FLORES ISLAND INFORMATION
Flores is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands, an island arc with an estimated area of 14,300 km² extending east from the Java island of Indonesia. The population is estimated to be around 1.5 million , and the largest town is Maumere.
Flores is located east of Sumbawa and Komodo and west of Lembata and the Alor Archipelago. To the southeast is Timor. To the south, across the Sumba strait, is Sumba and to the north, beyond the Flores Sea, is Sulawesi.
Flores (flôr’es) island, 6,627 sq mi (17,164 sq km), E Indonesia, one of the Lesser Sunda Islands. Flores is heavily wooded, rugged, and mountainous, rising to 7,872 ft (2,399 m). The inhabitants are predominantly Christian, mainly Roman Catholic; those in the west are chiefly Malayans, and those in the east are Papuans. Corn and coconuts are grown. Ende (1990 pop. 48,966) is the chief town and port. The Flores Sea is north of the island and South of Sulawesi.
Among the prehistoric inhabitants of the island were small-proportioned humans that some scientists consider a separate human species, which they classified as Homo floresiensis in 2004; the individuals lived on Flores as recently as 13,000 years ago. Other scientists, however, believe that the ancient remains that have been found on Flores are those of microcephalic modern humans who also suffered from dwarfism. Much later under the rule of the princes of Sulawesi, Flores came under Dutch influence c.1618. The Dutch gradually gained control of the island, although Portugal held the eastern end until 1851 and the natives were not completely subjugated until 1907.
There are many languages spoken on the island of Flores, all of them belonging to the Austronesian family. In the centre of the island in the districts of Ngada and Ende there is what is variously called the Central Flores Dialect Chain or the Central Flores Linkage. Within this area there are slight linguistic differences in almost every village. At least six separate languages are identifiable. These are from west to east: Ngadha, Nage, Keo, Ende, Lio and Palu’e, which is spoken on the island with the same name of the north coast of Flores. Locals would probably also add So’a and Bajawa to this list, which anthropologists have labeled dialects of Ngadha.
Portuguese traders and missionaries came to Flores in the 16th century, mainly to Larantuka and Sikka. Their influence is still discernible in Sikka’s language and culture.
Flores is almost entirely Catholic and represents one of the “religious borders” created by the Catholic expansion in the Pacific and the spread of Islam from the west across Indonesia. In other places in Indonesia, such as in the Malukus and Sulawesi, the divide is more rigid and has been the source of bloody sectarian clashes.
Things to see and to do
Labuanbajo is a fishing village in the west of Flores, with many beautiful islands in front of its coast. Labuanbajo is growing rapidly now that it’s become the main capital of a new district (Manggarai Barat). It is the main spot for tourists to spend a couple of days relaxing and exploring before going overland to Ende and Maumere. Labuanbajo’s beautiful sunsets are captured on many cameras! It’s easy to arrange tours and boat trips to the islands of Komodo and Rinca, where the famous Komodo Dragons can be seen. It’s a pleasant but very hot walk on Rinca and Komodo (bring enough water and a hat!), and both islands have their own vegetation and wildlife (deer, monkeys, water buffalos, different species of birds, etc).
There are several possibilities for diving in the waters of Komodo National Park. Day trips to the offshore islands, where you can relax, swim and snorkel, can also be arranged by hotels, guides and the little tour offices in town. ‘Batu Cermin’ (‘Mirror Cave’) with its stalagmites and stalactites just outside of town is another point of interest.
About an hour before Ruteng, but off the main road towards the south, is the village of Todo. It’s a traditional village where a traditional house can be seen. If you are lucky, the old village men will give you some explanation about the old Manggarai traditions.
Half an hour before Ruteng, near a pleasant village in a beautiful valley, you’ll find spider web-shaped rice fields. Their shape is related to traditions and the way the Manggarai people used to divide land among family members.
Ruteng is a bustling market town, nicely situated beside Flores’ highest mountain (Mount Ranaka) and its impressive mountain range. You can visit kampong Pu’u, a traditional village, or venture up Golo Curu, a hill to the north of Ruteng that boasts beautiful views of the surrounding hills, valleys and rice paddies. Manggarai is known for its traditional caci fighting, a ritual that is shown at ceremonies such as weddings and Indonesian Independence Day. But you have to be lucky to be in town on caci days, as the dates are often not known beforehand. To the north of Ruteng, on the way to Reo, is Pagal village. From this small but friendly village, you can go to other villages in the Cibal sub district to see local women weaving ‘ikat’ (traditional sarongs). It’s worth stopping at Ruteng’s market in the middle of town, where people from all over Manggarai gather to sell their goods and products. Another point of interest around Ruteng is the Liang Bua Cave, approximately one hour from Ruteng to the north-west. Here, anthropologists discovered skeletons of the Homo Floresiensis in September 2004. The cave is now open to visitors, and a local guide can explain the findings. But don’t expect to see much more than an average cave, as all signs of archaeological activities have been removed. The Homo Floresiensis may have existed until as recently as 11.000 BC, and they were about 1 meter tall. On the Ruteng-Bajawa route, you can also see a crater lake (Lake Ranamese), surrounded by forest.
About an hour before Bajawa you can discover how the local drink (arak) is made. People from all over Flores, mainly the men, drink this strong ‘palm wine’ (from the lontar palm) during traditional ceremonies, on special events but also just in the evenings when socialising with other men from the village. Arak can also be made from rice (rice wine). In this coastal village you can taste and buy your own Arak.
Bajawa is known for its beautiful scenery and traditional villages in the surrounding area. There are several mountains to climb, and it has some pleasant hiking trails. The impressive, cone-shaped Mount Inerie (2,230m) can be seen from the traditional villages of Bena and Luba. Their traditional houses and ceremony places in the village centre give the feeling that time has stood still for centuries. Local woman weave the traditional ‘ikat’ with Ngada patterns. Local guides can explain local customs, traditions and beliefs. Besides hiking and visiting villages, it’s also nice to enjoy a relaxing ‘mandi’ (swim) in the hot spring near So’a, north of Bajawa, or make a trip to lake Wawo Muda (the three red lakes that arose after the volcano’s eruption in 2001).
RIUNG & 17 ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE
Riung is a small fishing village on the north coast of Ngada district, which gives access to the 17 Islands Marine Park. Some of the islands have beautifully white, sandy beaches, and offer great snorkelling with good reefs and interesting sea life. Boats can be arranged from every hotel in town, and there are several dive masters in Riung to take you on interesting dives. If snorkelling or diving is not your thing, fishing and swimming in the crystal-clear waters is another option. A visit to Flying Fox Island gives you the opportunity to see these animals as they fly when the sun sets. Another attraction further along Riung’s coast are the giant lizards, although it is quite rare to actually see one. These lizards are more brightly coloured than the Komodo Dragons.
The road from Bajawa to Ende brings you from high mountains to a rough coast. An hour before Ende, near Penggajawa, there is an interesting beach that consists of only blue-coloured stones. The stones, with several shades of blue, also appear in the walls of the nearby hills along the coastline. Many different stories circulate as to why this stretch of beach has these special stones. Locals work long days to match and sort out stones in different shapes and sizes. The stones are then exported to Java and Bali for decoration, but also to other countries in East Asia.
MONI AND KELIMUTU COLOR LAKES
Moni village is visited by almost every tourist who comes to Flores, as it’s the main starting point for trips to the famous ‘Kelimutu’ Crater Lakes. The three lakes are set in deep craters at an altitude of 1,600m, and are near the summit of Kelimutu Volcano. These lakes tend to change colour, and there are some interesting stories as to the causes of this. From local beliefs and mysterious stories, to a scientific explanation about minerals and gasses, every person has their own story. The lakes have changed from light turquoise, olive green and black, to blue/green, brown and black. You need to get up early in the morning to see the spectacular views of the lakes, as the sun sets higher and higher in the sky. From Moni it’s an hour up the mountain by car or bemo, then another 30-minute walk to the rims of the crater lakes. You can either walk back from Kelimutu to Moni, or have the driver wait for you at the parking spot to bring you back to Moni. Moni has some enjoyable hiking trails, so for travellers who have a bit more time it’s a relaxing place to stay a few days longer. There is also a Hot Spring near Moni, where locals also go for a relaxing ‘mandi’.
On the road from Moni further towards Maumere, you will pass the village of Paga, where it’s nice to take a break for a few hours, have lunch and enjoy views of the rough coastline.
Maumere is Flores’ biggest town. Together with Labuanbajo, it is the main entrance or exit port. The most interesting spots are out of town. In Nita and Watublapi you can see local women weaving Sikka ‘ikat’. In some villages, on request, the people also dress up in their traditional clothing and you can enjoy local dances and music. Outside Maumere, there are luxurious resorts, and about 20km out of town to the east of Maumere, near Ahuwair and Wodong Beach, there are lovely bungalows on the beach from where you can arrange snorkelling/diving and trips to the neighbouring islands. Here you can also hire a guide to take you to the crater of Mount Egon. It’s a beautiful volcano that was active in 2004, spitting ash over nearby villages and Maumere.
In Larantuka, the Portuguese influence is still visible in architecture, and in its Portuguese-style Catholicism in cathedrals and chapels. On Good Friday a statue of the Virgin Mary is carried in a long procession, passing all chapels in town. Easter weekend is when people from all over Flores go to Larantuka to join this procession, and it’s probably the most interesting time for foreigners to visit Larantuka. It lies around the base of a high volcano, and is the main port to go to the islands of Lembata, Solor, Adonara and Alor. These islands are well known for their fine ‘ikat’, and on Lembata there is a fishing village where whale hunting takes place using small boats (Lamalera, May-October). The villagers qualify as subsistence whalers, and are therefore exempt from international bans on whaling.