IN THE LAND OF DRAGONS AND ANCESTRAL PEOPLE
Crossing through the island of Flores, in the Indonesian East Nusa Tenggara Archipelago, until you reach the Komodo and Rinca National Park, is a unique experience that any traveler would make. The route that we propose and we tested in October 2015, is developing in eight days and includes: a first part of the trip by land, with the help of a local guide and a second part by boat.
The tour can also be undertaken with a do-it-yourself trip, but the long distances and the narrow roads, often interrupted, suggest the use of a guide, to enjoy better the many stops and the wonderful landscapes. Moreover, if you rent a car with a driver in Maumere, in the north-east of the island, after you landed from Bali by a Lion Air flight, and you leave from Labuan Bajo, 700 km to the west, you will not pay the different location drop-off costs.
Once in Maumere, in the late afternoon, head to the nearby beach to watch a beautiful sunset, while thousands of small crabs come out of their dens in search of food. Flores is a destination still little tourism, especially in this area, then you could be lucky enough to be alone on the sands.
Departed, after a hearty breakfast, you can visit the typical local market and then go on to the Sikka region, to visit the sea village, where the beautiful Ikat fabrics are produced. Here, you can observe the work of the ancient yarn that is still treated with ancestral techniques by the village's women, using the colors that nature provides, from red Indigo, very common, to the deep brown or the dark black from the mangrove bark, or, from the pale green of the mango's leaves to the turmeric's yellow.
The next day, you have to wake up in the middle of the night, to reach, before sunrise, the Kelimutu National Park, an active volcano near the small town of Moni. The volcano contains three striking summit crater lakes of varying colors. Tiwu Bupu Ata (Lake of Old People) usually it is blue and is the most western of the three lakes. The other two lakes, Tiwu Ko'o Make Nuwa Muri (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake) are separated by a shared crater wall and are typically green or red, respectively. The lake's colors vary on a periodic basis. The dawn show is wonderful and will repay you from the efforts to reach the viewpoint.
Your journey continues with a stop in Bajawa, the center of the traditional Ngada culture, and starting point for discovering, through easy trekking, the tribal villages scattered along the slopes of the Inerie volcano. The largest and best-preserved village is Bena, although for our tastes is a little bit touristic. Our advice is to visit Tululela and Garusina, that, being reachable only by feet, they are much more authentic. In the afternoon you can relax and have a swim in the Hot Spring in the Bajawa valley, where two rivers meet in a crystal clear pool. One is very hot because the water comes straight from the bowels of the volcano, while the other is pleasantly refreshing. But if you want the Hot spring only for you, avoid the Saturday afternoon, when the local people go to wash their clothes and themselves in a multitude of colors and sketches.
Then the journey continues to the West, with a short but tiring stop, in the beautiful village of Belaragi. Three clans live in this place out of time, with their three Baga (houses in the center of the large courtyard symbolizing women) and their three Nadu (a parasol with a lot of launches, representing men and used to protect the village). During the day, the men are in the fields, but do not miss the opportunity to interact with the women of the tribe, who will be glad to let you taste the Siri Kapur (a mix of butternuts, leaves of Siri and the Kapur, a white powder extracted from the rocks that is the cause of the women's red teeth) or show you their skills in weaving.
Along the way you can also taste the Arak, the local liquor extracted from palm trees. It is a kind of grappa and you get through a slow distillation. But, while they will explain you the slow process, perhaps, your attention will be caught - as it's happened to us - by some farmers, sitting on some particular rectangular structures very colorful. You will see several of them, from the window of your car, while driving through the small villages. They are graves. Flores, in fact, is the only Indonesian island with 98% of Christian population. The family dead members are often buried in the houses courtyards and the tombs, covered with colored tiles, become part of the daily life.
Reached Ruteng, in the region of Manggarai, cloaked by dense jungle and dotted with rugged mountains, you can visit Ruteng Pu'u village, where the chief will make you enter in his house, behind a small reward to the spirits of ancestors. The roof of these huts is very different from that of Ngada people: it is robust, high and raises directly from the ground. It takes months and the participation of all the villagers to realize it, however, is much more long-lived and lasts up to twenty years. At the center of the village, a row of stones marks the graveyard.
In Ruteng don't miss the bustling market town, the most fascinating of the whole Island: the gable roof is tall and long wooden beams support the structure. Everywhere, clouds of cobwebs, are illuminated by the dim light of the sun, coming by poky windows, placed in the middle of the roof. It seems that in this region, live spiders so big, as to inspire even the local farmers that, in their honor, have created an intricate system of Spiders-Web rice fields, just out of the town.
Your last stop will be in Labuan Bajo, the gateway to Komodo and Rinca Archipelago. The best way to visit this area is to rent a boat for one or two nights. So you can explore more different places for snorkeling or diving according to your abilities and you can dock in the National Park to see the Komodo dragons.
The slow navigation will allow you to stop in some turquoise coves, where thousands of grasslands of soft and hard corals form under water metropolis, ranging from deep purple, to emerald green and pale pink, and inhabited by colorful fish. The reef is stunning and is regenerating rapidly since, about 20 years ago, the indonesian government has banned the use of the mines for fishing, creating the National Park. Unmissable, finally, Manta Point, where, with a little bit of luck, you will swim with the Giants Manta Rays, a unforgettable experience.
After landing on the Rinca Island (recommanded to see the dragons), by a short walk, you will be escorted by one of the skilled park ranger in search of the big varanos. The Komodo dragons are fast prehistoric animals that can reach 20km/hour. They live on average 30 years and are real fighting machines with sharp teeth, imbued with a poisonous saliva that causes a lethal infection in their prey. Thousand-year war lords, they share the Archipelago's lands with wild Timor deers, water buffaloes and many flying fox bats that, every evening, offer a unique show. In thousands get up in the sky at the sunset time from their nest in the mangroves island, fore telling a night of hunting and of stars, the last sound you hear before you will fall asleep from the rolling waves.
Written by Sarah Falchi - Photos by Paolo Castellari
WHERE TO STAY - OUR ADVICES
Flores Guide and driver : Sipri Muda
Maumere: Budi Sun Resort
Kelimutu: Kelimutu Eco Lodge
Ruteng: Kongregasi Santa Maria Berduka cita (booking only by local guide)
Boat trip in Komodo and Rinca Archipelago: contact Augustinus Lantana
For more infos about our Flores and Komodo trip visit oru blog: paolocastellari.com/icastell