Flores (part1)

ugh. haven’t had internet access in about a week. for the first time in almost 8 months of traveling, i spent a whole week not being able to find internet *anywhere*. anyways…

we’ve spent the last week on an island called Flores which is one of the smaller islands of indonesia. looking on a map, flores looks like just a tiny little speck out of all the indonesian islands, but it’s actually about 350km across which gives you an idea of just how huge the country is. of course, we didnt really realize how huge it was until we started traveling across it. we thought getting through flores would be a breeze. it wasn’t. the roads are crappy and super twisty. even though the island is 350km across, the road across it is so curvy that it stretches 700km!! because of this, we had to cover huge distances every time we went to a new town, and after a while it started feeling like we were spending all of our time in buses or somehow in transit. here is our actual travel schedule for 6 consecutive days:

12 hour bus and ferry to denpasar
2 hour plane to maumere
4 hour bus to kelimutu
7 hour bus to bajawa
no travel
10 hour bus to labuanbajo

yup. out of 6 days, only on one of them did we not spend a long time getting from place to place. by the end of our time crossing the island, we were utterly exhausted. but anyways, enough whining and complaining.. first things first:

bali

to get to Flores, we had to take a short domestic flight from denpasar in bali. the bus ride across bali to get to denpasar was incredible. it’s totally obvious why everyone seems to think that bali is paradise. lush green jungle surrounded the highway on all sides. everywhere you looked there would be huge palms with coconuts growing on them, smaller green trees with bananas, gigantic ferns, and then every once in a while the greenery would clear and you’d see the brilliant blue ocean to one side or the peaks of huge volcanic mountains. it’s hard to believe that places as beautiful as this still exist.

we only spent one night and an afternoon in bali before we had to catch our flight, but it definitely made us wonder if we might be wrong in skipping bali. the culture on the island is very interesting since most of the people there are hindu, but they practice the religion in their own unique way. all over the place, people set out little plates of offerings that have flowers on them. you see these offerings everywhere around town: on the sidewalks, near statues, in front of restaurants… all over. also, another interesting thing that we kept seeing around town was that a lot of the statues around town were wearing skirts. i’m still not sure why (gotta check the guidebook) but people had wrapped black and white checkered skirts around the statues.

Flores

Flores is one of the less developed islands in indonesia. many of the people we met there described themselves as “simple people” who lived simple lives and didnt need as much fancy shmancy stuff as other indonesians on neighboring islands. we flew there on this small prop plane (which made me really nervous) and, after staring out the window at the mesmerizing view of islands and blue waters below, we landed at the tiniest little airport i’ve ever seen. a small runway and just one tiny room which was used as departures, arrivals, baggage claim, bookings, and everything else… in other words, there was one desk in it and there was a wooden table that luggage was thrown onto instead of a carousel. just the bare essentials.

and, “just the bare essentials” seemed to be the theme of the island. none of the hotel rooms had hot water. only one of the towns we visited had internet and some of them didnt even have a phone system. most of the towns had limited street lights and there were long dark strecthes to walk thorough, even on the main roads. in fact, most of these towns didnt have very many streets at all! everything on this island moves at a slow relaxed pace. all schedules are tenative. the locals are always laughing uproariously at something.

Maumere

Maumere is the capital of Flores. there isn’t really anything to see there, but people usually end up there since it has an airport. it was here that we met the Indonesian’s equivalent to Carrot Top. this guy had crazy frizzy hair, talked a mile a minute, had the high pitched voice, and fidgeted around a lot… the only thing missing was red hair. he was a tour guide and tried to talk us into takng a 5 day tour of the island w/ him. honestly, if i had to spend 5 days w/ this guy, i would probably lose my mind, so we declined. he was a nice guy and all.. but he was just so manic!

walking around town, i thought to myself several times about how the town was so small… and then i remembered that it was the largest town on Flores! later that night, we ended up getting lost on the way to the hotel since the damn map in our guidebook was wrong. we wandered around aimlessly through the dark streets until a random group of guys playing chess called us over and asked what we were looking for. then, instead of giving us directions, they just hopped on their scooters and drove us over to our hotel! so nice!

transport

there is a really interesting transportation system on this island. the main way of getting anywhere is by bemo which is a shared taxi van. a bunch of young dudes just drive these things around town and randomly pick up people on the side of the road. the vans sort of go on set routes, but they’ll take you pretty much anywhere in town, picking up and dropping off passengers on the way. the annoying thing is that these bemos often are the main way of getting between towns as well. so, you’ll go to the bus stop, get in the bemo, and then it’ll spend another 30 minutes or an hour driving around town looking for more people to pick up until it’s full before it actually leaves town!

for instance, when we left maumere, we got to the bemo station to take the “3pm bus”. when we got to the station, it’s utter insanity. people are literally running alongside our taxi and pulling the doors open before the taxi even stops. everyone is yelling for us to get into their bemo, trying to grab our packs off our shoulders, etc. complete mob scene! finally, this one bemo starts driving right through the crowd, and its driver is yelling that they are leaving *right now*. we hop aboard… and the bemo drives across the street and parks. we sit there for 15 minutes doing nothing. finally the bemo starts up, and then circles around town for 20 minutes looking for more people to come aboard. eventually, it pulls over to stop again… at the same bus station that we left from!!! and that’s how things work around here. everyone acts like you need to hurry and rush to get somewhere.. and then you just sit there for hours on end waiting. rush and wait, rush and wait.

once the bemo finally leaves to go to the next town, it will just stop on the way a million times picking up extra people and dropping others off. almost always they will play the most horrible music you’ve ever heard and they’ll play it as loud as humanly possible. on one of the bus rides we took, there was a large box full of baby chicks that made chirping noises the whole way. on another bus ride, someone brought on a large chicken with its legs tied. the chicken struggled and flapped its wings a bit at first, then finally gave up and just lay there looking sad. another time, someone brought a chicken and a bag of rice. while hanging upside down with its legs tied, the chicken struggled to eat the rice *upside down* until the owner moved it so that it couldnt anymore. heh, never a dull moment.

the other way to get around town is by scooter. lots of the locals around town will make extra money by giving people rides. if you just stand there by the side of the road, chances are that soon enough a scooter will pull over next to you and ask where you are going. it’s such a cheap and quick way of getting around!

**more on Flores later……

on the edge

it’s a pretty crazy little planet we live on. how strange is it to think that everything we see around us from mountains to rivers to cities to oceans… all of it is just a small outer layer of Earth. this is all the outside, while the inside is full of hot red molten lava. luckily for us, *usually* the red stuff stays on the inside, and only rarely causes havoc on the surface. here in indonesia, there are 129 active volcanoes. most of them just sit around spewing smoke all day long, while others erupt from time to time devastating everything in their path and killing thousands of people. because of this, even when you know that the chances of an erruption are slim to none, staring up at a smoking volcano is still exhilerating and just a bit unnerving.

the town we were staying in, Cemoro Lawang, is perched up high on the rim of an enormous crater, 10 km across, that errupted ages ago. although this volcano itself is no longer active, inside its enormous caldera, 3 new volcanoes have since formed. when you walk down from town, into the huge crater, the view all around you is absolutely stupendous. you’re surrounded by the lush green crater walls towering above you. beneath your feet is a huge expanse of greyish blackish sand. this “sea of sand” fills the gigantic crater, and is actually ash and not sand. when you kick it up, it dissolves into a very fine spray and floats away. and the best part of it all, is that in the middle of this huge grey area, there stand 2 large volcanoes: one of them covered w/ green trees and inactive while the other one is a grey rocky crater with smoke slowly rising out of it.


Batok, the inactive vlocano inside the crater


Bromo, smoking away

the whole setting was just so surreal. first off it was crazy to be walking inside this huge 10km crater. and then staring up at smoking Bromo was just so impressive. walking through, we were almost giddy w/ the excitement of seeing it all. Bromo has a set of stairs going up its side and after climbing the 253 steps, we stood on Bromo’s edge and peered down inside.

we stood there watching smoke slowly billow out for quite a while, and then decided to walk partially around Bromo’s rim to see the inside of the crater from some different angles.


me, on the edge


Bromo’s edge, w/ Batok in the background


looking over the edge

one of the best views of Bromo and the surrounding area is from a viewpoint high above on the outer carter’s rim. the view is supposedly best at dawn, and despite the fact that getting up at 3:45am sounded absolutely hellish, we decided to go for it anyway. to make matters even more annoying, i ended up not being able to sleep for hours on end that night, so when the alarm went off the next morning, i had only slept for about 3 hours. ouch. we took the bumpy road up in a jeep, and soon found ourselves at the top. around us, enterpreneurial indonesians sold everything from tea to wool hats to huge coats to batteries. the sun was about to start coming up, so we walked the remaining 100 meters to the top, wondering if the view would end up being worth getting up so early. it was. this was definitely one of the most stupendous views i’ve ever seen in my life. staring down on the scene below i just couldnt get enough of it, and i must have taken a million photos.


the 2 volcanoes, w/ Semeru smoking in he distance


from a different viewpoint

a while later, completely exhausted, we took the jeep back to our hotel. on the way past Bromo we saw tons and tons of people standing around. indonesians selling hose rides, and tourist buying them. everyone comes out here to climb Bromo at sunrise. it made us really glad that we climbed Bromo the previous day during the afternoon. we had the volcano all to ourselves and it was completely quiet and serene unlike the madness and shouting that surrounded Bromo right now. after a quick breakfast we took a van back down the mountain, quite satisfied w/ our volcano experience!

*v

Indonesia

another almost sleepless night and short flight later, we got off the plane in jakarta, indonesia. for the first time in my life, i’m south of the equator. my experience of jakarta was limited to what i saw in the airport since i had a domestic flight scheduled in a few hours, but i even in that brief time, i got somewhat of an impression of indonesia. my first thought when i got off the plane was that i felt like i was in hawaii. outside the airport windows were swaying palm trees, humidity, and blue skies. i could tell i was in a tropical paradise before i ever even stepped outside.

indonesia is a huge chain of islands just below southeast asia.. it’s actually made up of *17,000* islands! another interesting thing about indonesia that most people wouldnt have guessed, is that it has the 4th largest population out of any country. crazy eh? as i walked through the airport, one of the things that struck me most was how many muslims there were around. according to the guide, 80% of indonesians are muslim, and that was fairly apparent from how many women in the airport were wearing muslim headscarves. after traveling in the middle east, it was a bit odd to see all of these muslim women and find asian faces looking back at me instead of arab ones. for some reason it just seemed unexpected, although there’s no reason why it should be. one thing that i did notice though, is that the women here, though wearing headscarves, seemed more boisterous and less subdued than their middle eastern equivalents, and in fact many of them wore brightly colored clothing and often even tight fitting clothing… something hardly seen in the middle east. i later read that mulsim women here have more freedom than in many other countries, and the country even has a woman president… something unheard of in the middle east.

we sat around for a few hours waiting for our next flight when i noticed a familiar smell in the air. clove cigarettes. Mmmmmm. back home, i didnt smoke regularly or anything, but here and there, at bars or clubs, i definitely enjoyed smoking some clove cigarettes. i just love the way they taste and smell. for some odd reason, i’ve never seen these sold anywhere outside of america. i did know (but had forgotten) that Djarum, the company that makes them, is indonesian, and now i see them being sold *everywhere*. so many people around here smoke them!

eventually we took our flight from jakarta to surabaya, another city located on Java, the main island of indonesia. it’s been absolute hell trying to decide where we’re going to go while we are here. how do you choose what to see when you have 17,000 islands to choose from and only 3 weeks during which to see anything? our guidebook lists *so* much cool stuff to see in this country. i so much wish we had more time to spend here… but i guess i kind of say that for every country. we finally decided to spend most of our time in Nusa Tenggara, a small chain of islands near Bali consisting of Lombok, Komodo, and Flores. it’s funny, since then, every person that we’ve talked to has been utterly and completely shocked that we are not going to bali. going to indonesia and not seeing bali is unthinkable. bali, for tourists (and lots of locals too), is the quintessential isalnd of indonesia and as close to paradise as you can get. despite everyone’s advice, we’re skipping it and instead will stick to some of the less touristy islands. i hope we dont end up regretting our decision!

we eventually got into surabaya, got a hotel and got some dinner. after dinner we asked our waiter if he knew where an internet cafe was. he said he did, and then rook us there. he walked w/ us for about 3 blocks to take us there, and only then turned around to go back to work. it never ceases to amaze me how nice people can be. could you imagine this happening at home? no way. at most someone might point you in the right direction, or possibly draw a map for you *maybe*, but nobody would ever walk 3 blocks with you to show you where something is. nobody.

the next morning we took a bus to a city a few hours away. at the bus stop we got food at this place called Twin’s chicken and donuts. the donuts were just ok, but the fried chicken was excellent. kind of random for a place to sell that kind of combination, but it seemed to work. on the bus, as usual there were tons of people tring to sell stuff to us. all sorts of random junk from comic books to sunglasses to food to hats. one weird thing is that here they have this interesting tactic to try to get you to buy stuff. a guy will walk up the aisle and just put stuff on everyone’s seat. then, he’ll walk up the aisle again and take the stuff back from the people who dont want it. the trick is that maybe if you sit for a minute with that hat/comic/notebook/whatnot in your lap, you’ll end up actually buying it. the people selling this stuff are so funny too. when this guy tried to sell me sunglasses, i pointed to the pair that was actually already on my head… but did that dissuade him? no. maybe i need a second pair? who knows!

the bus ride took us to Probolingo where we needed to switch to a van to get to cemoro lawang. of course, doing that wasn’t as easy as it looked. a guy got on our bus, and lied to us saying that we had reached the bus station. we got off the bus, and realized… no bus station! instead, we had conveniently been dropped off at a travel agent. the guy at the agencey tells us that the van is coming in 10 minutes. we ask him how much it costs and he claims to not know and then runs off. riiiiiiight. he works there and sells van trips every day yet doesnt know how much they cost? at this point, another guy comes in. this new guy says the van comes in 15 minutes not 10. we ask him the price, and he says 7,500 Rp. ok. fine. then he leaves. now a third guy comes in. now he says the bus is coming in 45 minutes! we ask him the price, and he says it’s 10,000! huh? we tell him that the previous guy said it was less but he says that the other guy “didnt speak good english”. somehow i think that no mater how horrible your english is, you wouldnt think that 7,500 means 10,000. either you know how to say 10,000 or you dont. anyway, at this point we had enough. we walked out the door and flagged down a cab to get to the actual bus station.

still, our problems werent over. we paid the van guy. we had 45 minutes to wait till the van went, so we said we needed to go to the atm. they said not to worry, they’d swing by the atm on the way. so we sat there and wasted 45 minutes. when the van was about to leave, the driver comes up and says that they wont take us to the atm but that we can change money in bromo. we tell him that we dont have any money to change!! we need an *atm*. he repeats that we can change money in bromo. this goes on for a while. finally i tell him that he promised we would go to the atm and we absolutely needed to go, and that the only reason we hadnt gone earlier is cause he told us not to. so he finally says ok. we go to the atm. after i get money, he tells me that they now want me to pay *double* for the van trip… apparently for taking me 5 minutes to the ATM. i say no. he repeats his request several times before stopping. ugh. finally we are off. the van is full. 25 people in one van! we’re all completely squished. eventually there are kids that climb aboard the roof. there’s now 28 people. never a dull moment on the road!

we eventually arrive at cemoro lawang. the driver demands money again, and i end up giving him 5,000, much less than what he asked for, but he seems to be satisfied w/ it. the guesthouse we’re staying at is awesome and the people who run it are super friendly… everyone there calls us by our first names for the next few days..

a few other things about indonesia:

language

indonesian, at least to me, doesnt sound asian at all surprisingly. it actually sound more like spanish or portugese maybe, which is odd.

roosters

anyone who’s been reading this blog from way back when i went to thailand a few years ago knows that i have major issues w/ roosters. what the hell is wrong w/ those stupid birds?!! so, they’re supposed to crow at sunrise, right?! wrong!! these stupid things usually start going nuts around 2:30 in the morning and crow all damn night!! i’m a really light sleeper and without earplugs, it’s totally impossible for me to get any sleep w/ the damn roosters crowing like crazy up here! ugh!

vigilante justice

we were watching the news in the hotel and they showed this guy holding a hatchet.. and he looked like shit. his whole face was all black and blue and it looked like he had the crap beat out of him by an angry mob. since i cant understand the TV (it’s in indonesian), one of the guys watching tells me that the man on the screen is a thief. it turns out that an angry mob *did* beat him up. i guess people juist take the law into their own hands here. in our guidebook it says that if you are in a car accident were someone you hit is injured or killed, you should leave *immediately* and drive to the nearest police station or you will probably be attacked my an angry mob. yikes!!

*v