Cycling from Bali's Ngurah Rai airport to Mataram, the largest city on Lombok and West Nusa Tenggara's capital, was a great reintroduction to the equatorial region's suffocating heat and humidity. We had decided to take advantage of yet another non-extendable 60-day Indonesian tourist visa and explore more volcanoes of the bewitching Lesser Sunda islands. Timor excluded—owing to some «cyclovolcanic» discrimination!—, the furthest East we could reach onboard a PELNI ship was Lembata, the largest island in the Solor archipelago. So, from the port of Lembar, 25 kilometres south of Mataram, we hauled our bikes, all of our gear and ourselves onboard passenger vessel K.M. Awu to Lewoleba, Lembata's main hub, melting and decaying on a «klase ekonomi» berth during a four-night «cruise». Sharing the rarefied air of a badly ventilated hold with four or five dozen passengers was of great comfort to face our ship's stowaways: a gazillion of thumb-size cockroaches!
REPOUR originals Lewoleba looked a little muddy and desolate for a regency capital, a sign we had reached a remote region that many consider «forgotten» by the central government. Some say that the lack of mines and petrol as well as the dark skin and Christian faith of most of its inhabitants has set the province of Nusa Tenggara Timor low on Jakarta's priorities list. Islanders were hugely curious about our disembarking in their lush and torrid region with two loaded moutain bikes: -«Hello Misteeeerrrr! Mau ke mana?» -«We'll ride around the island to get good views on Ile Ape», we answered on countless occasions. Ile Ape is the 1450m-high smoldering volcano dominating central Lembata. Riding around Ile Ape peninsula on a medley of road conditions—potholed pavement, dirt, gravel, crushed coral and fist-size rocks—ebullience wasn't solely coming from the crater. Rarely had our passage in any part of Indonesia caused such a comotion. Troops of children sounded the «turis» alarm at every village, happy to run around our moving bikes and slap the rear panniers. Permission to set up camp inside the elementary school of a Christian village on a Saturday night was granted with genuine enthusiasm by the headmaster Mr. Alo. Soon after we had pitched our minimalist Hubba Hubba inside the classroom, children and mothers showed up with an improvised feast of fish «à la Lembata», fragranced with suave coconut milk and potent chilies; enriched with water spinach and rice! The next morning, parishioners were leaving mass when we set out on the rocky road. Young girls in frilly dresses, boys in immaculate white shirts, some men in shiny shoes and women wearing their best ikats, recognisable by its burgundy-coloured base and highly detailed patterning. Many had already offered us to buy one of those skillfully weaved cloth of homegrown, hand-spun cotton saturated with natural dyes, but we were just not prepared to add weight to our 100kg caravan-on-wheels at that point! Soon every pannier, dry-sealed bag, and two mountain bikes were loaded onto a small puffing wooden ferry to Larantuka, on Flores, skirting Adonara Island and its smoking Ile Boleng volcano along the way. We had read somewhere that «...the Trans-Flores, starting in Larantuka and ending 700 kilometres further in Labuanbajo winds, twists, ascends and descends amongst a dry landscape reminescent of an African Savanah...» While the road kept going from the Sea of Flores to the Sawu Sea, crossing over the backbone repeatedly, by the time we had gotten to Maumere, roughly a third of the way through the East-West elongated island, a full tropical storm was going overhead flooding whole regions of that nook of Indonesia and keeping everything lush and green. «Isn't the rainy season finished yet?», we enquired. «Oh no! This is hujan baru (new rain). The rainy season used to end in February, now it lasts till
June». In the last decade it has shifted by three months and the rural population whom was guided by traditional knowledge of their environment is now confused and worried, even frightened. When to plant the rice that feeds 250 million Indonesians three times a day? From Paga beach, on the island's South shore, up to Moni, the quiet stretch of pavement kept shooting for the sky before funneling into a chasm of steep valleys and jerking upwards again. A roadside village on a particularly steep section saw two pink lycra clad Canadians fishing buckets full of water from their well and emptying it over their heads with great sighs of relief. The village of Moni sits at 600m above sea level and is blessed with cool mountain air. Having found its commercial calling as volcano Kelimutu's base camp for tourists, it's filled with restaurants and losmens scattered along the steep main road. We check-in at Watugana Bungalow, reputed to serve some mean banana pancakes for breakfast, after dodging the assaults launched by different accomodation owners set to get our business. The number of visitors'
NESIA May 2008
Such a display of nature’s magical powers astonishes and the local Lio people believe it to be the departed souls’ resting place, a lake for each the young, the old and the evil ones.
dramatic drop since the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 accounts for the rather agressive behaviour and sure makes it harder to earn a living at the foot of Flores' most visited sight nowadays. Kelimutu's three colored lakes sit at 1600m, at the end of a 13km winding road. In the 1960s the crater lakes were red, white and blue. They have since changed colors a few times and sat light turquoise, olive green and black during our early morning visit. Such a display of nature's magical powers astonishes and the local Lio people believe it to be the departed souls' resting place, a lake for each the young, the old and the evil ones. The cold weather, light rain and fierce winds prompted our quick descent back to Moni for Chenty's Moni cakes (delicious local hashbrowns) and hot chocolate. Further up Flores Central Highlands, from Detusoko's paddy fields at 1000m to Ende, on the sunbaked crushed coral Savu Sea coast, it's an inebriating fall into an inferno. Air con is unavailable when we call in at a local travelling salesmen favorite den and we settle for a fan room and soon realize it to be a better choice as electricity is unavailable for huge parts of the day, anyways. By midnight I'm on my 6th mandi bath, dropping ladles upon ladles over my steaming carcass! Right on the equator, at latitude zero, temperatures are determined by altitude and we can't wait to get high again! Our wishes are granted in Boawae, Bajawa and Ruteng. Active volcanoes are also at the rendez-vous in each town. Ebulobo (2124m) is spewing thick gray smoke behind Boawae, Inierie's perfect cone (2245m) is towering over Bajawa's horizon and Ranaka's smoldering head (2140m) welcomes us into Ruteng, Manggarai's administrative center. In the countryside, the «Trans-Flores» metamorphoses itslef into a narrow track and slices though plantations of cassava, corn, coconut, and bananas; teems with goats, cows, dogs, water buffaloes, monkeys, and chickens. All perfect «cyclovolcanic» moments if it wasn't for a flat tire curse that is seriously toying with our mood... At the end of the hottest, steepest and ultimate section of the «Trans» sits Labuanbajo, the boat terminal for all of us humans wanting to visit the world's largest monitor lizards, better known as the Komodo dragons, surviving through the aeons on the islands of Rinca and, more famously, Komodo. Many Balinese have set up shop here and we'll break our nasi campur and beef rendang diet for some fresh snapper and squid on the grill, deliciously prepared with sweet chili sauce.
Following our course due West back to Bali, we embark on the morning ferry to Sape, Sumbawa Island's eastern road terminal, skirting and skipping Komodo as we proceed across a treacherous strait. Sape is known for its «Ben-Hurs», small wood carts pulled by even smaller horses, used as taxis and dearly nicknamed after the cart Charlton Heston rode in the 1959 classic movie! «Great for the environnement», we think, until a light rain makes all the «exhaust» lying on the tarmac ride up our moutain bike tires and splash our naked legs! The very active Sangeang Api volcano is an island sitting in the Flores Sea and we take the sawtooth road circling Sangeang Peninsula, the closest we can get to the mountain without a pedalo. African savannah starts to find its name here: surroundings are grassy indeed and there aren't many trees around while the sun is baking the pavement, our skin and will to live! Pearl farmers host us for the night and are horrified when, the next morning, we prepare our favorite tropical dynamite meal: rice, bananas and a can of sweet condensed milk stirred together with raisins. Bima, the largest city in Eastern Sumbawa, doesn't have a bed to spare as it is the host to a major soccer tournament. We press on to Dompu, following the main road around the bay of Bima amidst a mosaic of stinky shrimp farms and then inland through small villages
REPOUR originals centered around large mosques, overtaking many-hued «Ben-Hurs» crowded with resplendent jihab-clad schoolgirls along the way. While Flores was mostly Christian, Sumbawa is a staunch muslim island where many a sultanate prospered and flourished. Some, like the sultanate of Bima, still theoretically exist and are recognised as such by the Indonesian government while others totally vanished. It's the case for a once very influential sultanate reigning over most of Tambora peninsula which towns and villages hugged the volcano that bears the same name. Attracted by Gunung Tambora itself, arguably the author of the most powerful blast in history, we left Dompu and embarked on a bumpy ride to Calabai, right at the peninsula's northwestern tip and foot of the volcano. Discouraged by local guides to attempt the climb to the gigantic summit caldera—being rainy season here too, dark clouds were hanging «up there» permanently, the trail was destroyed by numerous landslides, and blood-thirsty leeches were striking in full force...thus they declined our request to show us the way!—, we stayed near sea level and were shown instead brand new excavations dug through metres of ash by a National Geographic-sponsored team of archeo-vulcanologists. They found there the first clues of the Tambora sultanate extent and the daily life of its subjects who got either buried or disintegrated by the explosive eruption that spewed more than 150 cubi kilometres of tephra on April 1815. All these particles travelling in our atmosphere for more than a year got in the sun's way, cooling global mean temperatures by few degrees...1816 is still remembered in Europe as the « year without summer »! With our volcanic mission accomplished and our time running out fast we loaded both Devinci's on the back of a dilapidated bus for a bone-rattling 24-hour ride back to Mataram, on Lombok. Bali was just a short ferry ride away and felt like another galaxy. Hawkers and flabby snowbirds mingled amongst the souvenir shops of Tuban, near he airport. Time to leave the country— again...—that smells like clove cigarettes, has the most volcanoes and is synonymous with friendliness. On the upper deck of a Japan Airlines 747 heading to Tokyo our breakfast was served: salmon, cold soba noodles, watery poridge, pickles and oolong tea. A calorie count was written on the small snack served later, every bits and pieces indiviually packaged had an «easy to open» system and manga characters drawn on them—chopsticks included. Smells like our next destination already...
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