Sunday, December 2, 2018


My last new stop on this trip was the town of Ruteng, back in the highlands, but even closer on my way back to Labuan Bajo. I stayed three nights via Airbnb with a lovely Indonesian divorcee, U, who lived in Tasmania for a decade and speaks great English. It was so much fun getting to know her, and as I was her only guest at the time (high season ended in October, and I'm hitting the beginning of rainy season, which is PERFECT, because there aren't too many tourists around, yet it's not really raining that much yet) she very sweetly took the time to show me around and come with me on walks and activities.

The town of Ruteng itself is pretty bustling...

...But U's place is just a bit outside of town, and my little bungalow there had it's own porch with this beautiful view, which I enjoyed to the fullest over my breakfasts and dinners and lazy afternoons reading and catching up on computer work.

U (who makes me look like a total giant...she seemed taken aback by my height, even though I'm not really that tall by Western standards) went with me to see the "spiderweb ricefields," which I was very confused and curious about, but turns out are just rice fields that are laid out radially from a single point, like wheel spokes. Kind of cool.

From there we went to a "traditional village," which I was very skeptical about, and kind of tried to get out of, though I didn't try hard enough, and away we went. The structures are lovely and striking, and I learned afterward that each modern day village is supposed to have one as a meeting place for community gatherings, which is nice.

But this spot just felt like the total tourist trap I'd been sadly expecting. The guy who runs it had built himself a massive concrete house with all the money he's raking in to dress people up in batik wraps and walk them 100 yards over to see the traditional houses from a bit closer. And he has a pitch of trying to get you to pay four times more to go into the houses, one of which, he says, contains the world's only human-skin drum. And he told a story that I couldn't understand, that U reiterated for me after: that there was a beautiful woman that three local kings were fighting over, and when they got tired of fighting, they just killed her and used the skin from her stomach to make a drum. A totally horrifying story, though U says she doesn't think it's true--that she never heard it as a kid, and this guy might have just made it up to try to get more money out of tourists. Which, unfortunately, is even more horrifying. Either way, U said, not worth it to pay extra to see it, so at least I was spared that.

Ironically, the most interesting part of the traditional house visit, for me, was that the guy who runs the place grabbed my phone from me and was insistent that we do these very involved glamour photo shoots. He had a fun flair for playing with perspective, but I was just laughing so hard the whole time I was sure the pictures were not going to turn out. This one is the best; the rest are just really embarrassing.

Definitely Indonesians love to take selfies, I've noticed. I don't know if the sole focus of this traditional village being selfies, though, is something they learned that Western tourists like? Which would just be so depressing, but is very possibly true. Or do Indonesians just really love it and want to make Western tourists happy that way? I don't know. Maybe it's just PEOPLE in general who are like this. Which always makes me feel like an alien sociologist just watching people and scratching my head.

My favorite parts of the Ruteng visit were the ones not really intended or engineered. After our scheduled tourist stops, we swung by the village where U grew up to visit her sister, whose house I just LOVED.

And the morning I left, U and I got up very early for a sunrise walk through the village as it was waking up, to a viewpoint over Ruteng. I loved seeing the kids on their way to school...

...and the view from the top of the hill down into town was like a fairytale, with some morning mist still blanketing the valley.

Also, the sunset over U's house on my last night there was jaw-dropping.

So, from Ruteng, I caught one last ride back to Labuan Bajo, and I'm spending the last weekend of my trip here without much of an agenda. Take some walks, enjoy the good restaurants and cafes here,  read, do some computer work that I know I won't have time to get to once I'm home and trying to catch up with everyone and the holiday season is pressing down hard. So for now, I'll have a few very peaceful days staying in yet another little private bungalow, this one with a fantastic view of the Labuan Bajo harbor.

If all goes according to plan, on Monday afternoon I'll fly to Bali and from there catch my flights back south to New Zealand. Pick up my luggage from the Antarctic center, sleep for a night there in Christchurch, and then on Dec 5 fly WI.

I suppose it's possible there will be enough unexpectedly photogenic moments between now and then to warrant another blog post, but I'm not really anticipating that and so will sign off for now. Thanks for following along on my 2018 global adventures. I really have no idea what 2019 is going to bring for me. It seems pretty safe to assume I'll be venturing outside the US at some point; I just don't know where or when. But when it happens, and wherever I go, I'll meet you back here to tell you all about it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

To and on Mbalata beach

From Moni (oh, one last picture of an amazingly tiny and perfect little gecko I met in my bathroom there)...

...I'd arranged to stay at a beach bungalow place that was a 7-hour drive back in the direction of Labuan Bajo. Very fortuitously, the owner of the bungalows was driving home from taking some guests even farther east on the island, so he offered me a ride in exchange for chipping in with gas and we both won. So it was a very comfortable ride through some amazing scenery and villages of Flores Island. But first, he and my Moni host spent an hour trying to fix the seatbelt of the passenger seat, which clearly hadn't been used in more than a decade and which of course couldn't be fixed, and so we just kind of had to knot my seatbelt into place before taking off.

But once we were underway, it was a lovely way to see more of the island.

We stopped at Blue Stone Beach, which had, as billed, lots and lots of blue stones. Also, unfortunately, lots and lots of trash.

Still, in five minutes on the beach I found more multi-colored stones that I could comfortably carry, and certainly more than I was going to be able to take away with me, so I had to content myself with a picture of them.

After a long but lovely day of driving, we reached our destination: Mbalata Beach, on the south coast of Flores.

I stayed for three nights in this great bungalow, the only guest on the property.

Which is exactly what I'd been hoping for--some real solitude and a beach all to myself for multiple daily beach walks. So of COURSE, 300 teenage boys from a local boarding school showed up my first morning there to spend the weekend on the beach swimming and playing soccer. They were very sweet and enthusiastic....

...but since they swarmed me every time I went down to the sand, I had to spend a little more time in my bungalow than I'd planned. It was kind of fun for awhile, though, watching them frolic and enjoy the place so thoroughly.

And there were, other, small beauties to appreciate.

The morning I left, I got to take a very quiet, solitary walk up and down the beach, just as I'd hoped, and that was lovely. And then it was time to catch a ride to my next stop....

Monday, November 26, 2018

Moni / Kelimutu

After the boat trip, I flew from Labuan Bajo further east, to the middle of Flores Island and the muggy coastal town of Ende. From there I got a ride--after waiting in line for a very long time for refueling at a typically mobbed Indonesian gas station... a mountain town called Moni and its most famous resident, Kelimutu Volcano. The windy drive up into the mountains (on what the locals like to call "spaghetti roads," for their endlessly curvy quality) was BEAUTIFUL:

And in Moni, I had a really nice time just walking around taking pictures of life in this particular corner of this diverse country.

And of course, I paid a visit to Kelimutu. I got up at 3:30 am to do so, with the idea of seeing the sun rise over the craters. But unfortunately it was socked in and raining and I saw nothing except the grayness slowly getting to be a lighter gray. I was actually starting to despair of seeing ANYTHING, when finally, after standing in the rain for a couple of hours, the clouds dissipated, and WOW.

Kelimutu--not an extinct volcano, though I'm unclear as to whether it's classified as active or dormant--is famous for its three crater lakes at its summit. And not just because they're three gorgeous crater lakes. It's even more amazing than that. They actually change colors dramatically, and independently from each other. I'm serious. You should google it. There are photos on line, aerial shots, where one of the lakes is red and another is black and another is bright green; it's INCREDIBLE. It's due to fluctuations in the gasses and minerals released by the separate volcanic vents into each of the lakes. They stay the colors they are for weeks or months at a time, and then one day any of them might just start to shift, and then the next day it will be a totally different color. And I read that it looks like someone just poured different buckets of paint into each crater the colors are so vivid. I thought that must be an exaggeration and I was surely going to be disappointed, but really, that's what it looked like.

Maybe you can tell, I am insanely captivated by this.  As you can see, the color of one of the craters (above) was nearly identical to the color of the one next to it (just visible behind the one in the foreground) while I was there. Here's a closer picture of the one that's set back in the first shot:

Here you can see them both, kind of. I was bummed they were the same color, but still, what a GORGEOUS color. I feel like this picture looks like an oil painting rather than a photograph.

The third crater is set a bit away, so we couldn't see it as well, but you can kind of see it tucked into the hillside in this picture, and at that time is was kind of a navy blue, so very different from its cousins.

And the view from the flank of Kelimutu out to sea...sooooooo beautiful.

Friday, November 23, 2018


So, the two reasons that Labuan Bajo, on the west end of Flores Island, has become such a tourism hotspot in Indonesia are (1) world-class diving and (2) nearby Komodo dragons!

I have been diving a few times, and I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it so much that I want to get addicted to such an expensive hobby. So I try to just stick with snorkeling. I am, however, interested in the enormous lizards called Komodo dragons, which exist in the wild only on three little islands of Indonesia, all sandwiched between Flores and neighboring Sumbawa. They're one of the several things in this world that you can ONLY see in Indonesia, which to me make them one of the big reasons for visiting Indonesia. And Labuan Bajo is the main jumping-off point for boat trips to snorkel and see the dragons.

So I signed up for a two-day trip to do just that. And, wow.

Well, I went the super-budget way, and there were definitely no frills. They crammed 13 of us on this little boat (there was an upper deck for us to sleep on that did not even realistically hold us all--they definitely overbooked the trip) and the food was passable but certainly not great.

But the boat was just a means to an end. We motored along through beautiful scenery... the main event: Komodo National Park.

We went to Rinca Island, and before we even got 100 meters from the visitor's center, there were dragons everywhere!

I should share just a couple of things about Komodos, in case you know as little about them as I did. My favorite facts: (1) They eat entire large mammals, like goats, or deer (no joke! both of which live on the little islands where they do), which they "hunt" by lying lazily around in the underbrush, waiting for a doomed animal to wander by whom they will bother to bite only if it gets close enough it practically steps on them. Once the animal has been bitten, though, the Komodo's mouth is so full of vicious, deadly bacteria, that the animal is as good as dead. The Komodo only has to casually follow it around till it croaks and can be eaten. And they eat 'em but good, leaving only the skull, which lead to this ranger-created graveyard of mammal skull leftovers from Komodo meals.

(2) While a female Komodo lays 30-40 eggs once per year and will guard her nest to protect it from predators, generally only 2-3 of the eggs will survive and evolve into being mature dragons, because Komodos are cannibalistic, and the first few dragons to hatch will get their first meals by eating their brothers and sisters before they hatch. Lovely!

They're pretty fascinating creatures, if you're interested in looking up more. We hung out with them for a few hours (the rangers carrying what were basically enormous snake sticks to defend us with, if need be), and then moved on to the spectacular waters and beaches of this island group.

Check out the pink sand of this beach, if you can draw your eyes away from the turquoise waters:

And the inlet at Pedar Island was lovely enough...

...but when you climb the well-developed footpath to the top, you get probably the most famous viewpoint of the region:

The sunrise wasn't too shabby, either.

I mean, seriously:

This is me, no longer as white as the Antarctic snow, and happy:

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Labuan Bajo

I FINALLY forced myself to leave the easy comfort of ex-pat life with R & K in Jakarta and head out on my own into another part of Indonesia. In the end, I decided to spend the second half of my Into time on the island of Flores, in the East Nusa Tenggara region of this enormous country. My first stop was the port town and tourist hub of Labuan Bajo.

I stayed in a really basic hostel that was a bit away from the main drag, so was quiet and had a beautiful dining balcony (a phrase that, okay, makes it sound way fancier than it is) with amazing sunset views.

Plus free breakfast included and just as lovely views in the early mornings of all the fishermen getting up and going with their days.

I stayed a couple of days, despite the crazy noise of so many motos on the main drag and the incessant call-outs from tour touts and taxi drivers, because the positive flip-side of it being a touristy town is that Labuan Bajo has some AMAZING cafes and restaurants where I was embarrassingly happy hopping from a green tea latte here to a veggie sushi roll there to a ginger-tumeric-lemon-honey juice (a local concoction called "jamu" that is my new favorite thing) at the next place to falafel salad at another.

Oh, my lord. And all while using the ubiquitous free wifi to catch up on weeks worth of emails and other computer tasks and chatting with friends in other places. Heaven.

And in the quieter gaps between motos rushing by and the umpteenth guy asking if you want to book a liveaboard SCUBA trip, the town really is lovely.

Still, there's a reason all the tourists come here and it's not the food or the town itself. So, more on that next post....