In the surroundings of Mbay, the capital city of the Nagekeo district, you can find some hidden treasures off the beaten tourist track. The Japanese Caves are an interesting testimony of recent Indonesian and local history that you should not miss while visiting Nagekeo.
During World War II, the Japanese army built 33 artificial caves in the highlands of Lape Village near Mbay in 1942–1945. Constructed by a local resident named Romusha, they served as bunkers for protection and logistic storage during the war. Many of these caves are pitch dark and inhabited by bats. Even though the caves lie on dry land, the Japanese managed to build a small cave where clear, fresh water flows continuously all year around.
Long after the war, local villagers used them as shelters from the sun while grazing their cattle. So do not be surprised if you see kids playing hide and seek in the caves that are so familiar to them.
As the caves are secluded behind pretty green hills blanketed with hedge shrubs, wild trees like kesambi (Schleichera oleosa) and bidara Cina (Ziziphus mauritiana), a cross-country trek to the caves reveals admirable natural sceneries from the hill of Lape: over Port Marapokot surrounded by green rice fields in the north; the little town of Mbay that curves on the low plains covered with impressive green trees and savannahs in the east; and Mount Ebulobo (an active volcano) that stands like a highland guardian in the south.
You also have excellent opportunities to spot some wildlife there. The hill of Lape is a safe home for eagles, quails, and other bird species; therefore a recommended spot for bird watching enthusiasts. The trek takes a bit of an effort, and it is definitely recommended to seek the support of a well-versed local guide.
For more information, call or text Willy Brodus Lasa (Disbudpar Nagekeo) on his mobile phone (+62 85237917753).
If you want turn your Japanese Caves excursion into a Nagekeo overnight experience, you can choose one of the few basic accommodation option in Mbay. A limited range of restaurants and warung provide Indonesian dishes.
How to get there
From Bajawa, take a turn left to join the road to Riung, and keep driving for about 2 hours (80km). When you arrive at an intersection, turn right and continue on the Translok road to reach Mbay, which should take you an additional one hour (17 km).
If you are coming from Ende and wish to visit Mbay, take the road to Boawae for about 3 hours (114 km) until you arrive in Mbay. From Maumere, you can drive along the north coast for about 6 hours (262km) until you reach Mbay. There are many public transportation from Maumere to Mbay (usually via the north coast), between Mbay and Riung, and between Mbay and Bajawa.