On the coastal road from Maumere to Moni. Through the hills to the sea. Advertisements
I had booked a room at Gardena Hotel in advance by telephone, and took a taxi from Maumere airport, in eastern Flores, straight to the hotel, around a 15 minute journey, costing a surprisingly large Rp. 50,000.
The hotel is located on a quiet street near the centre of town and upon first impressions I liked the design of the building with its large, airy, central atrium that felt deliciously cool compared to the hot street outside.
I was shown to my room; all rooms lead directly off the atrium, with windows looking into this central area. My room was spacious for only Rp. 100,000 or about US$10 per night, with twin beds, a fan, a table and my own cold water bathroom, with shower, sit-down toilet and Indonesian water trough (bak mandi). Maumere is so hot that I didn’t miss hot water at all.
Staff at Gardena Hotel were friendly and helpful, and it turned out that the reception area is a favourite hang-out for tourist guides. Guides who have just completed cross-island tours from Labuan Bajo finish up in Maumere and stay at Gardena before returning home. I chatted to some of these guides and got plenty of ideas and tips for travel and accommodation during my time in Flores.
Breakfast was a toasted sandwich with pineapple spread, and tea or coffee, not particularly filling.
Unfortunately the layout of an atrium with rooms leading off it that had seemed so attractive was in fact a nuisance. Any talking or other sounds made in the atrium went straight into the rooms, so I was kept awake by people talking at night. The beds were not the most comfortable and the bathroom was in need of renovation, but I had a pleasant enough night there, and it was good value for money in Flores.
Flores, located in eastern Indonesia, just east of Sumbawa, Rinca and Komodo islands, is a paradise island of forested hills, volcanoes and beaches. Although the major guidebooks all cover Flores and some tour operators offer trips to this island, Flores sees far fewer visitors than many other Indonesian islands; it is an absolute jewel of an island, waiting to be discovered by the mainstream tourism industry.
People of Flores
Flores has many regional languages and strong local cultures, still very much alive today. With travel limited by the mountainous terrain the local peoples have retained their individual languages and cultures much more than in other places I have visited. To speak to someone from a different ethnicity, the national language, Indonesian, is used. Unlike much of Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, Flores has a Catholic majority, with many people following the religion quite strictly.
I found the people of Flores to be honest about information such as prices, and genuinely helpful, which was a welcome break from the tourist rip-offs and downright dishonest conmen in certain other parts of Indonesia.
Traversing the Island
With a long shape, measuring 450km from east to west, Flores has only one main road, a two-lane bendy asphalt strip that weaves through forested hills and mountains and along the south coast, covering over 600km with its twists and turns. Most travellers choose to enter at either the eastern port of Maumere or at Labuan Bajo in the west, both of which have airports, and travel in a west or east direction, exiting via the other port. Ende, located on the south coast in the middle of the east-west route also has an airport, offering another port of entry.
Due to the twisty nature of the road, it can easily take an hour to travel only 30km, and the journeys easily cause motion sickness. The road is fairly quiet and there are certainly no traffic jams! As an independent traveller you have several transport options. You can hire a car and driver for around Rp. 500,000 per day, which may work out well for groups. Travelling alone as I did, however, this becomes too expensive. You can hire a motorbike, but if you aren’t used to riding on twisty mountain roads this would be a very tiring option. There are public buses where you ride amongst the chickens, goats and pigs that are being transported. This is definitely the cheapest option, but if you want something nicer, try bemos. These are minibuses that ply the same route (there is after all only one main route, with two directions).
Even more pleasant, however, is going by “travel”. Here in Flores the word “travel” is used to refer to public cars, just like ordinary cars, but with yellow number plates, which are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers. You can avoid traipsing to and from bus terminals and order a “travel” to collect you from your hotel and take you to your hotel at your destination. Essentially you get to travel by comfortable car, with other passengers, for a fraction of the price of hiring your own car and driver. This was my chosen form of transport to traverse the island.
According to Wikipedia Flores has a population of 1,831,000, much of which consists of villages and hamlets spread across the island. Entering at Maumere, Flores’s largest town though it’s really not very big, it is possible to go east to Larantuka, or head west to Moni, which is what I did. Paga makes a nice place to stop for a rest by the beach, to eat grilled fish, freshly caught.
Moni is the village with accommodation that is closest to Kelimutu. These coloured volcanic lakes are justifiably at the top of every visitor’s must-see list for Flores. The fresh air and picturesque countryside may tempt you to spend a few days relaxing in Moni, visiting nearby villages, waterfalls, hotsprings and more.
The next destination for many visitors is Ende. I chose not to spend the night in Ende, but in changing cars there I was able to see its black sand beach. People will tell you to go there to see the blue stones on the beach, but I saw loads of them collected in piles by the roadside as I headed towards Bajawa and they didn’t seem that special.
It is worth spending time looking around the Bajawa area, which offers an array of sights. I trekked up to Wawo Muda volcanic lakes and visited traditional Ngada villages, both of which I highly recommend. There is also a hot spring at Soa where you can bathe in the waters, and the town of Bajawa itself is worth a look around.
After Bajawa I stopped at Ruteng for a night, and stayed at a Catholic convent. If you have time and transport there are sights to be seen in the mountainous countryside around Ruteng which is in the Manggarai ethnic region, including terraced rice fields.
The final leg of my journey was to Labuan Bajo in the far west of Flores, an entry or exit point for most visitors to the island, and starting place for tours to see the famous Komodo dragons lizards on the neighbouring islands of Rinca and Komodo. I’ll be covering Flores in more detail in forthcoming articles, so follow AnySomewhere.com if you are curious to know more about this jewel of an island.
That exciting feeling of buying plane tickets has happened again! The parting of money in return for the excitement of a forthcoming trip. These are my travel plans for April; let me know if you have any tips on any of these places.
I’ll be flying out of Surabaya so I hope to have a day or two to explore that east Javanese city first. From there I’m headed to Flores, one of the Indonesian islands that makes up Nusa Tenggara, east of Bali and Lombok. It’ll be the furthest east that I’ve travelled in Indonesia. I’m flying into Maumere in the east of the island, exploring the length of the island and leaving from Labuanbajo in the west. Then I’m off the Bali to review the Viceroy Bali for Worldette. After that it’s time for a relaxing break before returning to Java.
My time in Flores will be limited to eight days but since I’m happy to be travelling most of the time, that’s no problem. I enjoy the idea of being able to do short trips within Indonesia, since I am here anyway, instead of feeling like I have to backpack around for months. If I was in the UK I wouldn’t hesitate to take a short break in Europe, without feeling like I had to see all of a particular region, so I’m trying to do that here.
I’m planning to see Kelimutu, since everyone says it’s amazing. These colourful volcanic crater lakes are Flores’s most popular attraction. And I will stop at places including Ende and Bajawa. I’m interested to see what the local cultures are like, and as always when I travel, I want to talk to people about their lifestyles. Have you been to Flores? Where would you recommend?
How about Surabaya? I’ve heard people say many things about this East Javanese metropolis, including that there is nothing worth seeing there. Tales of traffic jams abound. Yet I am curious, having visited many other Javanese cities, to see how it shapes up. Have you visited Surabaya? Any tips?