Wednesday May 16th
Today we depart Ende and hit the famous Trans-Flores Highway. It starts east to west, at Larantuka, passed through Ende and stops at Labuan Bajo. A total of 700km across this flower island. Some say, it is one of the worlds great road trips.
Another early 4 am alarm for Prunella. The boys wake at 5 am, for another 6 am start which turned into a 7.30 am departure via “Beamo” (local mini bus). Ferdy’s family are really amazing and saw us off with a lovely breakfast of fried egg, rice and soup. We had spent such a short time with them but we had been touched by their generosity and warm friendship. They had done everything possible to help us and include us in their community despite, economic, language and practical barriers. We are grateful to them for sharing their lives and an easy start to our adventures in Flores.
Now departing, we couldn’t help reflect on our stay here in Ende. Ende is the largest city in Flores. It serves as a gateway to Sumba island. (We received a couchsurfing invitation to visit Sumba but decided that we would rather have more time in Flores and forgo the long boat trip). Ende is backed by the Savu Sea on both its east and west sides with the distinctive twin volcanoes of Gunung Meja and Gunung Iya to the south. The airport is towards the east coast and the harbour to the west.
The town is majority Catholic, as was the family who hosted us, but also has a sizeable Muslim population. Historically it is the place of a kingdom that existed around the end of the 18th century. It became famous in modern times when President Sukarno was exiled here by the Dutch government from 1934 to 1938. It’s rumoured Indonesia’s iconic “Pancasila” national philosophy came to Sukarno as he sat under a breadfruit tree in Ende, which still stands in the park near the town soccer field. He founded a theatre group here named “Kelimentu Secret” to spread his political messages.
The local home we stayed in was part of a densely populated, government housing Kampung, walking distance from the airport. Unlike in many western homes, houses in Indonesia are traditionally open to the air at all times. We were entranced by the glossy curtains that separated rooms billowing in the breeze that continually flowed through the house. Houses are self sufficient of most services and must buy water, stored in huge outdoor tanks plus kerosene or gas for cooking. There is no heating, cooling systems or hot water for bathing. Bathrooms are tiled wet rooms with a huge tiled rectangular tank for bucket and scoop bathing. There is no sink. Toilets are asian squat style. Unlike the lounge, dining room and bedrooms which were built like a traditional brick house the kitchen area had a lofty ceiling made from a mix of rattan and corrugated iron. The home had a whole other level which we did not see with stairs leading up to a spacious open flat rooftop.
The beamo (sometimes called “angkot“) we boarded headed to the bus station and stalled for as long as it dared waiting for more passengers that never came. For the locals this is a cheap local fare but as Bule (foreigners, generally white foreigners) we were charged more – but it is still an inexpensive ride compared to a private car. (Luggage may cost extra unless stored on your lap).
So at last we left Ende and were thrilled at the picturesque coastal route. With windows down we could hear and smell the thunderous waves of the Savu sea. We passed the famous naturally bluish green pebbles, 25km north-west of Ende, at Penggajawa Beach. A wonder to be sure. It would have been more stunning, if it had not been for the sad site of locals piling up the stones for tourist sales and many more bound for export to China or Japan (who prize the natural stone for decorating). With seemingly no-one limiting these sales, slowly the stones are disappearing from the beach. The locals get richer but the pebbles they supply become fewer. On the other side of the bus, were the huge blue-greenish cliffs from where these stones once originated, smoothed for hundreds of years by the relentless currents. The road climbed higher and we had spectacular views of huge ancient volcanic boulders tumbled onto lonely black sand beaches. Sadly the winding roads meant both boys were feeling sick and nauseous again…
Finally we made it to the outskirts of Bajawa. The main bus stopped at a junction in the middle of nowhere and we had no option but to take two “ojek’s” (motorcycle taxi’s) for a short ride to our host Maya’s home. Maya was blazing trails with a newly built modern home in a village area on the outskirts of Bajawa. The exterior walls completed she told us of flooring and interior finishes in planning. We were generously showed to our shared room and introduced to her husband and two young sons. After a rest and a short visit from her local girlfriends, we walked into Bajawa township.
Western tourists are a rarity in much of Flores and especially the sight of western children caused a flurry where-ever we went. Whilst standing outside the local bank all the staff came out to chat and showed our combined boys some huge flying grasshoppers. We visited the best fruit juice shop, Maya’s brother’s home and headed to find a meal. We ate dinner out at a western-decor cafe that had delightful wait staff but served us an appalling meal that consisted of mainly chillies, no matter what we ordered. Maya’s husband came to pick up the small boys via motorbike and the rest of us walked the now cold, dark streets back home. Back to a rest and a well deserved slumber to dream of tomorrow’s adventures…