We had really enjoyed detouring from the rally to explore islands off the beaten track, but we had made plans to pick up our son Michael from Labuan Bajo on the large island of Flores in a couple of weeks time, so we needed to make our way there.
We sailed to Riung, a small fishing village on Flores, the next destination on the rally schedule in company with our sailing buddies, Margret & Nils on board their yacht ‘Unwind’.
Over the next few days, more rally boats gradually arrived, and we enjoyed catching up with friends we had not seen for several weeks. We kept planning to leave and another yacht would sail in and persuade us to stay on. On our last evening, we even managed a reunion on board ‘Kinabalu’, with 6 of the 8 yachts who had sailed together from Papua New Guinea.
One day, I joined a group tour to Bena, the oldest traditional village on Flores, at the foot of Mount Inerie. It was a 4 hour drive across the island towards Bajawa, along rough roads and through rugged landscape, but we had a coffee stop at a small hilltop hotel with stunning views across the valley to Abulobo volcano and the distant village of Bena nestled in the valley below.
Bena consists of two parallel rows of traditional, high thatch-roofed houses & the Ngada people are proud to preserve their culture.
In the center of the village are ‘ngadhu’ and ‘bhaga’, pairs of shrines representing the different clan’s ancestors. The ‘ngadhu’ is an anthropomorphic umbrella-like pole embodying the male ancestor of a clan. The trunk is decorated with carvings & topped with a warrior-like figure, it symbolizes fierceness and virility.
The ‘bhaga’, the female ancestral clan shrine, is a small hut with a thatched roof that resembles a miniature of a traditional house. It symbolizes the sanctuary of the house and the female body.
The megalith formations in the village center are a means to connect with the supernatural world and to communicate with their ancestors, often by animal sacrifice. Many of the homes are decorated with skulls and horns of water buffaloes and pig jaws which were sacrificed at these ceremonies.
It was very interesting wandering around the village, but also very hot and we were glad to hop back into the minibus in the capable hands of our driver Hasbula.On the way home we stopped at the Malanage Hot Springs. This is a popular spot where locals come to enjoy the warm water that flows from a river under the shade of coconut trees. The spring water is believed to have curative effect for those suffering from skin conditions. Normally quite deserted on a weekday, we had chosen a Sunday to visit and were amazed at the huge crowds of families enjoying a day out in the shady gardens around the pools.
The few women I saw in the water were mainly fully clothed (Flores is one of the few islands in Indonesia that is not predominantly Moslem, but they were still modest by western standards), so I was rather self conscious to strip down to my swimming costume. The other females in our group had no qualms and most stripped down to their bikinis, but I covered myself with a sarong in the water as I didn’t like being the focus of attention by so many who openly stared at us westerners.
With another few hours drive back to Riung, it was a long day, but we arrived back at the anchorage to find yet more rally boats had arrived so we had yet another sociable evening, drinking warm beer (the bars could not keep up with the ‘yachties’ demand for cold Bintang!) and eating local food at the waterfront cafe.
With 60 miles to reach Labuan Bajo and very little wind to fill our sails, we left Riung in time to take our time and day hop. We still ended up needing to motor for a fair part of the way, and had to manoeuvre between a number of the inevitable FAD (fish attracting devices), fishing boats and nets strung out in many locations along the coastline.
The township of Labuan Bajo is a bustling port as well as a busy center for tourism, plus a stepping stone to visit the famous Komodo dragons on Komodo and Rinca Island. The other main attraction is the marine life found in the spectacular snorkeling & dive spots located around these islands. We did not make time to book dives, thinking we would dive by ourselves, but then we discovered there were very strong currents in many locations and by then our time had run out. With our revised plans, we now hope to dive in these waters next year.The harbour is full Phinisi boats, in all shapes, sizes and colors. Many resembling the stereotypical image of a pirate boat. Nowadays though, the majority are only used as charter boats and are very expensive at that.
In contact with other rally yachts already ahead of us, we discovered most were anchored in front of a resort called the Puri Sari Beachfront Hotel (http://florestourism.com/partners/puri-sari-beach-hotel/), just past the main port of Labuan Bajo.
Here we soon found that Huberth, the personable manager, was welcoming all the rally participants and offering the facilities of his hotel at our disposal.
It was such a wonderful treat to enjoy a luxurious swimming pool, WiFi, laundry facilities and the hotel restaurant which offered fantastic local and European food at very reasonable prices. It was a very popular gathering spot most nights for the ‘yachties’.
The staff were so friendly and welcoming too, and Huberth could not do enough to help us organizing local transport, fuel and water for boats, and even hosting a beachfront BBQ evening with a bonfire, live music and dancing. It was such a huge success that he was encouraged to put on several more as different groups of yachts arrived in a staggered convoy.
We were trying to encourage Huberth to have the hotel invest in a VHF radio so he could broadcast the Puri Sari’s services and communicate with yachts who anchor in front of the hotel, so several of us lent him our mobile radio whilst we stayed there and he fast became a proficient radio operator.
“ Over and out- Puri Sari back to channel 16!”
Michael arrived from Brisbane for a holiday on board Stars End. He brought his drone with him that he handles so competently, providing us with some spectacular footage over the next 2 weeks. I am only so upset that in all the urgency of downloading material to pass on to other yachts before we parted ways, somehow, several days worth of the best photography has disappeared from my hard drive. I am hoping to retrieve it from the storage devices of those friends with whom we shared, but for now, there will sadly be some gaps.
We allowed Michael to chill out and enjoy the facilities of the Puri Sari for a day or so before leaving Labuan Bajo.
We were headed for the Komodo National Park which incorporates the 3 islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar. Frank & I have an aversion to doing ‘touristy’ things, but we felt we could not come so far and not see the famous Komodo dragons. However, we decided to go to Rinca Island, more overlooked than the more popular Komodo Island to do our guided tour as there is less visible impact from tourism.