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 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 mercilessly torturing them 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Three Lakes
Eventually, the sun rose high enough above Kelimutu and we could spot a lake in a deep crater. Kelimutu has three different coloured lakes at its peak. In addition, they change colour throughout the year. The lakes sit in enormous craters that were formed from previous volcanic eruptions. I couldn’t wait to see these three lakes with my own eyes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, we could not resist and we bought a beautiful tapestry for our dining room table.
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 and made us wonder how and why such rituals began.
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.
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.
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.
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 in these traditional huts whereas other communities do not. He said that the ones who live in concrete houses have torn down their traditional huts to live like “modern” people. This is the case even though the concrete homes do not have electricity or plumbing just like the traditional huts. I was sad to hear this. I could understand changing traditions or living conditions to make one’s life more comfortable and easier. However, I couldn’t understand it when the result was ugly concrete homes without any modern conveniences.
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:
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