A friend in college, who had grown up in the Phillippines, had one thing to say to me before I moved to Asia: “You know nothing about mangoes.” She went on to tell me how the one, maybe two, easily found varieties we get in the US are sub-par. Needless to say, within about a week of being in Indonesia, I realized she was completely and totally right. Not only are there hundreds of varities of mangoes, they can taste like completely different fruits. Really I could write a Dr. Seuss rhyme here…
So in my effort to get to 20 tropical fruit posts, here’s my ode to a fruit most people know, but don’t really know. When mango season arrives across Asia, there’s an excitment among the vendors. And the fruit isn’t necessarily cheap. I would sometimes pay almost $2USD for a large, perfect mango in Jakarta. Often street vendores give you a spicy salt that you can dip the fruit into.
It seems that India wins on the mango craze. The Alphonso variety is considered the creme de la creme — here’s a NYTimes story on mangoes in India. And here is a CNNGo piece about the same area where the very expensive prized variety comes from. I have yet to try it.
After over a year of living and working in Indonesia, it was only fair that on my final full day in country I would watch the sun rise and set (cue: awww). Leaving a place and not knowing when you will return is always tinged with a bit of melancholy and thoughts of regret: all the things you still want to do and the things you would have done differently. I still distinctly remember the balmy temperature and taste of the last chevre salad I had in Paris after almost 7 months of living there. I always distinctly remember my first day and last day in a place. And in all honesty, after 14 months, my final day in Indonesia was the best last day I could have ever wished for in a country that I grew to love and still follow very closely reading news and chatting with friends who live in Jakarta. The sunrise over Labuan Bajo heading out to Komodo Island:
I sipped hot, oh-so-sugary Jasmine tea as our boat cut through the waters, passing other islands to reach the famed Komodo Island.
We met up with another ranger and began hiking in the early morning heat. We saw many deer on the island and I watched one get extremely close to a Komodo dragon — thankfully nothing happened.
The ranger station was, as on Rinca Island, a popular hang out spot for my lizard friends:
Komodo dragons. They are scary buggers. Just read this news story, or this one. Or this bizarre story involving Sharon Stone and a Komodo dragon. These prehistoric-like creatures draw crowds to the Western shores of Flores where boats depart from the town of Labuan Bajo and head out to sea to Rinca Island and Komodo Island where the lizards do dwell. Tourists from around the world come to visit the dragons, found nowhere else in the wild, and snorkel and dive in the amazingly clear waters. It was one of those places I knew I had to see while living in Indonesia.
When I told friends and colleagues back in Jakarta I was going to visit Komodo National Park, several of the women I told paused and giggled. I knew they wanted to tell me something, so I prodded them. “Well just make sure you don’t have your period,” one woman finally told me. I was confused. “They can smell the blood and will attack you.” I left the office that day terrified that I would be attacked by dragons. So I did what any person would do and went home and Googled. I decided this was probably somewhat of an urban myth and that I would be fine.
On the day of my arrival in Labuan Bajo everything was fine in the lady department, but the journalist side got the better of me and I decided I would ask my new guide, an Indonesian male, all about this whole situation. I had even had a male friend in Jakarta mention it to me, so this was either one big urban legend or there was some truth to it.
As we sailed away from Labuan Bajo, surrounded by beautiful blue seas, I said, “I have a question about the dragons and women.” I was afraid I was asking a delicate question that might embarrass my guide, but the opposite proved to be true. I had noticed many small huts along the shores of islands we passed on the way out to Rinca Island. My guide informed me that Komodo dragons have an amazing sense of smell and definitely pick up blood. The women who live on Rinca and Komodo must be very careful when they get their period. My guide told me women tend to stay inside for about a week and carefully burn all waste so the dragons don’t pick up a scent and come running. It is also the reason why no women can be park rangers on Rinca or Komodo Island.
When we landed on Rinca Island, we were immediately handed large sticks. If a dragon got too close, we were supposed to hit them in a sensitive spot: their nose.
I woke up at the convent with a tinge of sadness because today would be my last day traveling with Pak Ardi and Pak Patris. They were going to drop me in Labuan Bajo where I would board a boat and go looking for Komodo dragons. But before we parted ways, they had some sights in store that left longing to stay on mainland Flores for several more weeks. We drove off of the main Flores highway and stopped near a regular looking home. Pak Ardi told me a local village woman would lead me up a hill and he’d wait at the bottom enjoying some cigarettes. We hiked up a steep dirt trail and then the woman pointed for me to go join an older Indonesian man who was with a group of tourists from Spain. When I peered over the side of the hill, I was shocked. Pak Ardi told me the rice fields were circular and beautiful, but once I saw it in person, wow:
I’ve said it before, but one of my favorite things about living and traveling in Indonesia was that you never knew how your day would unfold or where you would end up for that matter. I woke up early at Happy Happy Hotel in Bajawa and the nice Dutch couple who co-own it with an Indonesian couple served up a hearty plate of banana pancakes. And then we hit the road again. Our first stop of the day was the village of Luba followed by the village of Bena. It was cool outside and low lying clouds danced around the base of Inerie volcano, the backdrop to the villages. The Ngada people inhabit both villages, and although Christian symbolism is evident (see the crosses on the graves below), many traditional beliefs are still mixed in. Pak Ardi told me that people are buried behind the crosses in squatting positions to symbolize the womb position and return to mother.
At the center of the village stand parasol-like structures called ngadhu. Pak Ardi explained that the number ngadhu count the number of clans in the village. Both villages are matrilineal and Pak Ardi told me women are the ones who own land. Ngadhu are paired with other thatched structures called bhaga, together they represent male and female.
A pack of dogs greeted us at Bena. In both villages people were going about their days and nodded hello. No one was aggressively selling weavings or anything else, so it was nice to wander around and take it all in.
Beautiful eternity carvings: