From Labuan Bajo we flew into Ende, gripping the armrests as we landed in rather wet and windy conditions. Later on we were informed that Ende is the worst airport in Flores, and on a separate occassion when we told a local that we’d flown with Wings he merely laughed, shaking his head in his hands. So I guess maybe our landing was to be expected.
In typical fashion we got a wee bit lost (and muddy) trying to find accommodation. Once that was sorted, we wandered around town. Although we knew we were travelling in low season it didn’t really sink in til that afternoon. I think we were the only Westerners in town, probably as there’s not much to see or do in Ende and consequently most people just hire a driver to take them east straight from the airport. We certainly didn’t see any other tourists, and every second person on the street seemed excited to be able to say “hello miss”. That night we ate at a Padang restaurant, similar to a warung, and set our new PB for cheapest meal, $3.60 for two dinners and a drink.
The next morning we jumped in a bemo heading to the bus terminal, along with a bunch of friendly locals and a bucket of fish. From there we caught a minivan to Moni. The scenery was beautiful, with rolling green hills, rivers, rice paddies, banana trees, scattered villages and occassionally the remnants of a landslide.
By half way through the 2.5 hour ride we counted at least 30 of us packed into the van! With 15 minutes to go, the driver asked if we wanted to ride up top. “It’s ok, no police” he said. That wasn’t what we were worried about to be honest. Accepting the offer, I stood up and the little old lady next to me pointed to the roof. After I nodded, she grabbed my face, hers full of concern, or perhaps she was blessing me, I’m not sure. Either way we climbed up to the roof. The fresh air and great view was a welcome change, if not the slight panic rising in my chest each time the bus went around a corner.
Making it safe and sound to Moni, we decided to stay at the perhaps poorly named Bintang Bungalow, which turned out to be our favourite accommodation of the trip. The rooms were lovely and the staff were wonderfully friendly and helpful. That afternoon we took a short walk out of town, where opposite the rainbow cafe is a waterfall with plenty of beautiful butterflies. We later learnt that there used to be more in the area but the Javanese basically stole a heap, catching them in nets and taking them back to Java.
But what most people come to Moni for is Mt. Kelimutu, an old volcano that has three crater lakes that change colour throughout the year. Although they know it has something to do with the minerals in the ground they are not able to predict when the colour will change. It can vary from red, black, white, green or blue.
Dragging ourselves out of bed at 3.45 am, we drove upwards for about 40 minutes. A soundtrack of Muse definitely helped wake us up before we had to walk the final 15 minutes to the viewpoint. With a chilly wind blowing around us, we waited for the sun to rise and reveal what colour the lakes were. Turns out the two large ones were a light green with the back lake a much darker shade of green.
The local Pemo Villagers believe that when they die their spirit goes into one of the three lakes, which one depends on the age and character of the person. Gazing out over the craters we could see how this belief might have come about, it’s a pretty impressive sight.
Once the sun was up we met our guide Lopez in the car park and started our three hour walk down to Moni, cutting through villages and farms, learning about plants and life in Flores as we went. Interestingly, it wasn’t that long ago that Moni locals would run away when they saw a tourist. Now they’re very much used to the traffic, with many having two or so rooms to rent. I was also surprised to hear that Flores tourism was very badly effected by the East Timor conflict and Bali bombings, but things are starting to pick up again now, particularly in the high season where you need to book ahead or else you’ll end up sleeping in a local’s house or on a restaurant floor. Perhaps the most interesting conversation though was around marriage traditions in Moni. Holy shit you would not want to get married here if you were a guy. You need to pay a substantial amount of money/cows to the girl’s mother, eldest brother and uncle. There’s still some very old school thinking going on here with women sounding very much like a piece of property to be bought, but it sounds as though a few of the younger generation are going against the grain, so maybe this is a tradition that will be lost in the near future.
Saving us from another bus ride, Billy organised a share taxi from Ende to swing by and pick us up on its way to Maumere. Again the scenery was beautiful. And just when we thought there would be no surprises with this mode of transport, the driver pulled over and picked up what we can only assume was a cousin or friend of his. By this time the car was full, with a nun riding shotgun and a guy needing his tv fixed with us in the back. No problem. The driver scooted over to the centre console, squashing the nun a bit, and the new guy got behind the wheel and proceeded to drive for an hour or so. All to a soundtrack of power ballads from the likes of Adele and Celine Dion.
We arrived at Ankermi Resort, at Watumita Beach which is about 30 km east of Maumere. In the dry season, it would be an absolutely beautiful place to stay but unfortunately the weather has been particularly bad, even for the wet season, with wind, rain and a strong swell. From our seaview bungalow it sounded as though the waves were going to hit our front door during the night. We had hoped to go snorkeling or to climb Mt Egon but the weather made both of these impossible so we hitched a ride to the airport with the owner Kermi to see if we could bring our flight forward a day. Unbeknownst to us, our flight had actually been cancelled. This happy coincidence meant that we got to change our flight and didn’t have to pay a cent. Thanks universe. We spent the rest of the day chilling by our bungalow and then after dinner we had an enoyable evening with Kermi and a German guy who has been visiting each year for over a decade, listening to their stories about Flores, Indonesia, travel and past visitors.
I think it’s safe to say we’ll be back at some point to explore a bit more of what this beautiful island and its friendly people have to offer. But before we left, Flores had one last quirky surprise for us, some hand written boarding passes for our flight back to Denpasar. Gotta love Se Asia.