The first leg of our time in Flores was just chilling out in Maumere and enjoying not doing very much. For the second leg we bounced across the west half of the island stopping in a few spots along the way. Below are the most interesting parts of our Floreniese adventure.
Leaving our comfort zone of Lena House was tough. There we had everything we needed. But the fear of missing out can be a strong motivator. Our first stop outside our comfort zone was a spectacular mess.
Moni is a small town known for being beside the famous volcano of Kelimutu. The town is about as grim as waking up hungover on January 1st, in Chernobyl. There is litter everywhere and stray dogs wander the streets.
Without realising it we checked into the worst rated guesthouse in town. It wasn’t that bad except the owners son was pocketing one third of our fee and lying to his parents about it. This lead to a very upset owner banging on our door demanding we pay him in full. He stormed off when we told him about his son, leaving us with an awkward last night.
Kelimutu is the attraction that draws people to Moni. It’s a volcano with three lakes formed in craters on the summit, each lake has a different colour and the colour changes frequently depending on the chemical activity of the volcano. Locals believe that the lakes have a spiritual connection and that when you die your soul ends up hanging out in one of the lakes.
The good news is that the lakes are beautiful and the colours very impressive. The bad news is that it’s a full blown tourist attraction. There’s a road up the volcano, with a massive car park just 20 minutes below the summit with gift shops and stalls selling everything. As Indonesian holidays had just started, the place was packed full of javanese tourists with their designer bags and gopros visiting their families in Flores and seeing the sites. The experience was a bit underwhelming. There was natural beauty but the set up took away a lot. We descended on foot disappointed.
The saving grace of Moni is a reggae bar called Mopi’s Place. It’s run by 6 brothers with afros and a taste for dub beats. They play live music every night and the food and service is of a quality we hadn’t seen in Flores before. We had at least two meals a day there and played board games to pass the time and escape from the bleakness.
Ebolubo & Boawae
After Moni we stopped in a small town called Boawae. There’s not much to say about Boawae except that it’s beside the impressive Mt Ebolubo. A rough volcano that dominates the landscape. We made the 5:30AM trip to the village of Mulakoli to meet our guide Rian. He is the oldest son of Papa Pascalis, the village elder. We left their house with Rian, his brother Harris and Gusti, a young man from Riung who was staying with the family and spoke English.
Rian was wearing a pair of stylish football boots, and the other two were in flip flops. Why not? It’s only 2,137m to the top.
We spent two hours cutting through the steep forest before emerging on the rocky face of the last 200m. This was tough, the rocks were loose and there was no real trail. After 45 minutes of climbing the rocks we arrived to another cloud covered crater. At this stage Rian took off his football boots and wore only his socks for the rest of the day and the two lads in flip flops arrived shortly after.
The weather cleared and we explored the crater with stunning views of the village below and the other big Volcano Inerie. The sulfur gas was really strong on one side sending us into a couple of coughing fits. Taking plenty of time to rest, eat biscuits and take photos on the summit we felt ready for the descent.
What we didn’t realise was that going down would take us even longer than going up. The combination of loose rocks and tired legs was horrible. It took over an hour to get back to the forest and more than two hour to the village. The trail would have been impossible to find by ourselves. We didn’t see a single other person on the volcano and doing it with the local kids made the whole experience very special especially compared with the bus stop volcano experience at Kelimutu.
Bajawa is a decent sized town about half way along our route. It’s known for the beautiful traditional villages that are dotted around it. We rented the motorbike of the kid who worked at our hotel and explored the area. The villages were very impressive, built of wood and thatch rooves in symmetrical layout. The locals were friendly and we played football, drank coffee and generally strolled around.
The best part was the Malanage hot springs, where a volcanic heated river meets with a cool water spring making for an all natural jacuzzi where you control the temperature by going closer or further away from the hot side. It’s packed full of locals washing themselves and it’s easy to chat to everyone. The sulphur smell was pleasant and we left the place hours later wrinkled and completely relaxed. It was so good we came back for a second round the next day.
For our last stop in the trans flores adventure we decided to treat ourselves. The Dutch had told us about their live aboard diving experience in Labuan Bajo and since they’d never put us wrong in the past we followed their advice. We booked a three day / two night cruise around Komodo National Park with Wicked Diving (Owned by an Irish person it turns out). We had a crew of 5, for ourselves and an English / Welsh couple in their 50s who were great craic.
Marta and Ricky were our guides throughout the trip, Afri cooked all our meals while the Captain and Herman kept us pointed in the right direction.
Snorkeling is a lot like Pokemon. You spend a long time looking for the rare ones, it’s addictive and fun to do with friends.
The Snorkeling was the best we’ve ever seen. The coral alone was insane, the colours, the size and the diversity. The life in and around the coral was ten times better than anything I’ve seen in an aquarium.
- Cuttlefish: we saw loads of these guys, usually on pairs floating around camouflaging their skin and radically changing appearance at will. One even shot ink at us while making his exit. Crazy shit.
- Turtles: while hunting for Manta rays we saw a huge Turtle casually swim past us. It was browsing the coral and stopping every now and then for a bite to eat. We followed it for ages and got pretty close, an amazing experience.
- Trigger fish : these are the most aggressive little bastards I’ve ever met, in certain areas there was one at each piece of coral and as you approached they’d square up to you and bite you with their tiny mouthes. It didn’t hurt but the first time i freaked out not knowing what it was. I spent my time keeping them at bay.
- Rays: we were disappointed to not see a Manta Ray which can be seen in the area. We did see an eagle ray and a sting ray who were both impressive but not what we were hoping for.
- Shrimp: We saw freaky looking lobsters with a shiny green backs and blue eyes. The first one had a staring contest with me when I first spotted him.
Honorable mentions go to the many box fishes, the crazy orange & red star fish and the spiky lion fish.
The water was clean, clear and each spot we went to had something different waiting to blow your underwater mind.
We made a stop at the island of Rinca, one of the two places in the world with Komodo Dragons. Here like the Manta Rays we had high expectations and ended up impressed but a bit disappointed. We went on a trek through the park with a ranger. We were told it was mating season which is a good time to see them. In the end we saw four, two big and two small but they were all hanging around the kitchen beside the ranger station so it wasn’t the wild experience we had imagined. They’re mad looking things but our minds had built up the experience to a “Planet Earth” experience. Unfortunately David Attenborough wasn’t available that day.
Despite the disappointments of the mantas and the Dragons we loved our time on the boat. The staff and crew were so kind. We ate like kings and shared some great moments with everyone on the boat. Little things like reading and napping on deck, or getting up for sunrise and squeezing in one last dive off the top deck before we took off to the next stop. Sea Kayaking is also great, we used it to get to and from the boat in quick and stylish way that has the least possible impact on the reef.
We have emmensly enjoyed our time in Flores. There is so much depth to the place and it’s still underdeveloped (in a good way). The people are ridiculously lovely and although Labuan Bajo is starting to turn into the new Bali the beauty of the Komodo National Park means it’s worth putting up with. The big question is how this destination will develop as popularity grows. In a country with less regulation and corruption, corners will be cut and we hope the impact on the island is minimal or at least brings benefit to the locals.
Next stop is Sulawesi.
- Padang restaurants are the best. They’re buffet style Indonesian food where they charge per item or portion. Guaranteed cheap, quick and decent food.
- Reggae is big in Flores, we’ve heard loads of live music and plenty of Reggae bars.
- We got a flat tyre on out motorbike on the way to climb Ebolubo. One of the other brothers fixed it for us while we climbed the mountain. Hero.
- Marta told us the government plan is to have 500k annual visitors in Komodo Park by 2019 which is nonsense given Labuan Bajo currently has huge issues with water, electricity, sewage and waste disposal.
- Many parts of Flores have been completely filthy with littering being common place among locals. There is a big lack of infrastructure and low levels of environmental education.
- I was freaked out by all the rats on the lane to our homestay. So nasty.
- Flores tourism sell reusable water bottles that you can refill for free across the island. We bought two to reduce the plastic we were using.
- So far we’ve been on about 7 islands in Indonesia. Only 17, 499 to go.