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
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:
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 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 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!
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……