We took a public bus from Labuan Bajo to Bajawa with a transit stop in Ruteng. It took us more than 10 hours to reach Bajawa including a 2 hrs lunch stop in Ruteng. The bus was non-air-conditioned and packed with passengers and their belongings. There was even a motorcycle strapped to the back of the bus. According to the driver, sometimes there might be animals like goats and chickens on board as well. We were quite impressed with the road conditions in Flores; it was generally well maintained with very few potholes. Nevertheless, it was still a bumpy and winding ride as the road was laid across the mountainous terrain. The bus would stop at the villages along the way to drop off and pick up passengers.
In Ruteng, we went to one of the best restaurants in town – Rumah Makan Chacha – for lunch. The owners Johan and Yayuk spoke very fluent English and very friendly. From them we came to know that most of their food ingredients were sourced from their family’s farms. On the way back to the bus station, we walked passed a school where the students had just ended school for the day. Some of the students smiled and said hi to us while others ran away giggling as we walked passed them. We felt that we had became an instant celebrity. However some of the older boys assumed an air of nonchalance with well-gelled hair, tuck-out shirts and model-liked standing posture – reminded us of some backstreet boys. The public bus stopped at a bus stop at the edge of Bajawa town. We called the resort reception who sent a driver to pick us up from the bus stop. It was quite a long drive (30 min) to the base of Mount Inerie where Manalulu Resort is located.
We woke up early in the morning not to the sound of singing birds but to buzzing of cicada. It was like an incessantly loud alarm clock with no snooze function. We found them everywhere in the resort and some of them even “sneaked” into our bedrooms causing a mass hysterical among the girls. Our guide tried to allay their fear by catching one of them and and hold it between his mouth. He told us that he used to eat them as TV snacks when he was a kid! Along the trail to the surrounding villages, we saw many interesting crop plants like candle nuts, cashew nuts, cloves, coffee, cacao, cotton etc. The most interesting and funny looking crop is the cashew plant; its nut actually grows outside its fruits. The fruit known as cashew apple is actually edible and is considered a delicacy in South America.
The area around Bajawa is inhabited by the Ngada people who speak the distinct Ngada language and practice catholicism with a tinge of animism. Unlike their neighbors in other parts of Flores, the Ngada poeple havea matriarchy social system in which the mother or oldest female heads the family and inheritances are passed down only through woman. We visited the traditional villages of Luba, Bena, Tololela and Gurucina which are famous for their unique architecture. The villages consist of 2 parallel rows of high thatch-roofed houses where the families live. In between the 2 rows are pair of shrines – ngadhu and bhaga – one for each clan of the villages. The ngadhu which symbolises the male ancestors is an umbrella like structure crowned by a human figurine holding a parang (harvesting knife) in one hand and a javelin in the other. The bhaga which symbolises the female ancestors is a small hut with a thatched roof. Other than the ngadhu and bhaga, there are also megalith structure which serves as a means for communicating with the supernatural and ancestors. (https://www.wmf.org/project/ngada-villages-flores). Another interesting feature of these villages was the presence of big catholic tombstones in the middle of the village square. They probably belonged to the deceased clan or village heads. Outside the village square, a group of locals were working together to build a school for the children.
In lieu of entrance fee, there was a donation box inside each village where visitors were encouraged to make some money contribution. Even though the villages are well-known tourist attractions, we didn’t see any touts around and the villagers who sold handicrafts were not pushy at all. There was even a prominent signboard at the village entrance which reminded tourists not to give any gifts to the children without their parents’ consents. This is sustainable tourism at its best.
After the village visit, we went to the Malanage Hotspring to soothe our aching muscles. The river consisted of two streams of water (one hot, one cold) which joined together to form a wider river downstream. We met a group of friendly basques who helped us to cross over to the other side of the river. I asked one of them whether he was from Spain and he replied without any hesitation “…we are from Basque which is a totally different country from Spain. We speak Basque which is unintelligible to Spanish…“