This morning we inadvertantly slept in. Gabriel had wanted to get on the road by 7:30, but we didn't wake up until 7 and it was 8:45 before we managed to leave the happy hotel. Our hosts prepared a delicious breakfast for us including several kinds of fruit, freshly made (homemade!) bread, butter, jam, real coffee, freshly squeezed juice, hot scrambled eggs, cheese, and tomatoes. It was all delicious. I put two extra slices of bread in a Ziploc baggie with the cheese, thinking I'd make a sandwich out of it later in the day. I wanted to take a quick shower before we left, but when I turned the shower faucet, nothing came out. The electricity went out at the same time. There was only room for one flush of the toilet which Bill took advantage of. Otherwise, we just grabbed our stuff, made our goodbyes to Henk and Marie, and hit the road.
Our first stop was to a traditional village called Bena, home of the local Ngada people, on the slopes of Gunung Inerie
. The roadway from Bajawa to Bena was freshly paved and smooth at first but then turned into a rutted, potholed, miserable dirt road. We had to dodge big piles of dirt and rocks and had to steer around track hoes where the roadway was being worked on. After about 20 minutes of jostling, we finally reached the village. Pretty amazing place. The homes are built on a hillside and lined up in two rows with a large, elevated, rectangular area separating the rows. The elevated portion appears to be the place where the villagers do their ritualistic buffalo sacrificing and burying of the dead. There are several jagged, megalithic, tomb-like structures along with ngadhu
(the former a carved wooden pole with thatched roof, symbolic of "male," and the latter a miniature thatched-roof house, symbolic of "female", each associated with a particular family group) on this elevated area. The villager's homes on either side have high thatched roofs with male or female figurines decorating the tops. Many of the homes also sport rows of buffalo horns and jawbones on the poles supporting the roofs, apparently indicating the family's status in the village.
When we first arrived and had just stepped out of the car, we were greeted by an old guy emerging out of a house. Incredibly, we understood what he said, which was "Selamat Pagi. Apa kebar?" which means "Good morning. How are you?" I had to scramble for my handwritten notes to respond, but I was able to reply, "I am fine" in Indonesian
. I can't find my notes to write the words here, and I have since forgotten what I said, but at the time I was very proud of myself.
We began our walk through the village after signing in and paying a small donation. There were various villager women along the way, sitting on their porches, some offering to sell us vanilla beans. When they smiled at us, we noticed they all had red, stained teeth from chewing on betel nut. It was a bit disconcerting to see. At the top of the hill above the rows of homes, we climbed some stone steps which led to a small cave-like altar housing a statue of the virgin Mary. Beyond this was a lookout surrounded by boulders and vegetation. At this point we could see past the mountains all the way to the ocean. It was a sheer dropoff from where we were standing, so we stepped carefully.
Back on the road again, we made a long, winding descent, passing multiple villages. It became hotter and more arid, the vegetation more sparse and less jungly. A note about the typical homes we passed throughout Flores: Houses are typically square or rectangular, single storied, constructed of woven bamboo walls or cement or bricks. Most have rusty tin roofs. The windows are long and narrow and pivot open along their centers. Many homes have no glass in their windows but others do
. The yards consist of packed earth, usually with a goat or cow tied up, typically chickens running around. We also saw small, brown horses with short, spiky manes. We saw goats with 2 foot long sticks tied around their necks, which apparently was a crude method for preventing them from getting out of fenced areas. We passed lots of people sitting in doorways, performing household tasks, children playing everywhere, women walking down the side of the road wrapped in ikat robes, carrying all sorts of things on their heads. I'm not sure if the engine of our vehicle had a peculiar sound to it, alerting the people we passed, but everyone seemed to know we were coming, and as we went by would look up and stare--unsmilingly-- right into our eyes. A lot of times the children would yell out, "Hey mister!" when they'd see Bill's white man face peering out the window, but the older boys and most of the adults didn't have anything even closely resembling an inviting expression on their faces.
We passed a huge volcano at one point, called Gunung Ebulobo. It was clearly steaming. Later on, in the outskirts of Ende, we skirted the coastline. The highway was somewhat elevated from the water, and there were no guardrails and no beach really, just a drop-off to crashing waves. We stopped at a short section called "blue stone beach" which was a narrow piece of black sand with blue rocks sitting in piles between the beach and the road
. It was hot and we got out to look but didn't tarry long. I did take a rock though, despite Bill's protestations. I think it probably weighs a pound or so. I'm sure he won't notice if I slip it into his backpack, ha.
We had lunch in the city of Ende. I don't recall the name of the restaurant, but it was a modern looking structure and we were seated upstairs on a balcony. Bill ate chicken wings in a sauce, and I ordered fish and chips, big surprise. The joke was on me because what I got was a plate of fried potatoes and another plate containing a whole, batter-fried fish. It had all its teeth and big staring eyes. I don't know what kind of fish it was, but I ate as much of it as I could, peeling back the flesh and stopping at the point of its gills. I didn't want to get near its face. While we were at the restaurant, Bill asked Gabriel to call up a hotel in Moni so he could inquire about availability. Gabriel called the Flores Sari Hotel and handed the phone to Bill. There followed a loud exchange with Bill verifying that there was hot water and Western style toilets (when he asked about the toilets, both Gabriel and two other Indonesian guides who were sitting next to him absolutely busted up laughing for some unknown reason. We discovered why later on.)
Back on the road to Moni, we climbed up through mists, skirted a river filled with boulders, and stopped at a clearly hand-made suspension bridge
. We saw really gorgeous rice fields along the way. At one point Gabriel stopped the car to let us out to take pictures and said, "I'll wait up there, huh?" indicating that he would just drive up a bit and we could walk up to the car. He'd done this before, and every time it was disconcerting because typically he wouldn't just drive a little ways, he would actually drive off and disappear. The first time it happened, we were left standing on the side of the road with nothing but our cameras in hand and the clothes on our backs. This time unfortunately was no different. Bill was a little miffed and concerned about our belongings, especially after we started walking (after taking a picture of the scenery) in the hot sun, going around one bend in the road and then another with no car visible in the distance. Finally we did spot the car and noticed Gabriel was squatting in the dirt, pounding on something with a rock. Turns out he was cracking open macadamia nut shells. We sampled the nut meat. It was good, very creamy. Too bad the entire island of Flores seems to not have a single place to buy any of the things they produce, that foreigners might enjoy taking home--like coffee, honey, nuts, any kind of souvenir, etc. The one and only thing they do seem to sell everywhere is their ikat.
We finally reached the village of Moni in the late afternoon
. We stopped at the Flores Sari Hotel. More like the Flores SORRY Hotel. It was a total dive. The proprietor led us through a dirty lobby into a open-air courtyard which was in absolute disrepair, with a pond in the middle of it breeding thousands of mosquitos. He took us to a room, proudly showed off the bed (a headboard with glass inlay which had been bashed into splinters in several places) and then demonstrated that there was indeed hot water coming out of the shower by turning on the faucet and spraying the (apparently Western style) toilet and floor. Bill and I looked at each other and reluctantly said we'd take it. So then we were invited into the restaurant for a welcome drink of coffee and fried bananas. The restaurant was a dirty dive as well. I thought I'd go back to our room and make use of the facilities because I didn't even want to imagine what the restaurant's bathroom would be like. When I got to the bathroom in the room, I pressed the button on the overhead tank for the toilet, and nothing happened. I tried again, and nothing happened. I went back to Bill and told him there was no way we were going to be able to stay in this place. We consulted our Lonely Planet guidebook pages and saw a place called "Hidayah" which was described as "Four superclean rooms with outstanding mountain and valley views from the common porch. Without question, this is the most comfortable choice in town." We asked Gabriel to call them up and ask if they had any rooms available. They did. We then left the Sorry Hotel and made the short drive to Hidayah. There were indeed four rooms in a row looking out over someone's tomato patch. Two of the rooms were occupied, one by a young British couple and another by an older Dutch couple. Everyone was very friendly, which made our ensuing stay more comfortable, considering. Our room had a clean tiled floor. The bed had a 4" thick mattress barely covered by a sheet. There was frayed mosquito netting tied up over it (turns out it had a big hole torn through it and it wouldn't cover even half the bed)
. The bathroom though, that's where this place REALLY shined. It was very large, just like the guidebook said. The walls were red painted cement. The shower had cold water. The best feature was the broken Western toilet with the Middle Eastern flushing method. In order to flush it, we found, we had to fill a big plastic container with water from a spigot coming out of the wall and then ladle the water into the toilet. It was really nice there!
The British couple told us they had heard that there was a wedding going on that evening, and everyone in the village was invited. We could hear music in the distance, so thought we might go check it out. Bill changed into a dressier shirt, and off we went on foot down the road. The villagers we passed were...kind of strange. I'm not sure how to describe it, just that there was a weird vibe going on in that town. We passed a young man sprawled on his motorcycle, hair all teased up and big relaxed smile on his face. He started talking to us and was obviously wasted. LIttle kids walking by were friendly, though. There were a couple groups of teenage boys hanging around, some traffic on the road, women wrapped in ikat gossiping amongst themselves, etc. Bill and I reached the point where we could hear the music loudest--it was coming from a structure off the main road and we couldn't really see any activity from where we were standing. We decided not to crash the party and instead try to find something to eat for dinner
. It was nearly dusk at this point. We looked across the street and saw a place called Bintang Restaurant. It had also been featured in our guidebook pages as having good food. We decided to try it out. We climbed some steps, sat down at a table, looked at a dirty menu, contemplated what the kitchen might look like or consist of, and ended up sharing a bottle of Bintang for dinner. While we were sitting there, we saw a sign on the counter that read "Internet" which made me hopeful that we might be able to connect to home. I decided to run back to the room for our laptop. It was nearly dark by the time I made it back, getting catcalls from a group of kids on the street along the way. We discovered that there was no Internet coverage after all, so it was a wasted trip.
Heading back to our lovely room, we contemplated what lay ahead (cold showers). We'd only been given one towel and looked speculatively at clotheslines hanging in the front yard of the place, loaded down with drying things--couldn't see any actual towels though, so being the kind and thoughtful wife that I am, I let Bill take his shower first. Before this though, we decided to give it one more try to find a place to get something to eat for dinner. We had passed a place called the Rainbow Cafe on our way to our room at Hidayah and knew it was just up the road, so decided to brave the darkness and sporadic motorbike traffic and see if they were open
. When we got there, we saw some low lights on inside. Bill, with the aid of our travel flashlight, picked his way to the door and started calling out, "Are you open?" "Hello?" He said there was an aboriginal-looking fellow with wild hair, wrapped in robes, sleeping on the floor of the restaurant. Finally a woman emerged from the back and said that they were closed. Big surprise. We turned around and when we got back to the room, I attempted to make a sandwich out of my saved bread and processed cheese from breakfast, but it was just too gross. At that point, we took our showers and went to bed. I think it was 8 p.m.
We were woken at 2 a.m. by the loud thumping of Indonesian pop music which grew in volume until we could hardly hear ourselves think. It would grow louder and then someone would turn the volume down and then way back up and then down-up-down-up, finally leaving it on full blast, with bass distorted. It sounded like it was coming from about 4 feet away. It was absolutely awful. It lasted for at least a half hour, maybe longer. We listened to songs reminiscent of Mexican music, Indonesian dance mixes, and I think at least one American pop tune, all with heavy thumping bass. It was the most miserable experience. We put in earplugs and then just laid there fuming about how much we hated Moni. Finally the music stopped, but the village dogs were all barking (they'd probably been barking the whole time but we couldn't hear them for the music).
At 4 a.m., Gabriel knocked on our door, waking us up from our doze for the dawn climb up the side of a volcano to the three-colored lakes of Kelimutu. I'll describe it in the next entry.