Lembata, Maumere, Riung and Labuanbajo
Like Alor to the east our next main stops at Lewoleba (Lembata), Maumere, Riung and Labuanbajo (all on Flores) are part of the island group Nusa Tenggara.
We arrived at Lewoleba Lembata beating against 30kn winds, but fortunately the anchorage was protected by the reefs. On the way we passed one of the 155 volcanoes (over 20 are active), more of which later.
An organised trip took us to Lamalera, a village in the south of the island, where local families still practise whale hunting from sailing canoes, with the bamboo harpoon or spear being thrown by hand when they get close enough. Lamalera displayed all the accoutrements of the industry, and whilst there a sailing canoe was launched to demonstrate how whales are captured. Apparently so few are caught, it does not affect the overall pilot and sperm whale population. Click here to read about our wonderful experiences with humpback whales in the Ha’apai group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga.
The coach trip there and back was unfortunately a nightmare, travelling over what was no more than a dirt track and being bounced every which way for about 4 hours. Neither of us has ever experienced such an uncomfortable, dusty journey. No more coach travel in Indo for us….!
From Lembata we sailed west towards to Maumere on Flores, discovered and named aptly by the Portuguese in the 1500s for lush is the vegetation and the varied scenery spectacular. Stopping at two pleasant anchorages with small villages en route, we were reminded again that travel in this part of the world is by motor launch, this being one of hundreds we have seen.
On arrival at the anchorage off the Sea World Resort, Maumere we watched a spectacular sunset. The splendour of the colours is augmented by the dust thrown into the atmosphere by the volcanoes.
The next evening the Regent for the area welcomed the participants of Sail Komodo to an opening ceremony. The photos show the elaborate costumes we have become used to admiring.
A few hours’ drive from Maumere are three crater lakes at Kelimutu, two of them side by side, each with totally different colours caused by different minerals through which volcanic gases pass. The third lake is a few hundred yards away, again a totally different colour. Monkeys were playing in the trees as we climbed the final mile or two. The lakes as can be seen are spectacular.
For this journey we shared car (comfortable SUV with aircon!) and driver, with Bruce and Jeannie from Jabula. On the way up through the hills we found cocoa beans drying on the roadside at a village with spectacular views.
On our return we passed paddy fields on a terraced hillside near the village of Moni where we also very much enjoyed lunch at a local eatery. Growing rice in this region goes back centuries, and the harvest just about provides for the huge population on the islands. We also saw traditional grass thatched dwellings of which there are many in this region of the same design.
To the west of Maumere is an offshore island dominated by a volcano which erupted a few weeks earlier, in mid-August, forcing the evacuation of all the islanders. It was still active as we sailed by at what we felt was a safe distance.
Our next anchorage was Riung, a fishing village with many small islands offshore with beautiful unspoilt beaches. Called the ‘Seventeen Islands’, they have become a focus for tourism.The dwellings in the village behind the harbour are built on stilts because the low lying mangrove area is susceptible to flooding. Though ramshackle, many show off a huge satellite dish!
While the Sail Komodo celebrations were definitely low key, we did enjoy a superbly well organised tour visiting two totally different traditional villages. After breakfast (which could have been lunch) at the Regent’s private home a cavalcade of vehicles, led by a police truck blaring its horn, music from another truck that provided the sound system at the villages, coaches and officials in their cars, and our car, arrived at the first village which had never had an official tourist visit before, so the villagers made a big effort to welcome us.
On arrival there was an official welcome with Bob being presented with a woven Ikat scarf, speeches, snacks (another lunch!) and a tour of the village where they demonstrated their expertise in many local crafts, such as spinning cotton for weaving Ikat, cooking spicy rice in bamboo cane, and dancing. We also met the widow of the founder of the village in her house, with her husband’s grave outside, on which farewell photos were taken!
The second village was similar, and overshadowed by a smoking active volcano. After more dancing displays, we enjoyed a tasty meal (definitely lunch!) Indonesian style, sitting on woven mats in the meeting house. To round off, each of the Sail Komodo guests (about 20 of us) was presented with an Ikat scarf and traditional woven shoulder bag. Once again we were overwhelmed by the generosity and gentle friendliness of the local people towards us.
From Riung it was on to Labuanbajo, where the President of Indonesia was due to visit to ‘welcome’ the Sail Komodo participants. The harbour rapidly filled with naval craft from Indonesia, Korea, Singapore and the US. We humble yachties rapidly realised we were mere bystanders…..and so made plans to move on before his visit. In retrospect, it was the right decision.
Trying to land by dinghy at the local beach outside the Eco Lodge, or at the harbour wharf about a mile away, was not easy to say the least. For the opening celebrations we therefore took advantage of a local boat, which turned into an experience in itself.
These open wooden vessels have a diesel engine, but no gearbox, so when the engine is started, the boat begins moving forward! The driver disappears into the bowels of the boat, and cranks the engine before applying compression. It starts with slow bangs, there is no silencer, and steering is by a four spoked wheel. A throttle string is pulled by hand to increase revs, and once under way the bobbin around which the throttle string is wound, is pushed into a hole on the control box, and then turned more slowly to achieve the correct speed. When the boat needs to stop, the engine is turned off, and the boat slows and an anchor is deployed to bring it to a halt! Very amusing and basic, but it works!
While in Labuanbajo (or LBJ) we took advantage of what the town had to offer in the way of restaurants of which there are many to cater for the needs of an expanding tourist trade. Visitors come here to then make trips to the nearby islands of Rinca and Komodo, famous for its dragons, with diving and snorkelling the main additional activities. We spent a very enjoyable day diving with one of the many companies, the pictures of which will be published in the next blog.