Travelling to Indonesia Flores
When travelling for a long period of time, such as a year, it’s almost impossible to plan in detail all of the places that you intend to visit. When my girlfriend and I travelled we had a pretty solid idea of all the countries we intended to travel in but we didn’t know exactly where we would go when we got there. Sometimes the decision to visit a specific place comes together slowly and incrementally.
Flores in Indonesia is a good example of this. We had originally intended to travel in Indonesia for 2 weeks. I’d never heard of Flores before setting off on our travels, much less had I any intention of going there. Then at some point, somehow, I started to learn of this place called Flores. Then I hear about some particular sight or activity that draws people in. Then an idea starts to take shape: what if I was to go to Flores? What is there to do there? How would I get there? How long would I need there?
And as the answers to these questions come together you’re left with an easy decision to make: we’re going to Flores!
We made a plan to fly from Bali to the town of Maumere on the far eastern side of the island of Flores. From Maumere we would go to the village of Moni and visit Kelimutu volcano (this was the original hook that interested us – a volcano with 3 crater lakes of varying colours at its summit.) From Moni we would continue heading west until we got to the port town of Labuan Bajo in the far west of the island. From here we’d make our way back towards Bali by sea and somehow visit the islands of the Komodo Dragon.
Gaps in the Plan
What we didn’t know was how we would travel from place to place whilst on the island; where we would sleep and what the accommodation costs and quality are like; what the food was like in Flores; and do people speak English. Apart from Kelimutu we really had no idea what else there was to see and do.
Just go with the Flow
Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see what happens. And so this is what we did in Flores. We knew from online research that there was a bus from Maumere to Moni but that our plane was due to arrive after the time at which the bus would depart. So when we arrived at the airport we negotiated with a taxi driver to see what kind of a price we could get to Moni. We managed to get the price down to half of his original offer and I felt that this was too good to turn down. We also figured it would save us having to pay for a night in Maumere just so that we could take the bus the next day. The taxi driver later told he was lives in Moni anyway so it was either drive back with an empty car or at least make something from us. He offered us accommodation in Moni but we told him we wanted something cheaper (even though what he offered us wasn’t exactly expensive) and so he dropped us off at his friends’ house, literally across the road – the only road in Moni – from his own place.
Moni and Kelimutu Volcano
The next morning we awoke at 4.30am and set off to Kelimutu, whilst it was still dark, on the back of two motorbikes driven by locals. We followed the road as far as it went and then had to park up and walk the rest of the way, minus the locals. Dusk started to break as we made our way up the Volcano towards the summit. At the top we checked out the three lakes and rested up whilst waiting for the first glimpse of the sun rising up over the horizon.
After we’d had enough up there and were happy that we’d taken enough cool photos we started to head back down. We decided to walk back to Moni to experience and savour the atmosphere and local environment. It was a long walk but we really enjoyed it. From talking to the taxi driver the night before, we knew there was a bus due at some point that morning to take us on to the next village. However, no one in Moni could say for certain when the bus would pass through and so instead we jumped into a shared taxi and paid a price similar to what the bus would have cost. We got out at the next town and again asked around for the time of the next bus to Barjawa. Again, after standing around for while being told lots of different times for the bus we decided to take another shared taxi. We roughly knew how much the bus ticket would cost and so we were able to negotiate the same price for the taxi.
It’s a few hours to Barjawa. We asked the taxi driver to drop us off at a guest house. However, the one he dropped us off at didn’t have hot water so we went in search of an alternative. We found one we liked but this one also didn’t have hot water. We kind of established that hot water isn’t the norm in Flores. At breakfast the next morning we literally had no idea what we were going to do whilst in Barjawa or what there was to see. We asked the guy working the hotel reception if he had any ideas and asked us to take a seat while he called his friend. Several minutes later a guy turned up asking if we wanted to go on a tour of Barjawa and the surrounding area. He explained the itinerary and quoted a price that we thought reasonable and so, as soon as he called a mate to come along with another motorbike, we jumped on the back of the bikes and went off for a day of exploring.
During the day we went to visit a family who made palm wine where we got to climb a palm tree and collect the palm juice before being given an explanation about the production method.
We next visited a small traditional village where the local people still live by their own traditional laws and rituals and have been given special dispensations by the government to continue life in this way. We tried chewing betel nut. We’d seen people chewing this in many parts of Asia, this stuff which turned the chewers’ whole mouth a deep shade of red, but we’d never known what it was. We didn’t like it.
We then went to another traditional village, an even older one. This place was really cool and had the look and feel of a tribal settlement the likes of which I had always dreamed about visiting. What I really loved about these places was that they hadn’t (yet) sold out their culture by pandering to tourists and tourist dollars. There were no tacky stalls and no expectations of tips or hand-outs. The people just quietly went about their business as visitors politely had a little nosey around.
After visiting the village we drove several kilometres to the site of some natural hot springs. We’d been to ‘natural’ hot springs before which felt more like they belonged in a resort or a leisure centre and so didn’t feel very natural at all. The natural hot springs that our guide took us to however couldn’t have been more natural. Tucked away in the forest you could immediately see that they hadn’t been altered or manipulated by the hand of man in the slightest. We had lunch and then had a great afternoon playing about in the (very) hot springs.
Labuan Bajo (Western Flores)
After the fun of Barjawa, we took a shared taxi (we gave up on the idea of catching a bus) to the main port town of Labuan Bajo. Labuan Bajo is in relatively close proximity to the islands of the Komodo Dragons (in fact a few dragons still live on a small part of Flores itself) and so many captains offer their boats to take people on tours of the islands. Tourism is starting to develop as more and more people find out about this. With this comes the development of a tourist infrastructure, which although is non-existent in the rest of Flores, it is becoming clear in Labuan Bajo. There are nice places to stay, restaurants offering western dishes and good coffee and there are many tourist agencies looking to get some dollars from foreign visitors.