Flores

When I first came upon these kids, they had those plastic bags pulled over their heads. They sheepishly pulled them up to smile for the camera, then immediately pulled them back down, over their noses and mouths, to go run down the street. Cute, or horrifying?

 

Travel is always full of ups and downs, but every now and again, you have the stellar luck of finding yourself riding a nice, solid wave of “up.” This is usually immediately succeeded by a deep, deep, oh-so-very-deep trough of “down”, but I’ll worry about that later.

So far, things have been pretty good on this trip. Indonesia has been particularly good because, unlike Africa, there are foods that I actually like to eat here. I’ve returned to a healthy/husky? weight, and my tan has come in nicely. However, the last couple of weeks have really been something special, and in fact, ever since stepping foot off of Bali, things have taken a decidedly more interesting (and upwards?) turn. Let me share:

1- Manta Rays! – On the most western tip of Flores, there is a tiny little port town by the name of Labuan Bajo. It’s kind of ugly and there is a decided lack of decent budget accommodation, but dive shops abound, and all their destinations are the same this time of year: Manta Point in Komodo National Park.

I wasn’t actually sure what a manta ray was, but I imagined that it would be maybe about a foot long, with a pointy tail and a propensity to sing to small clownfish?

What I got was this:

Photo property of Wikipedia.

HUGE!!!

These guys are about 3 meters long, graceful, flat, and very, very friendly. Before we even finished our descent (I hadn’t even equalized yet!), three of them came swimming up to us. First one, then two more behind. I think they were confused by the sudden shower of hideous biped bodies, because they suddenly backflipped over themselves, and two of them actually bumped into each other. They circled and flapped around us for a moment before dissolving into the cerulean abyss.

The rest of the dive boats were centered around a different point (suckers!), so for a whole blissful hour, we were left to enjoy 15 individual mantas all by ourselves.

So cool!

Even better, the dive was a drift dive, which meant that we rode the current along for part of it. It was pretty weak at the beginning, so we were able to lay down on the ocean floor to watch the mantas circle above us with relatively little ease. Then, as they began to thin a bit, we were able to ride the rip-roaring current like a roller-coaster. At one point, while trying to get an eyeful of a manta somersaulting over a piece of coral, I had to clumsily grapple onto the head of my Spanish dive buddy to avoid getting swept away.

The rest of the dive was all about letting the current take us, somersaulting, rejoicing in our good luck, and floating absolutely free in the ecstasy of having just experienced one of the highlights of life. Trip Maker!!

2 – Lombok Bemo Ride – This wasn’t exactly a GOOD experience, but it was definitely interesting.

About a week ago, I was traveling from Senggigi on the north-west coast of Lombok down to Kuta on the southern coast. It isn’t actually that far of a distance, but thanks to Indonesia’s shit public transit system, it involved about 4 public buses and 60 kilometers of hitchhiking. On one of the bemos (open-air truck type things… hard to explain), I noticed the man across from me list to one side. It looked as if he was reaching for his wallet in slow-mo. After probably a solid 5 seconds, I realized he was having a stroke or a heart attack or something. The other people in the bemo started shouting, and a little girl began to cry.

This is the floor of the bemo. I’d have had to give CPR in this claustrophobic nightmare. For comparison’s sake, that is a 40 liter bag in the corner.

I generally regard the afternoon I spent learning CPR with the Red Cross to be an afternoon wasted, but I’m glad that at that moment, I had something to do. I’m not sure it was the RIGHT thing, mind you. I still don’t know what his condition was, but I’m glad I had a plan. I shouted for the driver to stop, and pointed at a 6-year old Indonesian to “Call 9-1-1 and get back to me!” (Like I said, not a GOOD plan… but A plan). Fortunately, before I even got him laying down to perform CPR, he recovered and got back up. We rode the rest of the way in silence, and I tried my best not to stare. I’m still not sure what happened, and my attempts to encourage him to see the doctor went unheard and untranslated. He got off the bemo at the next stop, and I waved to him as we rounded the corner. I doubt I’ll ever see him again. When I travel, I often think about how lucky I am to speak English as my native tongue, to have been born in a country with (some) racial and gender equality, to have my paychecks made out to me in a currency that the world respects and uses, and to be so accustomed to options and possibilities that I consider my wealth of opportunity to be my birthright. It never once occurred to me that being able to have a stroke in peace is a luxury in some parts of the world.

Yeah, like I said, I’m not sure why I count that as part of my “up” experience, but hey, I’m glad that I didn’t freeze or crap myself at the moment of truth.

3 – Kelimutu – There are plans to link all of the island of Flores by a main, sealed highway, and to link Flores to the outside world with an international airport. Those plans, thankfully, have yet to come to fruition. The result is that these three enchanted lakes have stayed fairly well off the tourist map. In fact, at sunrise (the most touristy time of day), my friends and I comprised four of the 12 tourists at the top. 12!!! The other 8 even pissed off before the lakes truly began to really show off their colors. At one point, it was just Misja, Suzanna, me, and one lonely tea-seller at the top, enjoying the view all to ourselves.

A bit about the lakes: There are three lakes at the top. Two are fairly close together, and the third is off to the right a bit. Nobody is entirely sure why, but they change colors every few months. Colors reported in the past have included purple, blood red, yellow as thick as paint, chocolate brown, and the three colors we saw: turquoise, black, and deep blue.

Kelimutu. We had it all to ourselves!!

The perfect end to a perfect couple of weeks on my favorite Indonesian island!

——

On the 4th I head back to Bali, and then on to the Philippines. I have mixed feelings about returning to Indonesia’s version of Cancun, but I should mention that in a country that is largely dominated by Muslims, it is nice to have a small Hindu oasis.

Let me say this: I don’t have any particular feelings about any religion. In my opinion, all the dogmatic nonsense that separates one from another (and is the primary reason for fighting between them) should be ignored in the interest of following the one cardinal rule: Don’t be an asshole.

That being said, I’m not sure how much more of the Islamic Call to Prayer I can take. Yes, I realize that it’s a religious mandate, but blaring music/prayers over a loudspeaker for 5 minutes to an hour, 4 times a day, is just not nice. What about all those people who aren’t Muslim? They have their day interrupted several times by something they don’t even believe in. That’s not very respectful, and moreover, it’s not neighborly.

I suppose that’s all.

 

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MANTAS!!!!!

 

Picture isn’t mine! Mantarayshawaii.com

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