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Posts from the ‘Indonesia’ Category

Circles of Rice and Belief

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:

High Above

Rice Circles

High Above

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From the Side of a Volcano to a Convent

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.

Beautiful Hangings

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.

Village Center

Volcano Background

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.

Greeting Committee

Beautiful eternity carvings:


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The Blue Pebbles and Black Sands of Penggajawa Flores

We all have those moments when we close our eyes and our minds begin to wander. More often than not, my mind wonders off to Penggajawa beach located on the southern coast of the island of Flores in the vast archipelago of Indonesia. I first noticed beautiful blue pebbles lining the driveway at the hotel I stayed in near Kelimutu. I looked down at the stones and immediately began wondering if they were fake, had they been painted? As we drove off from the village of Wologai, Pak Ardi said he had another “non-Lonely Planet” destination in store for me. When we arrived at Penggajawa beach my jaw dropped — it was unreal: a beautiful, volcanic black sand beach covered in blue pebbles and stones. It seemed like something out of Willy Wonka or Dr. Seuss.

Blue Pebbles

Blue Stretch

I walked up and down the beach and went a bit shutter crazy. I later noticed that the cliffs near the beach also had tinges of blue in them. I asked Pak Ardi about the geology of the area. All he could tell me was that the blue stones were naturally occurring in this area and that woman come and collect large piles and sell them for rather measly amounts.

Round Pebble

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Wooden Carvings of Women and Life

My Lonely Planet for Indonesia is well-thumbed through and full of creases, circles with “must go here” and “what was the writer thinking? Jakarta and Bandung are great” comments. For better and most definitely for worse, the Lonely Planet guide from 2009 is one of the few, and the by far the biggest, guidebook to Indonesia that is easily found at bookstores abroad. Only one of the contributing authors for the Indonesian edition was a woman, which is one of my major complaints. I have heard many complaints from local guides that the Lonely Planet has created plenty of issues for them, especially the prices that are almost five years old and with inflation in Indonesia, completely outdated. So they have to deal with tourists demanding the price printed in the book. When Pak Ardi saw my Lonely Planet sticking out of my bag, he took it as a challenge. “I will take you places not in the book,” and thus began our day.


We drove to the village of Wologai and the first thing I saw was a woman in a bright red sweater who had bright red teeth from chewing betel nut. The village does get some foreign visitors, but as soon as people heard Pak Ardi speaking in Indonesian with me, they were very curious and wanted to chat. A village elder, Martinus Wuta, became our de facto guide.


I was immediately attracted to the wooden carvings on the traditional homes. In the photo above you’ll notice round carvings. They are meant to look like breasts. The breast carvings symbolize where life comes from: women. Villagers explained to me that you are born to a house and life comes from that house and from the mother you are born to. The carvings are prominently featured on the homes. In the local dialect, bahasa Lio, wolo means mountain. An intentional symbolism and connection or not, I thought it was beautiful.


At the same time, photos of men hang on the walls of some homes. I wish I could have spent a few days here to really learn about the carvings and traditions, so I hope some anthropologist somewhere gets inspired.


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A Colorful Dawn at Kelimutu

“It is believed that spirits come to Kelimutu when people die. The mae (spirit) would leave its village and remain in Kelimutu forever. Before entering one of the lakes, the spirits would first meet Konde Ratu, the guard of the gate at Perekonde. Which lake the spirit would enter depends on its age and character when alive.” -Placard above the lakes

At 3:30 a.m. my phone alarm went off. I wasn’t my normal curmudgeonly self when being forced to wake up at this hour. I was already somewhat awake, ready to go see what had drawn me to the island of Flores to being with. And, well, it lived up to every superlative imaginable.

Sunrise Begins

We left the hotel at 4 a.m. and drove to the final lot before the hike to the Kelimutu volcanic crater lakes begins. The hike was easy and quick, when compared to a year’s worth of volcanoes. Pak Ardi and I reached the look-out point where tourists and coffee sellers gather and wait for the sun. The smell of sulfur occasionally drifts through the air and with the breeze, this was the first time I remembered really feeling cold in Indonesia. Vendors wrapped in thick ikat chatted with us while I sipped a sugary, sludgy coffee. Pak Ardi was two for two for incredible views while drinking coffee. And then we waited…

Dawn Breaks

It Begins

Here Comes the Sun

Sunrise, Sunrise

As dawn began to break and the colors of the sky changed, the lakes emerged from the cover of night. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves so I don’t begin sounding like an Enya song about light, life, dawn, sky and sailing far away from it all.

Blue Lake

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