Flores

Scooting around Flores.

Scooting around Flores.

After a few days snorkeling on Semaya Island, we decided to push on to our next venue.

Our friends from Ubud mentioned that they were considering a trans-Flores trip, slowly moving eastward across the island, sightseeing along the way. They were planning to drive across the island on a motorbike, an ambitious plan, verging on insanity except for the fact that Wayan is an expert biker and they were traveling with minimal luggage. With our enormous backpacks in tow, we were relegated to more pedestrian means of transportation, namely, the public bus or ‘bemo,’ as it’s known throughout Indonesia.

Long hours were logged in these colorful 'bemos.'

Long hours were logged in these colorful ‘bemos.’

These are usually older model vans, colorfully decorated and packed to the gills with passengers of all sorts, old and young, men and women, families with peeing-vomiting-crying babies, and men swilling palm liquor out of plastic gas canisters as the sun sets.  Even the cargo was entertaining: nervous chickens tied up by their ankles blinking quietly at someone’s feet, and a tied-up hairy black hog tossed atop the van along with random pieces of battered luggage.

Hanging out with some local kids in the hot springs.

Hanging out with some local kids in the hot springs.

The people we met on these long, hot journeys were without fail incredibly kind, considerate, and politely curious.  We also made huge improvements with our Bahasa Indonesia, mostly through eavesdropping on our friends from Ubud (one of whom is from Bali, and another has lived on Bali for 3 years and speaks impeccable Bahasa), but also just chatting with our seatmates on the long bus rides.

The conversations took a familiar pattern beginning with ‘Good morning, how are you? Have you eaten? Yes, of course. Oh good.’ Etc etc etc. The conversations were delightful and charming in their regularity, but also in the constant expression of genuine interest.

Beautiful crater lakes at Kelimutu

Beautiful crater lakes at Kelimutu

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The sites across Flores skewed toward outdoorsy things – hot springs, hiking up volcanoes, snorkeling, visiting a local village for a traditional animal sacrifice (you won’t see the graphic photos here, but it was an education for both Zev and me in how livestock is raised and butchered in village communities). Overall, Flores is a land of tremendous natural beauty, and unspoiled hospitality.

An animal sacrifice ceremony at a local village near Bajawa.

An animal sacrifice ceremony at a local village near Bajawa.

Mixing up blood lawar for the special feast.

Mixing up blood lawar for the special feast. The fresh blood is mixed with salt, spices

Cooking up a stew near Bajawa. The men grilled and boiled the meat in huge oil drums.

Cooking up a stew near Bajawa. The men grilled and boiled the meat in these huge oil drums.

All of the ladies were involved in steaming the rice.

The ladies from the village steamed vats of rice to feed hundreds of people from nearby villages.

'Ma'af habis' means 'sorry, we've run out.' It became a catchphrase of sorts for Flores. Every restaurant, gas station, scooter rental, hotel was 'ma'af habis.'

‘Ma’af habis’ means ‘sorry, we’ve run out.’ It became a catchphrase of sorts for Flores. We visited Flores in the peak of the high season, and were greeted with this message at many a restaurant, gas station, scooter rental, and hotel.

A few things were constants throughout our trans-Flores journey.

1.The people of Flores were some of the friendliest we have met anywhere, children on the side of the road would shout ‘hello Mister!’ at the top of their lungs or race out to try to give you a high five, desperate to get a reaction from the funny looking foreigners.

2. The landscape of across Flores was breathtaking. Each new region was completely different, from hillsides with tall stands of bamboo, to winding seaside highways with sweeping views of the turquoise sea and misty volcanoes beyond. The sunsets were so incredible, it felt like nature was trying to show off each evening. It is difficult to express in words the variety of unexpectedly beautiful landscapes on the island.

3. The hotels on Flores were terrible. Oh man, so bad. Zev and I don’t mind staying in crummy rooms, as evidenced by our rat’s nest of a beach shack in the previous post, but Flores took it to a whole new level.

4. The food was pretty subpar. Ok, more than subpar. It was on the same level as the hotels. MSG-flavored fried rice for every meal (don’t think MSG is a flavor unto itself, think again my friend)? Check. Said fried rice takes 2 hours to arrive? You bet. A few times we nearly went hungry because every ‘restaurant’ in town shuts down by 7:30pm.

Sapodilla fruit.

Sapodilla fruit.

Despite my expression, this was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Grilled mackerel with sour and spicy fish soup.

Despite my expression, this was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Grilled mackerel with sour and spicy fish soup.

So all-in-all Flores was hit and miss. At the end of 3 weeks trekking across the vast island, I was so ready to see a big city. But we also felt like we had expanded our understanding of Indonesia and come to appreciate the hospitality of a place that is just beginning to come to grips with tourism. Living in the shadow of Bali, Flores has a pretty nifty tourism campaign underway and it seems to be drawing the crowds they hoped for, but perhaps the infrastructure of the island wasn’t quite ready for so many demanding tourists.

A friendly local pup, more interested in my food scraps than my camera.

A friendly local pup, more interested in my food scraps than my camera.

We discovered our own secret beach.

We discovered our own secret beach.

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A dusty market in Moni, Flores.

A dusty market in Ruteng, Flores.

Our next stop brought us directly to the big city. We headed to the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur and back to LaZat Cooking Class to learn more about the Malaysian food we are so crazy about. We can’t wait to share a few recipes and photos with you guys! Here’s a sneak peek:

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Underwater Komodo

The snorkeling and diving around the Komodo islands was breathtaking, so I thought it deserved its own post/ photo exposition. Zev is far and away the superior underwater photographer, so most of these photos can be credited to his amazing breath-holding and underwater photography abilities.

After snorkeling a few sites on our trip with Mackenzie, we knew we couldn’t leave without doing at least some scuba diving. Unfortunately the budget was tight, so we settled for a day trip, three dives total. Given all of the hype surrounding diving in the Komodos, we were a little nervous to put all our eggs in one basket. What if one of us had to scratch a dive? What if we didn’t see what we hoped for? In the end, we agreed to relax and just go with the flow. We opted not to go looking for Mantas (we had come up ‘kosong‘ or empty on Manta dives many times before, and while it’s always thrilling to see the giant rays, the dive sites where they hang out can be deadly boring if they don’t make an appearance).

We were not disappointed by our one day of diving. The sites were challenging and incredibly rich with sea life. Some of the sites we visited are known for strong and variable currents, but we were surprised to find that our experience diving with currents off of Nusa Penida in Bali had adequately prepared us and we both felt fairly comfortable in the fast waters. During our dives we saw white and black tip sharks circling bright healthy reefs teeming with large schools of fish. The snorkeling alone made the Komodo islands one of our highlights of SE Asia, and the diving was really the icing on the cake.

Clown fish at Semaya Island. Snorkeling.

Clown fish family at Semaya Island, snorkeling.

Tiny nudibranch off Semaya Island. Snorkeling.

Tiny tiny nudibranch at Semaya Island, snorkeling. (Photo credit to EQ, finally a decent snorkeling shot!)

A giant pufferfish, snorkeling at Semaya Island.

A giant pufferfish, snorkeling at Semaya Island.

Can you spot the devil scorpion fish? Snorkeling, Angel Beach.

Can you spot the devil scorpion fish? Snorkeling, Angel Beach.

Crystal blue waters. At Cauldron, Komodo.

Crystal blue waters. A site called Cauldron/Shotgun, Komodo.

Giant trevally in the background. Snorkeling at Batubolong.

Giant trevally in the background. Snorkeling at Batubolong.

 

Cool looking box fish at Batubolong.

Cool looking box fish at Batubolong.

Snorkeling cousins, Zev and Mackenzie! At Batubolong.

Snorkeling cousins, Zev and Mackenzie! At Batubolong.

 

Mackenzie and her fellow researchers.

Mackenzie and her fellow researchers. Batubolong.

Snorkeling at Pink Sand Beach.

Snorkeling at Pink Sand Beach.

Blue spotted stingray, Pink Sand Beach.

Blue spotted stingray, Pink Sand Beach.

Diving Castle Rock.

Diving Castle Rock.

 

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A very pregnant shark at Castle rock.

A very pregnant shark at Castle rock.

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More sharks at Castle Rock!

More sharks at Castle Rock!

Schooling fish at Castle Rock, one of the most famous dive sites.

Schooling fish at Castle Rock, one of the most famous dive sites.

Sea turtle, diving at Tatawa Kecil.

Sea turtle, diving at Tatawa Kecil.

 

Another stunning sunset after a full day of diving.

Another stunning sunset off Flores.

Celebrating Galungan in Bali, Snorkeling in Padang Bai

Last week was Galungan, an important holiday in Bali celebrating the victory of good (dharma) over evil (adharma). We went to a friend’s family home for the celebration. His family played dress-up with us to excellent effect.

Apparently my hair needed some intervention.

Apparently my hair needed some intervention.

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We tried durian for the first time. It was, um, interesting.

We tried durian for the first time. It was, um, interesting.

After making offerings.

After making offerings.

 

After making the rounds to the village temples and making offerings of incense and flowers, we headed to White Sand Beach for a swim and a long nap. 😀

A surreal full moon rising over White Sand Beach, Candidasa.

A surreal full moon rising over White Sand Beach, Candidasa.

A few days later, we headed to Blue Lagoon at Padang Bai, one of our favorite snorkeling spots. We found the same group of gregarious clownfish from our previous snorkeling trip. This time I had my new underwater camera, a wonderful birthday gift from Zev. Admittedly, my photos are not great, but trying to photograph a flitting fish while holding your breath 4 meters beneath the surface and swimming against the current is challenging to say the least.

This is the second time I've found this adorable family of clown fish.

This is the second time I’ve found this adorable family of clown fish.

Zev got the best photograph of the day, the family of clown fish was practically mugging for the camera. His ability to dangle upside down over the reef while photographing the creatures left me green with envy.

 

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Another family of clown fish, these guys were in such a beautiful purple anemone.

Another family of clown fish, these guys were in such a beautiful purple anemone.

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Happy Galungan, Easter, Passover!