Running the serpent’s spine across Flores.

Another monster here…..it’s much easier when we do nothing, less to talk about!

First day tour we left Labuan Bajo at 8 am, wound our way around the back of the town to access the Trans Flores Highway, the main (well only) road that runs across the island of Flores. We had heard that it is quite windy due to the amazing mountains but also that it was in terrible condition. It actually was in pretty good nick..for the most part anyway, some small sections were pure mud, but they were doing a lot of roadworks to improve it and putting in defenses against mudslides.

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View back to Labuan Bajo

The drive to Ruteng, the second city of Flores, was really spectacular, with loads of rice fields, lush valleys, forested mountains and tiny villages filled with friendly people with warm smiles. We lost count of the number of “hey mister” and “hey miss” that was shouted at the car with waves and smiles, we reciprocated as many as we could! The kids got so excited to see tourists it was very cute. The road itself is lined with all sorts of trees- golden teak, mahogany, macadamia, banana (so many types- they are exported to Java and Bali), coconut, betel nut, many types of palm, papaya, avocado and a tree called kapok, which has seed pods containing a cotton like substance used by the local people for pillows and mattresses.

As we approached the first main attraction for the first day- the spiderweb rice fields, the rain started. It is best viewed from above, as on the ground it is not obvious at all, so you rock up to someone’s house (which is not signposted at all so you’d have to ask around to find it) say hello and then head up the hill beside his house, past his pig sty and chickens and a few moments later emerge on the top of the hill where you can clearly see the pattern-it was pretty cool. On the way out you pay a small donation (10,000 RP/ $0.74/£0.51). The spider web shape is as a result of the local tribe. The village elder would distribute the land based on status and family size by use of a pole- an explanation of this custom can be found here. They also incorporate the pattern into their houses. Unfortunately there are very few examples of the traditional house left as many now build with concrete bricks.

The next stop, after a quick lunch in a local buffet place, was our hotel (FX72), of which we had no choice. It was not included in the price we paid for the tour so I naively thought we might have some say in where we stayed but obviously the driver gets some kickbacks from the hotels they get tourists to stay at. So we were presented with a room, looked good, but hot shower (the place is 1000 m up so actually quite cold), once he said that I knew we couldn’t afford it. Our max for rooms was 200,000 RP ($14/£10), this one was 300,000 RP ($22/£15). Luckily they had one there for 200,000 RP with a cold shower. We had a discussion with Ricardo as to what our level was and he was trying to steer us to hotels (of course) for 300,000 RP but we said our max was 200,000 RP, preferably less and we were fine with guesthouses and homestays (which we are- it just needs to be clean and bedbug free) and with the diving and the tour our budget needed some nursing. I think he thought we were nuts in fairness but he got us some cheaper rooms after this which was great. Oh also we were deep into catholic territory, it’s the first time on the trip we have had any religious iconography in a room this one had a crucifix.

So we dumped our bags and we headed off towards the “Hobbit Cave” at Liang Bua where a new species of man, homo floresiensis (there is some debate as to whether it is in fact a new species though). Ricardo had said this was an hour drive away as the road wasn’t very good. Five minutes in however he said “oh this road is actually quite good now compared to a month ago when I was last here”, and it was…….for like 2 km, then it got narrow- and steep and horrendously potholed so it was a very bumpy ride. An hour later we spotted the visitors centre (a small one roomed building behind some gates at the side of the road), just past it was the cave. We pulled up, grabbed our umbrellas and made our way into the cave….only we couldn’t get in, it was locked and mucky. So we had a quick look, saw the hole that they found the bones of homo floresiensis together with a rat, a massive stork, an elephant and a komodo dragon. So after a quick look we went down to the visitors centre, it wasn’t opened but some guys were hanging around so they said they would call him. In rainy season they don’t get many visitors so we had to wait.

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The sign…
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Standing in the rain, not quite sure what to do…
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The cave…
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Kids sheltering from the rain- banana leaves, nature’s umbrella
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The visitors centre

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We waited there for about 40 mins, kids drifted in, stared at us and drifted out again we watched people gather food for their pigs and work in the rice fields and eventually the guy with the key appeared. We had a quick mooch round, paid him a donation and it was back to the hotel for dinner (we were in the middle of nowhere so were effectively forced to eat here).

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There it is now…
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….tiny head in comparison to ours.
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Dinner of champions!-Gav went for fried rice (the worst he has ever had) and I went for Pisang Goreng (fried bananas with chocolate sauce). As it was coming close to Christmas, we sat having dinner watching the fireworks light up the sky in town, across the peaceful rice fields.
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The view from our hotel to Ruteng
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As the traditional houses around Ruteng are all being replaces they put this in the centre-as an example.
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complete with totem
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As Gav was taking the photos above these girls arrived shouting “photo, photo!!” at him, so he obliged.
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Ruteng has two cathedrals, this one which was closed…..
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And this one, which was also closed but had some grounds

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Then this kid appeared…..
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Then all his friends…
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they  They were mad for photos!

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After the stuff we saw in Laos’s markets nothing much left to shock us. This is about the only island in Indonesia  you can get pork though

Or next stop was the town of Bajawa, ringed by volcanos and thermal springs! En route we had a few stops…(quite a few photos..)

(we also stopped at a lake lookout (Ranamese spring Lake). It wasn’t much just your average lake but to see it from the viewpoint off the side of the road we had to get out of the car, pass a guy selling soup and two of customers who stared at us with confusion as we went behind a wall to see it. The wall was also used as a toilet and was full of wasps. I presume they thought we were going to pee together and take a photo while we were at it (men and women can’t even get changed in the same place here, it is unseemly).

The next two nights we stayed in a Homestay in Bajawa,  a simple room with relief pictures of Jesus and Mary with a shared mendi and one toilet. It was very cold there (17°C or so) and the cold wash was quite uncomfortable the following morning.

When we woke up it was lashing rain and howling a gale- probably the tail of the typhoon that had recently hit the Philippines (late December 2015). It was horrible, cold and wet. We were not missing the weather in the British Isles at all! After a lovely breakfast of noodles, veg and egg with fruit salad we were off to the local traditional villages. You are supposed to pay an extra 250,000 RP for a guide for three villages plus a hike to the fourth, it was raining and three villages were enough for us.

First one, Luba,  had 4 clans and it pissed it down while we were there so we spent 20 minutes there sheltered in the awning off the village shop.This gave Ricardo ample time to tell us about all this bits and pieces in the villages.

So to get married here (after the approval of both families), the man must bring the agreed dowry which can be up to 10 animals: some chickens, duck, dog, cow, pig, horse and buffalo or money. She gives his family woven cloth. They have a big party, slaughter some animals and then they are married and he moves to her village.

Second in Bena had 9 clans, gorgeous views- volcano behind, sea in front and the place is shaped like a boat from above. Big thing here is the ikat that the local women make, lots of colours and patterns. I ended up getting a yellow one, they also sold macadamia nuts. It is the most touristy village as it is also the largest they really push the Ikat here but it is quite beautiful.

Third village was Gurusina and the most friendly, Gav had a little game of football with some kids and we actually found some friendly dogs here. The place was surrounded by cacao plants and coffee plants.

(Aside: they eat dog meat here……. We knew this but Ricardo made a point of telling us early on, basically to see if we wanted to try it. My answer was a flat no. Gav said he would try it provided he didn’t know he was eating it. You could go to specific buffet places which served dog meat, we didn’t go to those though)

After this we went to a natural hot spring. This place was very special, one ordinary cold river and one hot one which was really quite hot. They meet and mix together to form a variable temperature spring. In local areas ladies it is recommended not to go in in a bikini so shorts and a t-shirt or a sarong are advisable. When we went in a group of local children were washing though they soon left and we had it to ourselves. Gav found a nice hot (way to hot for me) spot to sit where as I preferred to float about the place, even with the cold river it was never very cold- just lukewarm but mostly it was nice and warm. It was really nice to be warm! We had lunch there made by one of the villagers, her dogs were quite funny, mostly because we had food and they wanted it- so we gave them our leftovers with permission of the owner. Then we had one last dip, a lady was doing her laundry and having a bath when we went in and she was just finishing up, when a group of lads arrived and once they got in they wanted a photo! We were getting a bit hot at that stage so they got their photo! So funny!

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Testing the waters

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Photo, Photo!!

After this we were surprisingly tired and after a bit of a rest (I had a nap) we went out, in the cold, for dinner to a place called Rm. Anugerah, Gav had the Nasi Campur (with beef), I went for the Nasi Goreng Ayam Lalapan- I’ve had this a few times but this is the first one worth a photo.

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Complete with cassava leaves and coconut “jam”
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Gav also spotted some buns, they tasted weird, like soap with a texture between cake and marshmallows.

 The next morning we left for Moni, coffee at Ricardo’s mother-in-law’s house at the base of the … volcano which was sadly shrouded in cloud. His wife had travelled there for Christmas and he had popped to see her and his kids on our first night in Bajawa.  Followed by a trip to the blue stone beach and then lunch in Ende. Then we were on the road to Moni, it is a notorious road which in rainy season is prone to landslides, as a result there are intensive roadworks ongoing to improve and widen the road. As a result a section is closed daily from 8 am-5 pm and only open when the guys are on break (10-10.30 am, 12-12.30 pm and 3-3.30 pm), there was dynamite rigged up to go and everything as we drove past.

As always the drive was nice and around 4 pm we arrived in our stop for the night, the village of Moni which is insanely touristy, and accommodation is a rip off but Ricardo came through and got us a decent place at …. With a hot shower.

That evening we popped down to the local waterfall and hot springs, a lovely spot used by the local people for bathing, Gav almost walked in on a girl having a bath in a manmade outdoor pool! On our way back up with met a lady who quizzed us on everything- where we were from, where we were staying, what price we paid….keeping an eye on the competition rates I guess.

Then we headed off to enjoy the local delicacy of Moni Cakes for dinner.

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The waterfall…
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the hot spring next to the waterfall
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Moni cakes, basically just potato cakes… not as special as I was expecting.

The following morning we had the main attraction for the trip, Kelimutu and its three coloured lakes which we would see at sunrise. 4 am is far too early to wake up….

I really don’t know why they recommend this. A sunrise is nice don’t get me wrong, but I love my sleep and in fairness you can’t really see colours in the dark and that is the star of the show really.

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So with the sun up it was time to head down, we were at one of the view points over the two lakes, Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri and Tiwu Ata Polo, on the way back (it wasn’t a great viewpoint). On either side there was a trail, one that looked a bit narrow to the left, with sharp drops into both lakes and the other, to the right, up over a cliff overlooking the two lakes and a big sign saying do not go off the track. Of course people were going off the track left right and centre and a group of people with guides headed off the track to the right, so we figured (Gav will argue I figured) why not. So off up we went and it turned out you couldn’t see much more from there so there was no real point in the end.

On the way down, Gav slipped and, in an effort to protect the camera, ended up landing on his hand and his poor finger bent in a way that nature had not intended. Oww! Needless to say if we weren’t already on our way down, we were then. It started to swell. Ricardo recommended that we go see someone in Lombok as the facilities would be better than in Flores, and with our tour almost over we headed back to the hotel for breakfast (with a little walk on the way) and for Gav to get some painkillers, before driving back to Ende.

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The wait at the roadworks side this time was ages, in the blistering heat with no shelter and the car like an oven so along with everyone else we got out and milled about. There were a few enterprising individuals who had set up drink stalls and one guy who was doing a roaring trade in steamed corn on the cob. He was selling bags of them!

An hour or so later, after a quick lunch, Ricardo delivered us to Ende Airport for our flight to our last South East Asia stop of Lombok.

(In case anyone was wondering in December 2015 the petrol here was 6.9 Rp/L (£0.32/$0.49))

{Ricardo was an excellent tour guide so if anyone goes to Flores look him up, he can be contacted on +62 813 391 65 300]

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