Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel Wini Rai One

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Thursday, June 14, 2012

Maumere is the administrative capital and largest town on the island of Flores. It has a population of perhaps 100,000 and sits on a flat coastal plain with the mountains of Flores as a backdrop. It's worth quoting the Lonely Planet description of Maumere:

"...a pretty forlorn place... Its crumbling concrete buildings and air of decay brutally betray its recent history – in 1992 an earthquake and resulting 20m tsunami killed thousands here. ... mounds of rubbish line the streets, nibbled by marauding pigs and goats, which only compounds the post-apocalyptic air that lingers on."

Armed with this information, we have arrived here after an excruciatingly long journey across Flores, over rough, mountainous roads that twist and turn through magnificent scenery. Our mission here is to try and extend our Indonesian visa by one month, a task which, according to the Lonely Planet On-line Travel Forum, is as depressing as the town itself. As the administrative capital of Flores, Maumere is the only town between Bali and Kupang (West Timor) where there is an Immigration office - we have to be here or leave the country in a week.As we arrived in Maumere on Saturday, there is nothing we can do regarding our visa extension until Monday, so on Sunday morning, after a simple but tasty breakfast of coffee and sweet cakes, we set off to explore the post apocalyptic city, with some apprehension. Downtown Maumere is indeed a scruffy place, with lots of litter, crumbling buildings, grafitti and a hot dusty atmosphere. However, the first thing we notice is the cheery disposition of the many people we walk past. So many "Hello Misters" and "Where you froms", that we soon establish a standard and equally friendly response. 

The main method of public transport here is the humble 'ojek', a motorcycle. It seems that every second man is an ojek driver, though how you can tell who is and isn't is still beyond us. As we have a whole day to kill we aren't looking for a ride anywhere yet, and our 'No thanks, we walk" responses to "You want ojek?" requests is met with amazement - no one walks in Maumere, it's too hot, to dusty and the footpaths are generally non existent or pitted with open holes leading to dark smelly drains filled with litter and fluids.

In the bed of a dry river that cuts through town we see the famous marauding pigs and the fluttering ends of a million discarded plastic bags and paper scraps. There is supposed to be a couple of restaurants down near the waterfront that fit the bill as traveller haunts (Lonely Planet) but we can't find them, nor do we see any other travellers in our wanderings. After a couple of hours establishing the End of the World credentials of Maumere, we head back to the hotel for some air conditioning and cable TV in our room.

The Wini Rai One (as opposed to it's lesser rated sister establishment, the Wini Rai Two) is a large single story hotel with a courtyard garden around which are arranged the rooms. It's perfectly OK here, though as usual in Asia, the bathroom could do with the attentions of a western plumber. The main guy here is a lovely young man named Konradus who speaks good English and helps us at every turn. At 9am on Monday morning he summons two ojeks from the passing parade of traffic out on the main road, we mount up and are taken across town to the Immigration Office. Once out of the scruffy downtown area, Maumere is not as bad as it seems. The streets are clean, there are footpaths here and there, trees and a sea view.

The 'Kantor Immigrasi' is in a newish building and there are loads of local people here waiting their turn to be served. However, we no sooner sit down than we care called to the counter and seen by a young woman. Expecting the worst, we are well treated and told what we need to do - fill in the forms, find a 'sponsor', provide some photocopies and pay $25 each. We leave, find two ojeks and scoot back to the hotel.

Konradus offers to sponsor us without hesitation, and Laura, the niece of the owner offers to fill in our forms as she knows what to do because her Mum works in the Surabaya Immigration office (Java). Konradus also goes out and photocopies our passports and documents and when everything is complete we ojek it back to Immigrasi.

Miss Selvy, the nice young woman, sees us straight away and all is in order until it appears that Konradus doesn't have a copy of his Indo ID. We have to find another sponsor. Ojek back to the hotel and Konradus just asks his colleague from the Wini Rai 2, Mr Ruben, who comes over, fills in the new form, gives us a copy of his Id and then it's another ojek back to you know where. Miss Selvy is happy with everything and tells us to come back on Wednesday to pick up our visa extensions - just like that; quite easy really, considering the stories of bribery, corruption and obfuscation that we had read about.

Now we have two full days to kill. What to in Mamore?  We could head up into the mountains to see a famous volcano, but that is the direction we plan to head in when we leave Mamore and we don't want to make anymore long trips back and forwards than we have too. There are some resorts further up the coast that we could go to, or we could even head to the end of Flores, to a town called Lorant. Also, there is supposedly an interesting fishing village nearby.  We choose none of these - they will all take time, effort and money,which we are trying to conserve. We decide to stay put and just hang out, fingers crossed that they grant our visas, then we can move on to new horizons.

On Tuesday we walk down to the harbor front in search of the elusive 'Black Bamboo Cafe" as listed in the LP. Can't find it but when an joke driver cruises along beside us we ask him if he can take us to the fishing village a few kilometers up the coast. He quotes 20,000 each ($2) and hails a second joke. We saddle up and are whipped along the highway to the village, a place called Wu ring. 

The village is home to a community of fisher folk, Bug is, ocean nomads from Sulawesi. It is mainly built on stilts over the sea, a ramshackle , comic book construction of bamboo and drift wood, with rickety footbridges leading to many of the houses. Children, chickens, goats and dogs wander freely about on the dusty lanes from which the stilt houses are accessed. Our joke guys, Matt and Nana park up and wander with us through the maze of buildings, answering our questions and translating when necessary. The people here are going about their daily lives as they have done for centuries and they are friendly and welcoming to us. Despite the obvious poverty and floating mess above and amongst which they live, they seem happy and content. We meet boat builders, gangs of kids, mothers and babies, teens with a guitar and fishermen at the main dock. The Bugis are known for their sea-going prowess and the large wooden schooners that they traditionally build, several which are docked here.

After an hour or so we head back to Maumere where we sit and have a drink with our drivers, chatting in a mixture of Indonesian and English, which has become our main method of communication. Bahassa Indonesia is a surprisingly easy language to learn. It helps that it is written in the Roman script, making pronunciation easier. Also, the language is simple - it's not tonal like Chinese, and there are not really tenses or plurals or gender to worry about.Each day we add one or two new words to our vocabulary and I make a concerted effort to learn the numbers, essential to avoid being ripped off. As the only westerners in town during our stay, our language skills rapidly improve.

Other things we do in Maumere - everyday I visit the tiny, oven-like cells of the nearby internet cafe to check emails and catch up with our blog. We find a seafood restaurant on the harbour front where we choose a big grouper from a tank and have it grilled and served with hot sambol and cold beer. We watch movies on HBO and Fox in the cool of our room - and that's about it. On Thursday morning we catch ojeks to Immigrasi and are unmistakably overjoyed when Miss Selvy hands over our passports with the new exit date stamp inside. We dash back to the hotel, check out, say our fond farewells to Konradus and Laura, and at 10am a car arrives to take us on the two and a half hour journey up into the mountains to the village of Moni, where our Flores adventure continues.
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