(I had hoped to keep the blog momentum going with a “post a day” for my 5 Flores Island entries. But yesterday was a bit challenging … left the Caramoan peninsula at 7AM and arrived in Batangas (south of Manila) at 9:30PM after 14.5 hrs straight travel on 2 “tricycles”, 1 minivan, 2 busses and 2 “jeepneys”. You can forgive me? Cam
Our 5th and final day touring Flores Island was without a doubt the most full and most rewarding of the 5. It started with a 3:30AM wakeup to be ready to meet Alvin in the car for 3:45. We had a half hour drive to the start of the hike to the top of Mt Kelimutu (1650m) and a 30 minute walk to the top to be there before sunrise.
There are 3 craters each with lakes atop Kelimutu. What makes Kelimutu so special is that these three lakes are typically 3 very different colours. Even more striking is the fact that these colours change regularly over time, owing to changing composition of escaping volcanic gasses.
Mt Kelimutu has held special spiritual significance for local Flores islanders for many many years. The belief is that this is where spirits go upon death. If I recall correctly, children & women’s spirits go into the green lake. Men go into the black lake. And those who have led “evil” lives have their spirits go into the red lake.
Yes, the lakes DO change colour, because as you see below, both twin lakes were the same vibrant green colour, and the 3rd lake was a deeper green.
We learned from Alvin that the National Park created around this mountain did not go over well with the local communities. They were not consulted, so had no input into or sense of ownership of the management rules. They found themselves shut out of resource harvesting they’d done since they could remember, and did not receive much benefit (Alvin explained that the guy at the main gate to the park was actually brought in from Java). Locals cut down swaths of eucalyptus in protest. But then two coincidental events happened; a new, more consultative Park manager was appointed and a flood damaged the villages. The locals came to realize the importance of forests in flood protection. Relations are better but not perfect now.
Speaking of locals benefiting, we headed back down to our guesthouse that was set among about a dozen others in the town of Moni. None of these would be here without the tourist development of the Kelimutu site.
From Moni we made our way back over another mountain pass and were amazed by the extent of rock slide onto the road.
Our best beach on Flores came as a surprise as we reached the south coast again. Koka beach fronts onto the ocean on two sides of a tall headland. Perfect white sand, huge swells/waves, clear water with little garbage. Best of all, it was being enjoyed by SO MANY local kids who had come on a field trip from school. They couldn’t swim, but sure enjoyed watching a couple of blond kids play in the surf. We hadn’t seen a soul on any other beach.
As we moved east along the coast we entered the Sikka cultural and administrative region.
The Sikka people are best known in Indonesian and tourist circles for their exquisite weaving. Weaving is popular all over Flores, but other areas (like the photos in my Day 2 blog) use the common approach of lifting the “warp” with a shuttle and putting different coloured thread in. The style practiced in Sikka is called “Ikat” and is more of a tie dye approach. As you will see below, it is VERY labour intensive.
Our visit in Sikka started with a tour of their central church. Sikka is where the Portuguese first came ashore hundreds of years back. Their catholic mission work successfully converted the area, and this church dates to the year 1898. My favorite part about this church was the fact that the top 5 ft of wall were complete open to the outside, so you could hear the surf from inside the church.
The church’s wainscoting had been painted to represent the traditional Ikat weaving.
The women of Sikka are quite willing to show you the step by step process they follow in Ikat weaving, and for this demonstration we paid the equivalent of $10. This part is done as a cooperative. They were even more willing to sell you some of their weaving. More on that later.
Up to this point we had been really enjoying the relaxed demonstration and admiring these women. Towards the end though, we noticed of many of them setting up their woven sarongs and scarves on racks, in anticipation of us finishing our tour. And they looked hungry.
I have been in many very aggressive ‘sell’ situations in Africa and South America before. But these women I think win the prize. There were only the four of us and virtually all of the vendors were calling at us. When you were at their rack, they pulled out all the stops. The weaving was spectacular, but I felt like I was in survival mode. The woman who had led our weaving tour figured she had the upper hand and kept calling “remember … I explained”. You didn’t dare express interest in something. Yvonne and I independently picked out a piece, both from the two women who were not badgering us. Jake was on his own and our “I explained” lady was commanding him “Tell your mom you like this one”, even though he had given no preference.
Too bad. They were proud of their work and rightly so. I’m guessing that the whole approach has escalated … women felt that if they didn’t compete with others, they would be ignored. Alvin said he’s explained that tourists will buy more when not pressured, but only a couple apparently had taken this to heart. We compared this experience to a weaving cooperative on Taquile Island where all work was sold in one spot with no salespeople. Proceeds went to the creator. Alvin said they tried this in Sikka but ended up quarreling so went to this individual sales approach. We felt badly because these women are all part of the same community and ended up trying to out shout/advertise each other. It was reassuring at the very end when we asked Alvin to translate that we loved all their work and were sorry we couldn’t buy something from each of them. Immediately they stopped the sell and broke big smiles and thanked us for coming. It took a bit to decompress from the experience. And I ultimately was left wondering what right do I as a tourist have to a pleasant shopping experience? These women are trying to feed their families and pay their kids’ school fees. But I really do think they could sell more without the pressure tactics. Incidentally, they sell their weaving to their own Flores community just as much as to tourists. You see the work worn by many, and hanging on many walls.
One final climb over the cordillera backbone of the island took us to our final destination of Maumere which is the biggest city on the island. You can travel a couple of days further down the island but we chose not to. Alvin took us to the unique fishing community of Wuring on the western outskirts of Maumere. It is a marginalized group of immigrants from Sulawesi Island. They make up one of the few Muslim communities on Flores.
They are clearly living in difficult material conditions. But I was keenly aware of a real sense of community. People were really grouped together, laughing, eating and back and forth between each others’ porches.
They were welcoming to us. In fact they seemed quite taken with the idea of us visiting. Kaia became a celebrity. Twice she was called onto a porch and asked to touch the belly of a pregnant woman (Alvin said it was all about good luck of some sort … but we’re not sure what exactly Kaia represented). Camera phones came out.
From our VERY engaging experience at Wuring we headed back through Maumere to the other side of town to the Blue Ocean “eco bungalows” just as the sun was setting. We said good bye to Alvin and really thanked and encouraged him. We didn’t envy the fact that he had to retrace our entire journey back to Labuan Bajo over the next day and a half. We paid him for next day, and also figured he could pick up folks along the way.
The rooms were very modest but SO nicely appointed. The bathroom was outside and done with sea shells in concrete. Attention to details was the approach. Dinner was enjoyed perched over the beach, and what a dinner it was. Squid, eggplant, fried noodles, veggies and rice. So good it was that we ended up talking about our favorite meals on the trip so far. And we agreed unanimously that this meal won. What a fantastic way to wind down a very full and stimulating day.
We made our way to the airport late the next morning, but not before Kaia and I had a few macadamia nut snacks. I had become a bit suspicious of these nuts when I noted that all of our barfing, nausea and diarrhea problems in the previous days corresponded to earlier macadamia nut eating. Then I recalled Alvin’s remark about how the oils are bad for his stomach. Our host at Blue Ocean said you could only eat about 4 at a time without upsetting your stomach. We told him that we’d eaten about 30 a few days earlier and he was shocked. He helped Yvonne and Kaia roast the remaining nuts, and we thought that might help.
Kaia and I had only about 3 each. But by the time we got to the airport our stomachs were off. We were nauseous for 2 or 3 hours. None of us want to go near a macadamia nut now. But we love these back at home and have never had a problem eating a dozen or so at a time. Anyone know about this macadamia puzzle?
Our flight was delayed about 3 hours because of torrential rain in Maumere – the plane waited to take off on the adjacent island of West Timor until the rain stopped. An hour later we were back in Bali. Flores was a great choice. And we left so many opportunities behind. The island is a spectacular trekking destination – through beautiful forests and over mountain ridges to remote and traditional villages. But we didn’t realize this when we were planning our itinerary with a hired driver. Next time …