! Moni is a tiny village nestled in the mountains of South East Flores. It consists of a kilometer stretch of homes strung out along the main road and scattered in the paddy fields that surround the village. There are no travellers tour shops come cafes, no internet cafes or ATMs; it's a very pretty place and a total breath of fresh air. The reason for us travelling so far across Flores to come here was to visit Kelimutu, the 1640m volcano which hovers over Moni. This would be the third volcano we’d have seen up close and this one stood out from the others for it’s three vividly coloured lakes up in the craters. Over the years these lakes have changed colours a number of times and it’s considered a holy place by the local people – the resting place for souls of the dead. Some of the colours have included, red, black, green, blue, black-green, orange, yellow and we weren’t sure what to expect! I’ll leave it to the Chemistry boffin to enlighten everyone on the science behind the colour changes in the lake, having learning about these lakes in a college lecture he was in raptures!
Unlike the previous volcanoes, there was a road to more or less the summit of Kelimutu and so we organised transport for the following morning at 4am, an early start to catch sunrise. We booked a Bemo which is like a small minivan from Bintang, the place we were staying, and planned to watch sunrise from the summit and have a good look at the lakes before walking the 13km back down the volcano in time for a late breakfast
. After getting some lunch we headed out for the rest of the afternoon in search of the Hot Springs. I was determined to make it to these ones since I’d missed out at Rinjani. The lady at Bintang told us to head West out of the town and then take the road to the left toward Kelimutu. The Hot Springs were at the bottom of the volcano and she said to ask for directions once we got close. As we neared the foot of Kelimutu and the turn off, Tobias a guy from Bintang pulled up on his motorbike and pointed out some stone stairs set into the side of the hill. A handy short cut that saved us about 2km of walking! We continued on along the mountain road passing small rickety wooden houses on the way. When we neared a cluster of such houses a group of locals asked us where we were going. We told them the hot springs and they pointed through their village. We half thought that this might be a repeat of Yangshuo in China when we had to pay a fee for a tour of a small local village when we thought we just needed to pay to continue on our way (the actual road was at the side of the village), but no we followed a short path and could see a two tiered tiled bathes, like really shallow swimming pools, set into the side of the hill. The baths had seen better days and could have used a good scrub out but you couldn’t beat the setting, overlooking the greenest of paddy fields and a small trickling stream from the hot springs below. We whipped off our clothes and submerged ourselves as best we could, the water was gushing out of the hillside and through the pools before draining out of a hole in the bottom bath
. This meant a nice clean flow of water but also kept the level of the pool at about a foot in the deepest place. The water was HOT alright! While I love baths at home I rarely have one because I’m a bit of a wimp and can’t have the water too hot which then means they go cold straight away – all a bit of a faff so I don’t bother that often. This was great though as the water was hot, but not too hot and it was a constant temperature. All I was missing was some bubble bath and a glass of wine! We stayed for ages, until our hands and feet were all wrinkly, dried off a bit basking in the sun while taking in the view then got dressed and headed back. There was a donation box at the side of the path which we contributed to…by far one of the best value activities we’ve done! Heading back along the road I realised much to Toms amusement that by bikini bottoms weren’t dry and were soaking through my shorts so it looked like I’d had an accident. Unfortunately it wasn’t just Tom who noticed this and as we passed by lots of groups of locals we heard them giggling away – I’m hoping that my response of protesting swimming impressions were enough to set them straight but I was very red faced! There is nothing to do in Moni at night and so we ate some dinner at the café next to Bintang and got an early night in time for our 3.30am rise. We were all packed so were up and bundled into the bemo the following morning no problem. There were four Dutch men with us who without a doubt are the most awake people (except for those that are still going and drunk from the night before) that I’ve ever seen or even thought humanly possible for that time of the day
. Tom isn’t a morning person at ALL and you wanted to see the looks he was throwing them in the darkness of the van while they were jabbering away at full volume, very funny! Then as the van wound it’s way up the mountainside in the darkness, there was a burning smell which was getting stronger and stronger and the bemo was really labouring to get up the steeper parts. We stopped half way up the mountain to pay the National Park entrance fees to the Ranger station…then much to our dismay we were told that we weren’t going to be able to get back in the Bemo for the rest of the climb. The driver woefully told us he’d forgotten to put water in the radiator and basically the engine was pretty close to blowing. Well I got most of this and told the Dutch group as well who looked very confused – they had paid already to be driven up and back down. So apart from the engine blowing – my fuse wasn’t far behind. The whole point of us getting up at crazy o clock was to see sunrise from the summit and we could already see that the sun was coming up between the trees on the mountainside. We were about 6km from the summit, the bemo wasn’t going anywhere and there was no other transport. I got the bit between my teeth and told Tom we’d try and get up there as fast as possible to try and salvage something. To say we raced up would be an understatement. The Dutch men were ahead of us for about 5 minutes then we went flying past them and they arrived at the lakes an hour behind us, so yes we went quite fast! We were pretty knackered by the time we got to carpark at the top and then we had another 20 minute walk to Inspiration Point, a hill overlooking the lakes and the only point from which the three lakes are visible. We had missed sunrise but the sun hadn’t risen properly either so it wasn’t a bad effort and the view, and breeze (ahhhhhh!) were amazing. There was a huge concrete column with steps all around on top of Inspiration Point and so we nestled in against a pillar with a cup of ginger coffee from one of the hawkers, and soaked up the view resting our weary legs
. I think that cup of hot sweet ginger coffee is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted – doing that amount of exercise on an empty stomach, fuelled only on frustration is not advised! Although we had missed the actual sunrise we got to watch the colours of the lakes change as the sun rose higher in the sky illuminating them. The two adjoining lakes were a similar shade of bluey green azure and the other lake was black as night. I think from the research we did that the colours of the lakes have been more striking at different times but we were still in awe of the view, well worth the effort across the island and up the mountain! There isn’t much point describing the lakes in much more detail as I wouln’t do them justice and the pictures really do say it all, so check those out instead! We pottered around Inspiration Point and another viewpoint for a few hours before hunger drove us back down, we had to make a pit stop for some biscuits and fruit at the Ranger Station. The view from the road was beautiful too – all lush forest and tiered rice fields with little hamlets of wooden huts and farmers and work in the fields or watching over their cattle. It took us two and half hours to get back down and back to our accommodation and that was us going quite fast. It got a bit wearisome at the end, we were just running ridiculously low on energy, and by the time we got back we had done about 20km of fast hill walking before 11am. The shower was immense as was the banana pancake which we more or less swallowed in one go
! Unlike the Dutch group we hadn’t paid for our lift to Kelimutu yet and amongst the other things vented that morning we had vowed that we weren’t paying anywhere near the full fare. Now the woman who ran the accommodation swore she knew nothing about the problem with the bemo which I believed….until she said that the Dutch group had already returned and had no problem. Ha – we had left the Dutch at the summit as they said they would hold out and see if the Bemo returned for them since they had paid for it. Since they hadn’t passed us on the road we knew they weren’t back yet. This added a bit of fuel to the fire, it’s not nice to be lied to to your face and we ended up agreeing on us paying a quarter of the price. The woman was very apologetic but I’m not sure we were convinced – we just gave her a heads up that the Dutch group were ten times madder than us about what had happened! We checked out and waited at the side of the road for a local bus to Maumere about 2 hours away. We’d be flying from Maumere to Denpaser the following day. As we sat crouching in some shade a local boy about 16 years old pulled up on his motorbike to chat with us. With his limited English and our practically non-existent Indonesian there wasn’t really much banter until Tom went off for 5 minutes to buy some water and he started pestering me for a kiss! Jesus, I really don’t think he realised I was nearly twice his age and I was trying to supress fits of giggles by the time Tom came back
. Not long after that our bus was coming up the road and we flagged it down and threw the bags up on the roof. At the same time Bernd and Eva who we had met on the Komodo trip were heading down the road having just arrived in Moni. They were a day behind us as they hung on in Labuan Bajo to do some diving. We said a fleeting hello and goodbye before scrambling up onto the bus and settling in for thankfully our last bumpy bus journey in Flores.
It blatantly looked like Karen peed herself after the hot springs, a couple of local lads even came over and asked her what happened, and her pretending to swim... didnt fool anyone. In fact I nearly wet myself in sympathy!
While not quite on the same scale as Rinjani, Kelimutu was still just an amazing place. So glad we made the effort to get there, even without sunrise, it was spectacular. And in truth while we did get up especially for sunrise... I dont know if seeing sunrise would make a difference to the view really as you can only really appreciate the colours of the lake after the sun has lit them up. Pity the three of them were all just different shades of blue (with bits of yellow). I wont go into the chemistry behind it, Im fairly sure no one would appreciate it, but depending on a lot of conditions; differing amounts of disolved rocks, weather, air pressure... it can be fairly dramatic. Not to say that it didnt look and feel like we were on a different planet that morning!
And as for Karen trying to trade me in for a younger model (seems to have a thing for younger men) the less said the better. Fairplay to him though, that kind of bare faced cheek deserves a bit of admiration.
After checking out of Hotel Safari in Ende we were told to wait at the side of the road for a passing bemo which would take us to the bus terminal for the Moni bus. Weren't even waiting 5 minutes when one stopped and we scrambled on board to join three old ladies who were delighted to have us for entertainment. One of them was chewing bettle leaves and grabbed hold of my arm and hair as I got on - I'm used to this by know in parts of rural Asia but it still made me squeal much to everyones amusement! Bettle leaves are plant leaves which when chewed turned your teeth and mouth bright red. We had come across them in Borneo too, local people become addicted to these leaves as they release opioids when chewed, giving them a natural high. Unfortunately they are also carcoinogenic and so this addiction is a double edged sword. After 10 minutes on the bemo we were transferred on to another, slightly larger bus. We had to step over a chicken to get to a seat and were wedged in! Luckily in Moni, we were dropped by the bus right outside the accommodation we were planning to stay at, and so for once, finding digs was easy peasy