The Bajawa region is a regular stop for travelers crossing Flores. The area is dominated by the picture perfect volcano, Gunung Inerie, and is dotted with delightful traditional Ngada villages. Bajawa seemed like a typically scruffy Indonesian town, so we opted to stay in the fantastic Manulalu Resort, which sits on one of the flanks of Inerie.
It is fair to say that most accommodation in Flores is neither pleasant nor good value. There is just not enough competition in most towns and villages for hotel owners to have to up their game. A quick look at TripAdvisor would probably put you off coming! However, we managed to find one decent place in every town we visited. The downside is that lots of other travelers have found the same place so often they can be fully booked.
Our favorite place in Flores was the Manulalu Resort near Bajawa. It is well out of town so your food and drink options will be limited to the in-house cafe. However, the sublime views more than compensate for the limited, but tasty, menu. The rooms weren’t bad value at IDR400,000. We arrived late in the afternoon just as the sun was setting. And, what a sunset it was. Our entire field of view was dominated by Gunung Inerie. We were utterly transfixed as we watched the changing colors of the mountain as the sun dropped below the horizon.
The next evening and the following morning, we walked 5 minutes downhill to a viewing platform with even better volcano views.
The hotel was an eclectic mix of shabby ex-colonial chic, South African hunting lodge, and Warholian Pop Art. Peculiar but it worked. We walked into the first room we were shown and Laura immediately turned back and said ‘no’. Uh? This place is fab. I took a close look. Over the bed was an enormous picture of a stilettoed woman, legs akimbo, wearing a silky pair of knickers….round her ankles. Not sure why Laura didn’t want the honeymoon suite so we had to settle for a room with a picture of local rural charm. Geeks might be excited to know that one room had a very saucy picture of Batman and Superman over the bed.
The Ngada Villages of Bajawa
Almost everyone who visits Bajawa visits a Ngada village. The most popular village is Bena. Typically, tourists drive up, wander around for a few minutes, buy some ikat, and head on to Ruteng. We arranged with Jimmy, the hotel manager, to do a guided tour of four villages and nearby hot springs. The tour took 4 hours and took in the villages of Luba, Bena, Tolalela, and Gurusina.
It was ferociously hot on the trail, so definitely stock up on a few liters of water before heading out. The villagers are now Christian but they maintain many of their animist traditions. The villages all had a similar setup.
The traditional houses are situated around a large ceremonial platform. The platforms contain the ture lenggi, the ancestral stone altars. At one end of the platform you will find the female ancestral shrines known as Bhaga. At the opposite end, are situated the male ancestral shrines, the Ngadhu. Ngadhu are somewhat phallic and are often covered in the blood of sacrificed buffalo. In fact, buffalo sacrifice seems to be a significant feature of life in these parts judging by the number of buff horns attached to individual houses.
The villages were extremely picturesque but generally lacking in activity while we were there. These are rural folk so most of the people were out in the fields. Corn, tubers, coconut, banana, coffee, cloves, candlenut, vanilla, and cocoa are all grown and are popular cash crops.
In Bena, we chatted to one charismatic old geezer who delighted in flashing his teeth rotted and discolored by betel nut. He also sold vanilla and macadamia at preposterously low prices. We bought some vanilla beans for about a hundredth of the price back home.
Ikat weaving is an important activity for local women. Pretty much every household displayed ikat for sale. The quality was pretty good and the prices reasonable. Again, we dug into our wallets and picked up some delightful weaving.
As we headed out of the villages, we saw a poster for an huge musical celebration that had taken place in one of the villages a few months earlier. Apparently, it featured more than 500 musicians playing at the same time. That must have been quite a spectacle.
It would have been nice to see some more activity around the villages but, still, I doubt we have visited a more picturesque spot on our entire travels. We found out later that Gurusina has a homestay. I reckon it would be very cool to be in the village when everyone got back from the fields.
We bailed on the hot springs. We couldn’t imagine anything worse than sitting in hot sulphurous waters on a really hot day. A cold shower at the hotel was a much more pleasant option!
Getting around Flores
Most people travel Flores with a private car and driver. We opted to travel around Flores by local bus. This is very straightforward. Local hotels will help you find the buses and let you know the (foreigner) prices. The buses are very ramshackle. It would appear that most trans-Flores travelers take Lonely Planet’s advice to hire a 4WD to get around since we saw no other travelers on the buses. The downside of taking buses is that you cannot stop to take pictures of the gorgeous scenery and it is difficult to get to some of the remote villages. Also, the bus drivers charge foreigners so much that the cost savings compared to hiring a car and driver isn’t as much as we expected.
But, at least you get to meet the locals… and find out what they think. One particular woman comes to mind.
During our trip to Bajawa, the bemo broke down. We got off the bus to allow the bus crew to jack up the vehicle and glue it back together! We got chatting to a woman on the bus who was traveling with her three kids. She commented on Laura’s skin color and said something akin to ‘white skin beautiful’. Well, that was flattering! Then, she pulled her own skin and said ‘black skin ugly’. Next, she pointed at her daughter and said ‘daughter ugly, black skin ugly’. We were quite shocked! Actually, her daughter was quite beautiful. What to do other than counter her claim?
I suppose we shouldn’t be too shocked given the unbelievable amount of skin whitening products and adverts we have seen in Asia.
If you want whiter skin… who am I to tell you otherwise? But, it is very troubling that huge cosmetic companies are peddling these products and giving people reason to believe that their natural color is ‘ugly’. Worse, that mothers believe that their daughters are ugly because they are not white. They must be extremely baffled watching Europeans sitting in the midday sun in Bali trying to turn their skin ‘black’.
Getting There and Away
We took a local bemo from Moni to Bajawa. It cost 150,000 rupiah each. Obviously, foreigner pricing is in full effect on the bemos. The ride took about 6 hours. The bemo pulled into a local warung in a village on the way. The food was surprisingly good. There was no foreigner pricing in the warung since foreigners are a rarity!
The bemo dropped us at the bus stop a couple of kilometers before Bajawa. Manulalu sent a car to the stop to pick us up.
After our stay in Bajawa, we took a bemo to Ruteng. This cost another 150K and took 5-6 hours.
When We Were There
April 22-23, 2016. This is a little before the high season starts in Flores. We reckon this is the perfect time to go. The weather was good, but crowds were few.