Volcanoes, Villages, and Goats on the (Early) Bus

Trip Start Oct 18, 2010
Trip End Dec 15, 2010

Loading Map
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
Where I stayed
Hotel Iklaus

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Monday, November 15, 2010

After finishing our diving in Komodo National Park, we faced the decision of where to go next. We knew we had to be back to the Bali airport about a week later for a flight to a different part of Indonesia, but we had a few options for getting there. We could head overland (and water) back west towards Bali, stopping along the way on the Gili Islands, well known for their mellow white-sand beaches, snorkeling, and cold beers. Or, we could head east across the island of Flores-known for traditional villages and dramatic landscapes of volcanoes and the sea, but not exactly its infrastructure-and then fly back to Bali from Flores's eastern end. The decision was lazy travel versus adventurous travel. We finally decided adventure would be better for our travel soul. Cue long Travelpod entry - get the popcorn.

The next morning we booked tickets for a mini-bus bound for the small city of Ruteng. There is no real bus station in Labuan Bajo, so it is typical for buses of all types to pick up passengers from their homes or hotels. The bus was scheduled to leave at 1 p.m., but for reasons unexplained, the company insisted in picking us up an hour early, only for the bus to park outside of the shuttle office until 1 p.m.

We made it to Ruteng without problems, although after the 4 hours of winding mountain roads in seats above the very hot engine block, plus several stops to deliver mail along the way, we were very glad we had opted NOT to go directly to the next city 5 hours further down the road. Ruteng also ended up providing an enjoyable, though short visit.  We stayed at quite possibly the cleanest budget hotel in Indonesia, apparently due to the fact that the hotel was run by the onsite convent. We also met a small group of well-meaning, but somewhat exhausting, 17-year-old boys who attend a tourism high school. They accompanied us all over town, including dinner, to practice their English, and would have walked us all the way back to our hotel door if we hadn't needed to stop to do some internet along the way. That was just the first of many manifestations of the outgoing friendliness of Flores's people.  

For the next day, we had arranged for the same mini-bus service to take us from Ruteng to our next Flores stop, Bajawa. The woman on the phone told us more than once that the bus would pick us up around 7a.m. But at 6:20 a.m., about 5 minutes after we'd gotten up, a nun knocked on our door to inform us that the bus had arrived. The sisters were kind enough to package up our breakfast for the road (although we each ended up with a fried egg between two pieces of bread covered in jam) as we threw our things into our bags and rushed to the bus.

Bajawa is a small city surrounded by volcanoes and several villages. We spent an afternoon going around the countryside with a nice guide from our hotel, who took us to some very traditional villages with fascinating belief systems that combine Catholicism and long-standing animist beliefs. In that part of Flores, membership in family and clan is a huge part of one's identity, symbols embodying the balance between male and female are all over, babies are baptized with coconut water, and animals are sacrificed in large numbers for occasions of any importance. Everywhere we went, kids went nuts waving and shouting hello. When people asked where we were from, they rarely missed the chance to excitedly and proudly remind us, "Oh, Barack Obama! In Indonesia right now!"

The next day, we were back on the road again, this time on a full-fledged public bus (no more "Bajo Express") to the fishing village of Riung, on Flores's north coast.  Bags of rice were stacked two or three high on the floor and at least one person had a chicken stashed under a seat. One smiling young woman had a whole stalk of bananas with her, which she passed around for the other passengers, us included, to eat. We opted to sit in the very back of the bus by the rear door, which not only provided more legroom for us tall folk, but also more of a breeze. We provided some comedy when, in the middle of nowhere, the bus hit a particularly large pothole and Jeff's book, which he was about 25 pages from finishing, bounced out the rear door. A nice guy sitting next to us yelled at the driver to stop, and Jeff then jumped out of the bus and ran down the dirt road to go find it. Hardly anyone knew what had possessed him, and he gave a couple of local rice farmers a surprise when he sprinted by.

We started off our visit to Riung with a visit to a nearby chain of islands with white sand beaches and OK snorkeling. We set up the trip through a young guy recommended by our guidebook, but we were actually taken around by a local fisherman, his wife, and his son-in-law. We went on the trip with a Swiss guy with an Indonesian father, who could understand what the family was talking about. Apparently, the son-in-law was involved in an open affair with a married woman and was giggling on the phone with her throughout our trip. His in-laws were laughing about it all, although occasionally joking about leaving him on one of the beaches.

The night we got back from the island trip, the guy who set up the trip came by our hotel to invite us to his sister's wedding the next day. We had been thinking of leaving Riung, but we have the sensible travel policy of not declining invitations to local weddings. The wedding was pretty much an all-day affair for those closest to the bride and groom - a cow was slaughtered at dawn, cooking began early, the ceremony before a small group of guests (including us!) was mid-morning with lunch served afterward (the cow stomach soup didn't do much for us), more cooking throughout the day, and then a huge dinner/party at night. It was a lot of fun, although we ended the night just as the dancing really got going (about 1:30 a.m.) because we had a 6 a.m. bus scheduled for the next morning. As an amusing sidenote, it turned out that the woman who gave us bananas on the bus to Riung happened to be a sibling of the bride - hospitable family!

Remember that 6 a.m. bus? Unsurprisingly, it showed up at 5:30. We were the first to be picked up, though, and the bus kindly waited for us to drink a cup of tea before we loaded in to begin the ride to the city of Ende, where we'd catch another bus to the small village of Moni. The ride to Ende was a little surreal due to the lack of sleep, but will be remembered particularly for the small herd of goats that was loaded onto the top of the bus as we left Riung.

The ride from Ende to Moni was particularly beautiful. Ende is surroundeded by volcanic black sand beaches, and inland are steep cliffs covered in green over aqua blue rivers below. The village of Moni is up in the hills a bit, which provided a nice change from the very hot and mosquito-ridden Riung. Moni also is the base for visits to Mt. Kelimutu, a volcano with three crater lakes that frequently change colors. The day we visited, two were turquoise and one was a deep brown/black. We also happened to be in Moni on market day, where many women from surrounding villages, wearing distinctive, traditional woven sarongs, came to sell vegetables, chickens and weavings.

After our Kelimutu trip, we headed back to Ende so that we would catch our flight back to Bali the next day. Like the rest of Flores, all sorts of people came up to us to ask our names, where we were from, where we were going, where we were staying. One man we talked to at some length while buying band-aids was a teacher who very casually asked us to send him a world map once we got home to the U.S. The kids in Ende were particularly boisterous in their hellos, even by Flores standards. Around sunset, we came upon a funny group of 7 or 8 year boys, many naked, who began showing off by repeatedly jumping off of the pier into the ocean.

All that was left of our Flores adventure was getting to the airport for our flight back to Bali. Somewhat fittingly, that flight brought its own surprises. First, when we returned to our hotel in Ende our last night, we learned that our flight the next morning would be leaving at 7 a.m. rather than 10:15 a.m. and that we needed to be at the airport at 5:30 a.m. We dutifully arrived early, only to have the flight leave at 8:30. We then were surprised when, without explanation, we learned we would not be flying to Bali non-stop as planned, but rather would be stopping three other times in the region first! That would be like flying from Chicago to Minneapolis, stopping at Indianapolis, Grand Rapids, and Madison along the way. We were joking that the pilot was probably shouting destinations, a la bus tout, out the cockpit window to anyone passing by the airport. Good thing we scheduled a very long layover between our arrival in Bali and our connecting flight that night (so nice that we still had time for a quick trip to a Bali beach in between!).
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • You must enter a comment
  • You must enter your name
  • You must enter a valid name (" & < > \ / are not accepted).
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


Rob on

Wow! proof positive that you should always bet on adventure. Sounds like a great time!

Sandhya on

Wow! Fantastic. You guys are such great writers. Love the wedding story!

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: