Indonesia has been around the top of my list for years and finally I was going there. The problem was where to start. From the west at Java and make my way east or from the north in Sulawesi or Borneo and make my way south and east… I ended up starting from the middle of it. I met an Indonesian traveller (a rare bird) in Kuala Lumpur, Billy, and he was going back to his village on an island east of Flores for Easter. The place is known for intensive Easter celebrations with parades etc. I said yes. We flew to Bali, where we stayed for four days in Kuta. Kuta has drunk Aussies and Northern Europeans, loud music and dirty beaches. Something like Sunny Beach in Bulgaria minus the Aussies. Bali has a lot more to oflfer (as does the Bulgarian coast) but I am leaving that for later.
Our Easter destination was the town of Larantuka that is on the easternmost tip of Flores. Billy’s house is in a village called Tobi (means “tamarind” in the local language Lamaholot) on the neighbouring island of Adonara.
Flights to Flores were ridiculously expensive so we booked a flight to Kupang in West Timor and were going to take the ferry from there to Larantuka a couple of days later. At the airport in Bali we checked in to Kupang and went to the gate. When they started boarding the flight they announced for passengers to Maumere and Kupang. Maumere is the biggest town on Flores, just four hours west of Larantuka and it turned out our flight was making a stop there before going to Kupang. Mid-flight (gorgeous views of the volcanic islands below!) I asked the flight attendant if we could get off in Maumere instead and she said “no problem, but unfortunately you cannot get a refund for flying a shorter distance”. She didn’t know that ticket prices rarely depend on the distance flown. She arranged our checked backpacks to be picked out in Maumere and soon we were on our way to Larantuka and Easter.
Instead of a safety sheet our airplane had a card with prayers for five different religions
Billy called his cousin in Kupang who was expecting us to tell her we were not going. She was not happy. She had taken the day off and cooked the dog for us. They eat dogs in Indonesia, only for special occasions. The poor puppy went for nothing. I was secretly happy I was spared. I was not going to be as lucky later on in Maumere. You can run, but you cannot hide. From the Indonesian dog…
Flores is certainly not as popular among tourists as Bali or Java but it sees some visitors. However, very few people make it east of Maumere and Caucasians certainly attract a fair bit of attention. Someone told Indonesians that all foreigners go by the name “Mister” so wherever I went I heard a constant “Halo Misteeeeerrr”. Indonesians have good, loud voices. Caucasian ladies also go by the name Mister – just saying. While there might be a foreigner or two a week in Larantuka, on Adonara the cacophony was crazy. I heard “Halo Mister” hundreds of times a day. Wearing a helmet while driving a motorbike in the dark still doesn’t help. The locals have very well developed bule radars (“bulé” is what Indonesians call foreigners, something like the Thai “farang”).
I still didn’t know it, but I was going to spend here more than two weeks. The original plan was to stay for a week, see the famous Easter procession in Larantuka and then go west to see the rest of Flores and other islands. but there was so much to see and the locals were extremely friendly and hospitable.
Everyone wanted to take a picture with me.
This guy was introduced to me as the village gangster. Don’t you love his gangster footwear? His two gangster buddies were in jail at the time. I would have loved to see their shoe collection. For the record: I did a bit of dancing that night too – in my humble sandals.
Local people do mostly agriculture and are more or less self sufficient. Money comes from a few sources such as copra – the coconut meat which is dried then left to soak and turned into coconut oil.
On day one we visited the local school. The kids were super excited to see the bule, but not as confident when I tried speaking some English to them. They all have English classes. Otherwise education is in Bahasa Indonesia with no classes whatsoever in the mother tongue, which is a pity.
We wanted to get coconuts to drink but neither me or Billy could climb the coconut tree. Then Bapak Hong appeared, climbed the tree and even opened the coconuts for us with a machete. Bapak Hong is blind!
This type of wooden boats is used for transportation between the islands. The ones they use are not sunk though.
When the Portuguese came to Indonesia they brought with them that obsession with the eternal feeling of guilt, aka Catholicism, and now it is very strong in this part of Indonesia. Besides a few pockets of Muslims (Indonesia has the highest Muslim population in the world) in the bigger towns, virtually everyone here is Catholic and very much so. The people of Larantuka don’t make an exception and the procession that is held on Easter Friday attracts people from all over Flores, Indonesia and even as far away as Bulgaria. The tradition dates back a few hundred years and is borrowed from the Portuguese. They even pray in Portuguese in the evening.
We were staying in Billy’s auntie Nella’s house, where ten or twenty other relatives were staying for the procession. They kept saying I had to be Spanish because Spanish people are handsome (apparently I was handsome) and Bulgarians could not possibly be that handsome.
Actually there are two processions held on Easter Friday in Larantuka – one at sea and one on land. During the day a few strong men paddle a canoe in the strong currents around the islands, carrying a statue from one church on the island to another. Big boats, overcrowded with people follow the canoe for about 3 hours. Virtually all boats in Larantuka and around were involved in the procession. The fun is courtesy of the local government and some boats get dangerously overcrowded.
Our boat was not that crowded but some other people were not as lucky. A boat sank on its way from another village to Larantuka for the procession. At least eight died. It made it to the international news. That did not stop the celebrations though. During the evening procession, on land, again following some statues, there was some panic with people running around and shouting. It turned out a girl had a vision that a big tree was possessed by a spirit – probably a different type of spirit than the one that possessed the captain of the unfortunate boat. She thought the tree was going to fall down on the people. She started running and shouting “the tree is falling” which created a bit of panic. No one was hurt in this one as far as I know.
The local Muslims lent a helping hand in keeping the crowds away from the people carrying the statue.
People were tired after the procession was over in the middle of the night.
A local small Easter procession in the village where I was staying.
I made a small video of the celebrations but that will come later when I find good wifi to upload it.
Update: and here is the video (choose HD quality) :
I was going to stay around for no more than a week. See the procession and then start travelling back west towards Bali. I ended up staying more than two weeks in the area in total but wasting very little time. I climbed two volcanoes, visited all the islands around and some places around Adonara.
Many young people from the village came back for Easter and had the annual Easter picnic at the beach.
Everyone wanted to have their picture taken
It was supposed to be a full day on the beach. However, the pickup driver who was supposed to take us there was only seven hours late. In his defense, someone had passed away in the next village and he had to drive people to the funeral.
One day me and Billy walked to the nearby village Lamahelan, where old beliefs (pre-Christian) are kept and the houses are built in a special way.
There were a lot of sacred things around the village and we had to be very careful what we touched.
Some modern Lamahelan architecture.
This is a statue of the founder of another nearby village. Elephant tusks are very precious around here and on Adonara and the other islands around people keep elephant tusks that are hundreds of years old and very sacred. They are used only for special ceremonies. I got to see a two-meter elephant tusk in Lamahelan after getting the permission of a few elders. No touching, no photos.
One day we went to Solor island. This is a view from Solor towards Adonara.
We walked around the hills to some villages and suddenly we see this sign of a museum.
The museum consisted of a human skull under a rock, covered with some banana tree leaves. Bapak Rajat on whose property the skull was found, swore that he didn’t know who it belonged to and that it was found before he was born. I would say the same if a human skull was found near my house. He said no scientist had ever looked and it and swore I was the first foreigner to come and see it. His brother made the sign for the “museum”. It looked like an old skull, maybe of a Portuguese man (the Portuguese had one of their first Indonesian forts on Solor) or maybe of the Flores hobbit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_floresiensis). But I don’t know anything about skulls. I swear!
Tobi (the village where I was staying) was slightly up the cone of the Ile Boleng volcano that rises above Adonara. It erupts regularly but has not had any recent eruptions. There is an excellent website called Gunung Bagging (www.gunungbagging.com) with information about climbing mountains in Indonesia. They did not have a GPS track for Ile Boleng so I had to find the way by myself. Billy was too lazy to go with me so I went alone. I knew I could start the climb from more than one place and since I had already been to Lamahelan, I decided to start from there early one morning. When I got to the village a local man who said he was the chief (he was a fake I am sure) told me I could not climb the volcano alone and needed to hire a guide from the village. He wanted less than $5 for it, which was ok, but I had to wait until the supposed guide goes to his garden and does some work on his house. No serious mountain guide will ask you to wait for a few hours and climb in the midday heat. Not to mention that going down would have to be in the dark. I thanked him and walked back, but I saw a trail up the mountain just outside of the village. No one was watching so I went up and found the way to the top without getting lost too much.
The crater at the top of Ile Boleng is big and deep. I had run out of water so I didn’t have too long to enjoy the view. Still, I stayed a couple of hours and then I saw a figure on the opposite side of the crater. I first thought it was the “village chief” from Lamahelan who had come to track me down for disobeying him. That was unlikely since he was too heavy a smoker to be able to climb this mountain. Also, the man didn’t look like him when I zoomed in as much as my camera allows. It turned out to be a friendly man by the name of Bapak Wilhelm from the village of Lamalota. He gave me a coconut to drink and would show me the way down to Lamalota, so I wouldn’t have to go back the same way.
I had read on the internet about wild horses and goats on top of the volcano. Turns out the goats are not wild at all but belong to the villagers. The man was there to collect them and bring them a few hundred meters down the mountain to give them salt. It is absolutely prohibited to bring salt and fish to the top of Ile Boleng in order not to make the spirits angry…..
On the way down through the jungle there was some wildlife. We also stopped to feed Wilhelm’s pigs who lived in the middle of the jungle and we met his friend who was collecting coconuts and pulled out a bottle of arak. Arak is alcohol made from the coconut palm. You cut the flower of the coconut and leave a small container made of bamboo where it seeps for a few days while also fermenting. Then you drink it.
From there on the path back to Tobi was obvious and I walked back with a smile on my face.
This is the cone of Ile Api. Ile means mountain in Lamaholot and api means fire. Ile Api means simply volcano.
It also goes by the name Mount Lewotolo.
It is on the neigbouring island of Lembata and its smoking cone is clearly visible from the main town Lewoleba. I went there in order to climb it. Again I had to go alone since no one wanted to join and I don’t like hiring self-proclaimed local guides. I hired an ojek (motorbike taxi – you ride on the back) early in the morning and in three hours I was on the top of the mountain. Thanks to Gunung Bagging for the GPS trace.
That’s what I am supposed to say! The sign should read “Hello Mister” as this is most of the English locals know. And they like to practice it.
Very few people come to Lembata for the volcanoes. Most people go there to witness traditional whale hunting in a village called Lamalera. The locals hunt the enormous sperm whales with their bare hands and a spear. Sometimes they jump on top of the whale in order to finish it off. They kill just a few whales a year and are exempt from the international whaling ban. Some years ago they received a modern boat with a harpoon from Norway but soon sent it back because they started killing too many whales.
The whaling season had not started yet, so I would have to come back one day for that one. For now I was more than happy with the magnificent volcano.
The trail starts from a village called Desa Lama (old village) which is now uninhabited as people moved to live next to the coast. However, they still keep the traditional houses in good shape and apparently they keep there some sacred objects that they use for ceremonies, including another one of those elephant tusks.
And for those who were patient enough to read this far, here is a time lapse compilation of Ile Api. Best watched in HD.