Visit to the Flower Island: Part 3
Flores, Indonesia, 2009-03-24 12:00 by Martin and Laerke
After a couple of days of holiday in Labuan Bajo we rented a car to take us the seven hour trip east towards the tiny village of Werana and Olivia’s family home. It was a long and winding cardrive through the beautiful scenery of Flores. The Trans Flores Highway snakes its way through valleys and over mountains, and the narrow road, with just enough space for two cars to pass each other, is potholed and landslides are frequent, but are mostly small enough not to block the whole road.

We were royally welcomed with a warmth and friendliness you often only find in small villages and amongst people with “simpler” and less material lives. Olivias family home is inhabited by her parents, her oldest brother Eddie, his wife Ferni and one of the middle daughters, Lina, who had just miscarried, and were therefore spending some time at home together with her daughter Fianny (2 years old). Ferni and Eddie also had a daughter, Deltri (8 months old), with the cutest little worried looking face. Olivias’s oldest brother Johnny had come all the way from Sumba on Olivia’s request, as he is a great cook, and Olivia wanted us to get the best treatment possible – which we indeed were to get.

The family home wasn’t big; it consisted of two close lying buildings one of which was the kitchen, the other the living space, consisting of 5 small rooms; four bedrooms and a living room. We (Laerke and I, Yulun and Timo + Olivia) each got a small bedroom, and the rest of the family huddled together in the remaining rooms and kitchen (which had a bed as well) – we knew there would be no point in arguing; as guests we were first priority so there were no doubt in our lovely host family’s mind, that we of cause needed the prime accommodation.

Our days were spent talking and eating delicious, but as Johnny said himself, simple kampung food in the kitchen, peeling onions with Olivias father, singing songs with Timo or Eddie accompanying on guitar, and playing with the cute girls. Visit to the toilet or showering was a bit of an expedition, as the “toilet” was placed down the slope towards the ricepaddies – the shower, really just a stream of water, was further down the slope, right on the edge of the fields. It was so refreshing having the cold water cool you down, while having great views of the ricefields – unfortunately the path back up to the house was quite steep and slippery due to the rain, that you were often already sweating when finally back up at the house... well, it was great anyway.

Flores felt hot, really hot! Even though Werana was a bit up in the mountains, the relentless sun and still winds were really taking hard on us; used to a fan or sometimes even aircon, it was merciless not to be able to find a place to cool off for a bit. Luckily Ferni ordered us to give to her our laundry for washing, so even though we had packed light, we were always with clean clothes.

We also took trips to the surrounding countryside and the nearby towns and markets; it was great roaming around all the stalls, and we even got to visit Olivia’s fathers stall, where we attracted so much attention (yes, foreigners are not that common on these parts) that he got at least a few extra, curious customers. We got introduced to a fruit that, as many others, we have never seen back home – it was called a Markisa, and tasted delicious. It is best described as a passion-fruit with a hint of grape-like flavor; very yummy.
There was also time to visit the local and almost deserted beach and some very hot hotsprings, unfortunately it was so hot that it didn’t felt right to get even hotter and there were also a little too many spectators to enjoy it fully.

Two chickens and one pig had to go to animal heaven because of us; as mentioned earlier, we had to get the best, including food. Timo one day decided to buy a roaster for the family, as it is apparently tradition to bring one when visiting in-laws. He chose a great looking fellow, big, strong and beautiful - and also the most expensive one (7 dollars). He had high expectations for the roaster, dreaming of it as an alpha male, being the father to many small baby chickens and thus bringing Olivias family a steady supply of meat and eggs. But as soon as we got home and Timo turned his back, the roaster got its head chopped off, were soon plucked and ready to put in the pot. All this was unbeknown to Timo, who only found out the truth after dinner (yes, we had chicken soup!). He got a bit baffled, but wasn’t exactly crushed, though he kept raving about what a great future the roaster could have had. In the end we could not help laughing of Timos grand but broken visions; I was laughing so hard, that tears almost rolled down my cheeks - which pleased Olivias father, who seemed genuinely happy that his guests was having a really good time. The roaster met its creator a little before time, and we had a really fun night.

Hello and goodbye roaster!

It was hard to say goodbye to the family, but we were looking forward to getting back to our own beds, electricity, running water and some privacy. Even though we had a great time, the closeness of everything and everyone can be hard, when you are used to be able to go home, read a book and just be yourself. Privacy in the countryside is not considered a privilege; it is more seen as loneliness or unhappiness, thus everyone will always be together, and spending time alone is considered odd or they might think that you are sick or that something is wrong with you.

We took a car back to Labuan Bajo on Saturday, as our flight was leaving Sunday in the morning. Arriving in Labuan Bajo late in the evening we had a great dinner, but went straight to bed, exhausted by the 7 hour drive. The next morning we all got up and headed for the airport, a bit sad that we hadn’t had enough time in Labuan Bajo. We were waiting in the tiny airport (a house and a landing strip), and couldn’t understand why no one opened the small check-in both. After a while we started to ask around, and were told that “they didn’t think that a plane was leaving today”! 5 minutes after that, we received an SMS telling us that the plane was cancelled, and we should call and make new arrangements for the flight that would be leaving the next day. Cell-phone coverage on Flores is bad, which was why the SMS, which had been sent the day before, didn’t arrive until one hour before our scheduled departure…not very convenient. It wasn’t that bad though; we got confirmation that the staff of our airline would get us tickets for the flight the next day, and they would deliver the tickets to our hotel in the evening, after hassling them a bit, we also got our accommodation for the extra night covered.
We hurried back to the hotel, checked in again and went out for another day on the beach. Taking a small boat to Bidadari Island again, we enjoyed this extra day of vacation to the fullest. It seemed as just the perfect way of rounding off our trip to Flores.

In the evening we were met at the hotel by a staff from the airline, telling us that we would get the ticket by the morning instead…ok, no problem for us, as he insured us that they had transferred us to the morning flight. The next morning tickets still hadn’t arrived and we got a bit tense; soon after though, another member of the staff drove up to the hotel, and while looking down, so not to meet our eyes, he told us that the flight was cancelled again! At this point we were a bit shocked and got slightly frustrated – feelings that would become stronger during the day. Taking all our bags we left the hotel to go talk to the staff at the airline office; we really wanted to get back to Bali, as the Balinese New Year, and the festivals and ceremonies connected with it, was already starting.
After having to pull the staff at the airline office out from hiding in the back room, they could confirm that the flight was indeed cancelled and that the flight tomorrow was booked full – the day after that, they could maaaybe get some tickets! Who was to know if that flight wasn’t cancelled also though? We learned that a second plane, with another airline, was leaving in the afternoon, but again we were told it was fully booked. We decided to go to the airport anyway to make sure that the rather incompetent airline staff, who didn’t answer us when we asked what options we had, was indeed right and another plane was leaving. They were right; a similar small Fokker plane on the other airline was leaving in the afternoon, but the airline staff from this airline confirmed that the plane was fully booked. Now we didn’t have many options; either wait two more days and cross our fingers that that flight wouldn’t also be cancelled, or get on the plane leaving in the afternoon. There were a slim chance that someone wouldn’t show up, but getting 5 seats, on a fully booked flight with only 50 seats, seemed rather impossible. We demanded that our airline would buy us tickets to the flight if in any way possible and they agreed, sending a guy out to get money.
When passengers started arriving, we spread the word that we needed tickets and that we would buy tickets from anyone who had an extra one or simply didn’t want to fly anyway. We actually got one from a passenger whose friend was late and wouldn’t make it in time, but with only one ticket, four of us would still be stranded. We even considered taking the trip to Bali overland; a 36-48 hour journey on boats and in busses, not the most appealing option.
When all passengers had been checked in, we got the good news; 3 seats were empty! That brought us to a total of 4 seats, one short of getting us all home. The other passengers started boarding and the plane engines warming up. We persuaded the staff to go check the plane for an extra seat - any was good enough. The plane propellers had started spinning when the airline guy came running back yelling: “You can all fly, you can all fly!” Our backpacks were grabbed and thrown onboard the plane and we huddled into the crowded plane, but all of us got a normal seat and none, unfortunately, had to sit with the captain. (We later found out that we had been given the seats normally reserved for the stewardesses, and that they instead were sitting on crates and plastic stools in the back while taking off and landing - so much for safety!)
The guys from our airline looked so relieved when they waved us off, and I guess they were thanking their god, that they got rid of the demanding, difficult and angry customers, that weren’t satisfied with a vague answer, wanted them, the staff, to take action and even demanded that a solution needed to be found.
The avoidance of dealing with a problem, general incompetence and lack of talking responsibility seems to be so common in Indonesia, that you sometimes wonder how anyone ever gets anything done, and how this country even functions. But all in all it is mostly a cultural difference that can be really frustrating at times to a pair of Scandinavians, but which you have to learn to live with, if you are to live and survive in this otherwise incredible country.

We made it back!


Indonesian Archipelago