The Secret Life of Flores
World class diving, snorkelling above colourful reefs off tiny coral atolls in seas more shades of blue than there are adjectives for in the Oxford English Dictionary, ikat weaving, traditional villages, hot springs, komodo dragons, active volcano trekking, breathtaking volcanic lakes.
Flores may be one of the less frequently visited islands in eastern Indonesia, but it still has a very well defined tourist trail taking in all of the above and more. The trail follows the amusingly named Trans-Flores Highway, winding and often little more than single track in places, using dilapidated but frighteningly fast 23 seat minibuses.
Armed with four pages cut from an out of date guide to South East Asia and a recently acquired 2000 word vocabulary in Bahasa Indonesia, I flew from Bali to Maumere in the east of Flores, then spent a leisurely three weeks making my way back by bus and boat. Very high on my list of "must-sees" were the two sets of coloured volcanic lakes, three at Kelimutu near Moni, and five at Wawo Muda near Bajawa.
Kelimutu. Day One. 3.30 a.m. It looked promising. Wrong. By the time we reached the main viewpoint at 4.30, we were surrounded by clouds which had come down like a grey blanket. Worse, it was wet. If you're English, we had mizzle, hanging drizzle, penetrating drizzle and light rain in the space of half an hour. If you're not English, it just rained. The nearest lake, dark green in colour, condescended to make an appearance beneath us for about thirty seconds.
Day Two. 3.30 a.m. Filled with expectation I answered the knock on my door to find that it was raining. Actually, it was hosing down. I smiled at the driver and said, "Tidak mau ke atas, tidak ada guna, mau tidur lagi." (Literally, "not to want to up, not have use, to want to sleep again" - it's such an easy language to learn.) At 6.00 he knocked again. It had almost stopped raining, but cloudbase was still below the village and Kelimutu was several hundred metres above, so I went back to bed. The other guests, rather more pressed for time, did go up. Later, over breakfast, they reported that they had briefly seen just part of the dark green lake. I tried not to feel smug.
Day Three. 3.30 a.m. Again. At last it looked as if my patience was about to be rewarded. In the car park below the summit we stopped for a cup of something that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike coffee. "This coffee tastes like mud!" "That's strange, sir. It was only ground this morning." A shooting star streaked to its oblivion overhead, and one of the locals told me it was a sign that we'd have a good view of the lakes. The complete absence of clouds suggested there was little chance he'd be proved wrong.
We walked up by torchlight and arrived at the viewpoint just as the eastern sky was beginning to brighten. In the soft early morning light we could finally see all three lakes...