The ride up to the Kelimutu crater lakes of Flores winds through green chasms and tropical jungles, so incredibly beautiful that it’d be some sort of violently curated five star national park in most other countries, with an image on every billboard and brochure. Here, in enormous and shockingly ecologically wealthy Indonesia, these incredible gorges are just a place where people live — white waterfalls tumbling down cliffs, huge stands of bamboo, tree-clinging banyan trees, and rice paddies tumbling down to a rocky wild river. Ho, hum. Just Flores.
People who sell gasoline out of plastic bottles and potato-chip specialists live in wooden homes with access to views that would cost billions in most other places. I feel this is probably as it should be.
My driver takes me to the gate of Kelimutu and I pay about $5 total for an entry and a camera fee — I’m definitely the only car to come through, and none of the green clad guards understand my (less than excellent) Bahasa pronunciation of “Where is a bathroom?”, although they all feel rather apologetic about it. Well, not their fault.
We drive through cloud forest and than arrive at a optimistically large and totally empty parking lot, other than a few motorbikes. An ikat-clad woman waves me over and convinces me to buy some biscuits and water from her: the three people manning the Kelimutu parking lot businesses on this day seem mostly glad for the company.
The driver and I begin the brief walk to the lip of the Kelimutu crater: the verdant jungle gives way extremely suddenly to a barren moonscape. I walk up a series of stairs and there’s the first crater, the brown one where the spirits of the old and wise go — rusty water glinting in the early sunlight, divided from the turquoise lake by an almost comically slender spit of rock.
The wind rattles over the rocks, and some clouds are blowing in from the left, but the sun is out and sparkling. The smell of sulphur hangs in the air, the tell-tale sign of the presence of hydrogen sulfide, and the volcanic activity that comes with it, here in the midst of the Ring of Fire. It is no mystery why the people here have certain mystical beliefs surrounding this place: it appears largely impossible.
An old man who’s been sitting up there since dawn offers me ginger coffee, although he sounds less than hopeful: I buy two, one for me and one for my guide. I unfold the spidery legs of my new Manfrotto tripod, and I conclude that it was worth the (rather reasonable) $130 I paid for it. My country for image stabilization.
Some tourists tried to hike down to the caldera and perished somewhere between there and here. I keep meaning to look for a paper on the chemical composition of the water, but even I want to retain the odd mysticism of the place for a few more days.