This is a story about one of the best trips I’ve ever made in my life with one of the best travelmates I’ve ever had. This is a story on how I crossed one of Indonesia’s most magical islands on a motorbike. This is a story about Flores, which contains all the magic of Indonesia on one island.
Originally my plan was to cross the unexplored Sumbawa on a motorbike. After Bali and the Gilis I was done with tourists. I needed to go off the beaten path. Discover the real Indonesia. Back then it was impossible to rent a scooter on Sumbawa though. I tried in three different cities, eventually gave up and moved on to Flores. On the twelve-hour boat I met Bruno, an Italian guy with the same plan in mind. We didn’t even discuss it, we were making this trip together.
We arrived in Labuanbajo while the sun started to set. Komodo dragons, sublime diving and sunsets like this make Labuanbajo a popular place. So popular there’s a bakery now. We planned to go inland, and that was a trip not many people made. We grabbed some food, some beers afterwards and had an intense conversation that only travellers can have. We made it an early night, to get out of bulé-town early the next morning (bulé is Indonesian for “foreigner”).
To get two scooters was quite the hassle, but eventually Bruno prevailed and drove up front of our guesthouse. Two crappy scooters with crappy helmets, 70.000 rupiahs a day. I threw him a sandwich from the bakery.
By the time we drove out of town the sun burned us as if we had ended up in hell. We found an empty pier after just ten minutes of driving and ended up swimming and chilling under the palm roof for the rest of the afternoon. We managed to make it to our planned sleeping place for the evening, this waterfall, about 40 kilometres out of Labuanbajo on the road to Ruteng:
We dumped our stuff in the hut a bit up the hill, build a fire, took a shower in the waterfall, and talked and laughed for hours on end. We slept perfectly fine on the concrete floor of the hut, with almost no fear of snakes.
The next morning the villagers invited us for a breakfast of plain white rice, instant noodles and a cup of tea. All the kids came out to watch us eat our breakfast while we talked to the chief. We took a chance to visit their local church (most people of Flores follow a mix of Christian and Animistic religion).
With a lot of difficulty we left the village and the extremely friendly and welcoming villagers behind us. We wanted to make some kilometres today. We’d only driven about 40 kilometres, we planned to make it to Ende and the Kelimutu volcano within a couple of days. So we drove.
Until we found coffee, that is. On one of the mountain roads a family worked on the harvest of coffee-beans and roasting them. Bruno, as a true Italian, loves a proper cup of coffee. I was disgusted by coffee until this day. Until today I also haven’t tasted coffee as good as this one was.
Maybe it is because I’ve never again drank coffee with such a view. Whatever it was that made the coffee taste so damn good, I knew my newest addiction started this day. Thanks, Bruno.
We followed more of the long and winding mountain roads through the rice fields and villages. Stunning views were enough to keep us going until we saw a brown sign next to the road pointing towards a “traditional village”. We barely knew anything about the island except for Labuanbajo and our destination, the Kelimutu volcano, but we were here to explore. We had no idea how far the village was or what was to be expected, but we ploughed our scooters through the dirt road anyway.
This was what we were rewarded with. Unfortunately no-one was at home.
After doing some research on the interwebs it looks like the same kind of houses as Wae Rebo. This, however, is not Wae Rebo. I have no clue of the name of this village and can’t find it anywhere.
The next village we passed through had a tourism information office WITH a proper map! We searched for one since the very first evening and only found a guy who wanted to sell us his for 120.000 rupiah. On the map we found a hotspring nearby. A bit out of our direction but it sure did sound like the perfect place to spend the night.
Mangaruda-Soa could be proof of a godly existence. Heaven on Earth, truly. It helped that this was an undiscovered place for tourists. When we arrived, only locals were happily bathing in the warm water. The guy at the gate was very helpful and enthusiastic when we asked him if there was a place we could spend the night somewhere nearby.
“No, no, but we do have a bungalow next to the hotspring you can use.”
Of course we agreed. They cleaned the bungalow and insisted we enjoyed the hot water while they worked. The night we spend here was almost one out of a fairytale. At night the hotspring was our private area which we explored all the way while talking and drinking beer and arak. For some reason we climbed over a fence that night… I can’t quite remember why that was again…