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August 25th, 2011 | Asia

Larantuka at Last…

Apart from snow, I had now dealt with every riding condition that Flores had to throw at me...!!

Shorty after bidding Cornelius goodbye, a light rain began falling, making the going on the road to Maumere a little tricky… The water brought residues of oil and diesel to the surface, and feeling my rear tyre lose grip on a few of the tighter corners, I slowed down and rode cautiously through the drizzle until we got to Paga, where I refueled…

Flores and Kupang are renowned for their breed of miniature horses... They are a common sight, either carrying loads that seem far too heavy for them, or tied up to graze by the roadside.. I tried to park close to one of them to show that it was actually smaller than the bike, but the animal in question bolted, tearing the peg he was tethered to out of the ground, and heading for the distant hills before I had even dismounted...!!

The rain finally stopped, and the last section of twisting road to Maumere on the coast was dry… I stopped at a small hotel on the eastern edge of town, and had a light lunch before motoring on towards Larantuks, which was 140 km away…

For the most part, the road followed the coastline, and then turned north towards Talibura and Nebe, cutting through vast areas planted with maize and rice… At Nebe, we turned east and made a run for the first set of mountains we needed to cross to get to the eastern shores of Flores…

There was very little construction taking place along this section of the route and we made good time, climbing up and past a massive volcano with its accompanying halo of cloud…

At least I thought it was cloud, until I got closer and saw that it was actually smoking… Gunung Egon has long been off the “inactive list” of volcanoes, and was one of many I had seen on my rides in this region that were “bubbling under”…

These narrow metal bridges cross the larger rivers in Eastern Flores...

The slopes all around were thickly forested and with only the occasional passing bus or truck, I could afford to stop in the shade of a giant Ficus and enjoy the scenery around me… I watched birds chasing each other through the canopy above me, and at least half a dozen different species of butterfly, floating lazily from one flowering shrub to another…

I stopped to take a breather under this massive Ficus tree, which dwarfed the Big Fella......

I took a few deep breaths, knowing that the pressure of today’s ride was off me… I would reach my destination long before nightfall, and have plenty of time to find a place to sleep…

I reached the coast at a point where the island of Solar lies only a few kilometres from Flores, and turned north to follow the wide bay all the way to Larantuka, about half an hour’s ride away…

The island of Solor and a scattering of smaller islands lay before us as we came down from the last range of mountains...

Some of the best roads in Flores are to be found in this the least populated part of the island... Go Figure...!!

From a long way off, I could see the massive volcano of Gunung Ili Mandiri, which dominated the skyline above Larantuka… The volcano was the classic shape we all believe they should look like… Wide base, rising steeply to form a cone at its peak…

A large bank of clouds drifted around its upper heights, and although the clouds were constantly moved around the volcano by strong winds, they were never blown completely away… I was told that only on very rare occasions was there no cloud to be seen hovering above Mandiri…

Gunung Mandiri... A picture perfect example of a volcano...!!

Larantuka served as a base from which the Portuguese, controlled the export of Sandalwood from Timor in the 16th century… It formed a link in the long chain of the sea route back to Europe… Portugal controlled this area until the 1850’s, and their descendents, known as “Topasses”, still form a significant part of the Larantuka community today…

Boats in the bay, with Adonara Island in the background...

A short distance offshore, across a narrow strait, lie the Solar and Alor Archipelagos, where the Portuguese first settled… The islands of Alor and Pantar were until recently, wild and inaccessible to tourists., Up until the 1950’s, headhunting between the local tribes was still considered a favourable pastime…!!

One of the islands in the chain, Adonara, was also known as the “Island of Murderers”, due to an ongoing feud between two rival clans that lived on it… This feud is said to have lasted for hundreds of years…!!

The islands have now been developed and brought to heel by the government of the day, and adventure seeking tourists are slowly discovering their rugged beauty and the nowadays friendly locals, that no longer show any desire to relieve you of your head…!! The islands are littered with active volcanoes, some of which perpetually spew lava and ash from their cones…

I had reached Larantuka, bringing my ride on Flores Island to and a successful end...!!

As I rode into town, unsure of where exactly I wanted to stay, I saw a Police van parked near a large Catholic church, and stopped at the driver’s window to ask their advice…

“Follow us Senhor, we will take you to where many tourists stay…!!”

The most popular hotel in Larantuka...?? Really...??

I was led down a wide one way street that runs into town along the base of the volcano, and then doubles back on itself along the sea-front, heading back out of the town…

My room was a little too cluttered with furniture for my liking...!!

Close to the harbour and the busy main street, the van stopped and the driver jumped out to stop traffic so that I could enter the premises of Rulies Hotel… Seeing me being escorted by the Police, must have impressed the manager, as from that moment on, Abdul was always at hand to offer assistance and advice to me…!!

My room, the last available that night, was situated directly behind the reception office, and my door stood behind a discreetly drawn turquoise curtain… My initial reaction to my lodgings was one of mild shock… If this was where the tourists stayed, then I figured local visitors must have slept out in the yard…

My room looked like a storage space for any furniture that was deemed excess in the rest of the hotel…!! At least the shower worked, and after a quick shower, Abdul brought me a cup of coffee and we settled down to chat…

Under wraps at Rulies... After the sticker stealing that took place at Ende, I was taking no more chances...!!

Abdul, the ever helpful manager of Rulies Hotel...

His father had come to Flores from Tanzania, and although born into the Muslim faith, at some point in his life he had been converted to Catholicism… He had worked at Rulies since the age of sixteen, while still at school, and this was his twenty sixth year of service…!!

He knew everybody in town, and where to get anything I wanted… He made a few calls and told me that the ferry was no longer sailing to Kupang the following day, but was now due to sail on Friday instead…

This left me with a full day to spare in Larantuka, which I used to work on my website from the internet café across the road from the hotel…

Two Italian couples were staying in the rooms next to mine, and later that first evening, we walked down to the Rumah Makan Nirvana restaurant, that served Chinese and Indonesian meals, and was renowned for its fresh fish dishes…

While Sergio and Fabbiana tried the fish of the day, an unidentifiable specimen carried to the table in a large enamel bowl, Antonio, Gabriella and I settled for the Mie Goreng, a noodle and chicken dish that I figured we could not go wrong with…

We walked past these two kids doing their homework under a street light, on the sidewalk close to the restaurant...

At the night market nearby, this young man was taking the term "Flame-Grilled Chicken" to unprecedented new heights...!!

And for once, I was right…!! Not only was it probably the best I had enjoyed in South East Asia, but the portions they served were also large enough to make any thoughts of desert unnecessary…!!

The following day my Italian friends left Larantuka, bound for one of the more desolate islands, Lembata, that lay offshore… There they planned to do some hiking and visit the traditional whaling village of Lamalera…This is the last place on earth where whales are still hunted by hand…

Using wooden boats with sails made from palm leaves, and hand-held bamboo-shafted harpoons, the villagers put out to sea to hunt specifically for Sperm whales, whose population they will reduce by 20 to 25 in a good year…!! They will occasionally also harpoon Killer whales and Pilot whales, but will never touch any of the plankton eating whales that also inhabit these waters…

The villagers believe that their ancestors arrived on the island on the back of a Blue whale, and for this reason none of the baleen whales are hunted…

In 1993, two of the villager’s boats, or “tena” as they are known, harpooned a large Sperm whale, who dragged their boats for almost 200 kilometers to the shores of Timor. The whale then sank both boats and the crews were rescued by a passing cruise ship after having floated about for several days, clinging to the remaining pieces of the wreckage of their vessels…!!

My Italian Connections... Antonio, Gabriella, Fabiana and Sergio, off to tramp the hills of Lambata and visit the whalers of Lamalera...

With the Italians now gone, Abdul offered me one of their rooms and helped me move all my gear across… My new room opened onto a wide veranda that served as a racing track for the many roosters that wandered around the grounds of the hotel…

One of the objects of my intense dislike...!!

The largest one seemed to spend most of his waking moments chasing his more timid counterparts around… On my first morning at Rulies, I thought I had woken up in the middle of a chicken coop, so loud and strident was the crowing from the dozen odd roosters outside my room…!! My request for chicken soup for lunch was turned down by Abdul…

“Well what are we going to do with the bodies then…??” I asked…

“Er… Which bodies Senhor…??” he replied with a puzzled expression…

“The bodies of all the roosters I am going to kill today, to ensure restful sleep for the remainder of my stay here…!!”

Rulies breakfast: Banana Pancake and Black Coffee... Seven days a week, 365 days a year...!! Expect no less, get no more...!!

He was still chuckling to himself when he brought my breakfast, a banana pancake and a cup of black coffee…

“Is this it…??” I exclaimed… “Tomorrow morning I want fried chicken…!! I’ll bring you the chicken later…” I said, eye-ing the rooster that had just walked onto the patio…

The roosters became a standing joke between us, and each time Abdul saw me, he would give a loud “Cocka-doodle-dooo…!!” for my benefit…!!

There are two harbours in Larantuka (and an airport, believe it or not…!!) . The larger harbour is in the centre of town, and from here, the fishing boats go out to sea every day… It also from here that all the smaller boats that run shuttle services between the islands, leave from…

On days when there are no ferries sailing, the harbour is deserted...

Later that afternoon, I took a ride down to the smaller harbour, a few kilometres south of Larantuka, where the ferries to Kupang and Sumba Island, dock and depart from… The offices were all but deserted on a day when no ferries would be calling… I was told to come back the following morning at 10,00am to buy my ticket, after which I could board the ferry…

These schoolkids came running over to gawk at the Big Fella and I ...

The best Mie Goreng I have eaten in Indonesia...!! And hats off to the guy who came up with the idea of making a Coffee Soda...!! I am in your debt, sir...!!

"Move over Texas...!! There's a new sheriff in town...!!"

I went back into town, enjoyed another bowl of Mie Goreng at Nirvana, washed down with a Coffee Soda…!!

I had found the perfect meal at long last…!!

Back at Rulies, I met a German woman whose husband had gone to see the erupting volcano on a far off island… He would be gone for a few days and she did not seem too concerned that he and his friends were going to attempt to land on the island and spend a night there to take some “action pictures” of the lava being hurled from the volcano’s depths…

“I heard that the locals will not set foot on the island…” I told her…

“Yes, that is true,” she replied, “But with enough money being offered, they will allow the tourists to use their dingy to get to the island, and then wait offshore for them to return the following morning…!!”

I wished that I had not been on such a tight schedule, as that was one trip I would have loved to have gone on…!! I think…!!

While she went back to her reading, I went off to pack my gear in preparation for the following day…

©GBWT 2011

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