I am stressed. In front of me are the mountains of Flores, they pile up at the coast, tall and green. Behind me lies a six-hour ride on a crowded and rocking ferry. I could get hold of only a small spot at the deck, overlooking the endless blue sea. But all this is not the reason for my stress.
It is rather the knowledge that in ten days I should have arrived in the city of Ende. From there I will take a ship to Timor and this ship sails only fortnightly.
It goes uphill. For a few hours. Often so steep that I have to get off and push. Although this is more strenuous than cycling in the lowest gear, it uses other muscle groups and is a good relief for my tired legs. The road leads through dense forest and spectacular rice terraces. There are not many villages around and I´m pleased that I stocked up some food in Labuhan Bajo before leaving. At the first evening I have covered 80 kilometres and 1500 metres high. It’s dark already when I find a place to sleep behind a school.
There is a bituminised east-west link in Flores. The road goes through the interior of the island for 650 km from Labuan Bajo to Maumere. My destination is Ende, just 350km away. But I opt for a different route along the south coast. I hope to avoid some of the higher mountains. Only part of the route is shown at my indonesian map, marked as a thin line. But somehow there must be a connection between the villages on the coast.
It exists, but it isn´t always easy. The hardest part is a stretch of cobbled road. Cars can´t drive here, not even motorcycles, riding is difficult because the stones are so big and bumpy. I takes me half a day pushing my bike, then this stretch is done and I continue on a rocky track always close to the sea. From time to time I pass small villages, wonderful views of the sea and many curious and friendly people.
One time I´m invited by rice farmers and get food and friendly looks. Almost every man here carries a long knife in his belt, the universal working tool. The rice fields are often farmed by the village community together and the harvest is divided between all the families. Clove trees grow on the mountain slopes, the scent of drying cloves, which are spread out next to the road is everywhere.
Another time I get surrounded by school children in a village. After a few hours of peaceful and secluded cycling it is a stark contrast to suddenly beeing watched by nearly 100 pairs of eyes, to hear giggling and laughing. I look at the faces and can see a wide variety of emotions. The smaller kids look rather anxious and hold each other’s hands. The girls look shy and a few bewildered faces are also there.
With a few words in Indonesian and some silly faces the ice is broken quickly and everyone wants to touch my bike and a photo taken.
Children have a special energy for me. They seem so happy, so carefree and light. They don´t worry about the future and aren´t hanging with their thoughts in the past.
Many people here in Indonesia have retained some childishness. Their life seems carefree, more filled with love and warmth.
The next day I´m invited by a guy called Anton to stay with him. He lives with his three sons in a simple wooden hut near the road and works in the city in an agricultural school as a teacher. He earns just enough to support his family and to maintain his motorcycle. His possesions would fit into a few boxes and rice with vegetables is the main meal every day. Anton lives a simple life and doesn´t seem to be unhappy. He´s proud that I like the simple food. The whole family sleeps on the porch of the house, overlooking the forest. Everyone sleeps close together, it is cool at night and the next morning I continue.
The scenery is beautiful. Rice terraces alternate with beaches and lush forest. I’m good on time and have no reason to stress, although the days are exhausting. My average speed is often below 12 km/h and I can´t do more than 80 kilometres a day.
I reach Ende after an eventful and beautiful week and still have three days until the ship goes. Enough time to pay a visit to Kelimutu. There are three crater lakes whose waters have different colors due to the chemical conditions. Reportedly it also often changes the color. For the locals it is a spiritual place. They believe that the souls of the dead wander to one of the lakes.
I almost miss the big ship which will take me to Timor. Timor is my last island in Indonesia.