Tuesday May 15th
Whilst researching this trip we could not help read about one of the most famous sites of Flores – Kelimantu. An extinct volcano, known for it’s stunning vista, of three luminously coloured crater lakes.
Little did we know when we awoke, that reaching it, was not meant to be…
The science of the Kelimutu lakes is relatively well known. Lake colours periodically change due to adjustments in the oxidation-reduction status of the fluid of each lake, and also considering the abundance of different major elements, such as iron and manganese. Oxidation-reduction status depends on the balance of volcanic gas input and rainfall rate, and is thought to be mediated by the groundwater system in the volcano itself. The colours in the lakes change independently from each other, as each has its own unique connectivity to the underlying volcano’s activity. Between January and November 2016, the colours of the craters changed six times. – Wiki
It was about a 50km drive from Ende to Kelimantu and our host had been up late arranging a driver for an early start. So with kids asleep and anticipating a 6am start Prunella set the alarm for 4am. With the kids dreaming beside her, in the semi darkness, she rearranged all the bags and packed all the essentials for hiking up a volcano.
After a few hours wait, some confusion regarding timing and a hearty homemade breakfast, we were dutifully packed into our hired car. One of Ferdy’s young relatives generously came to accompany us and use her emerging English skills to help us. Had we known that she would be terribly car sick due to the winding roads, we would never have accepted her kind offer. Both the boys found it hard too, with Felix feeling especially sick as we snaked ever upwards.
So it was about 20 minutes from our destination that the road had literally fallen away, there was no bitumen, just mud. We were confronted with trucks and cars sliding through a slush of mud. Remember that we were on a high, narrow mountain road with a precarious cliff beside us. The mud was so wet and frictionless that small groups of mud splattered men were sliding aside huge trucks. After staring at the highly dangerous scene with buses loaded full of people still attempting to get through, we chose the side of sanity and safety, and changed plans.
Our disappointment was palatable. We had endured a hard trip to finally get here only to have to turn around. There was some possibility that if we went on the back of a motorbike, we would get through but we value each other too much to take such a risk. The driver, who spoke no English, called Ferdy who suggested we visit a nearby traditional village instead before heading back. So it was that we headed to Wologai.
Winding back down into the valley afforded us some spectacular views of terraced rice fields.
The idilic village is nestled on a forested volcanic ridge, next to the hillside of Lepembusu mountain. The 800 year old village of Wologai has been rebuilt many times due to fire, which makes it appear more like an open air museum then a village, despite a few locals still living there. It is a fine example of the traditional Lionese architectural style. This particular village is famous for it’s local coffee.
During the dutch colonial times the Lio were forced from hill top villages to valleys so now many of these traditional villages are used only at ceremonial times. Today we were greeted by the “Mosa laki Koe” the second in command and priest in charge of ritual “spirit of the earth”. We felt privileged to be the only tourists there. He proudly told us about his culture and showed us his ceremonial sword, sheathed in carved wood and decorated with his totem – the centipede. He bade us enter the village taking care to step on the cleansing black stone as we did so…
The Lio People make up the ethnic majority in the Ende District. They produce a range of artwork – architecture, carving, ikat weaving, jewellery – containing motifs reflecting their history, social life and cultural values. Popular motifs are boats, snakes, horses and people. The Lionese belief system, centers around the notion of a divine being that unites opposites, called “du’a gheta lulu wula, nggae ghale wena tana” – the old one up on the Moon, the ruler on Earth. The Lionese people believe in an afterlife. Therefore, the dead are buried with gifts to take to their afterlife. Good and bad spirits, as well as magic practices, are other important elements of the traditional belief system. Actually it is a rich, complex culture with key principles being; cosmology, village layout, house form, human body, agricultural activity and social structure.
They are governed by the “mosa laki” made up of leadership personalities with different responsibilities. They have a strong culture of agriculture and still practice the series of rituals and culture in their everyday life starting from the first spade use at the farm until after harvest time.
The houses are built in a circle and in the middle is a sacrifical altar forbidden to tourists. At it’s centre are black stones forming a phallic megalith “tube” and surrounded by flat stones “musu mase”. It contains small spirit houses containing ancestral bones and spiritual objects. One of these here, once held a drum made from human skin but it has long ago been stolen. There are male houses “Keda Kanga” and Female houses “Sao ria”. The female houses feature pairs of carved breasts near the entrance, on one side are the breasts of a young woman and on the other of an old woman. The layout of the “Sao ria” metaphorically represents a mother’s body, the door being the entrance to the womb. The “Keda Kanga” are used to meet with visitors and also store ritual instruments including weapons and musical instruments. There is a house where only men are permitted to cook meat. The village, the motifs and the houses all use the snakes body as a metaphor. So in the case of the house, this consists of a head (the back) which is usually occupied by the elderly. The tail (entry/verandah) and the naval (sacred area). The middle area traditionally contains a rope hung from the ceiling, on which dangles the tusks of a deer or wooden circular planks. This is called the “pusu ate” or naval heart and is the place under which Lio people should be born and die.
Nowadays, despite still performing many old rituals the Lio identify as Catholic. The Catholic church forbade their traditional marriage practices based on the principle of Asymmetric alliance. It was once common to marry one’s matrilateral cross cousin. The wife givers provided rice, palm wine and textiles. The wife takers supplied buffalo, pigs, weapons and male golden ornaments.
As we exited the village we stopped to admire it’s most impressive treasure, a huge, ancient Banyan tree. For the Lio, this tree also represents the “pusu ate” and is part of their most famous myth – The story of Ana Kalo. Ana Kalo was angry at a red pig who stole fruit from him and used the tree to escape, so he foolishly cut down the tree which was the cosmic connection to the heavens.
Back in Ende, we dropped Felix at home as he was still feeling icky and set off into town for lunch. We treated our driver to his choice of venue, so were happy when he led us to a small local restaurant which served excellent dishes of chicken soup, satays and rice. We brought home some soup for our Felix, who after his rest felt much better.
Leaving the boys at home Prunella set off on the back of Ferdy’s motorbike to finally register our mobile sim. After visiting two official offices, Prunella finally had a working mobile. She also bought a couple of travel adaptors. We then bought some fruit from a road side stall before heading to visit Ferdy’s daughter in hospital. We arrived to find the whole family and extended family there and his daughter happily playing with her cousin whilst wheeling her IV drip stand.
On returning home, Ferdy returned to the hospital, leaving us the house to ourselves. Prunella took the boys on a local walk, along the way we shared some “Fruit salad”, – a sweet condensed milk drink, partly filled with fruit. Back home after being followed through the “gangs” by giggling local children and stray dogs, we rested. Hopped out again for dinner at the closest local restaurant, then back home to a well earned rest.
(Prunella reflected later that despite the turn of events, visiting Wologai proved to be one of the highlights of the Komodo Kaper…)