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Impressions of Labuan Bajo

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There was a time when migrants from the fishing village of Labuan Bajo sought better opportunities in other parts of Flores. “They used to look down on people from Labuan Bajo,” a local guide tells us offhand, “but now it’s the opposite.” Today his once-sleepy hometown is in the midst of a tourism boom, attracting labour from the rest of the island and even further beyond. Read more

An audience with a Manggarai chief

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Sipping on a mug of strong, sweetened local coffee, we sat cross-legged on a mat, across from the village chief as he smiled and folded betel leaves, his dark teeth showing between red-stained gums. Read more

The things I take for granted

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It’s a common sight on my way to and from work: wide-eyed visitors toting cameras around their necks, and backpackers who stop to capture the busy street scenes with their smartphones. I often turn around, surprised to see their attraction to a grimy world of exhaust fumes, dripping air conditioners and ageing metal pushcarts, combining to form a less than photogenic whole. Read more

In honour of the ancestors

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10 kilometres south of Bajawa, the near-perfect cone of Inerie stands tall over Ngada territory. The verdant highlands around the volcano are dotted with many ancient villages, of which Bena is the most famous, perched on a lip of land rearing up over the adjacent valley. Here, the houses of wood, bamboo and alang-alang grass line a series of interlocking terraces populated with megalithic structures, culminating in a shaded lookout and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Read more

Kelimutu: like water for chocolate

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Across the valley banks of mist swirled above a church steeple poking through the dense vegetation. From the Trans-Flores Highway Dino had glimpsed the crest of Kelimutu through the clouds, and we soon found ourselves gunning up a slender road towards the summit. Read more

Indonesia at a crossroads

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I recently spent two weeks travelling in Indonesia during the run-up to yesterday’s presidential election. Never has one in Indonesia been so polarising, or so high-stakes, with an outcome that was almost too close to call. Joko Widodo (known as “Jokowi”), the populist grassroots politician, is the presumed winner by almost five percentage points, although his rival Prabowo Subianto has fought back with his own declaration of victory. Read more

Sikka and the House of da Silva

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The thatched dwelling stands worn and empty on the shore of the Savu Sea. Children play football inside its walls, peering out from the shade of the verandah as Bama and I walk past. Across the street three simple graves clad in pink tiles lie sheltered beneath timber rafters and sheets of corrugated iron. One is furnished with a prominent wooden cross, its arms bearing a proud name in white: “Dona M. Felixia Ika da Silva”. Read more

Across Flores: a compilation

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The year was 1512. A Portuguese expedition was rounding the eastern cape of a distant Indonesian isle in search of spices and sandalwood, when its sailors sighted a blazing display of Royal Poinciana marching up the slopes in full bloom. The fiery red blossoms so impressed the visiting explorers that they gave the mysterious island a new name. From that day on, it would be known as Cabo das Flores, ‘Cape of Flowers’. Read more

Fire and passion at Uluwatu

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The brand new toll road rose over the middle of Benoa Bay, passing mangrove swamps, a lonely spirit house in the tidal flats, and the airport runway at Ngurah Rai. It deposited our guide Bli Komang, Bama and I onto the top end of the Bukit Peninsula, where a traffic-snarled road lined with billboards would ultimately lead to the temple of Uluwatu. Read more

A temple trio: Besakih and beyond

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As we trundled down a busy artery towards Sanur, a mellow beach town in southern Bali, I grasped at the scant words I knew flowing back and forth between Bama and Bli Komang.

“Before becoming a driver, he used to be a sculptor,” Bama relayed. We soon learned that Bli Komang hailed from a village of stone carvers, and that the Balinese love of art – such an integral part of their culture – was instilled in him from an early age. According to Bli Komang, all Balinese students had to choose from four kinds of traditional arts: dance, painting, decorative sculpture, and carving statues. Read more