Off to Flores

Trip Start Mar 19, 2008
Trip End Jun 05, 2008

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Where I stayed
Bintan, Moni

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Sunday, May 25, 2008

We got a few funny looks getting on our plane to Maumere in the east of Flores. There weren't many foreigners onboard (I think I counted 3 others on a largish place) and I suppose we were a bit of a novelty. We got to stop off briefly on East Sumba on the way and got even funnier looks from the locals who boarded.
Maumere airport was very small, just a small building with about a million taxi drivers. Our plan was to push straight through to the small town of Moni (Maumere is a big enough town) which sits under the huge volcanic peak of Kelimutu, and its 3 remarkably coloured lakes. We only had 5 days in Flores and we'd have to move fairly fast across the very narrow and windy roads to get to Labuan Bajo on the west coast to make our flight back to Bali.
The point of this part of the trip, apart from getting from east to west, was to see somewhere with little tourism, and to see Flores in all its pristine beauty. It's a large island (not that much smaller than Ireland) but apart from a few good roads, it has little or no infrastructure. There are tribes here that live in pretty happy isolation from the outside world and although the larger towns did have hotels we were warned not to expect any type of luxury. Little did we know that luxury included flushing toilets and running water, much to Lisa's delight...
The real complication was working out how we were going to get the 534kms from Maumere to Labuan Bajo in our 5 days. It may not seem a long way, but the roads here are notoriously unreliable, and the buses are unscheduled and fairly hairy. Our best option was to hire a driver who'd take us across the island. There's a fairly booming trade in this option, lots of locals make a 4 day overland drive from west to east and then back again hoping to pick up tourists for a reasonable payday. So the airport was filled with folks who were clawing at us to get the business.
We planned to head the two or so hours to Moni where we were less likely to be clawed at and could negotiate a good price with someone who we'd met for a little longer then a few rushed minutes at the airport. That was the plan at least. We somehow got ushered into a car with a very smooth lad called Franco and his big brooding drive Andre. They offered us a rate way below what we'd been offered in the airport to get to Moni. Although we realised it meant a 2 hour sales pitch while they tried to convince us to go the rest of the way across the island with them, it was a good price and it was getting late.
So while Franco outlined every single 5 day itinerary he could think of, we took in the beautiful views as we spiralled up into mountains and wound back down into paddy field filled valleys. Next thing the car started making funny noises and we all piled out to see a nice flat tyre on the front of the jeep.
While Andre and Franco manfully propped the jeep up on branches and a rock, we stood around trying to be helpful in the dark. At least they could use our head torch. Team effort!
So we limped into Moni in pitch black as the rain started to come down. We opted to stay in a little "hotel" called Bintang (named after the local beer, as you do) over looking the valley you couldn't see in the rain and dark. We sludged through mud into a very funny smelling room. Lisa gave me a look (it wasn't me!), but we knew we had no other option. The only thing to do was to go get drunk. So we popped over to the local restaurant (also called Bintang - I'm fairly sure the kids around here are called Bintang too) and sat down with 4 local guides and happily shared their Arak (or demon juice as it should be known).
An Italian chap popped in and I thought he looked a little weary. When we found out that he'd cycled from Milan we could understand why. Okay, he'd only cycled 100kms that day but boy, are there some nasty hills around here. He's been cycling well over a year now and he says Kazakhstan was his worst stop, bribing cops every 5 miles. It must have broken his momentum...
Anyway, everyone was getting on famously and next thing we were invited to a local girl's birthday party. She'd turned 1 and we never saw her at the party, but her father seemed happy to have every man in the village, and us, around to drink up this big occasion. We sat around on his living room floor until it looked likely we'd be getting the next bottle of Arak (we'd already got them a couple of bottles, at gringo prices!). Plus there wasn't a lot of female conversation for Lisa to get involved in, seeing as she was the only girl there. We had to be up early the next morning to climb Kelimutu anyway. It was just a little worrying seeing our driver and guide, Andre and Franco, still sitting around drinking as we left. See you at 4.30am boys!
Needless to say when we got up at that god awful hour, there was no sign of the two boys. We'd been feeling a bit iffy about them after Franco had changed aspects of our deal a few times the previous night. Now, rather than coming all the way to Labuan Bajo, he was talking about heading on ahead to catch another car (and another payday) back. We told him this wasn't the deal. Then he mentioned how we wouldn't need him to head up Kelimutu. Again, we told him that this wasn't the deal, he was supposed to be our guide. We were paying a fair bit for this and weren't going to get stiffed.
So now that there was no sign of them at the appointed time, we both began to get a bad feeling. With our trusty head torch, we set off in the pissing rain looking for them. We wandered back to where we thought the party had been and suddenly two weary heads emerged from a parked car. It was Franco and Andre, and what looked like two other locals in the back who all seemed to have had a rough night. Franco said it was too wet for us to go, and he was probably right, but we weren't letting this go - we'd been up at the crack of dawn, and we had one chance at seeing this sunrise and these boys were dicking around because we'd bartered pretty hard with them. We got the distinct feeling that they were taking the piss. So I let fly, while holding Lisa back who also wanted to get a word or two in. Don't forget, we've been to Vietnam, so know how to handle piss-takers.
We made clear our dissatisfaction and stomped off through the mud. He looked very hungover and upset and promised us he'd pick us up in an hour. We resigned ourselves to never seeing the pair again and wondered how the hell we'd get out of town, never mind up Kelimutu.
Well, miracles of miracles, but the boys arrived at the amended time and Franco was suddenly all smiles and our new best friend. In fairness, from this point on, they never messed around again and for the rest of the 5 days, we got on famously, and they did a great job of showing us Flores, but I'm glad we set things straight initially.
The rain didn't let up for our climb up Kelimutu and we were resigned to sitting in a cloud hoping it would clear long enough for us to see some of the lakes. We got lucky as the clouds lifted for a fair time and we got to see the three lakes. Each lake is a different colour - turquoise, brown, black - due to the chemicals and sediments in them from the volcano. Apparently 40 years ago the lakes were red, white and blue!
We drove back down and the weather lifted. I got super excited about the lush green paddy fields lining either side of a large valley so we stopped for a few thousand snaps. All this and it still wasn't even breakfast time. We said goodbye to our mud-filled hotel and set off over the mountains to Bajawa.
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