From One End of Flores: The Journey Begins
Flores. I think it was the name and how gently is rolls of the tongue, plus the imagery of tropical flowers it conjures up. I was drawn to Flores (map here) and I knew it would be a perfect last trip before leaving Indonesia. I was going to be traveling solo and since I had limited time before visa fees kicked in, I decided to drain my Indonesian back account (had to be closed anyways) and book a cross-island tour so I could get a guide, a car and a driver (a wise choice after I saw the roads and public transportation options). The whole thing was pretty last minute and I was nervous about it because I had found this company on the Internet, there were no independent reviews, and to be honest I had dark thoughts about no one showing up at the airport to collect me. Of course none of this happened and I had a wonderful experience, but living in Asia has ways of making you question everything.
Flores is a perfect example of diversity in Indonesia. The Portuguese colonized Flores and Catholicism ended up having staying power. In addition, the small island has several unique tribal groups. So for the first time in 14 months, as we drove along the Trans-Flores highway, I was on an island dominated by churches instead of mosques. When I saw the small plane that would take me to Maumere, on the eastern side of Flores, I said a few prayers and knew there was no turning back at this point:
Views from the 40-seat propeller plane:
When I landed at the airport in Maumere, I met my guide Pak Ardi. When he saw me a puzzled look crossed his face. In the blunt Indonesian style of honesty, he told me he was expecting a fat, middle-age American woman. When he learned I had lived and worked in Jakarta and can get by a bit in Indonesian, our trip went swimmingly with him introducing me everywhere we went as his friend, a journalist from Jakarta and speaking a mixture of English and Indonesian. Pak Ardi had lived in Jakarta decades ago, so he was amused to hear about some of the changes I described. He told me he could never live there again because there were too many beautiful people and he would fall in love every day when he boarded a bus.
From Maumere we drove to Sikka, a small village with a beautiful wooden church dating to 1899. The church was constructed so instead of windows lining the upper parts, there is open space so you can hear the sound of waves crashing from the nearby beach.
Down the steps past the graveyard, a group of women have set up an ikat weaving center. Oh temptation, it struck again. The women were all incredibly sweet and they showed me the process of making ikat on Flores — different from what I saw and learned about on Sulawesi.
The process requires hours of labor and uses natural ingredients found nearby and across Flores.
Needless to say, I walked away with a beautiful $10 table runner. The colors in it strayed from the traditional red and blacks, but it caught my eye.
Then we hit the road heading to Kelimutu. On the way, we stopped for coffee at Paga beach. This was the first of many of Pak Ardi’s coffee stops at some of the most beautiful places in Indonesia, and probably the whole world. Sitting on the beach, watching the sun set and drinking sugary rich coffee, well someone has to do it.
Getting There: Daily flights from Bali to Flores.
Tour Company: I went with Flores Exotic Tours. I settled on the Flores-Komodo adventure tour. They were very professional. Leonardus quickly responds to emails and helps you shape your itinerary. My guide Pak Ardi and driver Patris were both very kind and I felt like I had older brothers watching over me the whole trip.