I Don't Do Churches

Trip Start Oct 15, 2012
Trip End Mar 15, 2013

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Where I stayed
Various holes
What I did
Mount Kelimutu

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Monday, November 5, 2012

5, November 2012
It's early and I can hear Emma, Fernando and Jochem are about to leave. I feel as though i should get up and say goodbye but I'm shattered and I don't think I'm in the best state to present myself for hugs or handshakes, especially with the bed breath i've got on right now. Hopefully we'll get to catch up with them further along the way.
Eventually we get out of bed and are greeted by Marianna, the owner of Casa Selini, who Emma warned could be temperamental. However, she warmly greets us and plies us with lots of questions. Marianna is slightly heavyset, heavily tanned and has a loud, thick Greek accent. She is proud (not arrogantly so) and opinionated. I like her. It's another hot trafficky day in Labuan Bajo and the second of the five daily call to prayer is blaring out in stereo. It's day 3 and I realise that i've had enough of this place.  The noise from the traffic sucks, there's not much to do and the call to prayer is louder than ever. Fernando was right, in time this place will drive me insane. The only thing that keeps me entertained are the kids whom I high five at every opportunity but this doesn't foster the image of the sad and battered waif photo I'm after in order to get my Nat Geo award. Would it be bad to give one kid a hefty clip round the ear in order to get the money shot? If no one is around to witness the event who's to say that it happened? When a tree falls in the woods with no one present does it make a sound? Good loop hole, Gordon.
After visiting several operators Emily and I become resigned to the fact that we'll have to pay quite a bit of money as we're continually quoted 2,500,000 rupiah and above. However, we stumble across a driver called Charles who, after hearing our attempts to acquire a driver, covertly meets us further down the road in order to broker a deal out of earshot from his employers. Charles is very slight of frame and half an inch shorter than me. His english is ok-ish but he seems to lack charisma and a definite personality he's like the Indonesian version of Kimi Raikonnen. The lack of these traits is of slight concern to me insomuch that if we're to spend 4 days with a driver, I want that person to be able to provide a good bit of banter. Regardless of my feelings we reach an agreement of 2,000,000 rupiahs which Charles wants payment for upfront. We give him 500,000 on the promise that we'll pay the remaining amount tomorrow. Pick up will be at 7am. Great, another early start.
After meandering and drinking around town, and chasing one kid down the street as he was harassing his (smaller) friend with punches, we head back to Casa Selini. Marianna isn't home so we settle in to watch a bit of News on the TV, the headline is Borack vs Mitt.  I'd read in the news that Obama had taken a battering in the first debate, so for me it was just a matter of time before another Republican fuck-wit regained office.As Emily and I are discussing politics Marianna boulders her way through the front door, apparently drunk. Plonking herself on the large lounger every bit the lady of leisure and pleasure. She notes the politics on TV.  
"Dis man, Mitt farking Rrromney is a farking terrible person. He cannot win, dis mother farker he is not for the people." 
"Well, Obama took a battering in the first debate so he might just get in." I say. "And remember America voted in George Bush Jnr. a second term in office despite the clear rigging of the first." 
"He's a farking Mormon! If he get's in will he haffe two First Ladies?Ouch! Good point.Next on the news is Lewis Hamilton.
"Hamilton, he is one hit wonder. I thought he would be the next Schumacher but he is stupid boy. His girlfriend is stupid, too Nicole farking Sherzinger." Marianna, it seems, also has an interest in Formula 1. She is possibly the coolest owner, ever. Gradually the conversation becomes one-sided (from me) and eventually slows as Marianna becomes increasingly unresponsive. She has in fact passed out with the remote firmly in her hand. Emily and I discreetly take our leave for the night.
6, November 2012, 6:30am
The alarm goes off way too early and an hour and a half ago the call to prayer disturbed me from my sleep. Fuck this place I'm done with it. I shove myself out of bed in a determined manner to be rid of this place.
True to his word, or perhaps because of the threatening phone call he received from Marianna yesterday giving him an earful in Indonesian about not ripping us off, Charles arrives at 7pm. And so begins our journey to Kelimutu.
Day 1 - Ruteng: 

 After several hours drive through remarkably bad, repetitive music (courtesy of Charles) and twisting, winding and undulating roads over cliffs of sheer drops that brought on a bout of travel sickness (something I never experience), we come across unmoving traffic. After sitting there for awhile I become impatient with the need to know what's happening up ahead. I jump out of our vehicle and walk toward the centre of activity. Just up the road and on the corner of a severe bend is a heavy good's truck. There are many spectators and several men wave and shout instructions to each other and the driver. The problem is all too clear: The driver has taken the bend too wide and needs to back up and reposition the truck in order to successfully navigate around the corner and up the steep incline. However, he faces two big problems one of which could kill him: a) the hill is very, very steep so once he releases the brakes in order to back up the truck he might not be able to stop. b) behind the truck is a sheer cliff and certain death. Two men scrabble about fetching large boulders which they place behind the rear wheels as an added aid to prevent the truck from careering out of control. With the boulders in place the driver revs the engine in preparation to reverse the truck. However, before he has a chance to do so one of the guys dips under the wheels to reposition the rock whilst the driver revs the engine - this dude is fucking crazy! If the driver cut loose on the brakes he'd be crushed by the wheels! He leaps out and stands by as the driver guns the engine, releases the brakes and the truck complies to the laws of gravity. Gently it reverses when all of a sudden it lurches backwards out of control. The man by the truck extends his hands as if he can stop the vehicle with his own strength. "Fuck!" I shout, this is intense. Because the back is so overladen with goods the front wheels momentarily lose contact with the tarmac, giving less traction.Eventually, and after a few nerve wracking moments, the driver successfully navigates his way out of trouble.
We reach the first port of call that Charles has decided upon: a town called Ruteng
We walk into a very clean spacious building. The reception is unmanned and after several shouts of "hello" yields no discernible presence, I decide to wander around to check the place out and to try and find our host. I turn down a corridor and in one of the rooms I spot a woman dressed as a nun. Weird, a nun staying in a hostel. She looks up and I quickly move on. I go downstairs to where there are lots of rooms but they're all empty. I shout hello and again no response. This is weird. Then I take in the pictures that dot the walls; images of Christ in various states: forgiving; merciful; sad; pious; nailed.  

"Christ," I Mutter. "Where the hell am I?" Dimly registering at the back of my mind that I've probably uttered 2 blasphemous nouns. This place is preternaturally quiet and has images of Christ everywhere. Freaking eerie.I return back to Emily, Charles has disappeared presumably looking for a host.  "I couldn't find anyone but I think this place is a fucking Nunnery." I report. 
"No, it's a convent and don't swear." Emily says. 
"What?! I fucking did not swear… fuck. Shit. Fuck-shit… look, I don't do Churches -"   
"Fucking convents." 
"Fuck. God. Shit." I shut up and breathe deeply, suddenly it's become quite hot. 
"Look I can't do not swearing it's part of my DNA but I'll give it a go." I go back to staring at Jesus. "If I was Jesus, why the fuck (Emily sighs in defeat) would I want to be continually reminded of the time I was murdered by the Roman Empire… or by the Jews if you subscribe to Mel Gibson's point of view? I don't get it, why hold an instrument of torture as being holy or divine? What if Jesus had been hung or had been beheaded? Or thrown to a pride of lions? 
"Ok that's enough sweetie," Emily says in her mothering tone. Just then a nun walks in with Charles behind her and I shut up not trusting myself not to swear. But the urge I have to say something, anything, is overwhelming so I just stare into the distance which meant that I was staring at a wall looking like someone on day release. I fight the urge to tell the joke about Jesus going into a motel and handing the owner 3 nails asking to be put up for the night. 
Day 2 - Moni
During our journey Charles shows us a crashed car at the bottom of a cliff. Everyone inside had died.We are supposed to go to Bajawa for our one and only chance to meet up with Jochem, Fernando and Emma but due to heavy rainfall we have to stop in a town called Moni at a shit no star hostel that is run by a friend of Charles. The hostel is called Christian's. The religious connotation does not escape me. Nothing really happens in Moni apart from the killing of one venomous snake.
Day 3 - Mount Kelimutu
5:00am! This is bullshit but the ungodly hour is necessary in order to capture the sunrise over Mt. Kelimutu, Flores' active volcano. I got very little sleep last night due to a lot of traffic with poorly muffled exhausts roaring past our room that continued into the late hours of the night. For a small island the noise from all the traffic is worse than in parts of London I've lived in. So once again I'm slightly grumpy from sleep deprivation. Emily and I rush to get our stuff together in order to meet Charles at 5:30am and to set off for the sunrise at 6am. But Charles is nowhere to be seen. After 15 minutes he appears looking tired and bleary eyed. I suspect that last night he'd been catching up with his mate over a few drinks. Normally I wouldn't be bothered but I didn't get much sleep and had I known that Charles would be up late, I could've napped a bit longer. So I'm a little pissed at our driver but I try not to show it. 
"Up late last night, huh?" 
"Yah, yah," he says sheepishly. 
"Out drinking with your friend?" 
"No, no." But I don't believe him, this is my chance to see the real Charles and to get a gauge on his personality. So far he's been quite quiet and keeps to himself whenever we've stopped off for a bite to eat. 
"Yeah, I bet you went out drinking and chasing the women, hey?  Where did you and your friend get to?" 
"Ah, no... One of my friend last night he die." And with that I feel like the biggest cock in the whole of Indonesia. Charles' friend had been unwell for quite some time and last night he finally succumbed to his illness. Learning the news of his death, Charles and other close friends all take to their vehicles and head over to pay their respects. This explains traffic I'd heard late last night.I feel terrible for the guy. I tell Charles that rather than take us back to Labuan Bajo he can drop us at the nearest town and we can get the coach back so that he can go and be with his friend's family. He say's he's fine to go on.
We miss the start of the sunrise which, for photography, is the best time to get great images. I clamber up a part of the volcano that has been cordoned off from visitors, determined to get my shot. As I ascend I realise that the top of this particular summit is farther away than I initially realised and it's not long before I find myself with sheer drops on either side. I am in danger of being that tourist who foolishly died for no fucking reason. I reach the top and the view is utterly shit. I trudge back down feeling like a fool, again - man I'm on fire today. To round off my embarrassment Emily tells me that the guide shouted after me to come back down. All looked on as I disregarded his advice that I didn't hear.The main part of the volcano is impressive and offers a spectacular view and as often when I'm confronted by heights, I have the urge to throw myself off just to experience the thrill of free falling. As I said I have a weird thrill seek in me for heights and speed. I've done a few bungee jumps in order to experience the excitement of free fall. 
After taking in our fill of the volcano and the impressive view it offers we return back to the car and hit the road.
Day 4 - Bajawa
The previous night we stay at a rancid hostel (that was recommended by Lonely Planet) called Edelweiss where in the early hours of the morning I am awoken by a loud group of French guests who seem to be under the impression that they're the sole occupants of this roach motel.
During our journey back to Labuan Bajo we spot another accident this time a car has rolled over onto its roof. If the occupants are inside there is little doubt in my mind that they're either dead or have little time to survive as the car is in a rain soaked ditch and water surrounds the roof. If upon surviving the  crash the driver and its passengers would've immediately faced the prospect of drowning.
Charles' repetitive music is driving me insane as every 10 - 20 seconds into a track he flicks it on to another. I can't wait to get back to Labuan Bajo and then on to Borneo, Malaysia, to see  the 'old men of the rainforest' or, as they're better known, the Orang-utan.
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