Flores: Two volcanoes, one crashed wedding and a pinch of karaoke
Mis à jour : 3 déc 2019
Entering Indonesia and changing my plans
As I crossed the border between Timor Leste and Indonesia by mini van I was asked why I could not present a booked flight to leave the country. When I tried to explain my plan to travel without a plane, I was sent to the chief's office. For half an hour I patiently explained my plan and repeated it, always with a genuine smile. He took pictures of my semi-planned itinerary, my booked accommodation, my passport and my face. Eventually, he, reluctantly, let me enter the country. After the 14hour bus ride, I arrived in Kupang, stayed three days and instead of waiting for another sailboat, I decided to mix things up and try an Indonesian way of travel. I planned to hop from island to island by Pelni ferry. I booked my first ferry, 15 hours to Flores, the flower island.
Lewotobi, where I lost both my heart and my volcano virginity
During the passage from Kupang to Larantuka, an eastern town Flores, I did not see any other tourist and I would not see any other foreigner for the ten following days. I had met one English speaking Indonesian on my way to the ferry, Mathias. He guided me through the Pelni ferry experience and offered me to stay at his hotel in Larantuka when we arrived in the morning. I stayed one day, got a taste of the town and moved on towards Lewotobi the next morning. I had done some research and decided I wanted to climb this volcano. It intrigued me. The lack of a proper path made to the hike to the summit challenging and the gaping hole at the top was said to be fascinating.
The exact way to get there was not a 100% clear to me, so I kept on checking google maps on my phone, while I was on the bus. I wanted to be ready to ask the bus driver to stop whenever we got close enough. By some random coincidence, my phone died when we were approaching the region. I could solely rely on what I saw through the bus window. A couple of minutes after staring at everything I could possibly recognize, I managed to read a small sign mentioning Lewotobi. I urged the driver to stop and let me out.
As I stood there, in the middle of nowhere, I started heading in the direction the sign showed. Many eyes followed me as I started to walk. I could almost hear them think and wonder what this foreigner was doing there on that small intersection. I had read about a volcanic center and the possibility of finding a guide there, so I was hoping to find this at the end of the road. I had already guessed the mountain behind me was the volcano I wanted to climb, but I kept on going in the other direction, hoping to find the center and the guide.
About 2 kilometer down the road, someone approached me and asked me where I was going. When I mentioned Lewotobi, he pointed to the mountain behind me and said I was going in the wrong direction. I tried to explain I knew and that I was looking for the center and the guide. He spoke no English and I spoke little Indonesian. I tried to make myself clear through an offline dictionary I had, but we didn't really get that much further in the conversation. He started laughing because he really was under the impression I did not understand where the volcano was. I kept on repeating I was looking for a guide, a panduan. I gave in to his pleading and decided to walk back. He stopped me and invited me on the back of his motorcycle. Stepping on the back of his bike, holding on to his long, sharp cutting tool, I had no idea I just made the best decision in my month in Indonesia.
My driver takes me to several people in town, explaining how he found me and laughing continuously. His laugh was so contagious that I couldn't help but laugh with him. After some encounters, we drive through the small lanes of the village and he drops me off at Rush's house. Rush had a smile in his eyes, just as sincere as the one gleaming on his face. He was taking over the mission of helping me to climb the mountain. His English was better, so I managed to explain my quest for a guide. He drove me to some carpenters, talked for a bit and told me we would have confirmation in 2 hours. Meanwhile he would be me guide around the region.
We drive again for a couple of minutes and we arrive at what I guess to be a local bar. It is 10am, music is playing, people are drinking and seem to have a great time. I feel a little lost, but I give in and try to explain my plan to those who understand. Luckily, Elsyn, who is fluent in English because of her time in Bali, comes along and functions as an excellent interpreter. She explains me that we are not in a bar at all. This was the house of newlyweds and the wedding party was still going on, fading out slowly, until they broke down the tent and the music installation. When we all start to understand each other more, I am quickly accepted into the group. We talk, we share the wedding food, we laugh and I am invited to try out some local liquor. All worries fade away, as I completely give in to the moment. Some people still continue dancing as the music got louder and more rhythmic. I felt the urge to jump up and join them. I finished my plate and drink and completely surrendered. It was great.
The 2 hours had flown by and Rush and I head out to check if our guide is confirmed. Unfortunately, we got a negative answer, but that didn't seem to get Rush down. He was determined to find me a guide and we drive straight on to the next place, the local school. Quickly we are surrounded by dozens of kids who want to see me, the foreigner. "These kids know the way, pay them 300.000 and they can use the money for their school books" Rush explained to me. For a second, I wondered if it was safe to go up the volcano with kids and if 20 euro was worth it. The honest look I saw peering at me, made all doubts fade away instantly, so I accepted and the deal was done. We would start the hike at 6am the next morning.
"Now let me guide you around" Rush proposed. Off we went on our five hour drive around the volcano, seeing each different viewpoint and stopping at all the local beaches and villages. We stopped to meet his family, close or distant, his ex-colleagues, his acquaintances and his very best friends. I never had so many coffees and teas in one afternoon. Everywhere people took pictures with me and listened attentively as Rush told my story. He added each time that I was going to place some of the ashes of my brother on the peak, as I do in each country. It felt a little awkward and I was not completely comfortable, but each time I recognized the words saudara, brother and abu, ashes, I smiled, nodded and confirmed.
One of the last stops was at the house of one of his best friends. At one point of the conversation, we talk about one of the kids who had been walking across on crutches all the time. His legs are severely burned and he can not stretch his leg, or bend his knee. It is not pretty. When I ask the kid if it still hurts, he tells me it hurts continuously. My heart breaks. The parents explain me that they have been saving up for surgery for more than a year and that they wait patiently until they can relieve the kid from its suffering. I feel very small as I listen to the story. Voices in my mind tell me I should help, while others tell me I don't have the means to help everyone. Eventually I wish them the best of luck in the most sincere and genuine way I possibly can. After a long day, we went to Rush's house to spend the evening with the family and the neighbors. The kids' enthusiasm was almost as intense as my host. I had a wonderful time. We had dinner, got supplies for the hike and went to bed early. Rush, one of the kids and myself on one mattress, simple but cosy.
When I woke up the next morning, I got my backpack, filled with supplies and went to the house where I would meet my guide. I was surprised to find not one guide, but eight people ready to hike the volcano with me. Their age varies from 14 to 40, with most of them being in their twenties. We set off all together on our way to the mountain. After an hour, the path disappears and the only thing to trust is the knowledge of my guides. We climb steep slopes, crawl over big, fallen trees and take several breaks until everyone catches up. I stay as close to the first person as possible and soon I am completely soaked with sweat. After a while I notice that most of them are doing the hike barefoot and for yet another time, I am amazed at the resilience of the Indonesians. We continue breaking sweat and sweating on our breaks as we move on. The last bit of the climb is an hour of making our way up on slightly loose rocks. We have lunch and hike the last part. The closer we get, the more heat we start feeling underneath and the more present the sulfur smell becomes. At the top, we take many pictures, take in the view and I seclude myself for a moment to scatter some of my brother's ashes.
We make our way down, taking several breaks again and by the time we are down, it is too late for me to leave to my next destination. The decision to stay another night is made quickly and Rush urges me to hurry into the shower and get ready to watch a local soccer match. We head out and when we get there many people consider me a bigger attraction than the soccer match. Our team loses with four to one and Rush apologizes. Even though the outcome of the match was not amazing, I still had a wonderful time being part of the community. When we get back to the house, I spend most of my time with the kids, as they will miss me and I will most definitely miss them.
Idealist journalists and karaoke nights
On the bus to Maumere, I still think back of my stay at the village next to the volcano and it is hard to wipe off the smile from my face. My first stop is at the Ferry ticket office, where I try to find out when the next boat leaves. West or North are my main concerns and I try to figure out the puzzle of which island I should go to first and when I would have my next connection. Eventually I find out I have 5 days in Maumere before I will go to Macassar.
I try to find accommodation online, but most places seem expensive and a bit asocial. Someone mentions Floressa and after trying to sense the vibe of several hotels, I make my way down there. It's exactly what I was looking for. Nice atmosphere, good restaurants next door, simple and interesting people. At the terrace, all kinds of people come for drinks. Guides, police officers, journalists, artists and many other passionate people spend hours at this place. Since most people speak decent English, I can enjoy some deeper conversations to learn more about Indonesia. I learn about the lack of health care, the non secular government and several corruption scandals.
During the five days, I climb a second volcano, Egon, I rent a motorcycle to go to Mount Kelimutu, a sacred place with lakes in three different, bright colors and I talk with the locals at night. On one of the last nights, I mention my blog and the need for a computer to work on the website and I am invited to go to the journalists' office to use a laptop there. When I get there, I learn more about the little newspaper they are running, both on- and offline. The passionate idealism to fight corruption with the truth is truly inspiring and I wish them all the best with their mission to change the system by decent journalism.
We all go out for a drink and dinner later. The bar is at one of the peaks of the city and offers a beautiful view. I had seen karaoke was quite big on the island and I had mentioned it to one of the journalists. So, before I realize it, we are singing songs through the mic, with YouTube karaoke songs. After a nobly try at Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, I have a go at Flemish classics from Raymond van het Groenewoud. The crowd loves it and so do I. We sing songs and after a while we all hit the dance floor. I get introduced to traditional dance and for the second time on Flores Island, I surrender to the music.
This has been a very long post, but I have truly lost my heart at Flores Island, that I wanted to share as many details as possible. I hope you enjoyed the read and maybe considering this beautiful island one day. I will definitely go back to discover more and to visit old friends!