We relax in Labuanbajo, in a modern cafe overlooking the bay, with a delicious vegetable pizza and some iced tea. Located on the far west coast line, it’s billed as Flores’ next big tourist destination, probably a result of its setting within a stunning bay and also with the proximity of Komodo and Rinca, it has great accessibility for some amazing diving just off the small islands.
Although Martin would like to dive here, we decide not to due to cost and the 3 hour journey each way to the dive sites.
22nd August Bajawa
We leave Labuanbajo for the 148 mile drive to Bajawa, a hill town which sits at 1200m and is a base for the surrounding traditional villages, heading out on the Trans-Flores highway, noted as the best road on the island. We wind up the steep and rocky mountain roads through bamboo hut villages and dense forest with fantastic views over the island.
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The road is slow going at first, only managing a speed of 20-30mph; it’s hard to build up any speed while winding around the mountainous terrain. We pass by old men and women with wrinkled faces gaping at us mouths wide open, we seem to be a real shock for them!
We ascend to 950m and then descend all the way down to sea level, with spectacular views over lush tropical jungle valleys leading all the way to the sea.
Once in the valley at 200m the road flattens out, passing women balancing huge heavy sacks on their heads. The road is narrow but much smoother, which enables us to pick up some speed. Coming to a big plain with the wind gushing wildly through, pushing the car sideways, we are surrounded by carpets of rice paddies and mountains in the distance. Before we know it, we are suddenly back up at 900m passing screaming tiny schoolchildren waving excitedly as they walk home!
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Driving at 1300m in a blissful and refreshing 22 degrees, with troupes of cheeky monkeys lining the roads, we pass a dozen kids walking by the roadside. They are so black with dirt which is all over their clothes and faces, it looks as if they have been climbing up chimneys!
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We pass through the large market town of Ruteng nestled among soaring peaks and green fields. The road takes us to the southern coast before winding back up to 1200m and arriving in the town of Bajawa six and a half hours later (we didn’t think it would be more than 4). The accommodation options in town are dire but choose Bintang Wisata as it’s cheap enough and just for one night.
Having had no breakfast, we are starving; the restaurant at the hotel is deserted so head down the road to Dito’s where we get some delicious butter and garlic chicken and a beef nasi goreng.
23rd August Riung
The night was cold, with the temperature feeling like it had dropped to around 5 degrees, in stark contrast from the 30 degree daytime temperature at sea level.
We decide to head to Riung, and the 17 Islands marine park; we were not too sure whether to go or not, as the sights did not sound so impressive. The 42 mile road to Riung is only meant to be accessible with a 4×4 due to horrendous road conditions (according to the LP anyway).
Leaving Bajawa we pass the prison on route, several armed guards on duty.
The road for the first 17 miles is surprisingly smooth, so smooth you could easily ride a bicycle along it; winding through the forests is quite pleasant. People sitting outside their bamboo and wooden houses stare as we drive past, wonder what they’re thinking!
The huge volcano, Gunung Inerie looms to our left, clouds obscuring her summit.
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We descend to 300m, at which point the road becomes more cracked and slightly bumpy, but still passable in a two wheel drive vehicle, and we actually see quite a few. The road is lined with creaking bamboo trees and steep drops into the valleys.
We pass a solitary lady carrying both a massive stick of bamboo in one arm and a baby wrapped in a scarf in the other.
It takes us only a couple of hours to reach Riung, arriving around 11am; it feels like a tumbleweed town, there’s hardly a soul around, that is until a large group of westerners stroll into town up the road from the port, it’s the annual sea festival!
We are persuaded by a local guide to take a boat to the islands this afternoon, at a discounted rate. Arriving at the first island, we are greeted with fantastic white sand, calm seas and snorkelling off shore. We jump straight in but to our disappointment find only a small reef with little visibility, although in the shallows we do spot some pipe sea horses and sea slugs.
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We drive to the next snorkelling spot, this time off shore. The sea is quite rough with waves breaking over the reef and Martin jumps in for about an hour. Below the surface there is a good garden of coral, with literally thousands of fish. If the visibility was better and it was not so rough, it would be a fantastic site.
The small boat tips unsteadily over the swell as we head to the mangroves to see the flying foxes hanging in the trees. The tide is out so we have to wade in to get a better look. Trying to dodge the starfish, sea urchins and hidden holes, it takes us some time to reach the mangroves. Once we do we can see the huge colony of enormous fruit bats hanging languidly in the sun.
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As we take some photos, Martin notices something big by his feet, it’s a large lobster. He signals to the boat man who springs into action. He slowly sneaks up behind the lobster to try and capture it, but he fails and it darts off. The water is shallow and we spot it again. He tries again, this time skilfully capturing it with his bare hands. He tells us it’s worth 200,000Rp at the market, so definitely a good days catch for him!
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24th August Kelimutu
We leave Riung at 8.30am driving along the northern coast on a deserted smooth road, with great views over the mountains before hitting a bumpy road passing a bridge over a river with lots of local people washing in it. Turning onto another smooth road, it is surrounded with stunning scenery of rolling green hills and swaying palms. Men working on the side of the road wave as we drive past and even spot a couple of women with their kids also working on the road with nothing more than a couple of pick-axes.
The road turns to stones and dried out mud as trucks kick up huge clouds of dust. As we bump along at 20mph, the road gets progressively worse, with big dips and gaping holes. There is a turn off down a road which is just as bad, and seeing no other cars for a good hour, begin to wonder if we are on the right one.
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We eventually pass some small villages, and again we’re back on deserted roads. On route, we pause at some remote schools, beautiful children smiling and waving as we take some photos. As we leave, we can see them in the wing mirrors running after the car!
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The road eventually winds up and down through the mountains and the temperature drops to a cool 20. Dark clouds are beginning to gather and the rain starts to fall. A few more miles and we reach the tiny village of Moni, a base for heading up to Kelimutu volcano in the early morning.
The first accommodation we arrive at is full so pull into Arwanti bungalows, taking one of their three wooden bungalows, perched on the side of the hill. We have two rooms, a bedroom and another which has a single bed and a lounge area. We take a stroll down the hill to Chentys restaurant. The LP had mentioned the special moni cake which after 40 minutes of waiting doesn’t turn out to be so special! However the other food on the menu looks good and is really cheap.
Later when taking a stroll out for dinner, wrapped up from head to toe, we are accosted by a man who speaks good English, who tries to sell us a Moni culinary experience, reeling off a number of elaborated dishes, which carries on for a good few minutes. We politely decline and wonder what the reality of the culinary experience would actually be!
Dinner at Bintang restaurant is also disappointing, just hard tasteless rice, but the walk back home under the blanket of stars is great!
It’s an early start as we drive up the mountain at 4.15am reaching the PKA check post paying 96,000Rp, (including a 50,000Rp fee for the privilege of using a camera!)
As we climb the staircase up to Inspiration Point, dark reds and oranges begin to appear on the horizon. The wind at the top is fierce and it feels biting cold, although views over the three lakes soon distract us. We have the place to ourselves for about twenty minutes, as the sun rises over the craters, but are soon joined by the busloads of tourists, well about 20 or so!
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Kelimutu is sacred to the local people with a legend that the souls of the dead go to these volcanic lakes. The colours of the lakes change as a result of dissolving minerals. They certainly are impressive, one deep blue turquoise lake within a deep crater, with views of another green lake just behind it and a steep, almost sheer drop down to the watery depths below. The third lake is jet black, clouds of mist drifting over the summit, with a troupe of monkeys staring at us inquisitively from the craters ridge!
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When we reach the bottom an eccentric local guide comes over to ask us about our sponsors GT Radial and our trip, asking if we would sell him our car! He and others we have met in Flores seem to be more interested in the Komodo MT tyres than our vehicle, all wanting to know where they can buy some themselves!
After the usual breakfast of banana pancakes at the guest house, we drive to Maumere along winding mountain roads, going just out of town, where we would have a chance to do some more diving.
The first place we pull into to is Sunset Beach Bungalows, but the place is deserted and the rickety basic bamboo bungalows at the edge of the forest are not so appealing, so we move on.
We drive to Happy Dive, where although more expensive, we would at least have a chance to get some more diving in. On arrival we find we have nowhere to park and asking at reception, we find it very hard communicating as to whether they have parking or not. Not getting any comprehensible answer from them we decide to leave the car outside their garage. Asking for a room we are then told that they are full!
We discuss turning back to Maumere town, however Martin, never liking to retrace our footsteps prefers to move on all the way to the port town, Larantuka. This happens to turn out quite well, as there is a ferry the next day to Kupang, Timor.
On our way into town, we pass a European riding his bicycle in the midday heat, we wonder where he’s going…..
Pulling into town, we mistakenly end up a one way street, although passing the police they don’t seem too bothered. We come to the first hotel but all the rooms are full apart from an economy room which looks as though it has seen better days so next head to Hotel Fortuna 1, but get the same thing, just worse! There aren’t even any sheets on the mattress and the room is home to a plethora of spiders and moths. We don’t seem to be having much luck here.
We try Fortuna 2, which again have old and unclean rooms, however we spot a newer block out the back, which the girl says is the same price as the older rooms with air con, TV and breakfast.
There seems to be very little around town, just a market, a few small grocery shops, it’s not somewhere you would like to be held up for a few days!
In the evening cockroaches and mosquitoes decide to move into our room, we ask to change rooms and seal up the holes under the doors and windows before sleeping!
26th August Ferry to Timor
We wake up at 6am to ensure we are able to board the ferry. Missing today’s ferry would mean we would have to wait for the next one in four days time on Monday, not an option!
Arriving at the port around 7am, we go straight to the queue of cars and trucks already there and are told the ticket office does not open until 8am.
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Come 8am, the ticket office opens but I’m told I need to be on the boarding list at the main gate, and need a ticket to prove it. I go to the ticket office to see the list is nearly full; luckily a local explains to the guy that we had been there for a long while, and he reluctantly gives us the tickets. Then it’s back to the ticket office where we are able to buy the ferry ticket for a car and two people for 1,170,000Rp.
The boat arrives around 9am however it does not board until around 10:30. As we’re getting out of the car, the cyclist we passed the day before rides on and also another biker. As we expected the boat is full, and probably overloaded with people and we eventually leave at 2pm.
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We end up speaking to the Belgian cyclist, Hugo for many hours; he really has been everywhere as he has been cycling around the world for 8 years, and travelling for 25 years, with just a few stops back in Belgium.
Our tickets include a free meal, which turn out to be fairly ok, I get fish and rice and Nicole has some egg and rice.
As night time comes, a couple of the locals start drinking, getting progressively more drunk and obnoxious, shouting and screaming while everyone is trying to sleep. It becomes so bad that we decide to go back and sleep in the car.
In the morning we are told the guy causing most of the trouble was so drunk he passed out.
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Martin & Nicole