Day 6 & 7
Thursday May 18th & Friday May 19th
Hitting the Trans-Flores Highway
Today goodbyes as we left the warm, now familiar home of Maya’s family to set off yet again on the trans-flores highway this time by shared car to reach the even smaller market town of Ruteng more than four hours away. So we dipped down from the heights of Bajawa, stopping for a brief break on the black volcanic sands of Aemere and headed to Ruteng as our leap point to see the famous spiderweb rice fields of Cancar.
Whilst on the road we passed by many of the tiny shops that accompany every stretch of street in Indonesia as well as the many mobile Bakso motorbikes which are mobile eateries. They are the backbone of street food in this region and part of daily life for many workers. We eagerly enjoyed Bakso many times. It is one of the tastiest and cheapest meals in Flores, which you can get almost anywhere and at anytime.
Most Indonesian street foods consist of one specialist dish, which is prepared, mixed or heated in front of the customers. Bakso (meatballs) are an adapted Indonesian-Chinese cuisine. These mobile Bakso shops, often perched on the back of a motorbike or pushed along as a handcart are ingenious. There are fresh ingredients; thinly sliced red onions, rice noodles and cabbage, inside one compartment. Next to them is a neat stack of chipped china bowls, a few utensils and other odds and ends. A small door on the lower side, conceals the gas burner, whose bluish flame provides constant heat for the simmering pot of aromatic soup and steaming meatballs. Young and old line up for this hearty meal. This mouth-watering dish is garnished with chopped celery leaves and sambal (hot chilli paste). Customers help themselves to the condiments provided, achieving the perfect blend of flavours with personalised amounts of tomato sauce, red chilli and sweet soy sauce. Delicious.
Ruckus in Ruteng
Unusually for us, we had a Ruteng couchsurfing host who we were unable to contact prior to and during this leg. So we changed tack and booked a locally recommended hotel. On arrival at our budget accomodation we were advised to upgrade for a small fee by the charming manager of the hotel, who herself had a little child. We were later to regret this decision.
After settling into our room, we made instant friends with two intrepid travellers from Melbourne, Australia – whilst enjoying our complimentary welcome drink on the balcony. They had made friends whilst on holiday and were now travelling across Flores in the opposite direction to us. We soon made joint plans to set off later that evening in search of Pizza as the boys were craving some naughty western food.
Ruteng is home to a university and various tourism schools promoting the learning of English. So anywhere you go, you are followed by small groups of local students who will ask you a round of ever recurring questions; “Where are you from? Where are you going? Do you like it here? What is your name? How old are you? etc”. This is true regardless if you are out at 6am or 8pm. Although we are all fans of being ambassadors of Australia and global citizens, this can get annoying, especially for the children. But we tried to answer with a smile on our faces and do applaud the students for their passionate desire to learn.
So after a rest, our combined Australian crew, set off in search of Pizza. As we should have expected, we discovered that this was the one night the one pizza shop in Ruteng was closed due to religious occasion, so we chose the liveliest nearby Ikan Bakaar shop, pointed to our choice of fresh produce and was soon engulfed by the great smells and steam of charcoal-grilled fish. It turned into a great feast and we walked home, again tailed by groups of students, ready to explore Ruteng in the morning.
I wish that was all that was eventful today but what started as a peaceful pleasant evening, soon turned into a sleepless night. We soon found that the rooms we had accepted, opposed to the cheaper ones on the opposite side of the hotel were next to a booming late night Karaoke bar. Lying there with loud blaring music oozing through thin walls plus drunken voices was bad enough but have you ever tried to sleep to bad karaoke? Somehow the boys managed it but not I…
We had already made arrangements to hire a car or ‘travel’ as they are called here, to leave Ruteng for the days drive to Labuan Bajo. So today was a lazy morning of exploring. Here some of the smaller streets have animal names like Jl Gajah (elephant) and Jl Kuda Belang (zebra). Ruteng is indeed small but picturesque, surrounded by green mountains and lush valleys.
We decided to skip the famous and picturesque Wae Rebo Village due to mixed reviews, time limits, the drive and the 3hr trek needed to get there. So before breakfast we decided to walk in the opposite direction from last night and uphill through the suburban streets. It was a lovely sunny morning and we watched tiny local vegetable stalls burst into action, school children giggling and families setting about morning tasks.
We were surprised that by the time we were ready to walk back down the hill the whole street had turned out to see these tourists. Suddenly what had been an empty street had families standing by to watch us as we passed. Some people called more people and soon the street was lined with locals. We were being waved to and smiled at, as we enjoyed an impromptu celebrity status.
A fitting end to our short but adventure filled stay in Ruteng, where we had enjoyed the local non-tourist sights and small experiences of this quaint town.