Inspired by the special coverage "Ring of Fire Expedition" by Kompas in June 2012, when I visited Flores, I determined to visit Cekungan Soa (Soa Basin). It was interesting when I asked around the people I met whether they have heard about Cekungan Soa, the answer was no. The closest one people told me about Soa was hot spring in Mengeruda in Soa.
Luckily, when my driver looked at the newspaper I brought and looked closely to the map, he recognized the Soa Airport. Then, off we went! The archeological spots are actually close to Mengeruda hotspring. It was 3 kilometer walk across the savanna and the river.
According to Kompas, the valley in Soa basin stretched up to 200 kilometer surrounded by mountains and the hills. The area is like "mass grave", since the ancient life of Flores was buried here. The reason was because the research suggested that several explosions occurred in the valley has buried the humans and animals that was predicted living between 1 million to 650,000 years ago.
The team of archeologists have been working in Soa has discovered several spots where evidence of life has been found. The spots are among others Mata Menge, Kobatuwa, Boa Lesa, Wolo Sege, Ola Bula and Tangi Talo dotted across the valley.
Luckily, I found Markus, the local farmer that was recruited to help to excavate, He took us to see Mata Menge, Kobatuwa and Boa Lesa. In these three spots, fossils of big stegodon (ancient elephant) tusk was found here. The archeologists were no longer working there when I visited. The excavations spots were closed.
I wanted to see myself what the place looks like, just to have a dash of feeling the magnitude of disaster when the explosion occurred and the whole episode of life vanished. With very little record on the Flores history, the ancient life of Flores remain a mystery waiting to un-earthened.
Sano Nggoang is located in Wae Sano village, Sanonggoang sub-district in West Manggarai district. This is one of scenic volcanic lakes in Flores and rich with endemic birds species. The lake is around 3 kilometer wide a with 600 meter depth. The white sandy beach gave impression that this is not a lake, but the sea. According to the villagers I met, there is no fish in the lake and people don’t go for swimming in this lake. However, you can enjoy scene where group of ducks (Anas superciliosa and Anas gibberifrons) swimming in the water.
There is a hot spring near the lake. The villagers and visitors use to shower in this spot, as the sulphur is said to do good for the skin. It’s like a natural spa. From the brochure I read that you can camp and ride a horse here. But I didn’t find any horse when I was there and there was no other visitor beside us.
The area is hot and humid, so make sure that you use sunscreen, comfortable clothes and bring sun glasses. Bring extra water bottles and take lunch box and snacks are advisable, as there are no restaurants here, only small stalls belong to the villagers in Wae Sano. For lunch, we knocked the door of the closed stall (warung) and luckily, the lady agreed to cook simple lunch for us.
You can reach Sano Nggoang from Labuan Bajo. The distance is approximately 60 kilometer from Labuan Bajo in Mbeliling area, on the way to Ruteng. Turn right when you see Werang village, from here you still need to drive around 40 minute. The road was not entirely good. In some spots the car has to pass stream and gravel road. During my visit in September 2012, the road construction was taking place here.
The nearest village from Sano Nggoang lake is Wae Sano village. Wae Sano is a small village with population of 263 families or 1,350 persons, still lacking of basic infrastructure such as road, electricity and health facilities. I saw simple solar-based electricity generator installed in the people’s houses.
Thanks to Burung Indonesia, a local NGO which is focusing on bird and biodiversity research, some houses in the village are available as guest house. The cost is Rp 50,000/night for a very basic room. The village also has guide that can take you to hike exploring the hills in the area. Pak Hendrikus (0813 38575056), our guide from Wae Sano, is resourceful guide for vegetation and birds in Sano Nggoang.
Hiking to Golo Dewa peak, the hill which entrance is near the village office, takes only 40 minute. From the top, you can observe the lake and surrounding. To photograph the landscape of the lake is best to start at 5 am in the morning. You can also choose longer hike to explore hills or go around the lake.
During hiking to Golo Dewa peak, we came across bird nest in the tree where two little birds were found there. At least of 20 Flores endemic birds, some 17 species can be found in Mbeliling area, including Sano Nggoang. According to the GeoMagz magazine, endemic birds in this area are among others Gracula religiosa, Corvus florensis, Tesia everetti, Rhipidura diluta and Caridonax fulgidus.
The snake cave Istana Ular is classified under the off the beaten path trip. It it because according to the local people I met, there are still few visitors came to this spot. I was curious to visit Istana Ular because of the episode in NatGeo that I watched in the TV. Visiting the cave is not recommended for those who don't fancy the snakes.
Istana Ular is located 70 kilometer from Labuan Bajo en route to Ruteng (1 hour driving). After reaching Lembor, you can ask around the turn to Daleng Village. (around 7 kilometer from Lembor on the left).
To reach the cave, you can rent motorcycle or walk. I preferred the second option, as the road was too bumpy to ride a motorcycle. The air was hot and humid, the surrounding was very dry. Sipri, the villager I met, agreed to take us to the cave. From the main road reaching the cave was around 6 kilometer. There was a shortcut that Sipri later told us. It was a tunnel in the hill that functions as irrigation channel from the nearby river.
If you want to visit the snake cave, make sure that you are equipped with the flash light, first aid, bottle water, sun screen and it is better to wear longs leaves shirt and the shoes to protect you from the bite.
The cave has a foul smell from the bats. In the entrance, we found snake skin. According to Sipri and the old man name Gabriel that we found near the cave, if we were "lucky", there will be lot of snakes hang-out in the cave, but for this one should perform a ritual that involves local leader.
The first phyton was found less than 10 meter on the right hand side. It curled in the corner wall of the cave. Another one was laying stretched just in the opposite of the curling snake. As my flash light run out of the battery, I decided not to explore further to see the giant snake that Sipri told me quite huge. Inside the cave was hot, muddy and stink.
Thanks to generosity of the scientists working in Liang Bua cave, they allowed me to see the replica of “the hobbit” Homo Floresiensis. It was very tiny for a skeleton of the human adult.
When it was found in Liang Bua cave in 2003, the skeleton was relatively complete. The skeleton was buried and found in 595 meter depth during excavation. The research suggested that it was female with age between 20-30 years old and she lived between 10,000 to 95,000 years ago. The height was 115 meter with brain volume of 400 cc, much smaller than the modern human. There is still debate whether “The Flores Hobbit” is modern human or belong to the earlier human like “Lucy” (Australopithecus afarensis) that was found in Africa, which was predicted to live around 3 million years ago.
I found that the work of the Archeologists is fascinating! This was my first time to watch and observe they work in the field. (usually I only found they work result in the museum). I am thankful that they are patient with me and also very kind to show me various discoveries they found in the Liang Bua cave.
The workers that helped the excavation, later took the dirt to the nearby spring. They cleaned and separate the dirt, the bones and stones, and then classify them under the sign based on the depth level or the work area (I forgot). Once Pak Rokus Due Awe called me and showed the teeth of the Stegodon (the ancient elephant). Based on years of experience, he could tell me straight away that the teeth were rarely used based on its texture and shape.
After hard work in the cave, the team returned to the hotel in Ruteng. In the evening, they continue to work, to identify, to classify and to record the bones and stones (mostly). They showed me the bones of the stegodon, komodo, giant rats, as well as artifacts and the stories of the life in the past. After midnight and I was nearly fell asleep, the team still continued to work and they woke up much earlier than me to prepare to go for another long day in the “office”. That night I dreamed about trunk full of bones!
If you are happen to be interested in the archeology or in the related field, you will find hang-out in the Liang Bua cave is very interesting.
If you want to visit Wae Rebo Village, make sure you spare minimum two to three days from your travel plan. Consider travel time from Labuan Bajo (four hours) or Ruteng (three hours), as well as hiking to reach Wae Rebo.
During my visit in the beginning of September 2012, I traveled from Ruteng and reached Denge in the evening. Denge is the last village next to the forest. I spent the night at the guest house belong to Mr.Blasius (Rp 200,000/day). There is also lodge belong to Mr.Martinus name Wae Rebo Lodge (Rp 150,000/day). The lodge is located in Dintor village, two kilometer from Denge.
I started to hike from Denge at 7 am in the morning. The Wae Rebo people have set-up standard of visit for visitors. For example, porter costs Rp 75,000/day or Rp 150,000/trip (back and forth) with maximum load 7 kilogram per porter.
Total distance from Denge to Wae Rebo village is 6,6 kilometer (Garmin measurement) and can be reached between 2-4 hours. If you bring mobile phone, the only and last spot to make a phone call or send text message is at the Poco Roko, the peak of the valley.
Once you reached the village, usually the community leader will ask you to follow them to the main house where the village elders waiting for you. Here, the visitor will have to follow welcome ceremony as protection and pay respect to the ancestors. Expect to pay donation in the ceremony, wait for the sign from the person that usually assigned to accompany the visitors and guide through the first hour of the arrival.
If you want to stay in the village, the people have spared one traditional house as guest house. The house can accommodate more than 20 people. There is line of mattress made of hand-made woven material stuffed with cotton from the nearby forest. The cost is Rp 225,000/night. If you don’t spend a night, the cost is Rp 100,000. This includes three times meals and coffee/tea. Why there is a cost? Yosef Katup, one of the village leaders told me that when visitor came, the elders assign people to accompany you, take care of you and women cooking meal. It means that they can’t work in the fields, tending plants and animal.
I never heard about Wae Rebo village until national newspaper run the article about the village in the beginning of 2012. The picture of houses like drums line up with the background of mountain and forest somehow stucked in my mind.
At the beginning I wasn’t sure if I could manage to squeeze visiting Wae Rebo in my travel list. From what I have read, to reach the village one needs to hike two to four hours through jungle. Another concern was whether the villagers will be accepting woman solo traveler, as I decided not to take any package tour. When I finally made it to Wae Rebo village, it was worth the journey. The village, the people, the culture and the nature took my breath away. It was instant love at the first sight.
In August 2012, UNESCO awarded Mbaru Niang, a traditional houses in Flores in the 2012 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. In Wae Rebo village, there are nine traditional houses. Thanks to the young group of Indonesian architect who visited Wae Rebo in 2008. Since then, with support of philanthropic in Jakarta and the people of Wae Rebo, together they re-built the Mbaru Niang houses.
I listened the villagers told me the story. They were very grateful that they could re-build their traditional houses. There was only one traditional house standing in the village before, as the other houses were collapsed due to the weather and poor condition. I was lucky to be able to watch the documentary film following the rebuilding process with traditional ceremonies, wisdoms and remarkable architecture.
Now, visitor center was built in the Denge Village, the last village before entering the forest as the main route to reach Wae Rebo village. Visitor can learn about the rebuilding process and the culture of Wae Rebo village. And now, visitor can spend the night in the traditional house. The Wae Rebo people spare one Mbaru Niang as guest house. They are also setting the standard cost and the rule of conduct when visitor wants to spend the night at the village. I heard this happened as the number of visitors to Wae Rebo is growing fast and the rule was set to prevent conflict among the people.
To reach Wae Rebo village, you can drive from Labuan Bajo or from Ruteng. I took the route from Ruteng, around three hours driving until reaching Kombo village. Kombo village is considered as “twin village of Wae Rebo” as the Wae Rebo people send their children to school in this village and their rice fields are also here. You can spend night here or in Denge village before setting off to Wae Rebo.
Sunset was stunning beauty, don't miss to watch the sun when it was going down, you could see this natural phenomenon from a hill side at Puncak Waringin, or it was a good view from Puncak Waringin Hotel.
A better way to get to this site, just call a Motorcycle Ojek and said to the Ojek driver to go to Puncak Waringin, it cost only Rupiah 5,000 for one trip
Do you feel for a hot bath, but outdoors? Moni has two options on offer. First there is a swiming pool filled with water heated by the volcano (Kelimutu). It is in the upper half of the village. But here you have to pay for the privillege. The second option are the pools in the river outside the village. Just follow the mainroad up (it is allways up when it is something), to the left there is a aqueduct going towards the river, follow that, pass the pool at the base of a beautifull waterfall (here it is often a lot of kids) and continue a few minutes above the waterfall on the other side (!!) of the river there is two small pools, barely visible. The one upstream are for men, the other are for females. It is free sight between the two, so the rule are don’t look. (Yes, that can be a hard one sometimes) The water are in the lower thirties and pleasant to relax in.
In the lower part of Moni, there is a marketplace. Every morning there is some comerce going on there, but it is on mondays things really happens. It is maybe not the most exiting market in the country, but it has a certain rustic charm making a visit rewarding. This is a good place to get the local alcohol, the palmvine (Balok). This is a opportunity to meet locals from the surrounding area. (and maybe get an invitation to look behind the stage in somebodys village and home).
Just behind the Rumah adat in Moni there start a road. It take you into the countryside up a valley. Here you will find timeless farmland and villages with friendly and curious villagers. If you are unable to drink koffee, don’t go. I spend most of the day in the company of the locals, eiter inside/outside their homes, and on the fields. Everyone provided me with new insight into the local way of life, their groblems, and successes, and not at least their ideas and thoughts about many things. It may happend to you as it happened to me, you find sort of a soulmate along the way, but a soulmate with a very different line of faith. I found my on the fields, first i ate his fruit (or to be exact, the pineapples of some of his relatives), before eating lunch and later dinner. I was simply not allowed to leave. When his fater later came home, i had to eat with him, as well. The friendlyness and generosity to be experienced in this easy acessible, but seldom visited area are overwhelming. But again, come armed with some languageknowledge.
In the middle of the livinquarter mentioned in the tip above are one of the finest traditional rumah adat, ceremonial house, to be seen in the whole region. Most of the old houses of wood and straw are replaced by modern and anonymous ones buildt in concrete. The reason is partly economical, the modern variety are cheaper, but the governmental politics of making everyone “true Indonesian”are possibly the most important reason. The rumah adat are the physical centre of a intricate web of customs, myths, taboos, traditional law and religion ans social connections. A village are far from complete without a house like this. In our days this house, or the space around it, are regulary used for traditional danceperformances when the number of visitors are big enough.
From many tourists point of wiew the village of Moni is only a servicetown for the visit of the local volcano Kelimutu. There is a lot of places to stay and eat, and a lot of signs in english. However, there is some points of interest. The livingquarter around the rumah adat, only 20 meters from the nearest inn, are allready another world. When i entered i was almost imediatly stopped by a barrage of curious question, and spendt the two next nights in the home of a farmer, eating his food and drinking his coffee. Knowing some of the language, bahasa indonesia, and displaying some interesst are a certain dooropener. You are provided a great opportunity to see how locals live, and, if you use your eyes, you will see some funny mixes of ancient beliefs and christianity. One interesting aspect of this is that the locals have no idea that their form of religion sometimes are very unfamiliar to the pope.
The best way to return from Kelimutu are by foot. Early in the morning the forrest between the parkinglot and the craters, are filled with birdsong, odors from plants, and if you get the wind from the same direction as i did, it is also filled with windpowered music in the branches. Follow the road some twists down the dense forest and take to the right beside a sign. You then enter a path passing at the left side og Gunung (mount) Kelimutu. This area are beautifull cultivated land with a lot of nice villages. This area is a good place to see the production of the ikatcloth , covered in a separate tip. Eventually, after having asked for direction several times, you are back in Moni down in the valley. It is an easy half day trip (at least in my mind), but it is fully possible to linger all day long. Just look up for the sudden tropical darkness.