I’m in Ruteng for the day, a sprawling town in the mountains of Flores that quite obviously does not get many solitary tourists wandering around. Ojecks (motorbike taxis) are few and far between, restaurant staff just sort of stare at you blankly when you try to order off the menu by aggressively pointing at things, and street signs are nonexistent — but then again, the Jurassic Park-style scenery nearby this settlement justifies a lot of irritation.
I went out to visit the Ranamese crater lake today, a very deep and very blue indentation in the earth that reaches a respectable 21 meters in depth. Huge and indolent butterflies flitted over the scenery as fishermen on cobbled-together rafts paddled carefully around the outskirts of the water. True to form in Flores, myself and my ojek driver were about the only people there otherwise.
I imagined Brontosaurs paddling in the lake in some time before time. Certainly the Flores “hobbits” — the only aspect of this massive island beyond Komodo dragons that has penetrated the international consciousness — occasionally came to this place. The local government is trying to foster more tourism at this promising spot. I suggest engineering a lake monster, if there isn’t already one.
Ruteng is very Catholic, like the rest of Flores, and school kids in the local uniforms are a ubiquitous presence on the streets. There’s a nice cathedral in the center of town, which makes a fine picture in the early mornings as mist comes tumbling off the green mountains.
Flores reminds me of Hawaii in its curiously antediluvian foliage – the sort of place you’d really imagine some sort of ghost from the past to lumber out of the woods and stare at you. To the aspirant 10-year-old naturalist in me, it’s nothing short of stirring. Plants and animals and insects one has never seen before, unique to the area. The peculiar appeal of a trip to Wallacea.
Ever wondered how they make palm arak, Indonesia’s dearly beloved and shockingly potent local tipple? Here’s the contraption. Labuan Bajo kids regularly go up the hill on the way to Ruteng to procure the stuff, which is sold in innocent looking plastic water bottles. The remarkable bamboo contraption used to make it is pretty impressive.