Motorbike riding in the sun and the wind..no rain!
Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
103Trip End Apr 05, 2006
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So, after arriving in Maumere at about 9pm on Tuesday the 13th, we set about making arrangements to get to Lembata, and to return to Bali from Flores. Consistent information about flight and ferry schedules was extremely hard to get hold of... I had been trying to phone airlines and ferry companies from Moni, to no avail
The three and a half hour bus ride to Larantuka took us through some pretty dramatic scenery - from low, arid coastal hills into the green, mountainous interior, past perfectly conical volcanic peaks. It was another typical Flores bus ride, jam packed and amusing as ever. Before setting off, the bus had cicled the centre of town for more than an hour, picking up passengers and goods, and did so again at the destination, making deliveries. When we finally arrived at the harbour, we were pleased to find that the daily ferry would be leaving for Lembata in half an hour's time.
The ferry ride was quite scenic, passing the large island of Adonara, just off the east coast of Flores. Like Flores, the coast line of the island was arid, but the upper slopes of the huge volcano which dominated the island were green. We arrived at Lewoleba at about 5pm - the pretty palm-fringed coastline and the late afternoon light on Lembata's towering volcano, called Ile Ape, were quite spectacular. We made our way to a backpacker place by the beach, recommended in the guidebook, only to find it in a shabby state - it had obviously seen better days. So we settled for a small, cozy hotel on the main street of the tiny town.
While relaxing on the chairs outside our room, we got chatting to two men who worked for Plan, a child welfare charity based in Jakarta. They were here on Lembata investigating the social circumstances of children in the isolated rural villages, and making arrangements for opening an office in Lewoleba. They told us that there was quite problem with malnutrition in these isolated villages, as families relied on subsistence farming and a number of successive dry years were causing crop failure. Most children also did not get the chance to go to school, because their families could not afford school fees. Whether southern Africa or Indonesia, the main victims in the battle for survival in underdeveloped countries are always the children.
The one chap, Sandhi, mentioned how useful a digital camera would be to take pictures of the things they were finding, and that gave us an idea: we dug our old digital camera out of our bag and gave it to them. We'd been looking for a worthy cause to donate it to, and a childrens' charity was perfect. The guys were immensely grateful and took us out for dinner to their favourite cafe.
The following morning, on Thursday, we hired a motorbike to go exploring and snorkeling. There was nowhere in town we could hire snorkeling gear, so we bought a mask and snorkel from a small general dealer. It became pretty clear that we were the only tourists in town, and that very few came here. Everywhere we went, we attracted enormous attention: people stared, waved and greeted us with a loud "Hello Mister!" No chance of walking anonymously down the street. Sandhi told us that local goverment statistics showed that just over 200 foreign guests a year came to the island.
We headed in a northerly direction on our motorbike, taking the main route along the coast. After a few kilometres the tar becomes pot-holed, rutted gravel, and so our progress was pretty slow in places, especially over passes. But the scenery was tremendous: we travelled from bay to bay, through little fishing villages set among palm trees, and over dry, rocky hills covered in golden grass and peppered with elegant white-barked gum trees. And all the time, the conical shape of Ile Ape loomed in the distance.
We stopped for a snorkel in a quiet bay, but were disappointed to find that much of the reef had been destroyed (probably by dynamite fishing and coral harvesting for lime). Instead, meadows of cultivated seagrass grew in the shallows (Sandhi had told us that seagrass farming was becoming more and more important on the island). However, here and there, patches of coral survived among the acres of uniform green, and what coral there was supported a colourful variety of life.
We continued our drive along the coast in the blazing sun, passing patches of mangrove swamp, and bamboo huts nestling among groves of green banana and palm trees. The rutted dirt road seemed to go on forever, so at about 2.30pm we decided to turn back. After stopping at a roadside stall for a typical Indonesian snack of rice parcels and boiled eggs, we stopped for another snorkel in a small village called Lerahinga. Here we found the most magical little reef - well preserved, teeming with life - and took turns exploring it until the sun sank too low. The Rough Guide actually mentions a spot near Lerahinga as the best snorkeling in the area, but it's quite hard to find: we simply stumbled upon it. We drove back to Lewoleba at sunset, returned the bike to its owner and relaxed over a cold beer and a meal of 'rusa' (deer meat) at our hotel.
We booked a bus ride to take us to Lamalera, at the southern end of the island, the following morning, Friday. The bus was scheduled to leave at noon, so we had a few hours to kill in the morning. Time for a spot of shopping - we strolled through the dusty streets of Lewoleba, transformed into one big market during the day, looking at ikat fabrics (the hand-woven textiles of Flores and surrounding islands, adorned with intricate, colourful patterns). Hawkers and market folk here on Lembata were nowhere near as pushy as on Bali or the more touristy parts of Flores, but the bargaining remained hard work... eventually we came away with a few lovely purchases, and boarded the 4WD vehicle to Lamalera at noon.