Flores and Kelimutu
Indonesia is a huge country with 17,000 islands (maybe more – no-one is really sure). It’s strung out along the tropics north of Australia – it’s about 5,000kms across from it’s eastern border with Papua New Guinea to the westernmost tip jutting out into the Indian Ocean. Looking at a map, it appears that a handful of pebbles were thrown into the water, each with its own little story. Today, these islands bring their own stories and cultures to the one nation; Indonesia. The name was thought up by the Dutch about 200 years ago, who saw these islands being an extension of India. “Indo”means Indian and “nesia” is Latin for “islands” and so a nation was named. However the Dutch and the Portuguese (both colonial powers) had a hard job of creating one complete nation out of the 17,000 islands, because most had their own language and culture. Indonesia today is united in flag, but it would wrong to suggest that everyone sees eye to eye; every now and then an ethnic group still campaign for independence as was seen most dramatically in East Timor over ten years ago. I travelled to Flores in Indonesia in 2009.
The flight to Flores was via Bali airport, where we waited for what seemed an eternity. The flight was with Merpati Airlines, which are one of the better recognised of the Indonesian airlines, although that’s still not saying much. It was only when we were on the flight that we realised that it flew to Flores via the Sumbanese town of Waingapu (yeah, that’s really a place). We held our breath as our Fokker jet hurtled on to the tiny runway at Waingapu, and when we disembarked the locals there were just as surprised to see us as we were to be alive! Sumba is one of those out-there islands where blood-bath tribal ceremonies apparently still take place; we didn’t see much of that happening at the airport, although the baggage reclaim hall was quite savage. We had been told that the people of Sumba feel somewhat uncomfortable around foreigners, as they have been so isolated for so long, although we weren’t sure how much to believe that. Thirty minutes at Waingapu Airport saw us back on the plane for the short hop across to Maumere. Maumere is a coastal town on the Catholic island of Flores. We stayed at the Sea World Club, run
by Catholic missionaries which might explain why my travel companion felt uneasy and my skin burnt there. However I also have this theory about my skin burning because of the deckchairs laid out on the beach… Anyway the beach was lovely, well worth the hair-raising flight there. After spending a lazy afternoon at the beach we headed back to the resort for Indonesian Seafood Fried Rice (Nasi Goreng) with kecap manis (a type of syrupy, sweet soy sauce) for dinner. Perfect.
The next morning (Sunday morning) we jumped in a taxi and headed inland on one of the most winding roads I’ve ever seen. We had breakfast, including an egg which repeated on me more than once, and made our way up the mountains. The road curved around the hillsides of rugged Flores Island, pushing through the rainforest, the temperature gradually dropping. We happened upon villages where the entire population was out in their Sunday best for church, and the cute (although stray) dogs were running around the locals’ bamboo huts. We eventually arrived in Moni, deciding to stay there for the night as my run-in with the egg had taken the wind from our sails. Moni is a hillside town surrounded by rice paddies and shrouded in mist. Late in the afternoon we walked into the town centre and met a slimy restaurant owner (we bought nothing) and some beautiful, excited children manning a store (we didn’t want to leave). That night we slept in what we dubbed the Bates Motel Moni; the walls so thin we were almost sleeping with the frogs in the adjacent rice paddy.
On Monday morning we awoke early to climb a volcano just forty minutes drive from Moni. As we drove up the mountain frogs hopped across the road in front of us, spooked by the headlights of our vehicle. From the carpark, it was just a twenty minute climb to the edge of the now dormant volcano of Kelimutu. The craters which once used to spew lava are now filled with water and mineral deposits, which have created three unusually coloured lakes. After a chilly hour or so at the top of the frosty mount the fog lifted momentarily and we caught a glimpse of the bright turquoise lake.
Scurrying around the mountain, we arrived at another vantage point to see the green lake before the cloud set in again. The only lake we didn’t manage to see was the black coloured one. Breakfast was back in Moni before a quick drive back down the ranges to Maumere, in the course of which we encountered glistening, raindrop-covered rice paddies, cows and buffaloes on the road and a too-risky fish soup.
Back in Maumere on Monday night we walked around town for a bit before another dinner at the resort, imposed by what could only be described as Nintendoesque Indo-reggae. Maumere, and all of Flores is on the same timezone as Bali (two hours behind Sydney), however the lovely Mary of Sea World Club reception fame informed us that in fact Flores is 30 minutes ahead of Bali. This coming from a local, we took it as the truth. Mary (Mother Mary, Mother Hen if you will) then also needed some help processing an credit card payment. We should have known then. Merpati’s flight on Tuesday morning left at 7:10am; meaning we would have to be at the airport at 6am. At 5:45am we were still waiting around a vacant reception, waiting for our lift to the airport which still hadn’t turned up. Frantic running up a dirt driveway and flagging down a passing bemo (minibus) for a vastly inflated price eventually got us to the airport by whatever means necessary. It was only upon arrival at the airport that we realised we were actually waiting at reception at 5:45 on Mary’s timezone, but 5:15am for the rest of the world. Not that it would have mattered; things in these islands run at a different pace to both the rest of the world and Mary. Merpati’s Fokker turned up one hour late, possibly because it was carrying a medical patient in the back row. The flight from Maumere to Bali also runs back through Waingapu, and upon landing at Waingapu one patient became two when the Sumbanese passenger in front of us vomited down the side of her seat and straight on to my travelling companion’s shoes. The efficient Merpati flight attendants cleaned it up and the poor air-sick girl was replaced with a new passenger for the Waingapu – Bali leg. We arrived in Bali at about 10:30am on Tuesday and spent a few hours waiting around Bali’s fairly uninspiring airport with nothing but the over-enthusiastic English-speaking PA announcer to amuse us. At 3pm we boarded our flight for Surabaya on the island of Java, our next destination.
When to go
June to August is a good time to visit – it’s about as cool and dry as it gets.
Culture shock: 6/10
Language difficulty: 8/10 – not a lot of English is spoken out here.
Quality of food: 8/10 – where it was bad, it was bad, but when it was good, it was incredible – the nasi goring at the Moni hotel was seriously memorable.
Cost: 4/10 (although flights to Flores aren’t cheap)
Physical demand: 6/10
Advice and warnings
Feral dogs, reckless drivers, rickety infrastructure – the dangers in Flores are more of the environmental kind. The usual precautions apply – no walking alone at night if you can help it, keep a close eye on your valuables, etc. Check Smart Traveller or the British Foreign Office for more comprehensive warnings.
Most Australian and Indian passport holders are eligible for 30-day or 14-day (respectively) visa on arrival for US$25 at Bali and other airports. Pakistanis must apply to the Indonesian Embassy in Islamabad; visas cost US$45 and take at least three working days to process. See the website for the list of documents required.
Getting there and around
The first step in a trip to Flores is getting to Bali, the nearest international airport.
Jetstar flies to Bali from Melbourne (from $422 return) and Sydney (from $443 return).
From Chennai, fly Malaysia Airlines to Bali (from INR 36,525 return).
From Bali, Merpati Nusantara Airlines has stopped flights to Flores. Instead, take Lion Air from Indonesian Rupiah 2,555,400 return. (A$235, INR 12,848, PKR 21416).
Ask for a pick up from the airport to your hotel – the taxis on the island aren’t regular nor reliable, and you probably won’t want to haggle for a spot in a bemo after the flight. The hotel can also organise your trip to Kelimutu.
I stayed at the functional, enjoyable yet undeniably odd Sea World Club.