Monday, August 28, 2017

Ruteng Rice Terraces and a Home Visit

Panoramic view of the Ruteng rice terraces
I am better this morning and manage to eat one egg and a piece of toast before Yance and a local guide pick us up for a walk through the rice terraces and to visit a local village home. The morning is breathtakingly beautiful and I nearly forget about my malady while walking along narrow dirt paths and trying to keep my balance on the rice terrace dikes. 

Walking through the rice terraces
Walking along the Ruteng rice terrace dikes

Rice farmer and his children
Boy carrying a sack of rice?

Rice farmer
Alisha and our local guide

We pass a few farmers, oxen and a young boy carrying a bag on his shoulders that is nearly as big as he is. I push myself to keep up with the others and am relieved when we reach the village beyond. 

Oxen tethered on the rice terrace, Ruteng
Freshly planted rice terraces, Ruteng
We walk through the Ruteng rice terraces into our guides village. It is more modern than the villages of Luba and Bena that we visited yesterday, and this is the village where he and his father live.

Walking into the village from the Ruteng rice terraces
Our guide invites us into his house for coffee. I dread another cup of black and gritty coffee but accept graciously and sit on their oddly formal and out of place sofa while Alisha plays singing and hand clapping games with a group of young children who have gravitated inside from the village to gawk at the strange white tourists. 

Marty sitting on the sofa in our Ruteng guides home
The guides father sits beside me

Closeup of family photos on the wall

Alisha with her big smile and easy rapport is a kid magnet and I wish that her kids could be here to play games with these beautiful children. Our guides father is at home and sits awkwardly beside me on the sofa. I wonder what he thinks of us foreign intruders. The interior of their home is dark and sparsely furnished and three family photos hang askew on a wall above a curling poster of a Virgin. 

A wood cooking fire smolders on the hard packed dirt floor of their kitchen. We can see into a bedroom off of the kitchen and the mattress is strewn with clothing. 

Our guides kitchen
Bedroom in the house.

The children are captivating and Alisha plays with them for nearly an hour before we say our goodbyes and begin our afternoon drive to Labuan Bajo.  I so wished that I felt better because I know what a remarkable experience this is and want to savor all the memories.

Playing with the Ruteng Village children
Playing with the Ruteng Village children

I doze in the back seat of the car until we arrive at the Spider Web rice fields in the mid afternoon.  There is a small ticket price to pay before we can climb the stepped pathway to the top of the hill for a vista view of the rice fields beyond. Beside the ticket kiosk are several women and girls pounding coffee to sell to the tourists. Alisha grabs a pole and gives it a go, presumably crushing the beans inside the wooden vat. 

Alisha pounding coffee

Alisha and Yancy, Spiderweb rice fields

The climb is not long but the day is hot and I am weak and sick. I feel faint when we reach the top to gaze at the spiderweb patterned fields below. 

View of the Spiderweb rice fields
On the drive to Labaun Bajou, Alisha sits beside Yancy while I sleep in the back seat of the car. We pass wonderful road side scenes that I regret not experincing personally. Happily Alisha is a great photo journalist and I have the following photos to share. 

Boys playing alongside the road
Children playing

School girls waving to us

Muslim women resting along side of the road

It is late afternoon when we arrive in the outskirts of Labaun Bajou—a bustling and grimy port city from which we will depart to the Komodo and Rinca Islands in the morning. 

View of Labuan Bajo Harbor
The Golo Hilltop hotel in Labuan Bajo
We say goodbye to Yancy

Yancy drives us through the crowded city and up to the lovely Golo Hilltop Hotel. The afternoon light bathes the hotel and the grounds in a magical golden hue. We say good by to our delightful guide Yancy and he informs us that Yosep, our guide to the islands, will stop by shortly to introduce himself. 

Poolside view
Alisha taking a late afternoon dip in the Golo Hilltop pool

There is a small jewel of a swimming pool and Alisha quickly changes into her swim suit to enjoy a before sunset dip overlooking a picture perfect view of the harbor below. I manage to take a few photos before retreating to our room to sleep. 

Sunset from the Golo Hilltop Hotel, Labuan Bajo
I vaguely remember Alisha telling me that Yosep has arrived but my fever has returned and I continue to sleep leaving her in charge of collecting any information that we might need for our trip to the Islands in the morning.  Alisha sets another pot of ginger tea on the night table beside me when she turns in for the night.

The Traditional Villages of Luba and Bena

Our program today is walking to several traditional villages. Alisha and I each check e-mail and facetime our family back at home. Except for my flaming sunburn, I feel good and am grateful for a relatively normal breakfast. We are getting accustomed to strong coffee without milk, and this morning a basket of thickly sliced bread awaits. Butter, 'odd' jams, a single fried egg and a slice of wrapped processed cheese completes the meal. The extravagant and delicious breakfasts at our guest house in Ubud Bali are a distant memory. 

Volcano above Luba and Bena Villages
In addition to our guide Yancy, we have a local guide to take us to the traditional villages, so together we drive through lush giant bamboo forests to the start of our walk to Luba and Bena Villages. 

Stone alter details
Giant Bamboo

Although Luba village is not as colorful as I remember Bena Village being ten years earlier, we arrive early and are the only tourists. 

Luba Village

Family tombs at Luba Village
I ask our local guide if I may give lollypops to the children, and he cautions, ‘only if I have enough for everyone’. I show him that we have a bag and a half of lollypops remaining, plenty for all of the children.  A dozen traditionally thatched houses with peaked rooftops surround a large open dirt courtyard. Every home has a wooden front porch with steps up to the porch. Children peek curiously from dimly lit doorways. Hanging from sticks in front of most of the houses are colorful Ikat weavings, none of them exceptional. Even though we politely admire the handiwork, we are not pressured to buy and many of the villagers ask us to take their photos. We are only too happy to oblige. 

Children at Luba Village under Ikat Weavings
We pass out lollypops to the few children present and suddenly the population of village children multiplies. Children from adjoining houses toss balls that mysteriously roll in our direction. Alisha is the candy girl and all of the villagers, young and old alike, seem to want their photo taken. After each photo is taken we show it to everyone. They are all delighted. 

Lolly pops at Luba Village
Alisha and Luba children making faces

Boys in Luba Village
Sitting on the stone wall in front of one house is an extremely old and picturesque woman. We learn that she is 98 years old and she seems to have a wry sense of humor. Although she also wants her photo taken, she insinuates that she should be a high paid model considering how many tourists have taken her photo over the years. I sit beside her and try to connect. She is chewing beetle nut and offers me some. I don’t know how to respond and wonder if this is her sense of humor or a test. I am curious about the effect of beetle nut but decline her invitation and she throws back her head and laughs. 
Venerable old woman at Luba Village

Venerable Luba Village woman
Marty and Luba Village woman

Old woman, Luba Village
Old man, Luba Village

We continue walking to Bene Village, just 15 minutes down the road. We wander the village for over two hours amid another 50 tourists. I watch disapprovingly as a group of young Asian travelers operate a drone above this traditional village taking arial photos for the better part of an hour and feel annoyed by the noise of the whirling drone above. Alisha and I climb to the vista point at the end of the village and inhale the view beyond. There is a precarious drop off to the valley below and Alisha makes her way cautiously to sit on the rock overhanging the valley. I remember ten years earlier, John daringly standing on this same rock to test his mother's nerves and risking a fall into oblivion. 

View of Bena Village from the vista point above.
Family eating together, Bena Village
Children watching Television, Bena Village

Woman of Bena Village
Returning to the village, Alisha buys boars tusk necklaces and Ikat sashes, and examines her options of bamboo cutting machetes that she might take home to her husband. I am beginning to feel a bit off but attribute it to the heat. I wait in the shade of the visitors center while Alisha runs back to our waiting van. She uses an Ikat sash that she purchased earlier to measure the length of a machete in comparison to her suitcase. We circle the village again and she picks out the perfect machete while I sit on the wooden stairs of the house as she finalizes the deal. The woman of the house offers us coffee and not wanting to offend, I accept and sip the tepid gritty drink from a grimy glass cup. I am not feeling well.

Boys resting in the shade, Bena Village
Detail of stone alter

Alisha choosing a bamboo machete.

Ceremonial necklaces

Coffee after the machete purchase. 
Bena Village dog
Bena Village family

Bena Village house with buffalo horns 
Bena Village 

I doze in the back seat for our drive to Ruteng. We stop at an arak distillery along the way. Yance explains the distillery process while we stand by the three ovens inhaling the cooking smoke. We listen to his explanation of tapping the arak palms to get the juice and the subsequent fermentation and the distillery process.  Although I sample the arak, I am feeling queasy and this time attribute it to the cooking smoke, the arak and the heat. I buy three Ikat sashes. Were there others of the same quality, I would have purchased more. 

Arak distillery
Arak distillery

Ikat weavings for sale
Irak for sale 

Yance gets a call on his cell phone and suggests that he leave us at the arak distillery while he drives up the road to meet his wife and three young daughters. His wife is at her father’s farm and he wishes to give her some money. Finished with the arak and more interested in meeting his family we ask to go with him. It is a short detour and we get a glimpse of his wife and girls from the car window. Yance seems embarrassed by their appearance but they look just fine to us. Admittedly, they are a bit dust covered from a day in the village, but they greet us with welcoming smiles. 

I am not well and sleep in the back seat of our car for the remainder of our drive to Ruteng. Alisha rides upfront with Yance and I vaguely remember several view point stops and one emergency bathroom stop. Yance finds a toilet for me quickly and dips a leaky container of water from an outside cistern and hands it to me as I am opening the rickety bathroom door. I silently say a prayer of thanks to whatever deities are watching over me today because there is a sit down toilet instead of a squat toilet. By the time I have finished my business, the water in the container has drained from the holes but I step outside and refill it from the cistern and return to flush the toilet. 

A luxurious hotel in Ruteng
A modern bathroom!

It is nearly dusk when we arrive in Ruteng. By Flores standards, our hotel is quite luxurious and there is a bank across the street and I successfully withdraw money from the ATM. Once in the room, I take a hot shower and slip into clean sheets. I believe Alisha goes downstairs to eat dinner but I am too sick to recall anything except a pot of strong ginger tea that she sets beside me later that evening. Chunks of ginger swim in the boiling tea pot. I sweeten it with sugar and I drink several cups throughout the night.