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Taking In The Rays

Me at Mt. Kelimutu at night
Me at Mt. Kelimutu at night

There are times where you shouldn't hitchhike. One of those times is when you arrive at the tip of a peninsula where the main road on the island starts, the only things coming of the ferries are motorbikes and buses and the first town is two hours by car.

The port in Sumbawa was like many of the ones I'd been at in Indonesia with the exception that it was cleaner, dryer and there were less people hawking things. I walked past the first person that tried to sell me a bus ticket—I was more interested in finding someone selling ice cream, bananas or peanut butter; a list I put in order of most likely to least likely for me to find. I could see that I wasn't going to sate my craving so I figured I should get to my next destination as quick as possible in hopes that I might be able to eat something there.

A middle-aged man wearing an over-sized white sweatshirt bearing a Colorado brewpub logo on the back approached me. I hadn't fully explored the port yet and was still trying to size up my options so I kept walking. He walked along side me. I didn't look over at him but I talked in a peaceful voice inquiring about his offer. He could get me on a bus to the other side of the island where I could catch the next ferry to my final destination. After walking for a bit and seeing no other options I began to haggle on the price. He wasn't coming down, something I would later learn is common here in Flores. I eventually got 10% off and gave him my money. He said the next ferry would have a bus and that I could wait in the area to my left.

The building was bright but dirty, modern yet chaotic. Clearly the leftover of a grandiose bus terminal that was stillborn at birth. The first two doorways contained locked glass doors while the third contained nothing but air. I went inside. Scattered rows of slotted aluminum seats on a white tile floor drizzled with something that looked like an uncommon chocolate pudding. I watched as a ferry came into port.

Several buses got off the boat and left the harbor. Eventually there was nothing left. I went out and asked the guy what was up. "Sorry sorry, next one". I wasn't happy. I got my money back and started walking. I didn't know where I was going but my default in situations like this is to just walk in the direction I want to go until something works out. And it did.

As I got to the harbor gate I could see down the road and verify that there was nothing there. I was wearing my batik shirt, the same one I'd been wearing for the last week straight including my journey through the mountains, my batik handbag, and my large pack with cardboard signs strapped to the outside. It was clear from my appearance that I was lost. A guy working the front gate motioned for me to come over. He asked what I was looking for and I told him I where I wanted to go. He motioned for me to sit down on the bench next to his group.

There were several men working the gate, far more than there needed to be. I've found this to be common here in Indonesia. I don't know if it's a way of making more jobs or if they feel they really need that many people or they just feel bad making someone sit there alone. The man I spoke with wore a mulberry wool sweater, dirty dress pants and shoes, and sunglasses that boomed "I'm a cop". He was. The other men were all in uniform, except a guy that was just hanging around. There were two port cops, a federal agent, a coast guard and two officials I couldn't identify.

It's very uncommon to see anyone here in a uniform. The construction workers, traffic cops, bus drivers etc. are all wearing street cloths and are completely indistinguishable from people not working. The men at the gate would stop the occasional vehicle and collect a small amount of money. Sometimes they would thank the driver and sometimes the driver would thank them. Sometimes they wouldn't stop cars and sometimes they would stop but not pay. Most of their time was just spent shooting the shit, or whatever it was they were doing before I came along.

A few of them were interested in talking to me, and with a combination of their English and my Indonesian I gave them the usual wrap: I'm 25, single, have two siblings—one older brother and one younger—I'm from America(people here don't understand The United States, the US or any derivation therein), I've been in Indonesia for 1 month and I have one month left, I've been to Java, Bali and Lombok.

The man who wasn't in a uniform asked me the most questions and the most unusual questions. I think. He spoke very softly and with a stutter so it was often hard to hear him. Eventually I figured out that he was crazy and what he was saying didn't make sense anyway. "Nuh, nuh, n-n-nothingness" I furled my eyebrows: "Nothingness?" His silent eyes looked back for an answer. I smiled and looked nervous, unconsciously mimicking the man. In a forced stutter the cop told him to shut up. The man was just looking for someone to listen to him and the officers were happy to let me play that role until they eventually felt sorry for me. The man continued to try to speak to me so in an offering of peace a port cop rejoined the conversation.

We ran out of things to talk about so I inquired when the bus was coming. "Oh, not till " the port cop said. The coast guard quickly corrected "". The crazy man said "". The cop said "". It was only about at the time so I was resolved to be there for a couple hours at least. I took a frisbee out of my backpack. One of the men knew what it was and made a gesture as if to throw an imaginary disc. The crazy man walked across the street and I tossed it to him.

Much to my surprise he caught it. He threw it back and it quickly hit the asphalt. I fetched it and tossed him one again. He had observed my technique and made a much better throw this time. The local cop came out to join. Soon a new man arrived and wanted to play. I threw a forehand to the crazy guy and everyone was mystified. They all started gesturing how they thought I threw it. I wasn't trying to show off any more than an adult walking down the street shows off by stepping over a crack. The cop tried to throw like me and failed miserably. I walked over and showed him how to do it. The next attempt was much better. We continued to toss until everyone had had their fill.

The cop asked me if I wanted anything to drink—coffee or soda maybe, on him of course. I said no. He offered me tea and I acquiesced. He told the crazy guy to go fetch it. They all made fun of the crazy guy but I sensed something between him and the cop, like they were brothers. I think he worked at a local stand that the officials got free stuff from. He was their personal server.

After I finished my tea I noticed something I hadn't seen before: an old wooden chess set sitting on the bench between the port cop and the coast guard. I think it had been taken out when we were tossing. I motioned to it and asked the cop if he played. He nodded yes and moved over to it. I came to join him. The set was beat up and warped in many places and consisted of pieces from at least three different sets.

White on right. Good the board was oriented properly. When playing with new people, especially foreigners I'm always curious what kind of moves I should try. "Do they know about castling or the oft used en passant?" We drew for sides and I came up black. Good, I'll let him set the pace. He moved a center pawn out one space. Hmm, should I push my pawn two spaces or will that confuse him? I did it anyway, kind of as a test. It didn't phase him. He pushed another pawn one space. I played as normal.

You can tell a lot from the way someone plays chess. I'm not talking about the specific moves they make, I'm talking about the way they make them; the way they take pieces, they way they say check, they way they put their pieces down. My friend was playing a friendly game and I think that's part of the reason I let my guard down. Before I knew it I was in trouble. He was playing well. I wonder if he was lulling me into a false sense of security with the opening moves.

He had forked my queen and shut down most of my board. I was pretty much just reacting. He was closing in when he motioned that he had to run somewhere quickly. A couple minutes later he hadn't come back and the coast guard that had been watching the whole game came and sat down. We agreed the local cop had won and decided to start a new game.

I was black again. A heard of roaving goats walked backward through the gate. No one seemed to notice but me. The coast guard also played a friendly game. Again I lost. He asked if I wanted to play again and having nothing better to do I said yes. We switched colors and I came out strong maintaining tempo throughout most of the game. Finally a victory. The sun had just gone down and someone switched on the lights.

He motioned for another game so again we switched colors. This time he started very aggressively but still friendly—he was serious. The lights flickered through three shades of inadequacy. He dominated the game until castling forfeited tempo and I was able to gain control. I got him in check mate but let him take back a move and we kept playing. Then he returned the favor. I let him take back one more stupid move and then we had a really good game. After a well fought struggle he finally won. Just in time too because my bus finally came and they flagged it down and hurried me on.

Me and the gang from the harbor

On the way to the other end of the island we stopped for dinner and I met 5 other travelers: 2 guys from the Netherlands, a couple from the Czech Republic and another American going on a world trip. I hurriedly gave the American my card and said I hoped we'd meet in Komodo. When I arrived at the port my new friends were waiting to catch the ferry.

The others informed me that you need to take a ferry to Labuan Bajo and from there you can charter a boat to take you to Komodo. Labuan Bajo is on the island of Flores where things are much greener and cleaner than other places I've been in Indonesia. People sweep the area in front of the their business and not only are there trash cans but there's organic waste disposal bins. You also get hassled a lot less as you walk down the street.

My new friends asked if I wanted to split the cost of a boat with them and I said yes. We decided on a 2 day 1 night trip where you live aboard the ship. The first day we went snorkeling at Pink Beach then went trekking on Rinca Island, a desolate mountain jutting up out of the ocean.

The travel agent, tour guide and park ranger all told us that they can't guarantee we'll see Komodo dragons. Of course not; I wouldn't want to go if they could! As soon as we arrived on Rinca we saw 3 dragons hanging out under the ranger station. I figured that's all we'd see so I took the opportunity to observe the lazy prehistoric animals and take some pictures.

Throughout our trek we saw several Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat. Being large reptiles they weren't doing much at that point in the day. We saw the buffalo that the Dragons feed on and at one point a buffalo charged at us chasing us straight toward a dragon! Luckily the dragon got scared by the stampede and took off in the same direction.

After trekking we docked in a harbor to watch massive bats do their daily migration from the island where they sleep to the island where they hunt. After dark we drank most of a case of Bintang we'd brought for the voyage and then went to sleep.

A komodo dragon

The next morning we woke up early and went to Komodo island and saw more Dragons as well as wild deer and boar. We stopped back at Pink Beach for some more snorkeling then went to Manta Point in hopes of seeing some manta rays. Just our luck, we spotted some. With a mask, snorkel and only one flipper—my other having broken at pink beach—I jumped in after them.

There were at least 3 and I was able to keep up with them surprisingly well given my one fin. They were large and majestic. At some point one came directly at me and I thought we were going to collide. We must have spent an hour chasing the beautiful floating wings.

The Komodo trip was just what I needed; a comfortable environment with good friends and just the right blend of excitement and relaxation. Swimming with the mantas was definitely the highlight for me and I think the others.

When we got back to Labuan Bajo we collectively worked on getting to the next destination which we all happened to be heading in. After much ado we chartered a private van to take us to Bajawa where we spent then night and then all went separate ways. The American and I left by public bus the next morning to Moni, a very small town at the foot of Mt. Kelimutu.

We arrived in Moni around and after finding a place to stay we decided to eat some lunch then head up the mountain in hopes of catching the sunset. Most people that go to Kelimutu take a motor bike to the top at 4:30am so they can watch the sunrise. We figured by leaving now we'd have the mountain to ourselves.

Lunch took much longer than expected so we didn't get moving until . The sun was high in the sky and locals told us it was around 3hrs or 10k to the top. We figured we could do it in 2 - 2.5hrs and make sunset. We reached the ranger station at exactly . The guard told us that the mountain closes at 5! We tried begging him to let us just go up for a bit but he said it was still 5k to the top and he wouldn't allow it.

We walked back down the mountain until we were out of site then bushwhacked around the ranger station and back to the road. The vegetation was thick and it was very slow going. We had to crawl at many points. We got back on the road immediately after the ranger station so we decided to just make a run for it. It was definitely another 5k to the top, and even steeper than the previous 10.

We arrived at the summit just after the sun had gone down. The detour at the gate had cost us! It was still bright enough to see without a light so we tried taking some pictures and hung out for a bit to see what it looked like under the waxing half moon. Around we'd had our fill and it was starting to get cold. We were both in shorts and a t-shirt and hadn't brought anything warmer.

On the way down the mountain my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was an alert that my dad had made a comment on my site. It was about not challenging the mountains. I chuckled and kept walking down. The air was perfect. It felt like rain forest, tasted like mountain jungle but caressed your nose with the silky honey vanilla skin of the nights blooming moon flowers. Pockets of lingering warm air helped stave off the cold.

About 7k from Moni a motor bike came by and we flagged it down. The very nice gentleman was willing to give both of us a ride down to town. When we got there he let us off and didn't ask for any money. He then turned his bike around and headed back up the mountain.

It was and we convinced a local restaurant to stay open and quickly make us some food. They also brought us two large beers with ice clinging to the outside. The food wasn't good but we woofed it down anyway because we were so hungry. Planning to go back up the mountain in the morning we went to bed right away.

Mountain Kelimutu

At we were up and almost ready to go. We ran into our Czech friends who had apparently checked into the same hotel and were planning to ascend as well. Two guys on motor bikes picked them up and we said we'd meet them at the top. We waited for our bikes but no one came. So we woke the inn keeper and he said the bikes the Czechs took were for us! He made some calls and eventually two guys came. It was already starting to get light. He told them to drive fast and they did. We made it up the top just after the sun poked up above the mountain.

We took some pictures, walked around and ate some chocolate. We paid the motor bikes to take us back down the mountain, having walked enough yesterday. The air was not so nice. Perhaps it was the must of my motorbike driver or the local cigarette he was smoking, but the air seemed to be of a dry, aged romano cheese. Still, the mountain was beautiful and I was able to see the third, brown colored lake which wasn't visible at night.

After breakfast, a nap, bathing, a walk in the local market and some lunch we were off to our new destinations. My American friend went to Ende to continue his world trip and I hopped a local bus to Maumere in hopes of getting to Makassar. When I arrived in town I learned the first ferry for Makassar isn't until Saturday and it may be booked. I bought a plane ticket and I leave on Wednesday so I've got a day to just chill out.

I went back and added more images to the previous post. If you check my dropbox account then you've already seen these. Speaking of which, see if you can find me in this picture(part of this weeks bonus photos).

If you were wondering about where the soundtracks come from, it's at least one of three places. It's either A)A song that I think fits the post well(like Welcome To The Jungle). B)A song that was common in the time the post is about(like Price Tag). C)A song that was in my head during most of the time the post was about. The song for this post played at least 4 times on my bus ride from Moni to Maumere.

Soundtrack: We're Going to Ibiza (Vengaboys)


The Bhagwan
October 23rd, 2012 at 8:29 PM

You had me at, "a heard of roaving(SIC)goats walked backward through the gate." As Grace Slick was one to say, "One man off the chessboard, get up and tell you where to go..........." Followed by one and a half fins following flowing mantas flying through the sea.......... What a sight.......!!!!! (you getting out of the ocean, that is.)

Love and Molasses from Grand Rapids, Michigan

Carry on, my son, and may you and

October 24th, 2012 at 9:12 AM

the wonders the magic of traveling and experience whatever the moment has to offer.
my most memorable moment when i was at flores is when we were on the boat in the middle on the sea, and we stopped for while to just jump in and swim, another boat was actually stopped bit far from our boat, and it was a fisherman boat. It was quite surprising to see a guy swimming toward our boat, it was kinda far, we were about 20m away. And when he got to the boat, it was a local flores guy, with really ugly teeth, and he asked for a pain killer pill for his headache, he has been on the sea for a week. unfortunately we didnt have the pill, but we offered our food supply that we for the day; apples, bread, and some mineral water. He was happy, took the plastic bag of food, yet he carry the apples with his hand and swam back to his boat one hand.

really nice story, looking forward for more Beau!

If you're asking a question, it may be better to just email me at beau@dangertravels.com