|Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 26, 2009 at 4:55 AM|
Efrata's International Week had ended and all the co-organisers and participants had gone home. She had taken the rest of August off from work and we would travel around Bali, Flores and Sumba. We had really been looking forward to this trip for a while
Before moving on to Ubud, we checked out the memorial in Kuta for the victims of the 2002 bombings. On October 2002 two bombs exploded on Kuta's bustling Jl Legian, injuring more than 300 people from at least 23 countries. The number dead reached over 200.
Ubud and around (Bali)
Reading up on it in my travel guide, I really wanted to visit Ubud. Unlike South-Bali, Ubud's focus remains on the remarkable Balinese culture in its myriad forms. Around Ubud are temples, ancient sites and whole villages producing handicrafts. Its countryside remains unspoiled, with rice paddies and coconut trees.
We didn't book any accomodation in advance and were aware that it could be a problem to find something cheap yet decent. Touts approached us as soon as we arrived, offering accomodation for IDR 200,000+, but we walked by... It took us a while checking into various places, but eventually we found the nicest accomodation for IDR 100,000 / night, including breakfast - a bungalow with a nice porch on the side of the jungle, very nice and clean and private bathroom. We immediately loved the place and decided to stay 2 nights there. The owners of the hostel were very friendly and outgoing, yet respected our privacy.
We walked around Ubud, rented a motorbike and checked out various sites in the neighbourhood:
Road trip to Gunung Batur and Pura Besakih (Bali)
Both me and Efrata really looked forward to camp out with our tent. That's why decided to do a roadtrip - we drove up north to Penelokan, from there to Kintamani. From there we had a nice view on Gunung Batur and Danau Batur (Batur Lake), so we took some pictures.
The setting for Gunung Batur is otherworldly; it's like a giant dish, with the bottom half covered with water and a set of volcanic cones growing in the middle. Soaring up in the centre of the huge outer crater is the cone of Gunung Batur (1717m), formed by a 1917 eruption. A cluster of smaller cones lies beside.
We first had some noodles and bakso (meat balls, a local dish), then drove down to the lake. Unlike the main road, these roads were scenic and quiet, perfect to drive around and enjoy the countryside.
We drove all around Gunung Batur and wanted to reach the parking spot - indicated in our travel guide -, from where a trail would go up to the top. We asked directions several times and people kept on telling us the road would lead us there... However, the condition of the road became quite bad and when we finally asked for directions and showed the parking spot we were looking for on our map to a local, he told us we had gone too far. However, we could park our motorbike in his shed - where it would be safe - and for IDR 50.000 (US$ 5) he was willing to walk from his back yard towards the start of a hike up to the top. As it was already 6pm and there were many side trails, we decided to accept his offer.
He walked with us through lahar fields, then pointed at the trail we would have to follow to reach the top. Then he walked back.
The hike was fun though quite strenuous - we had to walk up along loose rocks and boulders, stepping one meter up and sliding halfway down every time...
Around 7pm it really started to get dark. As we were both tired and we didn't want to take any risks, we decided to put up our tent on some flat surface and spend the night there.
It was great camping out there, in the middle of nowhere, very quiet and peaceful and nobody around. Hmmm except for a curious squirrel / mouse kind of animal that ran by that is
At 3am our alarm clock went off... because we wanted to get up early and reach the top for sunrise. Around 3.45am eventually we managed to get up and started hiking in the dark, which wasn't easy as we only had one torch and the trails weren't that easy to follow.
When we had almost reached the top but as it was too dark to see where the trail further up was, we decided to view the sunrise from there. The sunrise was beautiful... we had suffered but this had been worth it all the way
After watching sunrise, we decided to go climb to the top. The last climb was quite tough, but eventually we reached the crater's rim. There we bumped into a large group of "tourist malas" (lazy tourists, just booking into tours because they are to afraid to venture into some adventure themselves :p). In fact their guide told us that it's not allowed to climb without a guide, but we kindly assured him that we were just fine and that it was none of his business
The views from the top were amazing, as you can see on the pictures.
We descended again and picked up our motorbike where we left it. Then we drove all the way up to Kintamani. There we found a restaurant serving all-you-can-eat walking lunch for IDR 50.000 (about US$ 5). We really enjoyed the food, coffee and fruits and ate as much as we could. We stayed there for several hours...
In the afternoon we continued our road trip and drove to Pura Besakih, Bali's most important temple. In fact, it's an extensive complex of 23 seperate-but-related temples, with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung.
We spent about an hour walking around the temples and taking pictures and watched a local ceremony.
Initially we wanted to spend the night somewhere around Gunung Agung, but as the weather was quite bad, we couldn't see the mountain. People also told us that there weren't any suitable camping spots around, so we decided to drive back to Danau Batur (Batur Lake) to find a camping spot there.
It took us a while to find a nice spot, but eventually we did - a hidden away spot along the lake next to a temple complex. We put up our tent and chatted for a couple of hours with a fresh beer and some crisps before dozing off (as usual :)).
The next morning we woke up early again to see sunrise from our tent, beautiful
We packed our stuff and drove back to Ubud. There we handed in our motorbike, had lunch, picked up part of our stuff which we had left in the hostel we had stayed at and took the minibus back to Kuta.
Meeting Kent again in Legian (Bali)
Kent - one of the Aussie's I met in Delhi and travelled around Laos with - and I kept in touch through e-mail. He told me has was travelling around Indonesia as well and was currently staying with his dad in Legian. His dad comes there every year. He invited us to stay over and catch up, so we did.
It was great seeing Kent again and being able to catch up. Allison had gone back home (she had to start working again) and he had been travelling around Sumatra before going to Legian. The next few weeks he'd be roadtripping around Bali.
We had a nice chat, went for dinner and decided to call it the day.
The next morning, we did some shopping. We decided to buy ourselves snorkelling equipment as we thought it wouldn't be for hire in Flores and Sumba.
We packed our stuff and headed to Denpasar airport. From there we would take the flight to Maumere (Flores). It hadn't been easy to arrange that flight... we managed to book online, but as Efrata currently doesn't have a credit card and mine wasn't accepted (only local credit cards could be processed online), we couldn't book the flight. When Efrata called Merpati Air she got in touch with a friendly lady who offered us to deposit the money into her bank account ; she would arrange everything for us then. So we did and she kept her promise.
Flores, here we come!
Travelling around Flores
Initially we planned to go to Lombok, but skipped to go because Efrata had already been there and Gunung Rinjani (one of the most beautiful volcanoes in Indonesia) was currently active and hikers were currently not allowed to go to the top. Also, Lombok is easily accessible from Java or Bali, it's quite easy to do some other time...
As both of us wanted to have an authentic experience and were up for some adventure, we decided to go to Flores, a fascinating, mountainous and beautiful island. Flores has a volcanic topography that has longed shaped its destiny. A chain of cones stretches the length of this verdant island, provoking a complicated relief of V-shaped valleys and knife-edged ridges. Today, though Flores is overwhelmingly Catholic, rich indigenous cultures continue to thrive alongside mainstream religious beliefs.
The flight we took from Denpasar first stopped in Waingapu (Sumba), then went on to Maumere (Flores).
Maumere - Larantuka
Arrived in Maumere, we immediately noticed that it's hard to trust people here. Efrata had called Rita (one of her friends who lives in Flores and with whom we would stay that night) who had told us to take a local bus from the airport to Larantuka (where Rita lives). Hords of taxi drivers approached us, trying to convince us that there was no local bus going, that we first had to take a taxi to the bus station quite a few kilometers further down. They were quite arrogant and unrespectful, just following Efrata when she wanted to call Rita, talking out loud while she was calling... And when I was telling them to "fuck off" they would go for a second, then start talking to Bahasa Indonesia to Efrata instead (I can imagine that some tourists lose their tempor, really do)... At a certain point we saw a bus coming, we noticed that it was the bus to Larantuka, the very bus we had to take... Though the bus driver refused us to get on, they just drove away, not wanting to let us get on. We were pissed off... But we knew exactly what was going on: these guys knew each other and worked together. The bus driver gets some extra, the taxi drivers earn money by taking passengers to the bus station and there the bus picks them up... you could call it "organised crime" I'm really sick of this kind of tourist rip-offs and would rather walk the 8kms to the bus station with our heavy luggage rather than granting these jerks to take us there and earn money, so we told them off and started walking. Then we noticed the bus was waiting just outside the airport... Talking to the bus driver we had to bargain down the price (he was trying to overcharge too of course), but eventually we agreed and got on the bus. Phew! Well lesson learned, we had to keep our antennaes up in Flores all the time... because it was clear that local people could not be trusted.
Quite harsh actually... that in a country that swears on its tradition and its respect for other people and cultures... but they just lie to you in the face and try to rip you off, just like that. Even more so - not only do they try to rip off me as a tourist, they also lie to Efrata who's Indonesian too...
The bus ride was funny... obviously the bus would only leave Maumere once it had enough passengers, so the bus driver drove around the whole town... about 5 or 6 times, with loud and rather offensive music... Just imagine: driving around a religious and traditional country with very loud music "FUCK Martinez, FUCK FUCK Martinez!!!". It got even worse... one of the song went like "I wanna fuck you!", they turned up the music pretty loud... but there was a nun on board... Nobody seemed to take offense though, not even the nun. Hmmm, crazy country but we had fun
Anyway, finally we started driving towards Larantuka. The ride took 4-5 hours, the music was terrible and the last stretch was really bumpy... but eventually we were dropped off at Rita's house.
Rita's family was very welcoming and hospitable. We had dinner (some kind of fish with a chilli sauce, delicious!) and some nice conversations. They did their best to give us advice and help us plan our next few days. After that Efrata and I washed some of our clothes (we really needed to) and went to sleep.
The next morning we got up early and had breakfast. Then Rita's father took us to the harbour, as we would take the ferry to the island Lembata.
Lembata is a fascinating island that attracts few travellers - around 200 a year according to government stats. It's best known for its whaling village (Lamamera, see later) and for the volcano Ili Api, which towers over the main town of Lewoleba.
We had to spend about 4 hours on the ferry and arrived in Lewoleba harbour around noon. Lewoleba is the chief settlement of Lembata and just a relaxed little town.
Although there were ojek (motor) drivers at the pier, they were not persistent, they wouldn't insist when we told them "no, thank you", which we really appreciated.
We decided to get some food first and entered a small warung. We had some great noodles with egg. We also tried some fried banana there... delicious!
Both Efrata and I wanted to go to Lamalera, a small town on the other side of the island which was - according to our travel guide - very authentic and where locals still hunted whales in a traditional way (with a spear!). When we inquired at the small tourist information office they told us there was no public transportation anymore that day, no other transportation would go there and road conditions are very very very bad... possible to do on a motorbike, but you'd have to put on special tires.
As locals tend to exaggerate from time to time, we didn't really believe them about the road condition right away... we've cruised along some dirt tracks before and although it's not easy, we managed quite well.
We inquired at the warung where we ate before and asked whether someone could rent out there motorbike for 2 days. We didn't mention that we would drive all the way to Lamalera... but told them that maybe the next day we would take public transportation there. The answer we got was the same: road conditions are very bad... Hmmm, we started thinking, maybe they're right and the road is really really bad... ?!?
One of the guys in the warung rented out his motorbike and we decided to cruise into the countryside, towards Ili Api. It was getting too late to start driving to Lamalera anyway.
We had a wonderful time driving around the countryside. Roads were quiet, the nature was stunning and everywhere we went people were smiling, waving and yelling "hi!!!!" at us. We followed a bumpy road for several kilometers until we reached a small village. There we decided to take a rest and parked our motorbike near some community hall. Immediately some people came out of the hall to welcome us. They told us they were rehearsing for some dance contest and asked us whether we wanted to come inside to watch them. The "leader" of the group was quite funny though... she was a teacher (a respected title here, and so she wanted to show as she gave orders all the time and was carrying a stick), she had a towel around her hear and she was wearing a terrible transparant dress, revealing her underwear underneath. Efrata and I could barely stop from laughing
Anyway, we decided to watch their performance. We stayed there for quite a while, talking to them and watching their music and dance performance. We were stunned to see how devoted an older woman was teaching the younger girls how to dance. We took some great pictures there, then decided to move on.
We drove for a few more kilometers, then decided to take a small road towards the beach. We parked our motorbike near to a football field where local kids were playing. The kids immediately stopped playing and came to us... we talked to them and then I decided to play some football with them which they loved.
When I was totally exhausted (it was about 35°C and I was totally out of shape!), Efrata and I went for a walk along the beach. The kids kept on walking around us, and we handed out some balloons (I had bought lots of balloons in Cambodia). We met a local chilling along the beach, so we had a chat with him too.
As the kids made a lot of noise and we wanted to have some peace and quiet, we drove a bit further down. There we sat down on the beach for a while, had a chat and relaxed for a while. Then we decided to drive back as we had a long bumpy road ahead of us.
We arrived back in Lewoleba right before dark and decided to have dinner at the same warung.
When we talked to the owners' family to inquire for a suitable camping spot, one of their sons offered to drive in front of us and show us a nice place along the beach. So he did, and the spot was perfect: very remote and quiet, along the beach, a perfect setting!
We put up our tent, relaxed a bit, listened to some music (Loreena McKennit's An Ancient Muse, perfect music for this setting and Efrata and I both love it:)) and had a beer and enjoyed the view and sounds of the sea. Around 8.30pm we decided to sleep, we had had a long day and we were tired.
Suddenly we were rudely awoken by light, the tent being shaked from one side to another and the tent being cut apart. By the time we fully realised what was going on and could take action, the thieves were gone... They had cut a big hole in the tent and managed to take my cell phone and run. A cell phone and Efrata's shoes is all they could take, fortunately.
We both didn't want to stay there (besides, the tent was ripped apart) and had a scary moment trying to secure the area (we didn't know what their intentions were, how many they were and whether they were still around). After that we packed our stuff, got on our motorbike and drove to the pier. There we rested for a bit to recover from what had happened... Then we went to the police office and tell them what happened.
We told our story and the police joined us to the same spot (funny how they let us drive our own motorbike... In Western Europe they would never let someone drive who had been through a possibly "traumatic experience"... Besides, we weren't wearing a helmet After that we drove back to the police office, where they offered us to roll out our sleeping bag and sleep for another few hours.
In the morning the chief police officer came to talk to us... he was very friendly and concerned yet kept on going on about how sorry he was and that he hopes i will not spread this story in Europe because he doesn't want tourism in Indonesia to be affected (quite funny :)). They would try whatever possible to recover my cell phone, but it would be hard -- I told him I appreciated his concern and his efforts, though that I also realise this kind of event is part of an adventurous trip like I'm on... and that something like this could even happen in Belgium. In fact I had been lucky... been travelling for 11 months and nothing really happened (apart from a wallet being stolen that is).
During the first hours after being robbed Efrata and I both agreed upon leaving the island as soon as possible... however, in the morning we gave it another thought and decided to just carry on and go to Lamalera, what we both wanted to see. The police officer was so nice to arrange to drop us off at a driver's house who took us to Lamalera. There we realised how bad road conditions were... It was possible by motorbike but very long (4 hours by 4WD!), lose stones and boulders, mud and even a river we had to cross. I was glad we didn't venture out here on a motorbike.
The men of Lamalera village on the south coast of Lembata hunt whales using nothing more than spears, wooden boats and a prayer to their ancestors. Because of the small numbers of whales taken - around 15 to 25 a year - these hunters have been deemed exempts from the international ban on whaling, and their extremely tough and hazardous livelihoud continues.
Lamalera itself is a tiny, fascinating, poor yet extremely welcoming little village. There are no phones, internet or banks. There's no escaping how the people live here - huge (whale) bones sit atop the shoreside boat shelters, giant (whale) ribs are littered in gardens, and if there's been a recent kill bits of whale meat hang from houses.
We checked into a hostel where the owners were very friendly and hospitable. We were offered some coffee and tea and had a nice chat with a German couple who had just arrived as well. They had been travelling for a long time and had some interesting experiences to share.
Then, we went for a walk around the village. First, we went to the beach and took several pictures of boat shelters, whale ribs and bones and children who were playing (and whom we handed out balloons to - they started calling me "Mr Balloon" :)). After that, we walked further through the village - being greeted and approached by the friendly villagers everywhere. When we entered a small school where a teacher was teaching several religious songs to the kids, we asked if we could watch for a while. The teacher kindly agreed and we observed the children for a while. Then we continued our journey along the grave yard and then back.
Going back, we passed by a wedding reception. A few men invited us to join to drink some Arak (a local alcoholic drink) and have a traditional kind of cigarette with them, which we gladly accepted. We talked with them for quite a bit, then went back to our hostel.
While we were sitting on the porch of our hostel, some local kids - we had talked to on the beach before - joined us. Efrata sang some Indonesian songs with them. After that, we had dinner together with the German couple. We asked the owner of the hostel to cook whale for us as we wanted to try the village's specialty. It wasn't that special, a bit chewy, but not bad either.
After dinner, we immediately went to sleep because the next morning at 3am they would pick us up to drive back to Lewoleba.
The road was long and bumpy again. Once in Lewoleba, we had breakfast, had another walk and relaxed a bit along the pier and took the ferry back to Larantuka.
Although we had had a bad experience in Lembata - being robbed in our tent - we really liked it there and had some wonderful experiences with the local people, who were mostly friendly, outgoing and hospitable. However, I think there's more to the island than you notice right away. We had a long conversation with the person who drove us to Lamalera. He told us that Lamalera was a very Catholic town and that muslims were not welcome there... and if a muslim would go there and look for trouble the older people of the town - not the police, the law had nothing to command there - would decide what happens to him. In the past some muslim people have been killed (their heads cut off). They would also still practise black magic. So... the people appear very friendly and hospitable, but their extremistic belief holds a dangerous cocktail... people would literally kill for their religion.
Having just arrived in Larantuka, I lost my sweater. It was attached to our backpack and by crawling aside the pushy ojek drivers I must have lost it. We tried to find it back but couldn't... well, stupid but no reason to whine about it so we visited a nearby shop where I got another sweater for barely US$ 8
We took an angkot to Rita's house. She was surprised yet relieved to see is - her phone number was stored in the phone that was stolen, so we hadn't been able to keep in touch with her (Efrata only had her old phone number which wasn't active anymore...).
We were invited for lunch, then decided to do some sightseeing with Rita and her sister Lia. They took us to some of the beaches (where we wanted to do snorkelling at first, but it was called and the water didn't look clear) and afterwards to hot springs. We had a great time enjoying and relaxing there.
Lia was getting a lot of text messages, we had great fun teasing her ("is that your boyfriend again?" Haha :)).
Once back in the house we had dinner and a shower. Then an uncle of Rita took us around town. He took us to a few chapels and celebrations (there were celebrations going on for Independence Day). In one of the chapels, the priest opened up the door that reveiled an old religious painting that they usually only show to the public once a year.
Once we arrived back in the house, we packed our stuff for the next morning and went to bed.
The next morning after breakfast we joined Rita to their roof terrace... they really had a beautiful view from there.
After that it was time for Efrata and me to move on. We thanked Rita and her parents for their hospitality and took the minibus back to Maumere, which would drive on and take us to Moni.
Moni and Kelimutu
Moni is a pretty village, nestled among soaring peaks, which serves as the gateway to Flores' main tourist attraction, Kelimutu. It is scenic, cooler than the lowlands and there are many traditional villages around.
We didn't have to search for a long time to find a decent yet inexpensive hostel (Bintang Guesthouse & Restaurant). We first went for a small walk, then had dinner and talked to the owner of the hostel, told him we wanted to rent a motorbike to drive up to Kelimutu for sunrise the next morning. He decided to rent out his motorbike.
The next morning we got up around 4am. We dressed warmly (because it was quite cold) and then started driving up to Kelimutu which would be one of the highlights of our trip to Flores.
Set in plunging craters at the summit of a volcano, the coloured lakes of Kelimutu are undoubtedly the most spectacular sight in Nusa Tenggara. Astonishingly, the lakes periodically change colour (something to do with the composition of the minerals in the lake changing).
Kelimutu is sacred to local people, and legend has it that the souls of the dead people go to these lakes: young people's souls go to the warmth of the Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai, old people's to the cold of Tiwi Ata Mbupu and those of the wicked to the Tiwi Ata Polo.
The timing was perfect, we reached the top when the sun started rising... and the view was indeed beautiful. The first lake was dark green, the second one turquoise and the third one was black.
We stayed there for quite a while, took some pictures and made small video. Then we drove back to the hostel where we had breakfast.
After breakfast we drove around the countryside and visited some small traditional villages. We saw women weaving ikat, people welcomed us everywhere we went and in one of the villages we were invited in the house of the head of the village. He wasn't there but his daughter showed us the house and explained everything about their traditions and history. We could also try on traditional wedding clothes and took some pictures. Of course a donation was expected and they asked if we wanted to buy Ikat, but that's the least we could do.
Once back in Moni, we returned our motorbike, checked out and got ready to take the bus to Ende, from where we would take the ferry to Sumba. While waiting, a local offered us a ride. He was a police offer at a nearby village and had to drive to Ende and was looking for people who wanted to join - it's more fun for him that way than having to drive alone. Halfway we stopped at a small market and bought some fruits.
We asked our driver to drop us off at the harbour, as there we would take the ferry to Waingapu (Sumba) at midnight. When we arrived at the harbour though, nobody seemed to know anything about a ferry going to Sumba that night...
We had spent hours before trying to find information about this ferry. We checked our travel guide and resources on the internet telling us that "ASDP" was the only ferry company plying that route. We googled for ASDP ferries and find several phone numbers. Most of these numbers were out of service. When we called the ASDP office in Jakarta they told us we had to contact the local office, yet they couldn't advise us what ASDP number to call. When we called ASDP Kupang, they told us first that they had no info. Then, when we called again and insisted, they said that they didn't know exactly but they would find out and we would have to call back later. We tried calling back several times, no reply or busy... When eventually someone picked up the phone, they told us that there was one ferry a week going from Ende to Waingapu, on Saturday night at midnight, and we wouldn't have to make a reservation in advance. As we know that they can't get things organised in Indonesia and you always should go for a second opinion or information source, we anticipated and had Rita's dad inquire with ASDP as well. They provided him with that same information.
Yet... there seemed to be no ferry. Our driver took an hour to drive us around town. We visited the pier, the Pelni (another ferry operator) office, an ASDP office, even the local police... they all seemed to not know exactly when the ASDP ferry would go. Not that night anyway... Terrible, we asked around in the whole town - a small town! - and nobody could provide accurate information... they talked on forever but didn't come to the point. Even the police was busier playing cards than willing to help us... We were so disappointed and pissed off!!!
We inquired with two local air companies (as we wanted to check whether we could still get to Sumba), though only Pelita Air plied the route Ende - Tambolaka (West-Sumba) and flights were booked for days.
We were both tired, frustrated and angry and realised that we wouldn't be able to get to Sumba the same day and that we had to top up on energy first. That's why we thanked our driver for spending time trying to help us and asked him to drop us off at a hostel. There they had listed the timetables of the ferries... seems the ferry we wanted to take only goes once a week, on Saturday at 10am... so if we had known we could have come to Ende earlier and still catch the ferry. Oh well...
We spent some time on the internet, calling around and checked into various options to see what we would do. Eventually we made a reservation with Merpati Air, we would have to go back to Maumere and would be able tio fly to Tambolaka (West-Sumba), on Wednesday. We decided not to pay for the flight yet; a reservation is valid for 24 hours and if it's not confirmed then it's automatically cancelled... we wanted to keep our options open in case another solution would pop up.
The next few days we spent around Ende. We walked around town, visited the Musium Bung Karno (Soekarno's former house when he was exiled to Ende by the Dutch in 1933), spent some time chatting with locals along the pier, watched a beautiful sunset, and had some delicious lunch at Rumah Makan Istana Bambu (we loved the Koloke - chicken in a sweet and sour sauce - and vegetable fried rice in oyster sauce). Also, we climbed Gunung Meja, a mountain in the shape of a big table. We managed to climb almost up to the top, then it started to get really dark. As the trail was very steep - and Efrata had a hard time climbing up on sandals - we decided to head back. We had really enjoyed our climb and didn't really care about not reaching the top, it would be dark when we get there anyway and we wouldn't see a thing.
Also, everywhere you go in Indonesia, you see people just sitting at the side of the street, selling stuff, talking, gossiping, or basically just lazing around. At some places they even built sheltered platforms to laze around. On the picture below I try to depict the life of a local, haha
On one of the afternoons, when we were walking around town, we got a phone call from Pelita Air, telling us there was a flight available from Ende to Tambolaka on Tuesday in the afternoon. We were thrilled and immediately went to the office to book and pay for the flight.
We enjoyed our stay in Ende, but as there's not much to do in this small town, we were thrilled to finally take the Pelita Air flight to Tambolaka. On our way to Sumba, at last !!
Authentic and remote Sumba
The dry, undulating island of Sumba has the richest tribal culture in Nusa Tenggara, centred on a religious tradition called Marapu. It's one of the poorest but most fascinating islands to visit, with a decidedly off-the-beaten-track courtesy of its thatched houses, colossal carved megalith tombs, outstanding hand-spun ikat and bloody sacrificial funerals.
Physically it looks quite different from the volcanic islands to the north, its countryside characterised by low limestone hills and fields of maize and cassava. Sumba's extensive grasslands made it one of Indonesia's leading horse-breeding islands. Horses are still used as transport in more rugged regions.
Arrived in Tambolaka airport, we decided to ignore the guys offering us transport. We thought Tambolaka would be at least a village with a guesthouse... though it turned out to be only an airport. We we had to go to Waikabubak, about 40km south of Tambolaka. We ended up taking a minivan for a fair price.
Efrata and I were really excited about being in Sumba, we had looked forward for this for a long time. On our way to Waikabubak, we saw one of the bloody funerals - an ox was being offered and its head was cut off.
Arrived in Waikabubak, it took us a while to find a good hostel, but eventually we ended up in Hotel Artha. We had a chat with the friendly owner and asked him some information about the neighbouring villages and the countryside. Then, we went for a walk around town and had dinner at Rumah Makan Fanny, an eatery mentioned in our travel guide and also recommended by the owner of our hostel. The place is famous for its prawns in oyster sauce, but when we were there they ran out of prawns. Nevertheless, the food was nice.
The next morning, Efrata and I wanted to do a road trip, so we wanted to rent a motorbike. We asked the hostel owner, who told us one of his friends had a good motorbike and he would bring it soon... However, after breakfast and an hour more of waiting the guy still wasn't there. When the guy told us that his friend had to go to the market and decided not to rent out his motorbike I was pissed off, couldn't they just have told us right away?! Anyway, that's how it goes around here, even simple things they can't get organised... and even if they could they wouldn't... if you complain they don't understand why. They live from day to day and they HAVE time, if they can't get it done today they'll do it tomorrow... So we decided just to head to the local market and approached a guy with a motorbike there. We told him we wanted to rent a motorbike for a day and asked him if he was willing to rent out his motorbike... He hesitated at first, then agreed.
The motorbike wasn't the best one we had rented (I had to keep the engine running or it would stop), but there wasn't much traffic and road conditions seemed okay, we decided to go for it.
We drove from Waikabubak to Pasunga and stopped there to visit the traditional village.
A traditional Sumba village usually consists of two parallel rows of houses facing each other, with a square between. In the middle of the square is a stone with another flat stone on top of it, on which offerings are made to the village's protective marapu (spiritual forces). These structures, spirit stones or kateda, can also be found in the fields around the village and are used for offerings to the agricultural marapu when planting or harvesting. The village square also contains the stone-slab tombs of important ancestors, usually finely carved, but nowadays virtually always made of cement. In former times the heads of slain enemies would be hung on a dead tree in the village square while ceremonites and feasts took place.
We walked around the village, handed out some cigarettes to older people in the village (it's expected for visitors to bring 'gifts' like this, we knew in advance and had bought some packets of cigarettes) and took some pictures. Also, one of the locals invited us over and he explained about the village, its culture and history. Quite interesting.
We decided to move on and visited the traditional villages of Makatakeri and Lai Tarung. Especially Lai Tarung was very authentic. A few local kids offered to join us there, which we gladly accepted. We took many pictures of the traditional houses, tombs and some of the friendly village people.
Then we moved on. One of the villagers had told us about a horse riding contest in a nearby village, something we didn't want to miss. It took us a while to find the village, but we managed. There were lots of people and there were some food stalls and entertainment stands.
We watched part of the contest, then decided to drive back to Waikabubak. Arrived there, we visited three more traditional kampung (traditional settlements within the town). We spent hours walking around, exploring, taking pictures, handing out balloons to children and cigarettes to elder people, talking to locals...
We hurried to be back at our hostel at 7pm, where the owner of the motorbike was waiting for us. We thanked him and asked him whether we could rent his motorbike the next day too... He gladly accepted and promised to come to our hostel the next day around 6am.
The next day we planned to discover some more of the countryside and some beaches, then visit a traditional funeral in the afternoon.
It was great driving around the countryside and the beaches were beautiful. First we visited Pantai Rua, then we drove on to Nihiwatu Beach which we couldn't enter as some resort had bought it (welcome to Indonesia... you can get everything done if you have the money). We then drove to Pantai Marosi, a beautiful and deserted beach.
We parked our motorbike and went for a walk on the beach and a swim. The temperature of the water was perfect
When we got back, however, an unpleasant surprise was awaiting us... The seat of the motorbike we had rented didn't close properly and someone had decided to steal it along with the batteries that were inside. Also, the side mirror was broken.
We were both pissed off... and Efrata was disappointed about something like this happening in her country. I needed to cool down so I went for a walk, in the meanwhile looking around hoping to find the seat back - it was possible that someone just wanted to "tease/bully" us by hiding the seat somewhere behind a tree... I didn't find it though.
There was nobody around, but there was a house close to the beach. Efrata decided to go to the house to ask the locals if they had seen someone passing by. In the meanwhile I checked the motorbike. Fortunately I could kick-start it - so I didn't need the batteries - and I managed to pile up some of our luggage so that we could sit more or less comfortably.
When Efrata came back from the house she was confused. She got the impression that the owners had something to do with the seat being stolen. They were rather hesitant and some parts of their story/answers didn't make sense (first they hadn't seen anything, then they remembered that someone had passed by on a red motorbike... first they didn't know whether it was one or two people on that motorbike, then suddenly they were sure it was just one person...). There were 2 men in the house (of which one was wearing a traditional machete - which is normal there) and an older woman.
While Efrata and I were talking, one of the guys approached us. It was indeed hard to tell whether he was telling the truth or lying... I didn't like the way he looked at us (but then again they're not used to see a white person there) and sometimes it seemed he was hiding something (yet he didn't master the Indonesian language, people speak some sort of dialect there)... Also, he was carrying a big stone and I was a bit alarmed, you never know around this region and after all we had been through I didn't trust anyone. When I told Efrata to get away from him and ask him why he was holding the stone he told us it was to guide the cattle (which turned out to be true as later on we saw him with his cattle). Eventually he left.
According to us these guys must have had something to do with it... the only road went along their house, there was nobody around and some construction workers further down told us that nobody had passed there after us.
We decided to forget about it and drive back. Even if the people in the house had stolen the seat then there was no way to force them to give it back - it's hard to predict whether they're not going to react in a violent way (I remembered the machete one of the guys was carrying), and going to the police wouldn't help ; we would only lose more time and the police wouldn't be allowed to enter the house anyway.
When we arrived in Waikabubak, we went to several motorbike repair shops to ask them whether it'd be possible to replace the seat. They didn't have that particular type of seat, and they would have to order it. We asked them to replace the side mirror though.
We had dinner and then drove back to our hostel. The owner of the motorbike was waiting for us and Efrata and I weren't very happy to tell him the bad news. The guy almost started crying... Seemed that it was not his motorbike but a motorbike of a friend's and he earned money with it as an ojek driver. His friend was a police officer, the bike was actually owned by the police... If the police would find out he had been renting out the motorbike then he would lose his job. We tried to console him and offered to join him to his friend, though he didn't want that. In the meanwhile the owner and some employees of the hostel joined the discussion (that's the way it goes over there... even if people have a conversation then everyone just comes and joins in, they don't have the concept of "privacy" there...). I usually don't like it when others interfere in a discussion which is none of their business, but they seemed to be able to calm down the guy and help us to work towards a solution.
Eventually we decided to give him IDR 350.000 (US$ 35), that would cover the rent for one day and the cost to replace the seat of the motorbike. He agreed, shaked our hands and drove off... he was quite emotional, he didn't manage to keep his engine running at first...
Although it was terrible to ruin this guy's day - maybe he was in trouble now, there was nothing we could do - we had been fair, agreed upon a price and paid for the costs... Besides, if the motorbike would have been in perfect condition the seat wouldn't have been stolen (it didn't lock properly)...
The next day, we got up early, had breakfast and took the Merpati shuttle bus to the airport in Tambolaka. There we took the plane to Denpasar (Bali), had lunch in the airport there and took a plane to Surabaya (East-Java) in the afternoon.
Well... the "motorbike incident" wasn't fun, but apart from that we really enjoyed our time in Sumba. It's truely one of the most fascinating and traditional islands in Indonesia.