Thursday, 9th of April 2015
At 5.17am Rita knocked on the door and asked us to have a tea. The rice was already cooked, boiled eggs and some tasty noodles were also waiting for us. The sun was rising and ayams (or chickens) were getting crazy, echoing through the whole town. Rita didn’t have to shout through the door as the house’s roof hangs above the walls with no ceiling, allowing for the hot, humid air to circulate throughout the building. Still very sleepy, drinking the sweet tea, Wendy told Rita ‘Wow, pagi-pagi tapi sudah ada nasi, terima kasih! Kakak tidur bagus?’ (So early but already have rice, thank you! Did sister sleep ok?) ‘Cukup’, enough, replied Rita smiling humbly.
We took a shower, sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellent, packed our bags and quickly went along the street full of banana trees to the main road. We had to catch a bus and it was already after 6. We were in Larantuka, East Flores, heading to Maumere after a wonderful week there. Rita had just started her CouchSurfing profile and we were her first guests. All of us were really excited to meet each other and we felt sad saying goodbye.
A bus appeared out of nowhere and we got in. As usually, we spent about an hour going back and forth around the town, gathering passengers. As usually people were smoking inside, of course someone had a chicken and naturally the seats were awfully hard. We finally set off. Looking out of the window was almost compensating all above though. Rice fields, volcanos, seas, islands, traditional villages, stuff like that.
Someone travelled on the roof, someone travelled with a pig in a bamboo cage, someone puked. About 11 we arrived to Maumere. As usually straight away we were surrounded by people shouting ‘Hello Mister! Where you go? My name is? Want transport?’ Explaining that we’re waiting for a friend calmed them down a bit.
Lia, Rita’s cousin had been really excited to meet us. She’s a freshly graduated English teacher but it isn’t only the opportunity to practise English that made her happy. She has never been out of NTT, the amazing province of Indonesia we’re in, so having new friends from abroad was quite a thing for her. And having a new friend from Maumere was quite a thing for us. Lia, her brother and neighbour picked us up on motorbikes soon after our arrival. At the house we also met her mother, waiting for us with a delicious lunch. Kuah asam, a tamarind and lemongrass fish soup, great fresh basil sambal, fish satay and delicious veggies straight from the garden. Of course with white rice we had already grown used to eating three times a day. They were really excited to find we spoke some Indonesian, while Rita’s brother Fian, followed by their mom, were slowly refreshing their English. After seeing their beautiful garden full of what can be turned into a variety of delicious food, meeting a friend and quite a few cousins, we went for a ride.
First we rode through town and stopped at the harbour. Then we went to Upik’s place. Lia’s best friend has a larger farm/garden out of town and invited us to drink some coconut water. Her uncle climbed a palm tree, throwing down a bunch of coconuts. We tried all possible versions, from unripe ones without any meet but with a lot of refreshing sweet and sour water, to ones where the whole milk had a form of a soft, sweet sponge you can snack on.
Then they asked us if we wanted to have a sip of traditional alcoholic drink made from a local fruit. ‘It’s about 70% strong though’. I eagerly accepted the challenge. We sat at the table at Upik’s place while she brought a jar with herbs and something looking like big potato at the bottom. While Upik was pouring some of the alcohol into a coconut shell cup, they explained us the potato thing is a deer fetus people put there believing it gives extra strength to the drink. Wendy pretended to herself that she hadn’t understood. The drink tasted quite like palinka.
Next we went to the village of Nilo, which houses a big statue of St Mary overlooking the town. The narrow, winding road full of potholes lead through some small villages and had wonderful views – you could see two seas at the same time. The majority of NTT’s population is Catholic and very religious, we met a group of pilgrims at the statue.
Our next stop was at the traditional harbour or Wurung village, a still separate part of town for centuries inhabited by people of Makassar, the Bugis, who long dominated what is today east Indonesia, trading even with Australian Aborigines. The atmosphere of the harbour district still dominated by the utterly traditional lifestyle was just unforgettable. I think pictures show it much better than text would.
We jumped on bikes and raced to catch a sunset at a place locals cal tanjung – the cape. About 20 kilometres out of town, with beautiful mountains, peaceful villages and juicy-green rice fields on the way, there is a cross on a hill, from which we enjoyed quite an amazing view.
Coming back home, another feast was awaiting us. More fish skewers, tofu fried with potatoes and vegetables accompanied by a beautiful dish which name I don’t remember anymore – cassava fried with papaya leafs and grated coconut, all straight from the tree.
A plate of fried meat was also on the table. ‘Do you like dog meat?’ Lia’s mom asked us in Indonesian. ‘We… don’t really know’, we replied. Lia told her mom we never tried it before. She was quite surprised but at the same time happy to let us taste this treat. We had known this would happen at some point. We decided to play the ball. After placing some of the meat on our plates, between all the delicious things we couldn’t wait to eat, we gave it a try. It wasn’t very bad (would have been much better though if it wasn’t the whole animal except guts), but the imagination didn’t make it easy. We loved the rest of the dinner though, nobody noticed we went through the minor struggle and after a nice conversation we went to bed.
Writing while travelling is really hard. As we’re slowly putting together a few posts on interesting places and issues we encountered on our way, we decided to write about that particular day. Many of our days look similar, our experiences in Larantuka for instance were equally great, but this day was particularly eventful and we think it shows really well how our everyday life often looks like these days. Be patient waiting for new posts.
We spent just two days in Maumere but the family made us feel a part of them. They even said we were part of the family now. It felt amazing, we were sad to leave and felt sure that we’d be back at some point. Now, we’ve been continuing our trip west through Flores.