Colourful crater lakes... and a robbery

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Where I stayed
Maria Inn

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Early on Monday morning 12 September we said goodbye to our super hosts in Ruteng and boarded the bus to Moni, the village from which to explore Kelimutu, the extinct volcano famous for its three coloured crater lakes. We had decided to skip Bajawa, another mountain town and regular favourite with tourists, with the idea that we would spend a night or two there on the way back ot Labuanbajo.

The bus ride from Ruteng to Moni was our longest and most exhausting - nearly 12 bone-rattling hours and two punctures along the way. The usual meal-stop never happened (probably because the driver was pressed for time after stopping twice to change tyres) so we were tired and starving when we finally arrived in Moni. This small village, set among emerald green rice paddies on the slopes of Kelimutu, is notorious for having become a tourist trap... and unfortunately we fell right into it.

We were met by a number of accommodation touts when we got out the bus. The most insistent, a guy named Ewan, showed us rooms at his parents' place, called Maria Inn. I looked at one other guesthouse, but settled for Maria Inn, as the location seemed quiet and the rooms quite spacious (though very basic). Initially, the family seemed very helpful and forthcoming with useful information about visiting the crater lakes etc.

However, things soon started to go sour. Ewan simply wouldn't leave us alone (we were desperate for a wash and some food) and tried to sell us a whole-day tour package for the next day. Then his friend the bemo driver arrived, and told us that we were the ONLY tourists who wanted to go up the mountain tomorrow, and that he was the ONLY transport up there, so we had to charter the bemo for ourselves - at a cost of 75,000 rupiah (the usual fare is 15,000 per person). Between them, Ewan and the driver were very insistent, but we finally managed to get them to leave us in peace. Of course, I was very sceptical - there was no way we were the only people planning to go up the mountain. We went for dinner at a nearby restaurant and asked around...indeed, another bemo was making the trip, charging the usual fare. News must have spread that we were asking around, because within minutes our irritating bemo driver materialised at our table and offered to take us for 15,000. Ha!

So, at 4am on Tuesday morning we climbed into the bemo for the 40 minute ride up the mountain. It was still dark when we reached the end of the road and set off on the final half-hour walk to the summit with June and Aidan, our British fellow bemo passengers. We arrived at the summit viewpoint as the first fingers of light brushed the landscape. The sky was cloudless except for some wisps of fog in the valleys, and together with about 30 other people, we watched in awe as the pinkish-gold light of dawn washed over the steep, rocky crater rims below us and revealed the hues of the lakes deep down at their base. The most striking lake is cobalt blue, while its neighbour is a dark brownish maroon. On the other side of the ridge on which we stood, the smallest and most secretive-looking lake was a forbidding black.

The lakes are coloured by minerals trapped in layers of volcanic rock - as erosion strips away these layers and releases diffent minerals, the colours of the lakes change over time. The blue one, evidently, has always been blue, but the other two used to be white and red. Local people believed that the souls of the dead come to rest in these lakes - old people in the blue lake, young people in the white lake and bad people in the red (now black) lake. Spirits or no spirits, craters are a truly magnificent, moving sight.

We stayed on until about 8am and started our walk down, which took us along the tar road, through lush forests with tree and orchids, and then on a footpath through small, dusty villages and past fields of corn and cassava. Near the end of the walk we stopped for a rest beside a pretty waterfall and small hot springs, where local men were having a bath (so we were unable to take a dip!).

We returned to Maria Inn at about 11am and planned the rest of our day - we decided to stay another night, take up Maria's offer of a home-cooked, traditional evening meal at 20,000 rupiah each and take a walk in the surrounding hills in the afternoon. Back in our room, Rich opened his bag to get some cash, and ....horrors!... discovered that his money belt was empty! The million rupiah that he had counted just the night before was missing. Needless to say, we were both shocked and furious. Our backpacks had been locked, and there was no sign of damage to the bag or break-in to the room. However, I had stupidly left a set of duplicate keys for our padlocks in my daypack, which I left behind in the room. We figured that someone must have had loads of time to get into the room (with a key), rifle through stuff in my daypack, find the set of keys and dig the moneybelt out of Rich's bag, all done carefully without disturbing things. The person must have been pretty sure that we would be away for a while.

Of course, we concluded there could only be one culprit - our slimey friend Ewan, who would have had a key to our room and knew that we'd only return late in the morning. We promptly packed our bags and checked out. After some agonising as to the best way to handle the situation, we told Maria and her husband that we were leaving because our money had been stolen, but we did not mention that we suspected their son. Maria seemed pretty upset about the theft, and urged us to report the incident to the police, which we did. The policeman told us that two other incidents of theft had recently been reported by guests at Maria's Inn, which only served to back up our suspicions.

Needless to say we were pissed off, but the incident also made us reflect on the fact that, to date, we have been pretty lucky. Apart from losing a few items (guide-book, pocket-knive, shoes, GPS, torch), everything had gone smoothly for us. And most of all, we were safe and healthy. And in the big picture, a million rupiah is not much at all... it's about 55 pounds!

We decided to head to Maumere and on from there further east to the island of Lamalera. Rich had been reading up on it, and it sounded pretty interesting. In Maumere, we'd get some cash and plan our return to Bali in just over a week's time, either by ferry or flight.
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