Friday, July 18, 2008

Sunrise at Kelimutu - Sunday, June 29th

Sunrise at Kelimutu - Sunday, June 29th

My alarm goes off at 4:00 A.M. and I turn it off and crawl back into bed curling up beside Art. I have a few precious more minutes to sleep before John and I will go with our driver and guide to watch the sunrise from Kelimutu Volcano. At precisely 4:30, Mansor knocks on our door and
John and I follow him to the waiting car. This early morning excursion feels a bit eerie, and Art walks with us to the car to see us off. He tells us to smile, and with our back up camera he takes photos of us all. He returns to the warmth of the bed, anticipating a leisurely and solitary morning.

John sleeps in the back seat and I doze, my head against the cold window as we drive over bumpy roads, the 45 minutes to the base of the volcano. Mansor, John and I begin a 30 minute hike up an uneven pathway in the dark. I find it disconcerting that Mansor is not prepared with flashlights, since this excursion is on our printed itinerary, but Tabra has lent us flashlights and John and I use these to navigate the trail. Mansor uses his cell phone to light his path. Mansor and John hike quickly and I do my best to keep pace with them, but as the trail steepens, I fall behind. Stopping to catch my breath, I notice that dawn is casting a faint light on the trail beneath my feet. With renewed enthusiasm, I stride ahead and reach the summit. A 20 food diameter, tiered cement platform, crowned with an obelisk is erected between two of the volcanic craters. We climb the circular stairs to sit and wait, anticipating the sunrise.

The pre-dawn sky is blossoming with vermilion and orange. I rest my camera on one of the cement risers and take time exposures of the horizon and sky. This is not my expertise, but I hope that the captured images will be half as striking as what is unfolding before our eyes. A weathered man appears from nowhere wearing a hand woven Ikat sarong and carrying the makings for coffee in a grimy Ikat shoulder bag. He gestures, asking if we would like coffee and I accept enthusiastically. The man spoons finely ground Bali coffee into two smeared glasses and adds hot water from a thermos. He passes us a jar filled with clumped sugar and I spoon some into the hot mixture. The tepid grainy coffee is some of the best I have ever tasted, and we sit and watch. I notice that other travelers have joined us at the summit and my emotions surge when I see a young woman in her wheel chair and her partner together, at the edge of the crater. The two men, hired to carry her the long distance up to the summit rest beside us. The lovers sit together, hand in hand, watching the sunrise. There is a crater on either side of us, one filled with morning mist, the other a pool of opaque turquoise water. As I understand it, the black lake, covered with mist is the resting place for spirits who die in old age. The turquoise lake is the resting place for those who die young, and the brown lake, that we hiked passed earlier, is for all of the other spirits. We are two of a dozen multicultural travelers, reverently watching the dawn break.

The trail to the Volcano Kelimutu

Others have gathered to watch the sunrise and drink the strong coffee carried to the mountain by this villager. John sits on top of the obelisk overseeing it all.

The downhill trip to our waiting car, takes only 15 minutes and we see our coffee man walking at the edge of the road. We haven't passed any villages and I wonder how far he must walk each morning to do his small coffee business? John tells me that after I set my empty glass down, the man picked it up and poured more hot water into the settled grounds, handing the glass to another traveler just arriving. I take comfort that we arrived first at the summit, so even if the glass was not clean, our grounds were at least not recycled. Back at our hotel, we join Art for breakfast and he explains that he took our photos earlier as a precaution. Had he been particularly concerned about our safety, he would have gone with us to the Volcano, but he wanted photos of us, the driver, guide and the license plate just in case.

We have a 5 hour drive ahead of us today before reaching Maumere City. Our first stop is at the Lio Hill tribe to see a traditional thatched ceremonial house. Maria greets us warmly and takes us inside the belly of a large thatched building. She is entrusted to keep the culture and enthusiastically explains the many sacred and official functions of the house. Mansor translates badly, but we get the vague gist of it all. We share a general disappointed with our guide. His English is minimal, his perspective narrow and his preparedness careless.

A dozen IKat weavings hang outside of the ceremonial house and I fall into the trap laid for us. Maria leads me over to them and as I finger the hand woven cloth she nimbly slips a sarong over my head, and ties another around John's waist. Art, well versed on hand woven Okinawa fabric, asks careful questions about the process and she takes us into her family compound to shows us two looms already tied with the warp, or is it the woof? She will begin the weaving tomorrow, but today is Sunday and the women in the village do not weave on Sunday. John always encourages me to spend money and he helps me choose two pieces of the Ikat cloth. After making our choices, I proceed with the expected bargaining and we agree on a price and then re-negotiate so that John may have a woven strip of the Ikat to wear as a belt or wrap into a head covering.

We continue our drive, watching out of the window as the channels change between the "Chicken and Rooster Channel", to the "Pig and Goat Channel." The programing is not quite as compelling as it was to us three days earlier, but we still watch the passing panorama with interest. Many of the goats wear bells and have long sticks tied horizontally under their throats, preventing them from going through gates. It is an ingenious solution to a land with broken fences and we watch with amusement as bewildered goats vainly attempt to fit through small breaks in the fences.

We strolled along a beach outside of Maumere City and soon a dozen teen age boys were following us. We were a curiosity, and John soon made friends with this group of kids.

This is one of my favorite photos. The local kids were doing handstands and somersaults in the sand and soon John was joining in the fun.

After taking each digital photo, I would share the captured image with the kids. The image, frozen inside my camera was a wonderful ice breaker wherever we went.

The beach on our way to Maunere City. John attracted the local kids like a magnet.

We stop at a simple beach front restaurant for a late lunch. Although the restaurant sits on the sand with a view of the beach just steps away, the place is in disrepair. Sections of the thatched roof need replacing and the wooden facade of the restaurant is missing boards. We order from the standard, uninspired menu and dine on stir fry noodles once again, and then stroll onto the beach beyond. The three of us attract attention immediately and within minutes, John has become the “Pied Piper” and a hand full of boys follow us down the beach. John is without his t-shirt and wears his jeans low on his hips, the top of his underwear showing. I notice one of the boys, tug at his pants, settling them lower on his hips. Another group of teen age boys are doing hand stands in the sand and motion to me to take their photos. I happily oblige snapping many pictures and sharing the frozen images with them on the back window of my camera. I am having a wonderful time; my camera and my son connecting us all for a few brief few minutes. Eventually John joins with them doing hand stands, and I capture upside down boys from two different worlds united in play. I am sad to leave this beach and feel the watchful eyes of the many children as we vanish from their lives forever. On this beach, these young lives look idyllic, but I have watched other, just slightly older boys, clinging to the back of buses, going somewhere, going nowhere, searching for a future. The poverty of Flores is overwhelming to my western mind.

We continue driving the windy coastal road towards Maumere City, our final overnight destination on Flores Island. Mansor and Cita will drop us off at our hotel and return immediately for the grueling drive back to Labuan Bajo where they will pick up a German couple and begin their trip over again. Maumere is large by Flores standards and we drive through the sprawling dusty town, amid throngs of honking motor scooters and buses, bouncing over potholed streets, past faded and crumbling buildings and open air markets, to our beach hotel. Soa Wisata Cottage sits directly on the beach but as all our other accommodations on Flores, it is in a state of disrepair. Mansor leads us through a large open air lobby, sparsely outfitted with a worn overstuffed couch and chairs, a small television and a ping-pong table. He proudly unlocks the door to our beach front bungalow and shows us our accommodations, a large two room cottage just steps from the sand. In an effort to please him, I smile and effuse enthusiasm, looking past the worn carpets and drapes, sagging beds and the front door lock, which hangs precariously from one wobbly screw. The front room is a sun porch and I note that I will be able to write comfortably at the simple desk, looking out to the beach beyond.

We settle into our cottage quickly and walk back to the lobby to say good bye to Mansor and Cita. It is time to tip our guide and driver and Art and I agonize over what is appropriate, knowing that what we tip them will probably be more than they have been paid for the entire week with our family. Even though we have been less than satisfied with the competency of our guide, we have been more than pleased with our driver and we tip them each generously. It is a relief to finally be on our own, but Art was looking forward to connecting at an internet cafe and he is unhappy to be stuck far away from town in this crumbling beach resort.

John and I walk up to the pool where an Indonesian family is gathered and having a wonderful time. John literally dives right in and within a few minutes the family is taking photos of John alongside of their teen children, arms flung around each other and wide smiles on everyones faces. I attempt to write under the shaded deck alongside the pool, but the chairs are all without cushions and soon my behind grows uncomfortable balancing on the hard struts of the chaise and I return to our sun room to write.

The gecko channel is especially exciting at dinner tonight and John and I watch two varied species of gecko compete for the insects attracted to the bare florescent lights in our open air dining room. Perhaps because we are on the coast and near a large city, the menu here is more varied. Art and John order shrimp and I watch them tear off the legs and shells and am happy that I chose the tuna fillet. John drinks two strawberry Fantas and Art and I wash our meals down sharing a large Bintang Beer and return to our bungalow to read and to write.

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