Beyond Kelimutu

Day 2

High school students loitering at an Ende park about half an hour before midday

For those who are bound for Kelimutu, the town of Ende is perhaps your first point of stop in Flores island. The airport is small and you’ll find lots of “taxi drivers” just outside the arrival area. As far as my observation went, there is only one supermarket in town — Hero. It’s not the same Hero that you’ll find in larger Indonesian cities like Jakarta or Surabaya but just a supermarket with the same name and suprisingly similar colour schemes with the other Hero.

This small town has few tourist attractions. Out of the few, none satisfied me. Take Taman Renungan Bung Karno (lit. Soekarno’s Reflection Park). This park is just a white elephant showing the statue of Soekarno. It was opened in 2010 by then vice president Boediono. It wasn’t well maintained and lots of school students seemed to skip their classes there.

A giant statue of Soekarno at the park

What made me sad was that I expected this kind of glorification in 1964 USSR, not 2010 Indonesia nor 2014 Indonesia.

What made me even sadder was that two museums located not far away from the park were closed. The museum next to the park was supposed to exhibit local weavings. The building was locked with a padlock from the outside even though the lamp inside was left on. The smaller buildings surrounding the museum, which depict local architecture, were left to shambles. No effort to renovate them. The other museum was supposed to commemorate Soekarno’s exile in Ende but the caretaker was reportedly away on a religious affair that day.

We left Ende soon after for Bajawa.

A few minutes on the road, we saw another white elephant. A port was supposed to connect Ende with Kupang, transporting people and delivering cargoes. It was empty. Our guide, Fransiskus, said it had been that way just a few months after the port was opened.

Minutes later, we encountered roads that had not been cleared from landslides. Fransiskus said the landslides took place in January.

Day 3

The hotel we stayed in had the highest rate of approval on TripAdvisor for accommodations in Bajawa. Unfortunately, it turned out that the wi-fi in the hotel didn’t work and the water was switched off by the hotel staff at night. There was even a police raid the night before. They said they were just checking on international tourists. It was a mess and would definitely tarnish the island’s reputation. On a side note, I don’t even think that the physical renovations done by the hotel management received an approval from local authority.

The whole saga left a bad taste in our mouths. Luckily we were leaving.

We had booked accommodation for the night in Ruteng. But first, a stop at Bena village — just 9 kms away from Bajawa.

An informal educational hall at Bena village

Bena is a model village for tourism because all villagers still live in houses that reflect traditional architecture. There is no electricity serving the village. There is no proper educational facility for the villagers either. There is, however, an informal educational school hall with children’s playground but it seemed abandoned.

We met a local villager who was shelling hazelnuts in his balcony. The hazelnuts weren’t dry but he had to shell because he needed the money to feed his family. He would get 16,000 rupiahs for a kilogram of shelled hazelnuts; 17,000 rupiahs a kilogram if the shelled hazelnuts were in better shapes. Meanwhile, a kilogram of dried shelled hazelnuts would give him 21,000 rupiahs.

The man later asked us to fill in the guest book at the local police station.

We left the village a short time later and continued our journey for Ruteng.

Other villages near Bena already had access to electricity and proper educational facility. Some even have a puskesmas (pusat kesehatan masyarakat — lit. community health centre; polyclinic).

Fransiskus (left) talking to Lemming (far left); a son helped his father doing construction work while a woman carrying buckets to carry water

The driver stopped at a petrol station. I noted a civil servant filling up his motorbike. His motorbike had no plate number and it was working hour. Fransiskus got furious. Not long after that, he left the car momentarily to buy packets of peanuts sold by one of the petrol station worker.

Between Bajawa and Ruteng, we stopped by for lunch in a town called Borong. My mother asked the driver to stop at an eatery called “Bougenvile” because it looked the nicest out of all the eateries we passed. It is run by a married couple from Solo. They said they have been in Borong for five years. I wasn’t sure whether their boy was born in Solo or Borong though.

They have two businesses, an eatery (cum bakery) and a stationery store. Both are located in the same building.

It was not even lunch time yet but we had to stop because we feared that there wouldn’t be any decent eatery between Borong and Ruteng.

I saw a couple of civil servants waiting for their lunch orders in another table.

My lunch was nasi campur daging sapi balado or mixed rice vegetables with spicy meat

They have regular as well as à la carte menus. It was interesting to see that they fused Javanese cooking with Floresian (sic) cooking — the papaya leaves.

My mother and her high school friend chatted for a while with the owners. They even bought some cakes for the rest of the journey. Though my mother forgot to ask the lady how to make the papaya leaves not taste bitter. On the other hand, Fransiskus was enticed by the laptop models the stationery store supplied. He read the brochure given by the shop owner thoroughly during the journey. There was no such shop in a bigger town like Ende?

Just 9 kms away from Ruteng, my sister vomitted. It was a mess and we had to stop unexpectedly.

One of the main road on the outskirt of Ruteng

We finally arrived in Ruteng. It is the biggest town Flores. We stayed at a convent. The German couple were the only other guests.

The nuns gathered around the lounge room in the late afternoon to watch Korean TV series My Love from the Stars on RCTI.

Fransiskus said Flores has no local TV stations. If Floresians want to watch TV, they have to get a satellite dish just to get access to national channels such as RCTI, SCTV or Metro TV. The richer ones, of course, would opt for pay-TV. He didn’t talk about public broadcaster TVRI. TVRI does have a studio in Kupang.

I don’t even think the island has a local newspaper at all. The most “local” paper available was Pos Kupang.

Day 4

Ruteng may be the biggest town in Flores but it was also the most forgettable. There is simply nothing to do there. It’s not unique enough although I do not intend to remember it the way I remember Bajawa. It’s just like any other similar-sized Indonesian towns.

After breakfast, we were finally on to our final destination — Labuan Bajo.

Lembor residents queued for petrol with their own gallons at a petrol station

I slept for most of the journey.

When I woke up, we had arrived at our hotel in Labuan Bajo — perhaps the most touristic and commercial town in Flores.

“Why does this building have seven storeys?”

“This is not Bali.”

The receptionist that served us wasn’t a local. I heard that she came from Malang but my mother heard she came from Surabaya. The restaurant waiters and bell boy, however, were locals (or perhaps from other part of Flores).

A map showing western Flores

In the evening, Fransiskus would take us for a dinner by the sea. There are some street foods at Jalan Ikan Kerapu and they are only allowed to open in the evening. Be warned though that not all stalls sell fresh seafood.

My sister delayed our dinner because she was hooked by Il più grande pasticcere shown on Rai, one of the TV channels available at the hotel.

The stalls at Jalan Ikan Kerapu

At the end of the street, there is a market selling fruits, veggies and some dried fish for souvenirs (to be eaten).

A Pelni ship docked at Labuan Bajo (taken on Day 5)