time we arrived we had hundreds of kids surrounding us. They were so cute, and they look so much like Australian aborigines, because Flores is in eastern Indonesia, near Timor, and close to Australia. Their skin is darker and their hair is fuzzier. We had our cameras out to take photos of them and every time the flash went off they would all scream – it was so funny – the best experience.

The next morning we trekked 3 hours to this little village in the middle of nowhere called Wae Rebo, and it was gorgeous. All the houses are traditional, with really high roofs and they are on 5 levels – the top four are mainly used for storage and all the living areas are on the bottom. We stayed in a house with 8 other families, they were all so nice and their kiddies were very cute. We did had a few language difficulties because the kids and most of the adults only spoke their regional language. It was pretty funny, the kids and some of the really older people would babble away to us, but we couldn’t understand anything so we just had to nod and smile and laugh when they laughed. One of the little girls was also teaching us some words which was really cool. We’d point to a pig or a dog and she’d say the word – pretty amazing. There’s no electricity in the houses, so they have a fire going the whole time and everyone just sleeps on mats on the floor. Very basic, but they’re all so happy. It’s really inspiring.

Here we were introduced to the habit of theirs called “sapeh”, where they chew this fruit and this stick thing, and combine it with a paste. It’s really red. I’m sure some of you have seen photos or even Indonesians themselves with this red stuff hanging out of their mouths. They do this all day everyday at the village, the old ones anyway. The men also sometimes mix it with tobacco. When they get too much overflow they just spit it out on the floor through the cracks of wood in the floor. This business of spitting through the floor also applies with rubbish and whenever the kiddies need to go to the toilet – all very hygienic.

We had a staple diet of sweet potato for the time we were there – cardboard, cardboard and more cardboard – it became very hard to handle. One night we were all just sitting round the fire when in comes one of the mums holding a chicken, sits down at the edge of the fire, slits the chickens throat, drains the blood and grills the whole thing right there in front of us, feathers and all. A bit hideous yes, but good to have some variety in our diet. We also drank many glasses of the coffee they produce close to the village. We even got to go out with the mums and pick the coffee beans with them one afternoon. They were pretty stoked cause we could reach all the ripe ones that were higher up, but they pretty much just laughed at us the whole time though.

After leaving the village we travelled to Labuan Bajo with Shaggy and F grade American rap. We made it there surprisingly quickly considering one of the tyres blew and had to be changed along the way. We went to see the Komodo dragons from here. They are massive beasts. When we arrived on the boat there was one sitting on the jetty, and all the Indonesians on the boat were s***** themselves. I only found out later that these Komodos are very dangerous. So it took us a while to get off the boat, but while on the island we saw lots of them. Huge things, and pretty scary actually, but we all returned alive, unlike the Swiss tourist who visited a few years ago. His glasses and camera were found, but nothing else.

We did 4 dives around the Komodo Islands, and it was spectacular. So much better than what we’d seen before. Pretty much everywhere you looked there were masses of fish and bright, pristine coral. Fabulous. On one of the dives we were only down there for like 2 minutes and we saw two massive sharks – it was awesome. We also swam with the turtles again and got to get swept away by this current. It was pretty strong, and we got thrown around a bit. Like being in the tube at the aquarium, but going high speed.

Overall, Flores was beautiful. Still very natural and not overrun by tourists – a holiday must in Indonesia.