Stomach Turning Road Trippin'

Trip Start Sep 17, 2011
Trip End Oct 07, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hotel Happy Happy

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We've had no Internet connection for the past couple of days, which is the reason I haven't posted anything recently. Things are going to change soon though, when we get back to Bali. I'm writing this in the afternoon of the 30th. Here is a recap of our adventures from Ruteng to Bajawa:

After a somewhat sleepless night, at least for me, we woke bright and early, took cold showers then wandered down to another building in the convent complex for our complimentary breakfast. Our meal consisted of hours-old fried eggs (cold), cold bread, cold butter, marmalade, and instant coffee. Oh, and a banana. It was pretty sparse, and the eggs were especially unpalatable. Soon enough, we were back on the road with Gabriel at the wheel. He offered to take us to his house there in town so we could meet his famliy and have a cup of tea with them. Turns out they live in a small shack with a tin roof, woven bamboo walls, and a concrete floor. The living room had a TV and several plastic chairs to sit on. Gabriel has three kids, a young girl and two older boys, ages 3 to 8. His wife was very pretty, and she and the kids sat on a purple plastic mat on the floor while someone in a dark back room prepared our drinks. We had brought along some small toys which we distributed to the boys. This made them very excited. We also had some candy that the little girl got ahold of before her mother took it from her; she tried a tiny nibble herself--and made some funny faces at the strange flavor (which was lime--it was a chewy candy coated in sugar).

Soon we were back on the road headed for a hill town called Bajawa (Bah JAH wah), about the mid-point of our overland tour. The roads continued to be extremely twisty and narrow. We climbed into the mountains where it began to rain. The vegetation became more and more jungly. I found out that clove trees are not actually what I described in the last entry. The trees I described, with fluffy cream-colored bracts, are actually macadamia. Clove trees look more like English holly in their stature and overall shape. We saw such a cornucopia of trees, shrubs, and flowers that it started to get confusing. But here is a partial list: Rubber, clove, macadamia, cashew, cocoa, banana, papaya, mango, jack fruit, various palms, bamboo, sandlewood, rubber, tree ferns, kapuk (has fluffy seed pods, of which mattresses are made), as well as angel's trumpet in full bloom, everywhere. That was just what we saw from the car windows and no doubt there are thousands of different species we didn't even know about.

Partway into our drive, Gabriel stopped at the side of the road so we could visit an arak distillery. Arak is the local liquor bottled and sold everywhere. It looks like watered down gasoline and is highly flammable. It's made from a certain palm tree (which has clusters of big palm-shaped leaves which, when the wind blows, clack together in a strange way). The locals climb the tree, apparently pierce the nuts and place bags underneath to catch the drippings. The next day they climb the tree again, take the bags down then empty them into the distillery on the ground. After some weird process, the fluid exits the distillery and runs down a hollow bamboo pole where it's bottled. The bottles used are empty water bottles. As in, used empty water bottles. In fact, Gabriel cleaned out our vehicle of empties before we walked up to the distillery, and left them in a pile on the ground for later use. Bill actually bought a small finished bottle of this arak. Disgusting. He later gave it to Gabriel, after tasting it. He said it was unbelievably strong.

After what seemed like forever, banging around in the car through what felt like hundreds of switchbacks, up and down one mountain and then on to the next, passing small villages, wide vistas, unending rice fields, sheer 1000 foot drop offs (roadway with mostly no guardrails or if there were, they were either bashed over or made of bamboo fencing), narrowly passing fuel trucks, bemos and motorcycles, etc., we finally entered the town of Bajawa. We decided to eat lunch before finding a place to sleep. Gabriel took us directly to his choice, called Dito's, whose motto is "Have Enjoy Your Meal." We both ordered some kind of chicken chow mein with very little chicken in it. I didn't like my meal, and turns out it didn't like me either. It's probably fortunate I didn't eat more than a few bites because I definitely started paying for it later on in the day. We stopped at a hotel (I'm using the term loosely because accommodations on Flores really leave a lot to be desired--just wait until I tell you about our lovely stay in Moni, coming up tomorrow). So the first place we stopped at we were less than thrilled about and declined. We remembered seeing a funny named hotel right when we first entered town so backtracked to it. Turns out it was an oasis of comfort. It is called Hotel Happy Happy. There are big yellow smiley faces painted on the front walls of the place. It really lived up to its name. The Dutch owners had just opened 10 days before, so everything was fresh and clean. We had our choice of rooms and selected one near the back, away from the road. We had clean sheets, clean towels, free water, free Wi-Fi, a wonderful flushing toilet, and in the morning a delicious breakfast. The owners, Henk and Marie, were super friendly and helpful in every way. We would recommend this place to anyone looking for that proverbial port in the storm.

After we'd unpacked a bit, it was time to take another drive to some local hot springs. We twisted and turned our way for about a half hour, with amazing views of the resident volcano, named Gunung Inerie out in the far distance, until we stopped at the entrance to the springs. After paying for admission, Bill and I walked down some paths and found a perfectly circular indentation in the earth, filled with very warm water. You had to sort of drop in to the water from above, landing on smooth rocks. The water level was not deep at all, probably 2 feet, so we did a lot of crouching and just enjoying the warmth. The spring was fed underground, and the overflowing water formed a rushing, emerald-colored stream at one end. We got out of the first spring and walked over to the stream and crouched around in that too. We shared the first pool with a small family and the stream with a bunch of local kids. It was really nice.

Once back at the room, we changed our clothes and headed out for dinner. We ate at Dito's again. Gabriel liked it there because they have a TV in the dining room that he could watch. Plus we figured he got some sort of kick back for bringing customers in. We had originally thought to eat at a place across the street, but we received zero service and soon gave up and went to Dito's. My tummy was quite upset still, so I decided to lay off the Asian fare for awhile and ordered the most American of foods I could figure out from the menu. I had a plate of cooked potatoes and a scrawny piece of fried chicken (drumstick attached to thigh). It was actually very tasty. Bill continued with the Asian theme, although I can't recall what he ate. There was some Japanese Star-Wars type adventure show on TV which everyone in the dining room watched. It had an exciting conclusion, in which a Chewbaka type character with Asian features and fur performed a gravity-defying kung-fu maneuver on a bunch of bad guys. We were all in suspense to see whether Chewie would save the day or not, and when he did, everyone in the dining room let out a huge collective "Ohhhh!" I found myself nodding and sharing satisfied smiles with the other diners including Bill, Gabriel, his friends, some Indo people seated next to us, a Dutch couple two tables away, etc. It was just kind of a stupid moment, looking back on it.

Back at Hotel Happy Happy, I immediately crashed, feeling quite done in. Bill stayed up and yacked with the owners. The next day--well, I'll save that for the next entry.
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Judy Brazell on

Ooh, it gets more & more primitive, seems like. Except for the Dutch Happy Happy Hotel. You 2 are more adventurous than I can imagine! Keep on seeing the unbelievable! Love, Mom/Judy

Brian Reeves on

Wow, keep the blogs coming, totally fascinating. Anyone entranced by the travels of our intrepid adventurers, should check out "nathaniels nutmeg" a book by giles milton on the incredible adventures of the british & dutch in that part of the world during the 17th century. Still I'm curious were the cold eggs payback for bill messing with the nun's tv?

jgabrielli on

Wow....not sure how you have even heard of these places to visit...but you are definitely in an entirely different world from home....I know I keep saying that, but your blogs take me away, and then I have to shake my head to realize I'm still sitting here in my very civilized home. :)

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