My cheeks hurt from smiling. I jokingly massaged my face and the six and seven year old boys I was dancing with imitated me, sending me into a further fit of laughter. The music blasted over the crowd, and I was high on life. We were finally dancing after what seemed like hours of a ceremony I couldn’t understand, made slightly more bearable by the shots of arok my host kept passing to me and my friends. I was at a wedding in a small village up in the mountains of the island of Flores. The rest of the world couldn’t have been further away.
(Photo credit: Harrison Ritchie)
We had landed on the island a couple days earlier. It felt wild as soon as we stepped off the small propeller plane we’d taken from Bali. Great jungle covered mountains rose up from the sea, their peaks disappearing into the low hanging clouds. My friend Harry had flown to meet me for this leg of the trip-to set out to explore some of the more remote reaches of Indonesia on the island of Flores.
After close to two hours of hairpin turns along narrow mountain roads, countless scenic vistas, and one stop for me to empty the contents of my stomach, we arrived in the small village of Moni. And by small village I mean the most off the map place I’ve ever been in my life. No phone service, no wifi. As we walked along the streets, people giddily asked to take our picture, and those on motorbikes craned their heads around to look at us for a few seconds more as they sped into the distance.
We were greeted at our homestay by a man with giant gauges in his ears and tattoos covering one arm and one leg. A painting of Bob Marley hung near the outdoor table, near a sign that read “peace sex with love”. We’d found the hippie outpost of rural Flores. After chatting over tea and playing with the 2-week old puppies currently inhabiting the kitchen, we set out for lunch, carefully following the directions given to us-left at the football field, right at the waterfall, cross the bamboo bridge that only half assures one they won’t fall tumbling into the river below, and up the hill. I gulped down fresh mango juice and slurped down greasy mie goreng.
Lopez, our host, cooked dinner for us that night. We sat on a log in the kitchen peeling garlic and shallots while we cooked up homemade Tempe, tofu, greens, and a coconut chicken curry for the others, with a chicken he had just killed a few hours before. He explained to us if people wanted to eat meat here, they had to kill the animal. There is no market to buy ready made servings. His dogs circled, exercising unheard of self control, knowing they’d get to eat the same meal as us when he was finished. In a country that widely eats pups, I was warmed by his will to rescue these guys and care for them so lovingly. Over the course of the next two days his kindness took me aback. The way he looked out for the kids in his village, for his family, for his dogs, for us, made me realize how fortunate I was to have crossed paths with this man.
We had planned on an early night because we had to wake at 4am for a sunrise hike, but we stayed up late talking to Lopez, incapable of pulling ourselves away as he served as a window into life in rural Flores. Wild traditions, magic, local histories, chiefs, politics, their mix of religion with pre-existing practices, and the government of Indonesia. When we finally headed to bed my mind was swimming. After listening to Lopez talk about his childhood, I once again felt the all too familiar feeling of my privilege sitting on my chest, suffocating me. It’s two different worlds that we live in. We come for a week because it’s wild, novel, and interesting, but then we return to our comfortable lives while people here continue to live without many things I consider the most basic necessities. It’s a lot to take in.
We woke early the next morning and headed to kelimutu to see the three volcanic crater lakes that constantly shift colors due to an ever changing chemical composition. Bright aqua blues and deep blood reds, blues that are almost black and sea greens. The lakes are known to be the spiritual resting place of locals’ ancestors. After a rather short trek to the top, I sat freezing, huddled together with my friends, waiting for the sun to rise. Its preceding light painted the distant mountains layers of watercolor, and when it finally rose above the horizon, it lit up the countless mountains, distant ocean, and spirit-filled lakes below us. Its warmth sank into my bones and its light lit up the spectacular scene before us. We spent the next few hours hiking back down to Moni over farming terraces and through banana tree groves, past vistas of mountains parting to reveal the sparkling sea below. Children ran out of their homes, giggling and saying hello as we passed. When we got back home, Lopez cooked us a breakfast feast of fresh mangos, papaya, and fried bananas.