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Exploring The Untouched Beauty of Kelimutu Indonesia

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It was 3:45 am and it was time to wake up the kids. Oh boy! I had to wake up my teenagers in the dead of night so that we could hike up Kelimutu volcano to watch the sunrise. Payback time! If someone had snapped a photo of me at that moment, they would have captured a fleeting shadow of a little sadistic smile as I crept into my children’s rooms and shook them awake. They all knew about the early wake up time, but you would have thought that I was waking them up to march them to their death with their facial expressions and protests. People say that rewards for parenting are few and far between. I say, you just have to be a little creative.

And so started day two of our Kelimutu adventure.

This was a truly awe-inspiring day. We hiked up Kelimutu, watched the sunrise and learned all about the important role the volcano has played in the customs and traditions of the local communities. Then, over the next couple of days, we visited surrounding villages where homes and traditions have barely changed over hundreds of years.

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
The traditional Village of Wologai

 

Day One

In my previous blog called Kelimutu: A Breathtaking Indonesia Volcano and Its People, I discuss how we travelled to the remote Kelimutu volcano on the island of Flores in Indonesia and where we stayed. This was a fascinating part of our adventure. When you have a moment, I would highly recommend that you take a quick peak at it to get a fuller sense of our surroundings.

In short, we were in some of most stunning lush landscape that I have ever seen. Rolling green hills and mountains flowed into river valleys with barely a house to be seen.

 

Our view from our hotel room and patio near the Indonesia volcano
Our view from our hotel room and patio

 

Against this beauty, was a lot of poverty. Ramshackle homes were scattered here and there along the road. Electricity and plumbing were lacking in most places. Children were barefoot and dirty.

Nevertheless, everyone was kind, generous with their time and their stories, and usually had huge smiles.

Amongst this beauty and poverty, we stayed at a lovely hotel, Kelimutu Crater Lakes Ecolodge, an incredible find in an isolated part of Indonesia.  A full review of this lodge is provided in the earlier blog.

 

Day Two

Kelimutu

After wrangling everyone out of bed, we started our adventure. We were heading up to the top of  Kelimutu, a dormant volcano with three enormous different coloured lakes at its peak. The lakes sit in huge craters formed from previous eruptions. Incredibly, these lakes change colour during the course of each year, reacting to the change in mineral deposits within the lakes, the weather and volcanic gas.

We drove around 40 minutes in the dark on switchbacks hugging the side of a mountain. There were a few other cars on the road heading in the same direction, but not many. We arrived at a relatively empty parking lot and began the climb to the top of Kelimutu. Thankfully, the first 25 minutes was a very pleasant walk. The path was wide and flat with a gentle incline. There were trees all around us. It was pitched dark and we really couldn’t see anything.

Then, everything opened up. Trees disappeared and all we could see was rock and the sky. The path got a whole lot tougher at this point. It turned into steep stairs and we trudged up for another 20 minutes, stopping here and there for quick breaks. This was not a popular part of our day with a couple of my kids.

 

The Peak

After a final push, we reached the top of Kelimutu. Around 20 people sat or stood on a large cement viewing block or next to the simple wood fence overlooking one of the craters. It was still very dark, but the sun was starting to rise. Clouds moved quickly in and out so that our views of the sunrise and the volcano were at times stunning and at other times, muted and misty. It was cold up there and we huddled together to keep warm.

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Waiting for the sunrise on Kelimutu

 

Eventually, the sun rose high enough above Kelimutu and we could spot one of the lakes in a deep crater. It was blue and tucked below us, very easy to see. Behind us, we spotted the green lake. Not as easy to see as the sun was rising on the opposite side of the volcano, but still, quite obviously green. Later, on our walk down from the peak, we would see the third lake, about where the path originally opened up from the trees. This one was more greyish with a hint of red.

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
The blue lake at sunrise on Kelimutu

 

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Descending into the mist from the peak of Kelimutu

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia

 

As you can imagine, there is a lot of tribal folklore and tradition around Kelimutu and its lakes. The locals believe that the blue lake is where “good” young people’s souls go to rest. The green lake is where “good” old people’s souls go to rest. The last one – the reddish one- is where all the bad people go. Over hundreds of years, sacrifices and ceremonies on this volcano have been a fundamental part of the locals’ lives. Remarkably, they continue to this day.

We descended the rest of the way and went back to the hotel for a hot breakfast and a well deserved nap.

 

Nuamuri Village

After lunch, we went to Nuamuri Village, a 20 minute drive down a dirt road,  to visit a family who made “ikats“,  Ikat is a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles prior to  weaving the fabric.  Weavers bind individual or bundles of yarn with a tight wrapping applied in a desired pattern and then, dye the fabric and weave.

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Watching traditional dyeing and weaving

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Finished tapestries at Jopu Village

This is a female skill that has been passed along from generation to generation. We met a grandmother and mother who explained and showed us the dyeing and weaving process. The creations were very, very beautiful. As an aside, the women in this village are the “heads” of the family as they are the breadwinners. This was a stark contrast to the other male dominated traditions and power structures that we came across in the other villages that we visited.

Kelimutu, Indonesia
A local woman weaving

Of course, we could not resist and we bought a beautiful tapestry for our dining room table.

 

Jopu Village

Further down the road, we met “Mama Maria”, daughter of the Chief of Jopu Village. With a smile and laugh that made you feel good about everything in life, she led us into the ceremonial tribal hut in the centre of the village. This was not a tourist hut – a model meant to replicate the real one. This was their actual ceremonial hut and we were very humbled by the invitation.

Inside, we sat on the bare wooden floor and listened to stories of her community. She explained the ritual of how the Chief’s first male born child must cry during a ceremony in this hut in order for him to be anointed as future Chief.  If he does not, on another day (and still a third day, if necessary), they try again using different rituals. If after all that, he still hasn’t cried, then the Chief’s next male born child is put through the same ceremonies until a male child cries and a successor is found. It was very interesting!

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Inside the ceremonial hut

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Inside the ceremonial hut in Jopu Village

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Mama Maria in front of the ceremonial hut of Jopu Village

 

Day Three

This was our last day. We packed up and started the two hour drive  back to Ende  to catch our flight to Bali.  But first, we had one more village to visit.

 

Wologai Village

Around 30 minutes from our hotel, we arrived at Wologai Village.

Access to this village was wild. We drove on the main highway for around 20 minutes. This was a pretty decent two lane road and the only road that accessed this part of the island from Ende.  After 20 minutes, we turned off the main highway and basically started going up the mountain! The road was paved, but incredibly narrow and steep. We drove another 10 minutes, through little villages and past a large school where the children spotted us, started laughing and running after our car.  At the end of this road, we reached a dead end gravel road with barely enough space for a car to turn around. This was the entrance to Wologai Village.

 

Papa Alouisius

We were met by Papa Alouisius, another Indonesian with a massive infectious smile, who led us through his village. This place was incredible. Everyone lived in traditional huts without electricity, plumbing or running water. The position of your hut was commiserate with your position in the community. Everyone had their role to play. One hut was off limits to women – they used that one for their important traditional ceremonies where only men were welcome. Another hut was designated for a family that were basically serfs to the others. Status could change by marriage but this was carefully watched. Apart from the smart phone Papa Alouisius took out to photograph us, the first Canadians to ever visit his village, I felt like time had stopped here.

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Papa Alouisius

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
Where the locals live.

 

Traditional vs. Modern Homes

The traditional homes were very simple, and without modern amenities. They were beautiful looking and felt natural in their surroundings. This was a stark contrast to the dilapidated concrete/brick homes that were scattered along the main highway and even in the town of Moni, where our hotel was located. I asked our guide why they lived like this whereas other communities do not. He said that the ones who have concrete houses have torn down their traditional huts to live like “modern” people even though they do not have electricity or plumbing. It was sad to see what progress meant to some of these communities.

 

Kelimutu, Indonesia
The traditional homes of Wologai Village

 

Houses near the Indonesia waterfall
Houses along the main road from Ende to Moni

 

Conclusion

We loved our time in this remote part of Indonesia. Watching the sunrise at the peak of Kelimutu volcano was otherworldly. Discovering the three lakes as the sun slowly unveiled them was mesmerizing. Finally, being welcomed into villages and homes, and learning about sacred customs and traditions was both humbling and extraordinary. I both encourage you to hurry to experience this before tourism ruins it, and discourage you from being that next visitor who will inevitably and unintentionally slowly modernize this beautiful part of Indonesia.

 

If you are interested in reading more about our adventures during our three week trip to Indonesia, here is a list of all the articles that I have written:

The Unbelievable Wonders of Komodo National Park In Indonesia;

Komodo Dragons and Pink Beaches: Just Another Day in Indonesia;

Kelimutu: A Breathtaking Indonesia Volcano and Its People;

A Stunning Borneo Ecotour With Teens

 

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Our family hiked to the peak of Kelimutu volcano to watch the breathtaking sunrise. Later, we visited several villages where we visited traditional homes and learned about their customs which were hundreds of years old. #travel #familytravel #Indonesia #Asia #travelwithkids #travelwithteens #responsibletravel | ceremonial hut, craters, customs, dyeing, Ende, Flores, ikats, Jopu Village, Asia, hiking, Kelimutu Crater Lakes Ecolodge, lakes, Moni, Nuamuri Village, peak, weaving, Wologai Village

2 Comments

  • Kelimutu looks to have a rich culture and society. I must agree with your last call to action as visiting a place like this is a double-edged sword; fascinating to learn but disturbing if you change and affect it. I would not have wanted to be one of your kids on that morning you woke up to climb the volcano. I like the story on the locals’ beliefs about the three lakes at the summit.

    • The locals definitely want to improve their lives so it is unfair of me to tell them that nothing should change. However, all I have to do is look at Bali and see what tourism has done to this beautiful island. It is hard to feel any authentic connection to Bali and its traditions. There is just too many tourists crawling over temples and other important sites. I guess it is just best to get to these little jewels before the inevitable happens.

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