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Across Flores: a compilation

Flores_1

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’.

*        *        *

As the propeller plane banked low over the shimmering waters of the Maumere Gulf, a ruggedly beautiful mountain ridge came into view. It culminated in an ashen grey summit, but much of it was tinged golden-brown in the low evening sun, shadows tracing the deep gullies carved into the rock. Below the ridge another scene emerged: clusters of stilt houses, idle fishing boats and a sweeping black sand beach backed by a host of drooping coconut palms.

I wondered where Maumere was. With 75,000 residents this was the largest town on Flores, and I assumed it was partially hidden under the spreading canopy of green. But we would later learn that Maumere had been right beneath us as our plane approached the asphalt runway. For Flores’ largest settlement is literally called ‘Big Beach’.

The people of eastern Flores named their native homeland Nusa Nipa, ‘snake island’, thanks to its irregular, elongated shape punctuated by wide bays and rocky inlets. But the snake is also a fitting metaphor for the road which traverses the entire length of the island.

First opened in 1925, the Trans-Flores Highway winds and coils for almost 700km from end to end, alternating between the mountains and the coast, threading past ancient villages, iridescent rice terraces and mist-shrouded jungle. Bama and I had come to travel the 532km between Maumere and Labuan Bajo, with our local guide and driver Dino Lopez.

For five days we drove through the mountainous interior dotted with 14 volcanoes, among them the dormant, near-perfect pointed cone of Inerie, and Kelimutu with its trio of crater lakes.

Along the way we partook of Flores’ agricultural riches. I cannot forget how it was to breathe in the intensely fragrant smell of cacao drying on mats by the roadside, to taste the island’s luscious white and red rice (according to Bama, softer and more succulent than rice in either Java or Bali), or savouring the flavours of a double espresso made from locally grown beans.

The fertile volcanic soils support rice, maize, cassava, mango, papaya, five kinds of banana, macadamia and chilli – everything, Dino told us, except for apple. European traders introduced cacao from Mexico by way of the Philippines; vanilla was transplanted from the islands of the Western Indian Ocean; and the Portuguese brought cashew from Brazil while the Dutch introduced coffee cultivation.

I cannot begin to describe the raw beauty of the landscape or the ethnic and cultural diversity of Flores, with five languages encompassing over 60 dialects spoken across a population of just two million. Perhaps these photos – and the coming series of posts – will paint a better picture of our journey through the wondrous ‘island of flowers’.

Mist at Kelimutu

Mist at Kelimutu

The village church at Moni, seen from our guesthouse

The village church at Moni, seen from our guesthouse

Rice terraces en route to Ende

Rice terraces between Moni and Ende

Macadamia on the branch

Macadamia ripening on the branch

Marking the completion of the Trans-Flores Highway

A marker for the opening of the Trans-Flores Highway

At the blue pebble beach of Nanga Panda

At the blue pebble beach of Nangapanda, near Ende

Many of the stones are collected and exported to Japan

Many of its stones are collected and exported to Japan

Mount Inerie, south of Bajawa

The black sand beach at Aimere

The black sand beach at Aimere

Sun and mist at Rana Mese crater lake

Sun and mist at Rana Mese crater lake

The undulating landscape near Rana Mese

The undulating landscape near Rana Mese

A local church above the fields

A local church above the fields

After the harvest

After the harvest

Coffee beans laid out to dry

Coffee beans laid out to dry

Live chickens tied to the back of a bus

Chicken express

The Trans-Flores Highway between Ruteng and Labuan Bajo

The Trans-Flores Highway between Ruteng and Labuan Bajo

In the shade of a cashew tree

In the shade of a cashew tree

36 Comments Post a comment
  1. You know how I always wanted to go to Flores since two or three years ago, but kept postponing it, until last week. It was beyond my expectation. The island was so fertile, lush, mountainous, and a lot less touristy compared to Bali or even Lombok. The first time I had rice in Flores I knew it was better and more succulent than what I usually had in Jakarta. But I had to make sure that it was not just a coincidence. The quality of rice was consistently better than the rice from Java and Bali, no matter in which part of the island we had it. Flores will surely be a trip we will remember for a long time. Nice captures of the island’s beauty, James!

    July 2, 2014
    • Yes, I have to admit that after Flores, Bali will never be the same again. The island was so achingly beautiful I fell in love with it at first sight. Next time we’ll have to go east from Maumere to Larantuka. Thanks again for asking me to come along on this trip, it was truly one of the best I’ve ever had!

      July 2, 2014
  2. Great post, with great pics. Your first pic is incredible, looks like a cloud forest at Kinabalu or something. Anyway, nice to see a Flores post that doesn’t really focus on dragons or diving! Good job! 🙂

    July 2, 2014
    • Thanks for that, Lee. 🙂 Dragons and diving aside, Flores is a fascinating and awe-inspiring island. I could easily have spent a few more days there!

      July 2, 2014
  3. Truly beautiful writing. Cannot wait to read the series about a part of Latin American none of us has never seen.

    July 3, 2014
    • NOT LATIN AMERICA! SORRY! I had the steppes of Peru in mind when I saw that last picture. Asia. Haven’t been to that part of Asia either, though…so the sentiment remains the same even if my geography was off by a few thousand miles.

      July 3, 2014
      • No worries! It was partially my fault as I got a little carried away and neglected to mention Indonesia in the writing… I’ve added one now in the introduction. Sorry about the confusion!

        July 3, 2014
      • It’s OK. It’s my fault as well. The Spanish-language influence in local names there and in the Philippines is a lingering influence of another age. Everyone remembers the French and the US, and the centuries-old role of China in the region is very much in vogue. But Spain was once a big player there back in the day. Looking forward to your next posts.

        July 3, 2014
      • Actually it was the Portuguese who won the European race to the Spice Islands – so while the Spanish controlled the Philippines, their close rivals had a lot of influence in what was to become Indonesia. There was even a time when Portuguese and Malay were the languages of trade throughout the islands.

        July 4, 2014
      • Wow. So interesting. Thanks for the additional detail. Did you know that linguistically Portuguese and Spanish originally were the same language? Looking forward to your next posts.

        July 4, 2014
  4. You gave me another perspectif of Flores, Thanks for the pretty pictures..

    July 3, 2014
    • You’re welcome… there’s still plenty more to come!

      July 3, 2014
  5. Thank you James for this enticing introduction to Flores. We are thinking of exploring more of Indonesia early next year so I think I just became a little more convinced to do so.
    Alison

    July 4, 2014
    • My pleasure, Alison. I know you and Don would love Flores as much as we did – if you do go we highly recommend the guide/driver who took us around. His website can be found here: http://www.flores-overland-online.com.
      James

      July 4, 2014
      • Thanks for the connection
        A

        July 4, 2014
      • With photography skills like that you need to get to Sumatra!

        July 4, 2014
      • Wow, thanks! That will be happening sometime next year – I can’t wait to explore Lake Toba, Samosir and the region around Bukittinggi.

        July 5, 2014
      • Toba is great! Beautiful fresh water and cool mountain air. It’s the only spot in Indonesia where a jacket was required!

        July 5, 2014
  6. is amazing

    July 4, 2014
  7. Beautiful! Adding this to my wish list!

    July 5, 2014
    • Yes, Flores is absolutely gorgeous!

      July 5, 2014
  8. Volcanoes, rice terraces, beaches and mist shrouded mountain roads all rolled into one gorgeous package! What a stunning landscape James! That volcano could give Fujisan a run for its money! I can understand why you think Bali will never feel the same again. You just bumped up Indonesia on my bucket list 🙂

    July 10, 2014
    • Flores went far and beyond my wildest expectations – I think you and R would love the overland trip, those years in the Nilgiris would have you both accustomed to the endless twists and turns of the road (what were the Dutch thinking?). I agree about Mt. Inerie, even if Fujisan dwarfs it in height, that volcano has to be one of the most photogenic I’ve ever seen on my travels. 🙂

      Bama tells me my disappointment in Bali had a lot to do with the timing – it was peak season after all. When we went last December the island was nowhere near as crowded!

      July 10, 2014
  9. Stunning photographs! I enjoyed your blog. We are heading to Flores in a couple of days and I can’t wait!

    August 10, 2014
    • Thanks! I hope you love Flores as much as I did!

      August 10, 2014
  10. Ari Vanuaranu #

    James, you write really well. You’ve got this poor Borneo boy feeling antsier and antsier about visiting East Nusa Tenggara. As most Indonesians, I don’t have the luxury of traveling around our vast archipelago and I feel really jealous that a foreigner like you have been to more places in Indonesia. But thank you for loving our country and sharing your stories for the whole world to see!

    August 28, 2014
    • Makasih banyak for the kind words, Ari. I would say travelling is less of a luxury now with so many low-cost carriers like AirAsia and Lion Air, and it is possible to travel through the islands on a shoestring.

      Truth be told, I have really only been to a small handful of places around your beautiful country; every time I go I realise how much more there is to see and experience.

      I’m drawn by the combination of steaming volcanoes, rainforests, beaches and coral reefs, ancient sites, a rich mosaic of cultures and cuisines, not to mention the friendliness of the people (it is my personal belief that Indonesians have the most beautiful smiles)… in short, Indonesia has everything I could ever want in a travel destination. And maybe if things go to plan, suatu hari saya akan tinggal disana!

      August 28, 2014
  11. wow, is amazing. i like it

    September 2, 2015
  12. So I’m really eager to discover Indonesia and kelimiti looks amazing, it was one of the first things that inspired me to go to Indonesia
    I am planning a trip in October from the 15 october to 1 November. I would have 14 days on the ground. I’m not interested in Bali but I think borobudur, hiking a mountain (would love to do rinjani but not sure about time ), see dragons and get a chance to snorkel. From what I have read, it seems this is not really a realistic itinerary and I should just focus on one island. I was thinking of doing java so at least I can see kawah ijen and bromo and supposedly there is some snorkeling and surfing there. What do you think is possible ? I would prefer not to spend too much money on internal flight but a little is ok. Also it’s much cheaper for me to fly in and out of Jakarta. I was thinking may be from there I could just take a plane directly to yogyakarta to save some time. I saw your post about Jakarta but since I already live in a city im more interested in nature. I’ve also thought about doing a tour so at least I have some friends and the logistics are taken care of but it seems very expensive and I’m used to being an independent traveler.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide! Very much looking forward to discovering your beloved Indonesia !

    August 16, 2016
    • Travelling independently is easiest in Java and Bali as the tourism infrastructure is generally in better shape compared to other parts of the country. However since you are planning a trip from mid-October to early November, climbing any big mountains (Rinjani for example) is not a great idea as that time generally coincides with the start of rainy season on the main islands. That said, it’s hard to know for certain as the weather is unpredictable these days. Right now we should be right in the middle of dry season but the rains have kept on coming (it may well be La Niña). I should also add that Bromo and Rinjani have been very active recently in terms of volcanic eruptions, though they might be quiet by the time you come.

      There is some surfing in Java, but you’d have to be very experienced if you want to tackle G-Land in the island’s far east! As for the snorkeling, I highly recommend Komodo (an easy choice over Java), particularly if you can stay overnight on a boat. The thing about travelling to Flores is that you cannot really avoid Bali, as it is a hub for flights to the southeastern islands. And because Flores is far less developed than Java, everything from food to transport to tours will automatically be more expensive. That said, don’t be dissuaded from going because it is full of natural wonders – Kelimutu and Komodo being the two prime examples.

      It is entirely possible to visit both Java and Flores in two weeks, though you would have to take internal flights to make that happen. You might want to check out ticket prices on Citilink and Lion Air/Wings Air because those are the main budget carriers in Indonesia. Indonesia AirAsia also flies between Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bali so that’s another option. Even for air tickets, your money goes a lot further in Indonesia compared to Europe and North America.

      August 19, 2016
      • Thanks so much ! Also im currently living and working in Paris but I’m contemplating my next adventure and I thought indonesia might be a cool place. Very excited to follow your adventures !

        August 20, 2016
      • You’re welcome! I hope you do make the trip at some point!

        August 20, 2016
      • Another question – id love to fly directly from Jakarta to yogyakarta when I arrive but I’m nervous to schedule an internal flight or train ticket since who knows what could happen during my first flight into Jakarta. Do you think it’s problematic to book the flight or train ticket the day of? Also same for flight to get back from flores to Jakarta

        August 22, 2016
      • Booking the flight or train ticket the day of will be far more stressful than doing it in advance. Depending on the route and timing, flights may even be full – those that aren’t will be prohibitively expensive. If you don’t feel comfortable with a layover in Jakarta you could always stay overnight at a place near the airport, which is always a good idea after flying long-haul.

        August 23, 2016
      • i’m leaning towards just traveling across java, it seems there is plenty to do and the infrastructure is easier to navigate than the more remote islands. another time i will have to come back!

        August 24, 2016

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