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Flores - an Indonesian island to explore

Updated on May 27, 2013
The air strip - Ende - Flores
The air strip - Ende - Flores | Source

Flores - My first impression - breathtakingly beautiful. Stunning mountain ranges, lush rain forests, active volcanos and isolated villages.

The plane is in descent.

‘Oh Mum, cross your fingers and pray they’ve cleared the goats and people off the runway.’

My daughter couldn’t look me in the eye. I hadn’t been warned of this possibility.

Before a plane approaches or leaves Ende airport on the island of Flores, Indonesia, a siren sounds.

Then a yellow van is driven the length of the landing strip to warn the locals and unsuspecting goats.

It’s easy to see why. Welcoming villagers greet us boisterously from their homes. Washing is slung out to dry, dogs doze in the sun. It’s just another day on the edge of the airstrip.

ende airstrip
ende airstrip | Source

Flores Indonesia

Flores is one of the islands situated in East Nusa Tenggara, an Indonesian province, east of Bali. The other main islands are Sumba and Timor.

As recently as 2003 archaeologists discovered Flores Man – Homo floresiensis, in a karst limestone cave in Liang Bua.

Nicknamed the Hobbit this tiny human – one metre tall with grapefruit sized skull is thought to have lived on the island around 18,000 years ago.


Breathtaking

Portuguese discoverers named the eastern most peninsula, Cabo das Flores – Flower Cape.

Scented and colourful, flowers glow over the island. Add to this palms, avocado, cloves, sweet potato, papaya, corn, melons, bananas and rice paddies in abundance.

My first impression - how breathtakingly beautiful this island is, choc-a-bloc with volcanoes, many of them still active.

Narrow roads curl around unspoiled landscape, stunning mountain ranges, lush rain forests leading to isolated villages.

This rugged terrain has helped establish individual traditions and languages from community to community. Each village is fiercely independent in its own culture and heritage.

Coloured lake at Kelimutu
Coloured lake at Kelimutu | Source

Kelimutu Lakes

A visit to the coloured lakes of Kelimutu was a must on my agenda despite the 4.30 am call. The early morning trek from the base, a 1.5 km walk followed by around 130 steps, is best done while it’s cool and before the mist descends from the mountains and obscures the view.

A Dutch geologist discovered Kelimutu in 1914. At that time the lakes were red, blue and white. Today they are turquoise, black and brownish and despite the early hour almost covered with swirling mists.

The colours are said to change without warning due to dissolving minerals and Kelimutu’s active volcanic presence below the surface.

Local people believe that souls and spirits come together at Kelimutu –the three lakes representing young, old, evil.

A sign to ponder - kelimutu flores indonesia
A sign to ponder - kelimutu flores indonesia | Source

IKAT

From Kelimutu it’s a short drive to Nggela village. Nggela appeared deserted when we arrived - but wait. Within minutes, Ikat sellers arrive, seemingly from nowhere and the place is suddenly bustling with enterprise.

Ikat is cloth hand woven in an intricate traditional method. Each area proudly boasts its own distinctive design.

Sarongs, shawls, scarves, blankets are woven in earthy orange and rust tones. Local weavers use handmade dyes and hand-spun cotton. Garments are then hand-woven and stitched.

Some schools use the local Ikat as part of the uniform.

Ikat for sale..
Ikat for sale.. | Source

Ancestral Villages

Leaving Ende we drive along the rugged coastline before veering off through the mountains to Bajawa. This market town nestles in the hills dominated by active Gunung Inerie volcano.

Bajawa is in the Ngada Regency although not everyone considers themselves Ngada people.

Tucked away in this mountainous regions are various tribal villages, not primarily tourist attractions; the people here live and exist as they have for centuries.

As you enter the village of Wogo two structures are immediately visible. It is here the rituals, the animist beliefs, the rites of birth, death, fertility, sacrifice, the presence of ancestors, are represented.

One – a bhaga is a small square thatched-roof house commemorating female ancestors. The second (ngadhu) a wooden pole topped by a conical thatched roof often surmounted by arms holding a spear and axe, represents male predecessors.

The elderly women of Wogo are highly respected in the community and fiercely proud of their heritage. Protective of tribal rites and family, a harsh lifetime is etched on their faces. No Botox here.

Bena Traditional Village

Next stop is Bena, another traditional village. It’s larger than the other villages in the area and attracts more visitors.

Impressive displays of giant jagged stone monoliths indicate the important deceased people of the village. Other relatives are lovingly buried in the courtyards where they can be watched over. Some homes are decorated lavishly with buffalo horns, denoting the wealth of the family – past or present.

While it’s acceptable to visit the villages alone, guided tours are available. Just be certain a guide has knowledge of the history of the Ngada regency.

Ancestral villages - indonesia
Ancestral villages - indonesia | Source

A Death

On our walk to the beach, a group of local youths greet us and sombrely guide us past a house where a man had just died.

Through the open door we see the tiny room glittering with candles. The corpse already garbed in pristine white is laid out on a small bed.

Kneeling around the bed women wail eerily into the darkening night. This wailing will continue until the burial.

The men are already busy outside cooking the pig they’ve reared and now slaughtered for the occasion. Let the feasting begin. It’s imperative the ancestor be sent on his final journey in style.

Passing a couple of days later it’s evident where the deceased is buried – the mound of fresh dirt almost touches the small house.

Candles blaze on his grave. More candles flicker on a makeshift altar in his now empty room. Children play unconcernedly around the new grave.

Thinking of how our deceased are immediately whisked away to a morgue or funeral parlour before burial seems somehow wrong.

Laughter is never far away - flores Indonesia
Laughter is never far away - flores Indonesia | Source
The market is over in Ende - nothing is wasted.
The market is over in Ende - nothing is wasted. | Source

Challenged in an unexpected ways.

The island, the customs and generosity of its people, are soon to challenge me in unexpected ways. My materialistic views take a battering.

Ende town centre is a hotch-potch of cluttered shops, uneven pavements, warung, (cafés) and market stalls.

Motor bikes roar, trucks and buses are crammed with people, inside, outside and clinging skilfully on top.

Somehow, they dodge and weave around the narrow streets avoiding the inevitable wandering goats, pigs and chickens.

Bemos, (small buses) the local mode of public transport, race around Ende at frightening speeds, hop on/hop off as you wish. Usually they travel in the direction you didn’t ask for but you’ll get there eventually.

The young male drivers play deafening music and generally have a good time.

Jump on with the pails of swill if you’re going to feed the pigs. Chuck on the chickens you just bought at the market, or the sacrificial goat on the way to a ceremony.

You’ll notice a hint of western influence. The blaring music and the Bemo names – Gladiator, Alpachino, Ketchup, Bigmacth

We pass small bamboo homes, housing several generations.

While modern cons are conspicuously absent, pride is paramount. Earthen floors and paths are immaculately swept.

Graves marked with wooden crosses are dotted amongst the houses, the Florinese like their ancestors close by.

Time to Leave

I can handle the transport but I’m not so comfortable with my conscience. Watching the local people growing vegetables, keeping fowl, trading their eggs, fruit, fish, conscious that every grain of rice counts.

I’m struck by the concept of use-buy dates. I’m appalled by my acceptance of throwing food away by a certain date?

Laughter is never far away from the Flores people. I’m so sad to leave.

All too soon it’s back to the plane, to the yellow truck on the landing strip, back to use-by dates and hot showers.

Back to all the commercialism I imagined I could never live without. I now know I can.

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    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      Tolvaj - I agree with your sentiments. My list is a long one too. I'm glad you liked a glimpse of Flores, a beautiful island to visit. Thanks for visiting.

    • Tolovaj profile image

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      We live in such a beautiful world with so many great places to explore, aren't we? I have a long, looooong list of to-visit cities, countries and so on, but life is too short to experience everything, so I am thankful to get at least a peek to some of them. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      AliciaC - thank you so much for journeying to Flores with my hub, yes, it really is a magical place. Appreciate your visit and comments - thank you.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a lovely hub! I enjoy reading travel articles, especially when they describe a place which is (for me) unusual. The pictures and the description of your experiences make this a very interesting and informative hub.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      dis-cover - i thank you for such positive feed back and so pleased you enjoyed the journey to Flores. It is a beautiful island so an easy task to write genuinely about the assets - thanks again

    • dis-cover profile image

      Nikolic Predrag 3 years ago from Serbia, Belgrade

      Thanks for sharing this amazing travel experience with us. The scenery is awesome. Beautiful photos. Excellent travel review travmaj. Voted up as awesome!!!

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      Thank you Greensleeves for such positive comments. Flores is a fascinating island and I loved visiting there. And yes, the Kelimutu lakes are a must, quite eerie early in the morning surrounded by mist.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 3 years ago from Essex, UK

      Nice to read this page. Travel guides to parts of the world with which most of us are unfamiliar are always interesting, but especially so when there is a personal touch, as there is in this article.

      And that lake! A beautiful colour, and I would suggest a must-see sight on any tour of Flores.

      Voted up. Alun.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      liesl - Glad you joined me on this visit to Flores - it really is magic (to me)

      Thank you for stopping by and your lovely comments.

    • liesl5858 profile image

      Linda Bryen 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi! travmaj, another beautiful and interesting hub you wrote about your fantastic travel to Flores. The photos are so beautiful and the way you write your hubs you really take your readers with you to your travels and thank you. I like the signs in Kelematu. Well done.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      phoenix - will do - although have moved on to Cyprus now - Vellur has great hubs on Dubai - cheers and best...

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      I hear it's lovely. Tell us all about it as soon as.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hi phoenix - thanks for joining my journey to Flores - it is a remarkable island and welcoming people - glad I conveyed that. Sending best wishes - am in Dubai

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      This is a fantastic hub. So much info and well illustrated. I would very much like to see this for myself.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Valley - so good to have you on this journey to Flores - not a bustling tourist destination this one. Yes, I like the signs and the translations -

      'Don't leave anything except step' - poetic magic - leaving my footstep by those coloured lakes.

      Thank you for such glowing comments - cheers and best...

    • profile image

      Valleypoet 4 years ago

      'Dont kill anything except time'....I like that!

      A fascinating tour Maj, and some interesting cultural observations, this looks like another beautiful part of the world. We really do take so much for granted in our wealthy countries, but there is an awful lot we can learn also from people who live without what we have....I must apologise Maj, I missed this one, that's why im late commenting........as always, your travel hubs are second to none, your readers are very lucky to have you...best wishes:-))

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Colin - you say the best things and I'm more than happy you enjoy travelling with me. Appreciate your visit and sending good wishes back to you and G and T..

      Just awake and thinking about the day ahead - 5-59am - here we go...

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thank you so much peachpurple - i hope you have that boat trip to Indonesia one day. I also hope to visit your Malaysia.

      Flores is a beautiful island - best wishes...

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      a beautiful island to visit for a holiday. Indonesia is quite near to Malaysia, but I haven't visit before. I am afraid of the lane. Maybe one day i will go by boat! Very nice description of your trip. Sounds enjoyable and the scenary is awesome. Beautiful photos.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 4 years ago

      No doubt you are the world's most beloved tour guide and I always love how you 'personalize' your travels and that makes it really nice and intimate as if I were traveling with you dear lady.

      I hope all is well with you these days and Colin is about to take a late afternoon nap with his cats - I was up early this morning and I have a hockey game to watch tonight online - lake erie time ontario canada 5:50pm and sending good thoughts your way

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thanks once again tobusiness - think it all worked anyway...

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Travmaj, I commented a few minutes ago, shared and voted up all the way, unfortunately; in my hurry to share, must have forgotten to hit the post comment button :). Another excellent travel review, loved the pics.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Travmaj, some beautiful dramatic images....travel really does broadens the mind, you always make me want to get out my walking boots :). Another excellent travel review, it's good to see these places before the developers move in, thank you for this.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Nell Rose - so glad to see you here - pleased also you enjoyed the journey to Flores. Yes, the Homo floresiensis finding is filled with mystery - the island is certainly an intriguing place to explore. Thanks again -

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi, you always seem to go to the most fascinating of places, I would love to visit mainly because of the homo floresiensis findings, but of course for the local culture too, wonderful!

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hi Janet - good to have you along on this journey - it is an island full of history and tradition and makes me have a good look at myself. I haven't been to the Philippines for ages and then only a 'stopover' would love to explore more - thanks for stopping by - cheers -

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 4 years ago from Georgia country

      I really enjoyed "travelling" with you. It reminds me of my mother's home country, the Philippines. It looks similar there. People are simple in comparison to the western world but they enjoy life and are happy and friendly.

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hello Elias, glad you enjoyed the island of Flores,

      It is truly beautiful. I have nothing but admiration for the people and the culture.

      They have so much character and tradition - by contrast I wonder at my materialistic lifestyle - hard to explain.

      Thanks for stopping by...appreciate it.

    • Elias Zanetti profile image

      Elias Zanetti 4 years ago from Athens, Greece

      Lovely island travmaj! Enjoyed your tour around the island and its people. I also agree with you. There are many places in the world where the living standars are very different than the western world and that leaves sad and wondering about ... well ... about many things.

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Thanks Michelle - I am passionate about Asia and so much to still to see -

      And, of course Flores is not far from here - travelling via Bali.Haven't been to Singapore for a while but have had some wonderful times there - the culture, traditions, people, the food, the shopping, and as a tourist a visit to Raffles. -

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      This is truly an island to explore. Thanks for sharing Flores with us, Travmaj! And it's a close neighbor of mine too. Must pop by.

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hi kidscrafts - thanks so much for being here - interesting isn't it, how we see different 'aspects' when we travel?

      In Flores the people are so warm and welcoming and it's so enlightening learning about their traditions. The laughter is infectious -

      Buenos Aires sounds some place to visit - Cheers...

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hi Martin - always a pleasure to have you join a journey - thanks so much..

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      What a great trip, Travmaj!

      I love the picture of the turquoise coloured lake at Kelimutu! What a sight!

      I agree that when travelling in some places, we can see big contrasts between the local people of one area and the way we live in the "west". I had the same feeling when I went to Buenos Aires, that city has so many contrasts as well.... mordern construction on one side and great poverty on the other side!

      Thank you for sharing the different aspect of your trip! It's very interesting!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Interesting. Thank you for taking me along.