It was all unintentional. I like hiking and mountains and especially volcanoes (all those years in Iceland have left a mark on me) but I wasn’t planning to be hiking most of the time in Indonesia. In the end, just by happening to be at the right places and meeting the right people, I ended up climbing eight volcanoes in Flores.
First off, here is a video (8 minutes if you have the patience) I made with time lapse photography from these volcanoes. Someone said it was nice.
Flores is one of the bigger islands along the Indonesian part of the “Ring of Fire”. There is a line of volcanoes, extending through the length of the country from Sumatra and Java through Bali, Lombok, Flores and the smaller islands to the east. Basically there is a major volcano every 20-30 km and they are all active and have erupted in recorded history, actually in most cases they still do quite regularly.
From east to west, the ones I visited are Ili Api (Lewotolo) on the island of Lembata, Ili Boleng on Adonara, Egon, Iya, Kelimutu, Ebulobo, Inerie, Wawo Muda. Unfortunately I did not climb one of the major volcanoes on Flores, Lewotobi because it had some signs of activity and was closed off for visitors. Otherwise it is a beautiful sight: it has two peaks – Lewotobi Laki Laki (“the husband”) and Lewotobi Perempuan (“the wife”). Of course, the “wife” peak is the more fierce and active one but because of her I couldn’t visit the “husband” either… The volcano had some very major eruptions and is even mentioned by Rudyard Kipling in one of his short stories. Kipling’s character however calls it “Loby Toby”, but he also calls sea gypsies “orange lords” (orang laut – “man of the sea” in Indonesian).
The first one I visited was Ili Boleng. Since I stayed with my friend Billy in a village on the slopes of the volcano, it was relatively easy to find my way. I already wrote about it here.
While looking for information on the internet for Ili Boleng, I found a website, called Gunung Bagging. Gunung means mountain in Indonesian and bagging is mountaineer lingo for “collecting” peaks. The website is very useful with relatively up-to-date information and what’s more important, GPS traces for many of the trails. There are two other major sources of good GPS data for trekking: WikiLoc and the trace collection of Open Street Maps (which I still don’t know how to search, so I just use google to search it). Then I use the excellent Open Street Maps in an app called OsmAnd for my phone, import the GPS trace, turn on the GPS and off I go. No guides needed and I don’t hire porters for such short walks (or any walks).
All the volcanoes I climbed in Flores were a one-day affair. They are not too high (most are under 2000 masl) but the trails were not always easy. In Indonesia trails seem to always go straight up the mountain, no matter how steep it is. And if you see any locals trekking, they will be wearing flip flops. Or nothing when their flip flops break. I saw many broken flip flops on the trails.
Most of these mountains see very few visitors. Locals are hardly ever interested in going up a mountain for fun (in fact few Indonesians would walk more than a few hundred meters unless they really have to and they would advise you to take a taxi for something that is two blocks away). Few foreigners make it here so trekking is by no means an industry. Most people who visit still seem to prefer to hire a guide from the nearest village. Now most guides in Indonesia are not what your idea of a guide might be. They are certainly cheaper than in some developed countries but here is where the good news ends. They might have never been to the mountain in question (or even to anywhere above sea level) even though they have lived next to it all their lives. They will most certainly not have any first aid knowledge or know what to do in case something happens. They will be late so forget about getting there for sunrise. They might slow you down due to the many smoking breaks. And they will probably not speak any English, so unless you speak some Indonesian you will have to be talking to yourself.
I chose to go without a guide, either alone or with a friend. There is phone coverage (Telkomsel is the only operator) almost everywhere.
When I was on top of Ili Boleng, I saw Ili Api on the neighboring island of Lembata and decided that I should go there too. Lembata is a nice island with few tourists. The only foreigner I met was an Italian, Marco, who had been traveling with his Indonesian friend on motorbikes all the way from Java but he had an accident on Lembata and was waiting there until his knee would get better. We had great chats. Finding a ride for early next morning to the start of the trail was no problem. In fact the ride found me. The local ojek boys smelled the newly arrived bule (foreigner) very quickly and a couple of them showed up in my hotel. Ojek is a motorbike taxi – you sit on the back. The guy was supposed to take me to the coastal village of Jontona where the trail starts and then the first five km up the mountain which he was sure would be doable by motorbike (“I’ve taken many tourists up that track”, he assured me). Well, the track was in really bad condition so he gave up half way but at least it was something. From there I walked the rest of the motorbike trail to the abandoned traditional village of Desa Lama and then followed the GPS way points from Gunung Bagging up the volcano making relatively slow progress through jungle, mud and swarms of mosquitoes. In three hours I was at the top, long after sunrise (the ojek guy came late!) but the views were amazing.
On my way back from Lembata I thought of checking Couchsurfing for people to meet in Flores and I sent a message to a guy named Valentino from Maumere, the biggest town in Flores. He was not only the only active couchsurfer around, but he was also interested in climbing volcanoes too. We met in Maumere and while waiting a few days for my visa extension we went together to Egon, which is nearby and to the tourist-infested Kelimutu.
Egon is a relatively easy climb. You can drive a motorbike on an eroded road quite far up and then once you know where the trail starts, you might not even need the GPS trail (although finding the correct ridge to go down afterwards might be a bit tricky). The crater was really beautiful with a very active and loud fumarole and a lake in the middle of it all.
After I got my visa extension I travelled further west together with Valentino on his scooter. Being a travel writer and photographer, he was interested in seeing more of his home island and really wanted to see two of the major volcanoes on Flores – Ebulobo and Inerie.
On the way there we stayed a couple of nights in Ende, which is the capital town of Flores. Right next to it there is a small volcano, merely 600 m high but with an incredibly beautiful crater. Mount Iya is easy to reach from Ende, very active and the crater drops steeply down to the sea.
Flores was not only about climbing volcanoes though. It is a really beautiful island to visit.
At the western end of Flores is the town of Labuan Bajo – the gateway to the famous Komodo National Park. I spent more than a week on a tiny beautiful island called Kanawa, licking my wounds (one of my toenails is about to fall off from too much hiking). This will be another blog post but here are some teasers: