So after seeing everything that I wanted to see in Bali and Lombok it was time to head to the island of Flores, three islands east of Bali. I was tempted to take a four day boat trip from Lombok, but after listening to some stories about the conditions on the boat I decided to take a pass. I had heard that there's nowhere to sit, the food is lousy, there were rats, you sleep on the floor, and if its raining there isn't really enough room in the cabin for everyone to sleep and stay dry. No thanks! A flight to Ende it is!
The town of Ende is a port city that's almost entirely Muslim, unlike most of Flores. It's pretty unattractive and dirty, which is why most tourists don't really stay here for any longer than they have to. You do get lots of attention walking around the city though! I had read about a nice volcano hike on Gunung Bagging, a database of Indonesian volcanoes, so I at least wanted to do that hike and maybe rent a motorbike to check out the countryside. However there are no tourist facilities and almost no English speakers, so finding a bike, or guide, or even a map was fairly difficult. When I did inquire about renting a bike around town I did get a few offers, but at the ridiculous price of 200,000 baht per day, which is 4 times the price I normally pay. I think not!
After walking around for a while the following day a man on his motorbike saw me and came over to chat. An English speaker! He said he was a guide and could take me wherever I wanted to go. As I had been aimlessly wandering the town for a few hours this offer sounded pretty good. He suggested the Wolotopo traditional village, we worked out the price, I hopped on the back of the bike, and off we went. Well the village wasn’t exactly ‘traditional’ in the sense that the traditional villages normally have longhouses with thatched straw roofs (okay, there was one), but it was still interesting enough to walk around for an hour. Lots of people wanted me to take their photo, which always enjoy doing. By far the most awkward part of the trip was when I was talking to one of the rare people who spoke any English and he asked if he could come to my hotel. Confused, I told him there was nothing at my hotel, but he said he’d really like to see it. Since I didn't seem to understand what he could possibly want to see at my hotel, he then utilized a more direct approach and tried grab my balls. Alright, time to get the hell outta there! I certainly wasn’t expecting any encounters like that in small, conservative, Indonesian village, but there ya have it! I hurried to find my guide and we zipped back into town. He then arranged a guide for me early the next morning so I could hike up to the top of Gunung Iya, the volcano that overlooks Ende.
Now when I first got to Indonesia I was pretty reluctant to take a guide when hiking volcanos because I really don’t see the point if I can do it myself. On Bali’s Gunung Agung it was supposedly not allowed to do the hike without a guide, but I scouted out the trailhead during the day, showed up at 11:30 at night to start the hike, and made it up through the darkness in 6.5 hours with few problems. A little bit dumb? Maybe. Anyway for Iya, the hike is only an hour to the top, so it should be easy to do alone right? Well, I had read a trip report on Gunung Bagging from the founder of the site (experienced volcano hiker obviously) and him and his partner almost died on the descent because they did it during the middle of day with no backup water and they couldn’t find the extremely vague path down. Every way they tried dead-ended into steep ravines. So they were both trapped on the volcano in the scorching heat, suffering from heatstroke and exhaustion, with no water. Luckily one them had his cell phone and was able to call his wife in Thailand, who was able to contact his travel insurance company, who then contacted the police in Ende and search party was formed to get them down. Pretty crazy! Well, this story had me rethinking my do-it-on-my-own policy. Anyway this particular volcano erupted about 30 years ago and left behind a big smoking hole with a lake that is supposed to be cool to see. I woke up at 3:30 the next morning, got picked up the guy I met yesterday, he took to a small house near the foot of volcano where my hiking guide emerged, and we were on our way!
As expected the hike took about an hour, we made it the top for the sunrise, and it was well worth the early start! So after we got down I took a nap and then caught the next bus to Moni to check out the famed Gunung Kelimutu, a volcanic crater with three differently colored lakes that change colors depending on the day, the season, and the levels of volcanic gas activity. It’s the main tourist attraction on mainland Flores. I met some guys at my guesthouse who were also looking to see it the next morning so we arranged a bemo at 5am to take us there. Unfortunately its not really a hike to get the top, its more like a 15 minute stroll on a paved path (a goat track if you will) to get to the lakes. We got to the lookout point and were treated with a nice sunrise over the two adjacent lakes, one that is a weird seafoam green color and one that is dark turquoise color, as you will see.
We spent more time taking photos and following the path that circles the crater rim before calling it a day. I hopped on the bus back to Ende and then hopped on another bus to take me to the small town of Boawae, where Gunung Ebolobo volcano awaits!
The bus driver dropped me off at the gas station in town and I was left to my own devices to figure out where I was going next. I was getting lots of strange looks as apparently no tourists visit this town, like ever. I wanted to get to the village at the foot of the volcano, but I idiotically had forgotten the name! I thought I knew enough Indonesian to say “I want to go to the town near the volcano” or something at least close to that, but every time I tried I was getting nowhere. Eventually someone brought me into the house and called up someone who spoke some English (a very loose definition of 'some') and he eventually figured out where it was I wanted to go. Molowaki!!
He said there was no hotel there, but I had read you could sleep at the guide’s house, so I convinced them to take me on a motorbike. Bad idea!! I’m sure most of you haven’t ridden uphill on the back of motorbike with a full backpack, but its not easy! You’re trying to lean as far forward as you can, but the pack is always pulling you backwards, wanting to pull you off the back of the bike, so you’re constantly working your abs trying to counter the weight of the pack. So anyway the guy didn’t have the most powerful bike and the very first steep uphill part the bike stalled when he was switching from 2nd gear to 1st, and then jerked really hard With the steep gradient and the weight of my pack I just went flying off the back! The bike’s front tire flew up in the air, he jumped off as well, and the bike crashed hard onto the pavement. Yikes. Everyone was fine (I landed squarely on my backpack) but the bike was not so lucky. My driver was not happy, not too happy at all. After his moaning I asked him how much it was to fix and he said 300. My American thinking brain kicked in; “Oh shit, 300 dollars!” Wait, wait, no, it was just 300,000 rupiah or about 30 dollars. So I paid for his repairs because that’s certainly a lot of money for him and after that we were on okay terms again. He ended up flagging down another motorbike driver for me, one with a better bike, who agreed to take me to the Molokawi. This was certainly not a good idea, but I can be quite stubborn sometimes.
This bike ride was by far the most gut-wrenching and sphincter tightening experience in Indonesia. The road of course was super steep and filled with potholes and broken pavement. Going over every single bump I was clenching my legs and my abs as hard as could, praying I wouldn't be going airborne again. It was a pretty brutal test of endurance. During the really rough spots I have to get off the death bike and walk, then hop back on again. After about half an hour I honestly thought my abs were going to give out. Now I know you're all thinking, "there's no way Adam's rock hard abs of steel could possibly give out" but it did indeed happen. About a kilometer from the village the road managed to get even worse, and I was so thoroughly exhausted from clinging on for dear life that I told the driver I had to walk. He drove along with my pack and eventually we made it to Molowaki in the darkness. It was dead quiet, but fortunately the driver showed me to the house where the guide lived. I was invited in, met his family, conversed in broken Indonesian, was fed some rice and vegetables, and shown to the spare bedroom. Wake up time: 3:30 am!
The hike itself was straightforward, nothing near as exciting as the motorbike ride. It was actually the guy’s sons who took me to the top, which took about 2.5 hours, and we made it to the summit so see the sunrise over the beautiful island of Flores. This was the nicest volcano sunrise I’ve seen and I think my favorite volcano hike to date. It was just a spectacular view from the top that really gives you that high on life feeling. After hiking around the summit for a bit we headed down, I was fed breakfast (more rice and veggies!) taken back into town (so much easier going down!) and caught the next bus to Bajawa.
Ok well this has drawn on too long, so I’ll try finish up. At Bajawa there are lots traditional villages, so you get there, pay the entrance fee, and the people living there all kind of stare at you or try to sell you something. It’s not really my thing. And once you’ve been to one, you’ve kind of been to ‘em all. I had much more fun riding to random small villages where the people are much more friendly and curious about the strange westerner that has just rolled into town. So I spent two days there and then it was back on the bus. I was going to go to Ruteng, which is about 5 hours away, but the weather was shitty and Ruteng’s main tourist attraction is also traditional villages! Ugh. So I decided to keep going to Labuan Bajo, the launching point to Komodo. After five more hours of blasting Indopop music, winding turns, and a dude puking constantly, I had arrived! Exhausted, I checked into the guesthouse I was dropped off at, the grossest one I’ve encountered in Indonesia, and despite the noxious fumes from the bathroom (err toilet pit) I promptly passed out on top of my not-so-white sheets. Next up Scuba diving Komodo!