Hati Hati

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

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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Saturday, June 16, 2012

Moni is a small, insignificant village located high in the mountains of Flores, about 50kms from the south coast seaport of Ende. What makes it a destination is its proximity to Mt Kelimutu (1,639 m / 5,377 ft), a spectacular volcano renowned for its three adjoining crater lakes, each of a different colour. Our car transport to Moni from Maumere is a mini-adventure in itself. We are picked up from the Wini Rai 1 Hotel in the Toyota people carrier which already has two other passengers, plus the driver and the ubiquitous 'helper' on board. It's a good start as we head up into the hills, our driver appearing to be calm and unhurried. When we reach a village a few miles into the trip we stop and pick up a lady passenger. Then the driver and the helper swap roles and helper becomes a speed merchant, tearing along the mountain roads with little regard to our squeaks and moans in the cramped rear seats. He screeches to another stop at a small hamlet where another woman squeezes into the middle row of seats.

The Trans Flores highway is undergoing major repairs at the time of writing. The work appears to consist of the building of culverts and drains along its length, this, to funnel the wet season downpours in an effort to limit road washouts, which must be a major problem. The work is being carried out by numerous teams of contractors employing dozens of men who move rocks and boulders by hand; except for a few diggers, there is virtually no heavy machinery involved - it's true third world labour - strength in numbers. The only safety consideration at each works site is a sign saying 'Hati Hati' - which means something like 'Take Care.' As our vehicle hurtles around hairpins and up and down steep inclines we come to a severe bottle neck caused by workers and rocks, made worse by the fact that there is no traffic control and oncoming vehicles refusing to give way to each other. 

The first stoppage lasts for ages as our driver and an oncoming truck refuse to give an inch to each other and a tailback forms in each direction. When that finally clears, after much backing up and shouting by all drivers, we then come to a digger which is removing overhanging trees from the road. Here a jam of buses and bikes grows into a mighty jumble which expands for almost an hour before we are allowed to pass the obstacles. The next halt is caused by the presence of a massive boulder in the middle of the road. This is too big for the dozen or so men to move by hand so they proceed to clear a path past the rock by clearing a landslide of smaller boulders out of the way, some still requiring four people to move them. While they are doing this motor bikes begin squeezing through the gap as it is created, making the job of clearing the road even more difficult. To western eyes, used to traffic cones, flagmen and detours, this shambolic roadworks system is so unorganised it is comical and I can't help smiling at the shouting, grunting, barefoot workers, the impatient pushy motorcyclists and the enormous boulder sitting stubbornly in the middle of the road, and the Hati Hati sign.

While we are waiting for this blockage to clear, our driver and his mate try and squeeze another passenger into our seat, some guy who is waiting at the road block. We refuse to allow him into the rear, we paid extra for these seats and refuse to be intimidated or made to feel guilty for allowing the drivers to force us into an even more uncomfortable position. They don't seem to mind, they just put the new guy on the lap of the helper who is already sitting on the middle row of seats, along with the two female passengers. We get going again, then have a blow out as we come around a sharp corner - it could have been a disaster but we survive and our infuriating driver and helper monkey around with the spare for half an hour before we set off once more. We are beginning to doubt that we will ever arrive in Moni - the two hour trip has taken four. Then, about 15 minutes from our destination, they stop for lunch!
At last - Moni. We are dropped of in front of the Hidayah Guesthouse, the Lonely Planet's top pick for this town. There's not much to Moni, just a typical village but with a number of small guesthouses dotted along its only street, the highway. We are greeted at the Hidayah by a young man with an incredible Afro haircut, Kristo, and the owner, a 30 something bloke named Bryan. They are friendly and the guesthouse, which only has four rooms is clean, tidy and endowed with a nice view over rice fields and mountains. We soon unwind from our frustrating car journey and it's not long before I'm drinking a beer and playing guitar with Kristo and Bryan. There is a new restaurant here too and we discover the food to be quite good with some different things on the menu, such as 'Hidayah Potato Cakes." 

The reason we are here is to view the volcano and this we organise easily through Bryan. The best time to see the volcanic craters is at dawn, so at 4.30am we gather outside the guesthouse, along with the two other guests, a mother and daughter from Holland. Waiting for us are Kristo and three other young men on motorbikes to take us up to the summit. It's really cold this time of morning and its a 45 minute bike ride to the top. In the pitch dark we arrive at the parking area with numb ears and fingers and proceed to walk the final 20 minutes to the amazing viewpoint, high above the craters, which are invisible in the blackness. There are a couple of local people up here with thermos's who sell coffee, so we settle down on the stepped plinth to await the sunrise.

We aren't disappointed. A glow in the east gradually intensifies until the sun rises majestically over the sea of clouds that float over Flores. As its rays flood the scene, two of the craters become visible below us, the third crater, behind us - the Black Lake - is almost always covered in cloud, but we can still visualise it beneath its mysterious blanket.This lake is named Tiwu Ata Mbupu (Lake of Old People) and we are told that not many years ago a couple of European tourists tried to walk around its rim, only to fall into the crater, their bodies were never found definitely a need for a 'Hati Hati' sign here. The two adjoining lakes in front are different shades of blue in colour, a thick opaque blue too, like enamel paint. These two lakes are known to change colours at irregular intervals, one always remaining blue, the other occasionally turning red. To top off our morning, a troop of mountain monkeys appear and advance curiously onto the plinth, no doubt after a spot of free breakfast, which we don't have.

Once the sun has fully risen, we ride back down the mountain and have breakfast at the guesthouse. The rest of the day we spend chilling out, walking to a nearby waterfall and in the afternoon, accompanying Bryan and Kristo on their bikes for a bath in some natural hot springs located in a secret spot amongst terraced rice fields higher up the mountain.

Our future travel plan, once we are finished with Moni, is to travel on to Ende Port, where we will catch a ferry to the island of Sumba. Bryan makes some enquiries for us and we discover that catching the ferry might prove difficult as it leaves the next morning and we may not make it to Ende in time. The alternative is another ferry that goes on Wednesday from the tiny port of Aimere. This we can do, and Bryan offers us a tour that will fill in the remaining days before that time. 

Travel on Flores in difficult - the roads, the irregular bus and bemo services, the wildness of the place. Robust young backpackers can do it with difficulty, but we are weary of waiting for hours for crowded local buses and Bryan's tour offers the chance to see a bit more of Flores in the comfort of a private car. The tour, costing about $300 for four days, will take us to the north coast and back down to another mountain town, Bajawa, before dropping us at Aimere for our Wednesday ferry. Included in the price is a driver, and Kristo, who will act as guide. 

Our last night in Moni is spent drinking arak at the Hidayah. This local spirit, made of palm juice and drunk with a squeeze of lime, tastes like tequila and packs a similar punch. In a semi-legless state, we retire to our room, with the prospect of more travel in the morning, new places to see and an Indonesian ferry ride (Hati Hati) to look forward to in five days time.
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