Having done extremely minimal planning (basically none at all), and armed with just a free tourism booklet on Flores, we set off on our motorbike across Flores. We made for quite a sight – the 2 of us and our 2 bags squeezed onto 1 motorbike. The guy we rented the motorbike from suggested that we buy a map from him but we refused because it cost 120 000 IDR… and who needs a map anyway? Ha!
It was pretty invigorating, speeding along with the wind blowing in our faces, with the whole of Flores quite literally at our disposal. The feeling didn’t last too long though, as we soon realised how tough the roads are to navigate! They are extremely narrow (often only 5m wide) and full of hairpin bends. We quickly saw how dangerous it was, especially because the Indonesians are very reckless drivers. Honestly, the amount of (un)calculated driving risks we saw them make over the duration of our trip is incredible.
The excitement faded into a dull, throbbing pain after about 2 hours, because our bums began to get very sore! The seat padding on our motorbike was virtually non-existent. At the 4 hour mark we pulled into Ruteng, the first main town on the trans Flores “highway”. We stopped at a Masakan Padang (it is a type of local food originating in Sumatra) to have lunch, and the rain started coming down in buckets. We waited an hour for it stop but it never did, so we decided to find a place to spend the night. Most people stay at Hotel Rima, but it looked a bit too dark and grimy for our liking so we went to find somewhere else. We eventually got led to a nameless homestay, which had a shared bathroom and was quite run down, but it had WiFi and it was getting late so we booked in.
The plan was to set off early in the morning, but we only managed to get going at 9AM. It was overcast and cold, and the possibility of rain looked high, but we had to go. The next main town was Bajawa, and we arrived there at 3PM. The drive was difficult because the roads were wet and so twisty! We were so tempted to spend the night in Bajawa, because our bums were sore, my back was cramping from the heavy bag, and it was freezing, but we knew we didn’t have enough days to do that. Reluctantly, we continued driving towards Ende, the next big town.
It rained heavily on the way and we were forced to stop several times, and eventually just bought ourselves rain coats. We were stressed because night was approaching and we really didn’t want to be driving on wet, narrow, bending, unfamiliar roads in the dark. Although we went as fast as we could, we had to drive in the dark for an hour before arriving in Ende. Once we were there we began the search for a hotel, and due to amazingly terrible directions from numerous people, it took us an hour to find one. Honestly, Indonesians will never tell you that they don’t know the way to somewhere, they will give you vague hand directions that are completely made up instead. Sometimes, when we are lucky enough to get verbal directions, they are still utterly wrong! It is safe to say that our frustrations were high by the time we checked in.
We went to the supermarket and I bought a Toblerone that was either off or had melted and set several times, making its texture crumbly and coating it in white. I opened it at the till to eat it and saw this, and when I tried to ask for a new one, a small debacle began. The cashiers tittered and spoke in Indonesian, and tried to ask the manager what to do but she was having a fat chat on her cellphone so she wasn’t bothered. After waiting patiently for 5 minutes for them to figure their stuff out, and trying to explain that my complaint was not that the chocolate was broken, but rather that it was inedible, I told them to keep the chocolate and stormed out. I bought other things from them too, so why they would spite a loyal, foreign customer, I have no idea. Unfortunately I had to do the walk of shame when I discovered that I had left my helmet in the supermarket, and had to walk back inside! How embarrassing! They apologised so a whole new conversation began, that ended in me swearing and storming out (again). I am not proud of the whole situation (even though I was not wrong!) and Norman was slowly shrinking while waiting for me outside. Sorry Norm!
The next day only entailed a (supposedly) short 1.5 hour drive to Moni, the town closest to the Kelimutu National Park (our final and main destination). It began amazingly because the scenery was magnificent, and we stopped repeatedly on the side of the road to take photos of just stare in awe. Feeling jubilant, with the sun shining and the birds quite literally singing, we sped along smiling. Things changed when we saw that ahead of us was a long line of cars and trucks backed up. Upon investigation we learnt that there were road works going on, so we settled in for the hour wait. The sun that had at first lifted our spirits bore into my back and burnt my arms really badly. A stop/go system was not employed, as the idea of taking turns on a road in Indonesian is completely foreign. So what ensued was a stalemate. There were vehicles blocked up on both side of the road works, and when the digger machine moved to the side, both sides tried to move forward. Men were standing around smoking, and debating what to do for a further half hour. Eventually one man took initiative and started shouting orders. A little while later the cars had moved to one side. At this point the motorbikes from both sides tried to drive. The minute a small space is cleared, motorbikes will inch up and fill it. This guy with initiative ended up being our savior though, because he managed to slowly squeeze past the vehicles and scream at the motorbikes to make space, and we just followed him. Us and 3 other bikes managed to make it out of that mess, and we were thanking our lucky stars when we were driving on open roads again. I have no idea how all the other vehicles managed to maneuver out of that situation.
Moni is the quaintest little town, and we booked into a lovely room at a place called Sylvester’s Homestay. We were so glad to be done with driving for a day or 2, and happy to be spending our time in such a nice place. We looked up at Mt. Kelimutu, excited to go and see the coloured volcanic lakes the next day.
Flores is a truly beautiful island, and its beauty seems to extend to its people. I know I seem to have been pretty negative about them thus far, but no one (other than the supermarket cashiers I suppose) tried to cheat us, and people were so friendly. I mentioned my frustrations with their directions, but what I didn’t mention was that they did it with a loving heart. At least they tried to assist us! Everywhere we went people wanted to help us. The way that we eventually found our hotel in Ende was by following a guy who offered to show us the way on his motorbike, without even hinting towards money. People will make calls for you on their cellphone, and if you offer to pay them they will refuse. Smiles greeted us as we passed through every town, and shouts of “Hello Mister/Missus!” and “Bule!” (white person) were heard over a hundred times. I have never felt more welcome in a place in my entire life.