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My extraordinary Flores experience

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In June 2019 I spent a few days travelling the length of the beautiful island of Flores.  My flight from Denpasar flew over Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo island, Labuan Bajo and along Flores to land at Maumere airport.  The runway at Maumere went uphill from the coast and when the plane turned, we had a view back down it to the sea.  The town had high hills inland from it making for a very scenic setting.   Donatiao met me, holding his sign back to front but I could make out the mirror image of my name to which he and I had a good laugh, and we set off through Maumere township towards Kelimutu.  The road twisted and turned almost the whole way but the scenery was amazing with high peaks and jungle-covered ridges.  After the three hour drive, I checked into theKelimutu  Eco lodge at Moni village with its pleasant chalets.  That evening I sat outside for dinner chatting to a couple from Russia and Holland who were travelling along the island too.  The bedroom had good mozzie netting around the bed except for a couple of small holes which I patched with duct tape and then realising that I had to stay upright for two hours after the malaria pills, I sat up in bed typing up my diary.

Next morning, I was up at 06:30 and after breakfast checked out and with my driver and car drove up to Kelimutu lakes. I had to walk the last kilometre to the lookout point from where you could see down into the green lake and across the ridge to the blue lake.  On the opposite side of the lookout you could see down into a third crater lake, all three craters spectacular.  There were around thirty Indonesian tourists at the summit, and everyone wanted to say hello and have their photograph taken with me.  Eventually walked back to the car park and we drove on a very twisting road to Ende and on through its stretched-out township and along its beachfront taking photos as we went.  We stopped for lunch of fresh fried fish at a beach restaurant then continued on less windy roads towards Bajawa passing the high, active, perfect cone of Ebulobo Volcano along the way.  From Bajawa I made a side trip to Beni traditional village.  It had thatched roof huts and megalithic memorials to the villages’ ancestors and was set below Enierie Volcano.  At Bajawa I checked into the Bajawa-roo Hotel with its family who had lived in Adelaide for some years before returning to Bajawa to open this hotel.  I sat on the balcony looking out to the Ebulobo smoking Volcano which we had passed on the road from Moni that afternoon and had dinner at the hotel restaurant.

I was up at 06:30 and after breakfast with a new car and Eman as a driver organised by my hotel, we started on the long drive to Labuan Bajo. We first headed back towards Ende and the petrol station 10 minutes up the road where, by rocking the car, we were able to fill it up to the gunnels with premium petrol costing 68 cents a litre.  Each village and the basin that Bajawa sat in was overlaid by a cloud of blue smoke from fires as everyone here thought it cold. A few of the people in Flores look somewhat similar to Solomon Islanders or PNG folk and their music is a cross between western Indonesian and Pacific Islanders’ music and at times Mexican fiesta music. Yesterday there were lots of gatherings in villages with seating and fiesta music blaring away.

The road west passed around the high EnierieVolcano, a perfect peak with a high ridge of jagged peaks in front of it.  The trees at the higher altitude looked somewhat like New Zealand ones, especially the ferns, and amazingly the mature bamboo was 30 metres tall.  We stopped back in Bajawa to collect some coffee for Eman s family in Labuan Bajo and set off as Eman took a selfie of us both as he drove along, notwithstanding the twisty nature of the route.  We stopped at Aimere beach with views back to a volcano, saw small dogs along the way, similar to Aussie dingoes, and stopped for Eman to buy some locally brewed traditional alcohol for his family back home.

At Borong beach, comprised of large stones, a couple of small boats made their way along the coast. The towns we passed through were typically somewhat scruffy Third World ones, in the transition from traditional buildings to some new ones, and the main routes between them, unfortunately, had litter all the way along their berms.  We stopped for a photo above a small home and a puppy came out to see us, apprehensive at first, it soon made friends with me.  We had lunch at a small Makkan Muslim cafe in Ruteng, $6 for two big meals. Back on the road we passed people carrying wood and bamboo, and there was now more traffic including a dozen bikies who we saw and waved to several times as we passed and then overtook one another after stops, they had been at the same hotel as me in Bajawa.  The road from Ruteng had stalls or houses wherever they could be built for much of the way now. Eman started going very slowly too. I thought that maybe he was tired, but he said he was OK although we were now the slowest car on the road as he nursed it up hills. Interestingly, road repairs were left as holes with a rock placed in front of them, so night travel would be hazardous.  Finally, we could see the golden colour of the evening sun illuminating the sea at Labuan Bajo but still in the far distance.

Eventually, we arrived at Labuan Bajo after 91/2 hours and I guided Eman to the Blue Parrot hotel above the harbour.  The hotel room was really pleasant and modern with air conditioning and a good shower.  I took a short cut down through an abandoned building site to the waterfront and walked to the ferry wharf to find the ticket office for tomorrow.  Back along the harbour waterfront, there were BBQ stalls selling food cooked in half 44-gallon drums with flames licking up from them as the sunset and the sea turned golden.  I bought some corn chips and water at a small shop behind the fish market and returned to the hotel for an early night.

I was up at 06.00 for an early breakfast and walk to the ferry ticket office.  The waterfront was busy with small boats and lots of folk around the fish market quay as I walked the ten minutes to the ticket office to buy my ticket for the ferry to Sumbawa, then sat outside a cafe above the wharf waiting for the ship’s departure.  It was an old roll on the ferry with trucks, cars and bikes below and passengers above and mostly Muslim families on board, and at a glance, I could see no other Europeans on the full passenger deck.  Behind me was a family with a two-year-old who shrieked at the top of his voice and so I decided to see if there was somewhere else that I could go on the boat.  I went upstairs through a hatch which said, “muster station” and found myself on the top open deck with just half-dozen other people.  By 9 am, the time that the ticket salesman and port official and locals had given as the departure time there was no sign of the boat sailing and people ran on or off the gangway.  By 9:45 officers had started to appear by the ramp but merely took selfies of themselves. There was then an acquaint ceremony where two offices faced one another, saluted and handed over files clearly indicating a change of crew for this trip. At 10 am an imam raced off the boat and the crew started to lift the ramp and we sailed away.  Maybe we were an hour late or everyone else including the ticket salesman, port officials and cafe owner were wrong about its departure time. We sailed out past lots of interesting boats and through the islands that lay offshore from Labuan Bajo and into the calm sea. We passed Komodo Island quite close and I was surprised how big it was.  To the north was a small long, thin Island which apparently was a good diving place according to a guy from Bali who now lived in Labuan. The next Island was Banta and clearly, it was the residual third of the rim of a large volcano whose cliffs were very high, maybe two hundred metres. I glanced to the north and saw a massive, perfectly shaped volcanic island quite a long way away and into the sun, so it was not clear enough to get a good photo.  I then noticed steam coming from its summit and suddenly there was quite a substantial eruption with a column of ash rising and forming quite a large cloud above it. On the map, I saw it was Sangeang Island at an impressive 1936 metres high.  We then approached Sumbawa Island with mosques along the waterfront and high hills behind the port.

Photo and article by Drew Parsons  from Whangaparaoa, New Zealand

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