Tuesday, September 5, 2017

FLORES destination 7D/6N

The Name Flores is derived from the Portuguese for Flowers

Indonesian archipelago is made up of more than 17,000 islands. The more I researched, the more I found out that there are so much more to see other than just Bali. I read somewhere that traveling new places makes you feel young again. Sure does! That sounds encouraged to explore other islands. So, Flores and Komodo National Park was our choice. Flores is rich in natural and cultural wonders, so there are plenty of things to discover.

Our 7D6N itinerary might help you plan your trip to this amazing corner of the world as we traveled and explored these remote islands, many that have been forgotten by people, and are home to dramatic landscapes and to the carnivorous modern day dinosaurs. By doing a land tour, it allows us to get closer to the local cultures, learn their traditions, their architectures and their customs.

We were told if we were expecting Bali quality accommodations and food, then we would be disappointed. But to experience a slice of Indonesia away from the crowds, this would be just the place.

Researching a Komodo tour could be a headache. Prices are incredibly high, but luckily a friend in New Jersey referred us to Antonio (we call him Tony), a local tour guide (text me if you need his number). He organized our whole trip from accommodations to transportation, meals, and living on board a boat. The best part was, the price was half of what others offered. He made our trip not only enjoyable but also educational.

Day 1

Our land tour started from Maumere. The reason why we chose to start from Maumere to Labuan Bajo instead of Labuan Bajo to Maumere, was only because we wanted to finish the trip with relaxing on the boat and enjoying the beach. Our tour guide, Tony and driver, Yanto, picked us up at Frans Seda Maumere airport and transferred us to a private car. 

Due to an inclement weather, we didn't get a chance to visit Wuring Traditional Fisherman Village (as noted in our itinerary). Instead, we drove straight to Sikka Village to see the old Catholic Church that was built in December 1899 by the Portuguese. 

The church reflects the Portuguese architecture influence combined with traditional local style weaving patterns on the wall.

Here in Sikka, some women were trying to sell their local weaving products. I encountered some hasty sellers that followed us to our car. They were not cheap, at around 1.5 - 3 juta per IKAT, but it is because the process of using natural indigo is time consuming.  Since I was not brave enough to negotiate and not knowing the actual market of their goods, I decided not to buy. (Later, I got so disappointed for not buying it. This is the place to buy IKAT).

Halfway between Maumere and Moni, we stopped by a small rustic restaurant at Paga village and ordered fish and it was surprisingly tasty.

We arrived at Moni around late afternoon. Moni is the closest village to Kelimutu and we stayed overnight at Kelimutu Eco-Lodge. The lodge is set in the midst of a beautiful unspoiled countryside, quite a distance from the town so it is very quiet and peaceful. 

The only sounds we heard was the sound of river flowing. The lodge also uses recycled water and solar power. There are a few concrete bungalows with balconies with thatched roofs, and each room came with a mosquito net, hot shower and basic western toilet, but no TVs in the rooms which forced us to finally sleep around 9PM (not our normal hour). Overall, the hotel is not meant to be place of luxury but of relaxation and comfort.

Day 2
To catch the full light show of the sunrise on top of Mount Kelimutu, we started our adventure at 5:00 AM. After driving up the narrow and curved road around the hillside of a rugged mountain, we arrived at Kelimutu carpark. From there, we still need to trek another 20 minutes to the top of the summit. 

The walk up is very enjoyable, lush ferns under heavy dew, the walk up the stairs just remind you of the song "stairway to heaven". 

A bit late for us to see the beautiful sunrise, but we got spoiled with the beauty of this bright turquoise lake. Sadly, we could only see 2 craters since the 3rd crater was deeply covered in cloud. Looking down on it gave you thoughts about how small we are as humans in the face of mother earth. 

According to locals, it is believed that when someone dies, his spirit goes into one of these lakes and immerses in its magical waters forever.

After breakfast, we drove to Ende to visit the exile house of the late President Soekarno, the Indonesian Founding Father. He was exiled here in 1934 - 1938 due to his political activities and the Dutch Colonial Government viewed him as a threat. 

Unfortunately, as we arrived, this museum was closed for the day, we could only take photos from outside. It was kept clean and neat.

Not far from the exile house, is the statue of Soekarno, sitting on a bench, gazing at Ende beach. It is said that young Soekarno often sat here under the Sukun tree whilst envisioning a united country. 

Contemplating on how to unite this very diverse country that comprised of over 17,000 islands, hundreds of ethnic groups with their different languages, religions and cultures, Soekarno aimed to make it all one nation. Here, at the same spot, he created the concept of Pancasila as the 5 philosophical foundation of the Republic of Indonesia. Today, the birth of Pancasila is commemorated every year as a national holiday on 1st of June.

After lunch, we headed to Bejawa. On our way we stopped to stretch our legs and swing along on this unique blue-stone beach of Nagapanda. 

We arrived at Bajawa around late afternoon, after enjoying the scenic view over the southern coast and its beautiful mountainous landscapes. 

Bejawa, is a small town surrounded by massive mountains in the middle of Flores. We finally settled at Hotel Corina, a simple and standard hotel in Bajawa, but located in the heart of the city. After checking in, the rest of the day was free to spend at our own leisure.

Day 3
After breakfast and check out, our guide took us to visit Manulalu B&B. I requested to see the place since I saw it on their website. Manulalu is located in the middle of nature, up on the mountains right beside Mount Inerie, a sleeping volcano in Flores, above Bena village, and the seaview on the other side, which gave it a magnificent and breathtaking view. We were there just to enjoy the view and having Floresian coffee. 

Visiting traditional villages is a popular activity in central Flores. A megalithic village named Bena, is a must place to visit when in Bejawa. They preserved their traditional houses located just on the slopes of Mt. Inerie. This village still holds a true nature and left in a traditional way. Each house has its own meaning, it is arranged on terraced land, with a squared shape and some spaces in the center that often used for their local community gathering. 

When entering the village we were asked to fill up their guest book and suggested donation, also all registered guest required to wear their woven scarf.

Sacrificial stone tables are where animals are ritually slaughtered for special occasions such as weddings or funerals.

Practices its own brand of animism as well as cultural and artistic traditions.

Each houses decorated with water buffaloes horns and pig jaws, which were sacrificed for ceremonies.

The scenery from the lookout is just stunning, with mountain ranges all around and a volcano on the other side.

LUBA Village
Luba village is smaller and right next to Bena village. Same as Bena, this village has also kept their village clean and intact. After we signed up their guest book, we gave a small donation. Here, we were not required to wear their weaving scarf. 

The village is practically empty, as the men were out to work and the kids were in school. In the clearing, we saw a few graves with cross sign. Although Floresian is predominantly Catholic, animistic beliefs is still strong here in both villages.

Some women sat on their verandas weaving on their spare time to bring a little extra cash, and like to mingle with tourists.

Although their houses are still made of wood and thatched roofs, satellite dishes are not something new in this village.

The children at the community school were incredibly excited to see visitors and love their pictures taken. This made me smile from ear-to-ear.

En route to Ruteng, we stop at a local home-brewed arak and see how the locals make their arak (palm wine) in Aimere Village. I am not to sure on how the making of arak. But arak is a highly alcoholic spirit

Coconut palm
Distillation of local arak

Distillation of local arak

After Luba Village, we drove straight to Ruteng and spent a night there.

Day 4
One of the recommended stops if you're passing through Ruteng is to visit Cancar village to see the unique circular design spiderweb rice paddies, also known as Lingko.  Although there are many rice fields in Flores, there is nothing compared to this one. It was ingeniously built in a large area, set in patterns that resemble a spider web.  Took us about half an hour from Ruteng to this place. A steep 10 minutes climb took us to a hilltop with a great view over the paddies. We were told that the center points of the fields are used for spiritual ceremonies to celebrate the harmony of heaven and earth.

On the other side of Spider Web Rice Paddies

We skipped Todo village and drove straight to Labuan Bajo and our guide took us to the good looking restaurant with a very high wooden ceiling that holds a rotating fans in downtown area (at least that's what I thought after reached LB), named Artomoro Restaurant, a local restaurant overlooking the charming harbor of Labuan Bajo. The best Indonesian cuisine so far since we arrived Flores ..... :(

After lunch we checked in our Luwansa hotel, which I do not recommend because free wifi is only in the lobby and restaurant area and it is slow .... blaaaahhh ..... and breakfast is not included ....... sucks ..... Around night time we were dropped by the hotel shuttle to the downtown area and had dinner at Artomoro again as there is nothing much to see in the area, unlike Bali. So don't expect Labuan Bajo's nightlife to be just like Bali's.

Day 5
After breakfast our guide picked us up and drove us to the pier to embark the private cruise heading to Rinca island to see this prehistoric animal in their natural habitat, and also to check the national park around it. Rinca island is part of Komodo National Park and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Our small boat

Our boat features an outdoor dining and lounge area, 1 master cabin with AC sleep 4 and twin cabin AC sleep 2, 2 quiet small bathroom and a toilet on board, an upper deck that serves as sleeping space or just place to relax and admiring the views, kitchen and 5 crew members.

Sleep 4

Sleep 2

After about 1 1/2 hours sailing, we reached Loh Buaya, Rinca island. 

Welcome to Rinca Island

After we paid the park fee, a local ranger took us to a soft trekking area through the forest and savanna. We were offered options on the tour: the short trekking will take 45 minutes, medium about 90 minutes and long about 3 hours long. Since it was very hot on the day of our visit, we opted the short trek that lead us to where mother komodo's lay her eggs. 

Our ranger were quite knowledgeable and his english was quite good too. He explained a lot about the life of the dragons and other wildlife on the island and even the legend of the island. Komodo dragons really are impressive, they can smell blood from miles away, therefore no bleeding wounds or women on their period cycle are allowed ashore.

Soft Trail at Rinca Island

Since we got to the island closer to noon, the big dragons weren't very active and we didn't see any on our actual trek. We spotted 7 Komodos laying down around the staffs kitchen and can clearly smell the food.

He posed

Our lunch was ready as soon as we got back on board as we continue our sailing to Padar island. 

After about 1.5 hours sailing, we arrived Padar island. The path to the summit started with stairs, and after that the path got more steep and slippery because the ground is so dry with lots of little rocks. We were struggling and kind of scared to look down as the heat was like stepping into a preheated oven. But we wouldn't let the terrain discourage us. After climbing to the top, the reward was beyond what we could expect. To say that it was captivating would be an understatement.

Padar Island

Padar Island

Another 1.5 hours sailing in late afternoon brought us to Kalong island to dine and berthing. It is said that plenty of bats or flying foxes will fly out from the island at around sundown.
Unfortunately we got there a bit too late, so we didn't get the chance to see it. As soon as the anchor dropped, all the electricity is on, fresh water for shower is also on. The song Gemu Famire was on to ...  a happy song. 

On the way to Kalong island

As soon as our ship stopped, a sea commerce came paddled their boat to sell their handmade crafts. They are hopping from one ship to another. After showering, a delicious dinner was served under the open deck, and after dinner our tour guide and some of the crew started their fishing skills. It was something that we never do in normal life. It was priceless.

Around 11PM lots of high beam lights from all over the ships already lower their lights, time to sleep. Luckily, our AC were non-stop from afternoon to the next morning. Thanks to our captain!

Day 6
Woke up early for sunrise, and I was still amazed to see our surroundings, since I couldn't see much during the night time. Some of the boats had already left while breakfast was served. Afterwords, the boat sailed to our next stop, Komodo island bay. 

We were told that early morning is the best time to see the dragons as this is when they are most active.

Welcome to Komodo Island

After a short briefing from our ranger, we took the medium trail. Even though we got to the island early morning, we still couldn't see any sign of Komodo in the wild, but again, just like Rinca island, Komodos was found by the tourist area.

Medium Trail at Komodo Island

Medium Trail at Komodo Island

Our journey continues to Pink Beach. These sands get its color from the beautiful coral that surround the islands. We spend our afternoon here, swimming and snorkeling in these clear waters. I was not brave enough to snorkel by myself and away from the beach, so I did just around the beach area. While we were enjoying the beach, the rest of our crew were on the boat cooking us an awesome last feast.

Pink Beach

Manta point is our last destination to see manta rays. Not realizing that the point is in the middle of the ocean, between Komodo and Rinca island, it is in the middle of the channel to be exact. Amazingly, the lower ground is visible from the ship. Our crew were trying their best in searching and to make our Manta experience the best it can be. Their eyes were searching in all directions, but we were just lucky to spot 1 Manta that swam fast underneath our ship and disappeared. None of us were braved to jump and snorkel. We just stood by and anxious to meet these creatures.

I have to say that this has been one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken. I want to give a shout out to our on board crew. To our 23 year old captain and the rest of the crew who made sure that we had everything we needed, great local chef and overall we felt very well taken care of.

This memorable experience left us feeling accomplished in some way.

Crew members

That was the end of our Flores and Komodo islands tour, and we were back to Labuan Bajo and stayed at Puri Sari Beach Hotel, a charming hotel with its private beach. At this hotel we met Hubert, the manager, who gave us lots of information and became our talking buddy for the night.

Day 7
We were just chillin' at the hotel, enjoying the beach view, and around noon time we were dropped by the hotel shuttle to the airport. Garuda airlines took us straight to Jakarta.

That concludes my Flores and Komodo islands trip. Will plan another trip again and hoping with the whole family.

If you need information about our tour guide, please let me know or you can go visit www.visitkomodoindonesia.com

Thank you for reading!