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August 23rd, 2011 | Asia

Kelimutu Volcano….

I awoke from the sleep of the dead with sunlight streaming through the window of my room at the Safari Hotel… I had slept for nine hours straight, something I had not had the luxury of for what felt like a very long time…

I think my body and brain had colluded sometime during the night, and agreed to short-circuit all the buttons that usually had me roaming about at 2.00am in the morning; dreaming; and then waking at the crack of dawn…!!

I had rubbed all my aching bits with Deep Heat the night before, and had hoped that the majority of them would have been satisfied with my attempt to ease their suffering…

I hobbled over to the window, nursing my right ankle, and feeling all of my 72 years…!! I drew back the makeshift curtains and peered out into the sunlit courtyard beyond… Not a soul was about, despite this being a Monday morning…I wondered if Cornelius had made a mistake with his choice of hotel for me the night before…!!

The Safari Hotel with its associated lurkers...!!

I stood counting the days to when the ferry at Larantuka was due to sail for Kupang. The last reliable information I had was that the ferry sailed at lunchtime on Thursday. It was a nine hour bus ride to Larantuka according to the guide-book, so that would take a day, meaning I had two spare days to hand…

I would spend one of them in Larantuka, ensuring that I was there well before the ferry sailed, and the other I would use today, to visit the Kelimutu Volcano, which lay sixty kilometres to the north of Ende, on the road to Larantuka… Although this meant covering the same stretch of road twice, I did not feel in the mood for a long hard day in the saddle after yesterdays exertions…!!

My Spanish and Belgium flags from the top left and right hand side, had been mysteriously lifted...!!

I went out to check on the Big Fella and stood taking in the damages while I sipped on a cup of “Ende Mud”, the coffee that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and a half inch of dregs in the bottom of the cup… I began noticing other little dents and nicks that I had overlooked the day before… My headlight protector plate was bent at an odd angle, and both panniers had been pushed in against their frames…

As had my Israeli flag from my Top Box...!!

It was then that I noticed a few of my flag stickers were missing…!! My Spanish and Belgium flags had been stripped off my left pannier, and some well meaning gentleman of what I can only assume to be Muslim persuasion, had seen fit to remove my Israel sticker from my top box…!!

I marched into reception wearing my “Thunder Face”, and gave the manager who had promised that my bike would be safe where it stood, an earful…!!

“Tell all your residents, and other assorted lurkers that pass through here, that if I see anybody lay as much as a finger on my bike, they will have to deal with more than what they bargained for…!! Do I make myself clear, my friend…??”…

“Yes, Boss…!!” he stammered, and then hurried out to shout to the security guard who was lounging against the gate post… The guard looked suitably chastised and in halting English explained that it must have happened during the night shift, and that he would deal with his colleague when he arrived later that evening to take over from him…

Half an hour later I was winding my sure-footed way up and over the first range of mountains to the north of Ende… The road hugged a deep ravine, before crossing a series of narrow bridges and then doubling back on itself on the far side of the same ravine…

Another stretch of road under repair, this one on the way to Moni... With a very deep ravine to my left, there was little margin for error...!!

High above us, the tops of the volcanoes that ring the town where shrouded in dark cloud, and I hoped that they were not covering the volcano I was on my way to see…

We reached a wide plateau just after a long series of road works which had reduced the road to a single pebble and sand-covered lane , and motored through a wide swath of rice paddy fields… Flores is one of the few islands where water buffaloes are still used to till the paddies before rice is planted, and small herds of them were tied to tree stumps and fence posts all along this section of the ride…

Entrance to Kelimutu National Park... The volcano lay 13 km away, up a twisting road littered with sharp bends...

Just before the town of Moni, a right hand fork in the road, leading up to Kelimutu National Park, took us along a 13 km stretch of very narrow and winding road, past small villages with their irrigated rice fields and up into the clouds that hung above the surrounding mountains…

I began wondering if the last hour of difficult riding would all be in vain, and that the clouds above me would obscure the multi-coloured lakes of Kelimutu that that along with Komodo Dragons, had been on my “must-see” list for Flores…

I arrived at the Rangers Station about halfway up the mountain and was happy to note that the light winds blowing up there were moving the clouds away at a pretty good clip…!! I paid the entrance fee and obligatory camera fee, hopped back on the Big Fella and rode on to the parking area about six kilometres further up the mountain…

The road became even narrower, cutting into the flanks of the mountain and passing through deeply shaded areas that his a number of potholes big enough to make us take them in 2nd gear with me standing up on the pegs…

Most tourists visit the volcano at either sunrise or sunset, and base themselves in Moni, where they have only a short distance to travel to get to Kelimutu… I was not prepared to ride these treacherous roads in the dark on my way back to Ende, and had chosen to see the volcano in full sunlight in mid-morning instead…

I left the Big Fella in the parking area at the base of a steep series of concrete steps that wound away into the distance above me, and began the half hour walk up to the volcano rim…

Set in plunging craters at the summit of this volcano, the three coloured lakes of Kelimutu are said to be the most spectacular sight in Nusa Tenggara, the region that encompasses the islands of Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba, and West Timor or Kupang… The lakes sit in the caldera formed by this active volcano, and amazingly, two of them periodically change colour, due to dissolving minerals in their depths…

Aerial photo taken a few years ago...

The smallest of the three lakes, set off to one side of the other two, remains black, or a very dark green depending on the light, while the other two constantly change colour… Over the past few years they have gone through changes from blue and maroon, to turquoise and green…

"Then I've come to the right place...!!"

Kelimutu is a sacred place in the annals of local history, and it is believed that the souls of the dead find their final resting place here…

Young people’s souls go to the warmth of the largest lake, Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai, usually turquoise in colour; the souls of the elderly end up in the lake closest to this, the cold and usually red or brown Tiwi Ata Mbupu; while the souls of the wicked are forever consigned to the dark depth of Tiwi Ata Polo, the black lake…

I arrived at the first viewpoint, a wide concrete strip perched on the edge of the Ata Mbupu and was stopped dead in my tracks by the grandeur that lay in the crater before me…

Until you actually set foot on the platform, there is nothing to see except for the moon-like landscape around you… Heat blasted rock and low shrub cover the area…

Nothing prepares you for the amazing contrast in colour from the drab grays and browns of the rock faces around you, to the turquoise of the lake nestled deep in the crater below…

Awesome first sighting of Tiwi Ata Mbupu...!!

Stairway to a heavenly view... All my trips up and down the Campuhan Steps in Ubud came to mind as I started up towards the top...!!

Far off above me and to the left, I heard voices drifting down from the highest viewpoint in the caldera… A series of concrete steps led off into the distance, a white strip against the red and brown landscape they wound through, all the way up to what is known as Inspiration Point, from where all three lakes are visible…

It took about fifteen minutes to climb up to the top of these steps, and with most of the clouds having drifted away, I made the climb in blazing sunshine, dripping with sweat by the time I reached the top…

My discomfort was immediately forgotten as I looked out over the view spread before me… The largest lake, Tiwu Nuwa Muri, with an area measuring over five hectares, lay in the deep depression directly ahead… It was the same turquoise hue as the Ata Mbupu, although its edges were tinged with yellow…

Directly behind me, from the far side of the stepped concrete structure that many other tourists were sitting on, I could see the third and smallest of the three lakes, Tiwu Ata Polo, home of the bitter and twisted…!!

It was encircled by steep cliffs…  A metal railing surrounds the viewpoint, complete with warning signs to those crazy enough to try and get a closer look or wander around on the loose scree and rocky areas that surround the lakes… A number of tourists have plunged to their deaths here at Kelimutu, their bodies never recovered…

Inspiration Point, Kelimutu Volcano... The souls of the young find their way into Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai...

Wicked souls.... In you go...!! The Black Lake of Tiwu Ata Polo...

I spent half an hour gazing out at the lakes, watching the sunlight play over the waters of the two turquoise lakes, shadows of cloud drift across them, changing the colours to darker hues and then lighter again as the clouds moved on…

The Legend of Kelimutu Volcano and its lakes...

And I was there...!!

The tourists spoke in hushed tones, awed by the sight surrounding us…

I listened as a guide explained about the lakes and their history, reminding them that we were sitting above an active volcano…

Far off over the rim of the volcano, I saw a few villages where smoke drifted up into the sky from fires they had lit…

Thick bush covered the slopes of other mountains and dormant volcanoes in the middle distance…

My eyes were drawn back to the lakes below, and I stared at them for the longest time, wondering if anything lived in them, how deep they were and what was taking place in their mysterious depths… The largest of them had been plumbed and found to be 127 metres deep…!!

Although the wind had picked up, the surface of the lake below me remained unruffled, its beauty unmarked by anything except the occasional cloud that scudded by overhead… This was a mystical place, not only for locals, but judging by the looks on the faces around me, for visitors too…

This mural of village life in Flores is embedded in the wall up at Inspiration Point...

I made ready for the descent, giving my aching right foot instructions to behave itself on the way down...

I watched as the tourists prepared to leave, gathering up their drinking bottles and packing away the lunch packets that the guide had handed to them earlier… Judging by the size of the group, I knew that they had come up here in the two mini-buses that I had parked next to…

I was determined not to get stuck behind them on the way down the mountain, as I knew they would be inching down the steep slopes and there would be little or no chance to overtake them…

More excitement, and another lucky break...!!

I packed away my camera and video and hurried on ahead of them, down the steep flight of stairs to the first viewpoint half a kilometre away, then along the overgrown path that led to the final set of steps down to the parking area…

When I got there, one of the bus drivers pointed to my rear tyre and jabbered away in a mixture of dialects that I had no way of understanding… He then knelt down next to the Big Fella and pointed at a two inch nail embedded in my rear tyre…

“Not good…!!”, he said…

“You think…??”, I replied, eyeing the puncture kit under the top-box… I saw that the nail had gone through the edge of the rubber, and believed that it had no punctured the tyre… I retrieved my Leatherman from my tank bag, and a few minutes later, we had yanked the nail out and covered the holes on each side with saliva to see if any air was escaping…

Grateful that all was well, I got back on the road just as the tourists were entering the parking area after their descent from Kelimutu…

Nestled in a valley on the slopes of Kelimutu, this village had recently flooded their fields in preparation for planting....

I stopped twice on the way back to Ende to make sure that my rear tyre was not deflating, and was relived to discover that the pressure had remained constant…

Roadside market on the way back to Ende... I stopped to buy a few Tangerines, and to check my rear tyre again...

Luck was still running with me…!!

As if further confirming the changes that had come over me in the past few months, I had come to see yesterday’s accident, as a “lucky” event, rather than a calamity…!! Considering that I had traveled almost 70 000 km on the Big Fella on this trip alone, and only fallen twice, I felt justified in believing that good fortune still surrounded me…

I knew of one long distance rider, a close friend of mine, that had fallen nine times in just one day…!! Granted, he was riding on awful gravel roads in Central Africa, but the fact remains, he went down rather often…!!

I also felt that good fortune could not be held responsible for my own stupidity, as both my falls were due to “rider error”…!! In my case, conditions had been perfect when I made both my “unscheduled stops”…!!

Back at my hotel, I watched the video footage that I had shot of Kelimutu, as well as those of my on-board video cameras to and from the volcano…

Flame trees stand out against a cloudy sky...

The on-board footage featured a bike hooking into sharp corners, gearing down smoothly for those wicked hairpin bends and powering through short straights towards the next set of curves… Hardly the form of a rider that had come close to having a journey-ending accident the day before…!! I knew then that I had could face any challenges that might come my way in the future, and deal with them confidently… Confidence and ability, being two separate things entirely, of course…!!

And as for the Kelimutu footage…?? Well, once again I thanked my lucky stars for guiding me to this very special place, to experience something that was not found anywhere else on earth…!!

©GBWT 2011

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