We are sailing off the beaten path a bit in Indonesia. We skipped joining a rally and are making it up as we go along. Our pursuit is for language and connection, fresh food, day to day life, green coffee beans, handmade fabric, some snorkeling, and volcanoes. I don’t remember when I first saw a photo of Kelimutu but it has been one of my must-go destinations.
Kelimutu is a high (1639 meters/ 5377 feet) volcanic mountain on Flores, deep inland near a small village called Moni. It last errupted in 1968. There are three enormous crater lakes filled with thickly pigmented water that changes color over time. Local lore says that spirits go to the lakes, and which lake a spirit is assigned to depends on the age and character of the person who died. There is one lake for young people (Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri- Lake of the Young Men and Maidens), one for old (Tiwu Ata Bupu- Lake of the Old People), and one for the thieves and murderers (Tiwu Ata Polo- Bewitched or Enchanted Lakes). Photos I had seen of Kelimutu were just stunning, I have a bit of an ongoing desire to see volcanoes, and since I was going to be in this part of the world I needed to figure out a way to go.
I have a way of saying I want to do something and Tucker has a way of figuring out how to make it happen. I say the word and the gears will tick things into place. This pushes my comfort. Very often I have taken back my wish…”No really, I didn’t say I wanted to go around Cape Horn. Norway is not even pretty at all, we should definitely not sail there. Forget I said that, let’s just…..” Despite that, I got to Flores and was pretty much ready to do whatever it took to get to Kelimutu.
Pro/con lists form in my head. I wondered if leaving the boat unattended was okay. It’s a busy fishing harbor where some of the boats use buckets of cement as anchors. Would the next boat run into us? Would there be an earthquake and tsunami to wash the boat a kilometer inland? We packed our passports just in case Convivia wasn’t in the harbor when we returned. We locked the boat up and tucked things away carefully. I’m pretty sure everyone in town knew where we were headed despite telling them we were “jalan jalan,” just walking around.
I didn’t know where we were staying. I didn’t know how we were getting there. I had no idea how terrible the main road to Moni really was. Had I heard about the road conditions, the rocks and cows and avalanches of gravel, I may have put a stop to it. I don’t really like being in cars. I especially don’t like being in cars on the edges of cliffs (maybe that started when I met the one armed shoemaker that drove over a cliff and was pinned for days until he decided to cut his own arm free).
And then I was in a bemo, an Indonesian bus with the door open, crowded to fill all of the three dimensional space. Ruby was on my lap, the four of us were squished into a seat for two. We held onto our backpacks so they didn’t fly out the door. And we ascended away from the shore, away from the town, and into the hills. The Indonesian reggae was a bit comforting, “everything is going to be all right,” but the hills got bigger and the road got smaller and I found myself daydreaming of my happy place- a European car with airbags, and anti-lock breaks, and five point harnesses for my children in the suburbs. I have never come to this happy place before (it’s usually Suwarrow). Here, in some of the most gorgeous scenery I had ever seen, I was wistful for the life I used to have, sort of.
The drive wasn’t my only worry. I didn’t know how Tucker and the kids were going to eat. In my backpack, I carried a batch of banana coconut muffins and a few other snacks. I knew I could eat something, but finding food here without soy sauce (wheat) is tricky. I thought we might find some mangoes and a bunch of bananas and that would be it for 24 hours. I didn’t know where we were going to sleep, how we were going to avoid mosquitos, or how we were going to get the kids up before dawn for a 2k hike straight uphill.
I’m a preparer, a have a plan-b-er, a first aid kit carrier. I have a fork and a spoon, some spare contact lenses, sunscreen, bugspray, and a headlamp in my bag on a regular day. On Convivia, just in case, I have two sewing machines, a book about the periodic table of elements, flash cards for Latin and Greek words, a candy thermometer, a malaria test kit, all of the ingredients for homemade laundry detergent, a spare coffee press, recipes for playdough, a book about making dinosaur stuffed animals, and a deck of cards in the ditch bag… you get the idea. Preparing for an overnight without all of my backups was a stretch for me.
I packed Deet, a mosquito net, some food, a phrasebook, two liters of water, two spare pairs of contacts and my glasses, some long sleeves, and a pair of wool socks. I went anyway knowing that we may not arrive at our destination or have a place to stay when we did. But at the same time, from what I’ve observed in the world and even here in our short time in Indonesia, we have always been welcome, and will have a place, and be fed.
We got to Moni, we found a lodge to sleep in, we found snacks to make it through the afternoon, and we found bottled water to drink. Dinner found us. Eben, I think his name is, the chef of the Bambu cafe, showed us his “certificate” and convinced us that his food was the best in Flores. He spoke English and assured me he wouldn’t be using soy sauce, or flour, or ketcap manis, and he kept insisting that Tucker and the kids would be safe when I asked for reassurance (in English and Bahasa Indonesia). We slept in a huge rectangular bed (with no sailboat rigging dividing the mattress in two) covered with a mosquito net, and covered the kids with the one we brought. We showered with plentiful hot-ish water. We could barely keep our eyes open when we set the alarm for 4.
Our driver brought us to the carpark at Kelimutu National Park and we walked up the rest of the mountain as the sun rose. It was chilly and windy and, as it got light, absolutely beautiful. Layers upon layers of mountains appeared before us as the sun rose in the east. We urged the kids to walk quickly so we could summit before sunrise. I saw the powdery blue caldera first and then came the darker blue green one. We were shivering when we summited. It was 15ºC/59ºF (of course I carry a thermometer) as the sun appeared. The three calderas were stunning- aqua blue, blue/green, and very dark green/black. The rock walls, the peaks, the hills in the distance, the water in the lakes, the color in the sky- all were breathtaking. I could have happily stayed for hours. I imagined sailing our little dinghy in the powder blue lake. I wondered if anyone has ever climbed down in. I wondered what the water temperature was. I wondered how the colors might change. It was absolutely beautiful.
When the kids got cold, we walked down, noticing plants, bird calls, and wild pigs along the way. We found our driver and meandered down the mountain towards Moni, stopping to admire the rice fields, the views, the hot springs (and even putting our hands in the women’s bath, while averting our eyes while the men bathed). We took a small walk to a waterfall, where the kids quickly walked over a bamboo bridge. “It’s perfectly safe,” said Miles when he and Ruby nearly ran across. I walked timidly, and found another way to cross back.
I was feeling great until we were driving back towards Ende, back towards the harbor, and back towards Convivia. We had to stop for a while because the road was closed. In preparing, I had packed enough food to get home in two hours, I had drunk enough water to be hydrated but not have to pee for two hours, and I could stay present and awake for two hours. The road opened and we drove again for a while before the road was closed again.
This time, “the road is destroyed and broken,” one of the road workers told us. I climbed up some rock rubble on the side of the road. I could see the bulldozers working on the road. What had been there yesterday wasn’t there today. The road had been covered by rubble. There was no road. On the way up I had imagined this, an avalanche blocking the way, keeping us from going up to Moni, but for some reason I hadn’t imagined being blocked from going home. The kids dug into their emergency snacks. We chatted with the young Indonesian bemo drivers and road workers, and we nodded to the European tourists that were trying to make flights to Labuan Bajo. I had paced myself for 24 hours and now I had no idea when I was getting home.
I watched nervously as the road on the edge of the cliff got dug back out. There wasn’t even a way to walk home. I dug out my bravery potion, the same stuff I had rubbed on Miles’ wrists when we stood on the edge of Mt. Yassur as it exploded and he told me that he meant he wanted to read more books about exploding volcanoes, not actually see them. Our side of the road went first; first the motorcycles (with babies in carriers, kids without helmets, a family of five), then the cars. Horns honked, motorcycles from the other direction squeezed by. The road was barely big enough for a car, but it worked.
We wound our way down the hills, down to Ende. We saw the mast first, and then the boat, bought veggies for dinner, wove our way through the fish market, emptied the dinghy of mango leaves, and rowed home. Home sweet home. Home, where though we have little space, no hot shower, and few comforts, we have everything we know, everything we need, and a way to see the world, bit by bit, slowly and thoroughly.