O come all ye travellers

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Thursday, August 11, 2005

Now this is more like it. Peace and tranquility, gorgeous tropical surrounds, organised locals, great food, entertainment and culture. Thank you Riung!

Riung is a tiny fishing village (pop. 1,200) nestled amongst coconut and banana palms on the northern coast of Flores - a large and central island in the Nusa Tenggara chain. It's pretty 'off the beaten track' and is the gateway to the 17 Islands National Park, or as the brochures put it, the Pearly Necklace of the East. Hmmm, might have to work on that tagline.

Our lizard is bigger than yours Nestled in the coconut palms

The village itself is interesting in a number of ways. Once you hit shore you're presented with a muslim stilt village on the mudflats, then a click up the road is the Catholic town centre. As with other stops, both seem to live in complete harmony.

Muslim stilt huts High tech humpy

Everything is pretty primitive, but there's a certain pride in the presentation and there's a lot less litter, dilapidation and overt poverty than in other places we have visited. There isn't much to do and I gather unemployment is pretty high, so most huts regardless of state of repair will have a satellite dish attached to keep the residents occupied.

They went nuts when they saw us I caught a fish *this* big

We arrived here Tuesday morning after a solid 48 hour motorsail direct from Alor. The voyage itself was reasonably uneventful except for the occasional need to dodge freighters, unlit fishing boats and squalls. Menacing storms threatened the last 12 hours of the journey so we were glad to make it in and rest up.

However we did immediately notice the different approach the powers that be here have taken to our visit. A patrol boat diligently guided us (and every other boat) through the treacherous reefs to the anchorage which was a great start. Next was the substantial dinghy jetty that had been built to get us ashore and participating in the economy. It really is a work of art and greatly appreciated. Not long after our arrival the 12 or so boats that were in port were tastefully welcomed by local dignitaries in a nice little service. All over town new flags and fences have been raised and the locals have been very helpful, shuttling us from the dock to in town or making life easy when sourcing supplies. Just what the doctor ordered.

Funky outfits Free beer table - mmm bintang

The 'Gala Welcome dinner' was a fantastic display of local cuisine, colourful traditional dress and a variety or very cool bamboo instruments banging out some very catchy tunes. The bamboo xylophones were a real hit, with the bass drum numbers that you donk on the ground coming in a close second. Would be pretty funky for the lounge room at home. The karaoke intermissions left a wry smile on most faces but no expense was spared, nothing overlooked and the professional execution really was a welcome change from comparable events in other locales. Even the beer was free. Riung, you may be tiny but you've done yourself proud!

Greatest bamboo xylophone hits Almost as good as the xylophones

During the daytime there has been a variety of activities available in the surrounding islands and on the mainland. Our first free day before the main fleet arrived allowed some time for snorkelling, so we jumped in the dinghy and choofed over to a small sand beach with grass hut about 1km away from the boat. Collected some nice shells and snorkelled the reef that was unfortunately a little worse for wear from anchors and crown of thorns starfish. Little buggers. The fish were out in abundance however and I saw my first turtle in the wild, a nice way to end the day.

Hut on our little private beach Rainbow over the anchorage

A day or two into our stay I passed on an opportunity to see the local giant lizards to enjoy some quality personal time sans Joe and Michele, figuring the Komodos will be more accessible and more impressive anyway. It was a good call on my part - no wild lizards were found and the trek was apparently a mission.

The day after was a beauty - early morning snorkelling on a neighbouring island called Ruteng. Magnificent sunshine, cruising on the local stinkboats to get there, great reef which was only 0.5m below the surface so you had a close and personal look, and you really had to suck your stomach in to avoid the spikey sea urchins! Saw some type of sting/manta ray which was a pleasant surprise, and had a great lunchtime beach BBQ compliments of the ever-pleasing locals.

Snorkel and sea urchin heaven Local stinkboats Beach bbq Riung style

Once we got back to shore some traditional boxing was on the menu, which has to be seen to be believed. A small rectangular arena was roped off under two magnificent old trees in the late afternoon sunshine and us visitors and half the town alike came to witness a quite brutal blood sport. After the obligatory friendship dancing and much drinking of homemade arak around a plastic fuelled fire, each boxer is kitted out with a sports turban to protect the head, a woven chest protector that could be mistaken for either a corset or a boob tube, and the traditional ikat skirt (of his tribe/village).

Smack 'im in the 'ead!

The fighters are then each given a 'Tia Kolo' by the referee, which is a small club of wound rope which resembles a very hard pine cone on a string. The Tia Kolo fits into the right hand and the string is wrapped around it to hold it securely in place. The contestants face off, then attempt to beat each other senseless by hitting the opponent's face and upper chest with the pointy or flat sides of the pine cone. (Apparently in the tough guy tournaments they use Kolos embedded with broken glass or rocks, but it was probably fortunate we didn't witness that.) The resulting bouts are fast and furious, but no-one was seriously injured this time and in the end no winner was proclaimed, which shows either the immense stupidity of both competing tribes or the importance of the sport as opposed to the thrill of victory in this society. I'll let you decide.

I also took the opportunity to head out of town one day to check out the surrounding countryside. Woah, what a mission - I can see why they have such difficulty attracting tourism here because it's really out of the way by sea and a real gamble to get in by road.

Typical terrain on Flores

Our destination was a traditional village called Bena, which lies beyond the mountain-locked regional capital of Bajawa in the south, then to some nearby hot springs. Including a few short stops, the 90 km one way journey to Bena took 4.5 hours to complete (do the math). The road is a small truck lane wide the whole way, mercilessly striated and pocked with potholes to ensure a truly bone-crunching ride. Due to some quite terrifying hairpin turns it can rise or fall hundreds of metres in less than a kilometre of travel, and the dense jungle threatens to strangle it (and you) for most of the journey over the island's mountain spine and down the other side.

Gunung (Mt) Inerie - 3.5 hours to the top

We climbed from 0 to 1,500 metres altitude in very short order, circumnavigated a very cool and imposing volcano (Mt Inerie - would have been a perfect climbing candidate for my wish list), dodged huge outcrops of bamboo, and considering the dodgy bus, staggering inclines, oncoming traffic, random animal and human pedestrians, rain and eventual nightfall, we felt very lucky to survive the 13 hour saga.

Bena from below Huts with graves nearby Build your own Stonehenge - Indo style

It was worth it however. Bena village was certainly very different to anything else we've seen so far - perfectly situated for defense on a high outcrop, filled with funky thatched huts, dotted with graves (inside town), buffalo skulls and strange stonehenge-style megaliths. It's hard to describe so hopefully the photos do it some justice. There was a funeral in progress when we got there, which we were honoured to be allowed to view but thought best not to photograph.

Traditional Bena dress - very classy Lots of chillies Where the hot water bubbles out

After lunch we stopped at a great market at Bajawa to stock up before departure. Lots of tasty looking vegetables, unlike many of the limp options we'd seen in smaller markets about the place. Then we took another goat track to the hot springs at Mengeruda - a 40 degree celsius volcanic springs that well up from some sizzling place underground and merge with a cold water stream to form a great natural wonder to laze and paddle in.

40 degree falls Kids having a bath

Unfortunately a pretty tacky resort has been partially built around it (work came to a halt after the Bali bombings - not sure for better or worse), but it's another example of an attraction with good potential that may well have it's day in the future, if the accessibility issue can be fixed.

Well, we're just pulling into Komodo now so better end this off and start taking photos for the next one. To wind up, Riung has been a fantastic little stop but as it's difficult to get to it will probably remain a secret. The locals have been awesome so if you are anywhere in the vicinity, try to drop in - they'd love to see you!

Next entry -> Komodo dragon action (watch as I feed our first mate to one ;-)

(Not my) Words of Wisdom - Quote #13

"The things you own end up owning you."

Tyler Durden/Brad Pitt - Fight Club
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