This gallery contains 10 photos.
This gallery contains 10 photos.
I stayed one night on Seraya Island, at the only accommodation available, Seraya Island Bungalows, operated by the owner of Gardena Hotel in Labuan Bajo. The cost of boat transport from the mainland to Seraya is included in the price of the bungalow, at Rp. 160,000 per night. The journey took about an hour, though our boat departed very late from Labuan Bajo. The amazing ride took us past many islands of all shapes and sizes, and in places the sea was crystal clear.
Arriving at Seraya with jumping fish leading the way through the water, I could see the bungalows lined up along the beach. There is a small fishing village on the other side of the island but no other visitor accommodation in this peaceful, undisturbed idyll.
My wooden bungalow had a double bed with a sponge mattress and a mosquito net, a private bathroom, with a sit-down toilet and a tap to fill the water buckets, and a veranda right on the beach.
When I say this is basic accommodation, the water only runs from 6pm to 8pm every day. Guests are encouraged to use sea water to flush the toilet and to use fresh water sparingly. Staying on Seraya certainly teaches you about water conservation! Electricity is also rationed; it is run from a generator and available for only a few hours every evening. Mobile phone signal is only available in certain areas of the island, and not in the bungalows.
Beside the bungalows was a restaurant where all meals were served; this is the only place to eat on the island and it is dependent on ingredients brought from the mainland. Fresh water is also brought from Labuan Bajo because there is no fresh water on the island. The menu was varied enough, but if you were staying for more than a couple of nights you’d quickly get bored. Breakfast was a banana pancake and tea or coffee.
You can find out more about Seraya Island Bungalows here.
Labuan Bajo is by far the most touristic place on the island of Flores, with its main street lined with companies selling diving and tours to visitors. If a tourist boom comes to Flores, Labuan Bajo will be just another of those South East Asian tourist places, like parts of the Bali, Lombok and the Gilis, and many of the Thai tourist islands.
For now, however, it’s not that manic and you can walk down the main road without having tours and transport sold “at” you every few metres. There is a range of eateries, from small, cheap place serving local food to restaurants stocking a range of Western dishes. You can arrange a tour to nearby Rinca and Komodo islands, famous for the Komodo dragon lizard. You can also head to some of the other islands that line up on the horizon, including Seraya Island.
If you’re in Labuan Bajo for a night or two, it’s worth heading to the seashore to watch the picturesque sunset, where you can see ships of all shapes and sizes in the harbour against a background of lump-shaped islands, all swathed in shades of golden brown.
Labuan Bajo is most visitors’ first or last stop on Flores, with an airport serving Bali and destinations in Nusa Tenggara. You can take buses, minibuses and public taxis to other parts of Flores and arrange car hire here.
This gallery contains 5 photos.
I had read about Gardena Hotel being one of the nicest budget places in Labuan Bajo, and recommendations from travellers I met along my journey across Flores reinforced this view. Gardena is well-located in the centre of the town, but with its wooden bungalows perched on a hillside surrounded by trees and gardens, it didn’t feel busy and I was able to relax.
My bungalow was a detached structure, though some of the others were in pairs. It had a small veranda with a table and two chairs, from which I could glimpse the sea between the trees. There was a double bed with foam mattress and mosquito net, a cupboard that was missing its door, a fan, and my own bathroom. There was a sit-down toilet and a shower as well as an Indonesian-style water trough. Although there was only cold water, Labuan Bajo is quite hot so it was refreshing to cool down.
Throughout my bungalow there were many signs warning guests not to leave items outside on the veranda, not to leave mobile phones near the window and more. This made me think they may have had theft problems in the past, but I didn’t hear about any current issues like that.
I paid Rp. 130,000 per night which included a breakfast of eggs, bread rolls and spreads with tea or coffee, on a self-service basis in the terrace below. There is also a restaurant at Gardena which served tasty, though somewhat pricey, dishes, and a selection of Indonesian and Western foods.
Staff were helpful throughout my stay, and laundry was very cheap. I was also able to leave my suitcase at the hotel when I went to stay on Seraya Island (which has the same owner as Gardena) for one night.
The one negative element of Gardena was the noise, from the harbour, the nearby school and the mosque, which permeated the flimsy bamboo bungalow walls. In fact this is the only hotel where I’ve ever been kept awake by the next-door guests having noisy sex.
Overall Gardena felt a little dilapidated, like not much had been renovated or repaired for a long time. But it was adequate and the greenery of the terraced gardens created a pleasing atmosphere. Compared to the tales I heard about other Labuan Bajo hotels, Gardena seems a good option.
You can find out more and make a reservation via the hotel’s website.
This gallery contains 16 photos.
There is so much to see in the beautiful mountainous countryside around Bajawa. I trekked up to Wawo Muda crater lakes and visited traditional Ngada villages.
Dismounting my motorbike and stepping into the village of Gurusina was like entering an alternative reality, a surreal experience. Children played with rubber tyres on the dry terraced ground in the central space of the village, while women and men sat around chatting on their front porches. An elderly woman was grinding some grains and the beats of pop music from a sound system could be heard from a few houses down.
I had hired a guide for the day, Johannes, a native Ngada person from the Bajawa area of Flores, who could speak the local language and was an expert on the culture and traditions of this region. We visited Bena village first, the first stop for many visitors who wish to see traditional Ngada villages.
Although I had heard that Bena was touristic, it was nothing compared to other tourist places I have visited in Indonesia. The village was peaceful as we entered, with no tourist hassle. Women sat on their verandas weaving the fabric that is one of the trademark handicrafts of this area.
Ngada Traditional Culture
We climbed the steep steps up to the first terraced level of the village and Johannes told me about Ngada culture. Although the Ngada people are Catholic, traditional beliefs play a big part in their lives.
The houses in a village are arranged in a square shape on terraced land completely cleared of vegetation. The space in the centre of the square is used for ceremonies and gatherings. Wooden structures are built by each clan, called ngadhu and bhaga. The construction of a ngadhu is in itself a special event, with auspicious items buried in the foundations of the structure, including a live chicken.
The ngadhu is shaped like a large wooden thatched parasol, the trunk of which features intricate wooden carvings which related to the number of generations of the clan represented. The stone base is used for buffalo sacrifice, and when we were in Bena the sticky blood from a very recent sacrifice, with its putrid smell, was attracting flies. The bhaga is in the form of a miniature Ngada house.
The Ngada are a matrilineal people so the houses are passed from mother to daughter. Some of the thatched rooftops had little model people or houses perched on top of the highest point; I was told that this signifies the house of the leader or highest generation of a clan, with other clan members on either side.
Bena village is 900 years old, and from the back of the village you can look out across the hills and mountains to the ocean. I could see other Ngada villages dotted across the green landscape, identifiable as small brown areas surrounded by green.
Leaving Bena, I made a small Rp. 5000 donation and signed the visitors’ book. We headed off to our next stop, Gurusina village. This village is less frequently visited by tourists, and we found the residents to be friendlier. We perambulated around the village, climbing down the very steep steps of the terraced ground.
Gurusina is not as old as Bena, having moved to this site some 200 years ago, when residents believed the original site, on a steep mountain side, would be threatened by earthquakes. We chatted to the current residents about their lives, and I was interested that although they live in traditional houses, with a traditional social structure and beliefs, their children do go to school nearby. With the recent welcome installation of electricity, there are televisions and sound systems in the village, as well as, of course, lighting.
A traditional Ngada house
I was pleased to be able to ask about the traditional houses with their characteristic wooden frames and thatched roofs, and one of the villagers kindly let me see inside his house.
It turns out that although modern tools such as chainsaws are now used to build Ngada houses, traditional rules are still adhered to. For example, the grain of the horizontal wooden beams must point clockwise round the house. Around the door of the house the wood is carved with intricate designs, all with their own significance, for example a butterfly might be carved, symbolising something that is difficult to catch.
The roofs of Ngada houses are thatched in a distinctive shape with reeds from the area. A house might last around thirty years before needing to be rebuilt.
Inside the house is one large room, with a corner used as the kitchen area and other parts of the rooms for sleeping. Also leading off the outside veranda are side rooms on either side of the main room. These are outside the square structure of the house.
A Contented Traditional Lifestyle
When I had visited the Batak region of North Sumatra last year I was told that the Batak people were no longer able to build traditional Batak houses; the knowledge had been lost, and anyway, most people wanted to live in a modern house and moved out of the traditional longhouses as soon as they could afford it. Here in Ngada Flores, however, it was a different story. People I spoke to in Gurusina village seemed to genuinely enjoy their lifestyle, without yearning for a modern house. New houses are built in Ngada style all the time, and they have integrated some elements of modern technology, such as the use of chainsaws, into the traditional building methods.
How to See the Ngada Region
There are many Ngada villages arranged in this traditional style across the area around Mount Inerie. As well as visiting for a few hours, it is possible to stay the night in some villages. There are even villages that are inaccessible by road and must be reached by trekking through the forest. Most villages have a visitors’ book which you should sign and it is normal to leave a small donation of around Rp. 5,000 – 10,000.
My guide, Johannes, was extremely knowledgeable, himself an ethnic Ngada who spent his childhood in a traditional house. He also acted as my interpreter for some conversations, because although I speak fluent Indonesian, not all the Ngada people speak Indonesian. Many older people and children I met, as in many parts of Indonesia, only spoke their ethnic language. Johannes translated for me.
Taking a guide enabled me to visit more places within a shorter time and to take steep, bendy roads that I may not have braved alone. Johannes was excellent and I recommend contacting him if you would like to explore the Ngada region. He can also arrange tours throughout the island of Flores. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by telephone on +62 (0)81 353 061310.