Beyond the lakes

Trip Start Sep 11, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

After Bajawa, it was off along the highway to Ende, our next port (literally) of call.

Ende (30-31 December)

In Ende we stayed with another volunteer, Gina, for the night. There wasn't very much to do in Ende, but it was good to find out more about Gina's work, as she works in a similar field to me, disability awareness and advocacy.

For the final leg of the journey to Maumere, rather than go by minibus, we booked our own travel, so that we could go to Maumere via Kelimutu. We set off early on the morning of New Year's Eve in sunshine, and arrived at Kelimutu at about 0930.

Kelimutu is a volcano about half way between Ende and Maumere, and one of the highlights of the whole region. 1640m in height, Kelimutu's lunar landscape has plunging craters holding three coloured lakes that, astonishingly, change colour every few years, often without warning and literally over the space of a few days. Kelimutu has attracted tourists since the Dutch arrived, and this morning it was our turn.

We were incredibly lucky, because we had clear skies and sunshine, which for mid-morning in the rainy season does not happen regularly. From where we left our hired vehicle, it was a 30 minute walk to the top, and I really had no idea what to expect. The first lake we saw, Tiwi Ata Mbupu, was a chocolate brown colour, while the second and most glorious - Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai - was a lake of bright turquoise shining in the sunlight. The third, Tiwi Ata Polo, was greeny-black in colour, and could be seen from 'Inspiration Point,' from where all three lakes can be viewed.

The turquoise lake was green for most of the 1990s, and then over a month in 1997 changed to white. It is believed that the lakes change colour because of dissolving minerals, and that the process can speed up by the rain. Two of the lakes are highly active, which makes it difficult to carry out experiments.

Of course, various legends have developed, and the lakes are sacred for the local people, who believe that the souls of the dead are received here by Konde Ratu. The souls of young people would go to the turquoise lake, older people's souls to the brown lake, and the souls of the wicked to the black lake.

There was one couple there, and apart from them we had the place to ourselves. It was simply amazing.

From Kelimutu, we travelled through the rain along the final stretch of the journey, to Maumere.

Maumere (31 December - 2 January)

It was New Year's Eve, and we were relieved to be told over the phone that we can pick up our plane tickets for the flight home on the 2nd, because the Merpati airline office will be open until 6pm. That is, until we turned up at 2pm and found it shut. We phoned, they've gone home for lunch, they said, we can go back in half an hour. Back we went at 3pm, still shut: they've all gone home because it's New Year's Eve.

Fortunately there is a second Merpati office in Maumere, so we went there, and waited for 45 minutes. Then a lady came out of the office and said she would open up the other office, but first she was going to go home and have something to eat. An hour later and finally we have the tickets. This is all quite normal for Indonesia. Happily their planes seem to work better than they do!

And so, late in the afternoon, we arrived at our accommodation 30 minutes along the coast from Maumere. Called Ankermi, it is a lovely place, with a handful of small chalet-like bungalows set facing the sea, which is about 5 metres away and relatively calm. There is malaria in NTT, and a nice big bed surrounded by a good mosquito net is a help. The mosquitos of Maumere were totally unfazed by the DEET cream and two pairs of socks covering my ankles - which were bitten several times over dinner. Ouch!

There were only a few of us for New Year's eve at Ankermi. As well as me and Ryz there was Jo, who had been with us since Bajawa; Pete, a British vol working in Maumere; a long-standing resident from Germany called Heinz, and the hotel owners Hermi, a local man, and his wife Claudia, who came here from Switzerland 10 years ago.

The VSO volunteers of Maumere are well-known to them, and they made us feel very welcome. The food, in particular, is delicious, and they understand the deep and very real needs of the English traveller, supplying tea and cake on the terrace from 4.30pm. Later that night I saw in the New Year with a couple of G&Ts, then went for a peaceful night's sleep.

The new year got off to a funny start! The thing about the outdoor shower rooms was that the walls were none-too-tall, which for a man like me meant showering while saying good morning to those who passed by on the other side of the wall. I had an enjoyable and slightly surreal chat with Jo. Fortunately the mirrors were all strategically placed to avoid any kind of oversight.

There is a quite beach nearby, and it was raining, but we had a nice swim anyway, and Ryz amused me by setting up a small crab race. It was surprising how fast they went once they got started. In the afternoon we went to the birthday party of the local priest, and ended up doing the Poco Poco again, much to the delight of some of the older nuns.

The next morning Ryz and I flew back to Bali, then I flew back to Yogya early the following morning. It was an amazing Christmas, very different, and memorable. It was really good to keep in touch with friends and family over Christmas by email and sms. I hope you've enjoyed reading about the travels through Flores, and I wish you a very happy 2008!

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