Moni – Come for the Crators but Stay for the Food

The last segment of my Indonesian adventure was to be in Flores. The island one past Sambawa travelling Eastward. Slightly more remote, not quite as trafficked by tourists, it was definitely a step back on the direction of a raw holiday. I flew from Denpasar airport into Ende with TransNusa, one of the few small carriers in Asia. A small plane but it made it! Afterwards I learned that while the stewardess was doing her speech some of the oxygen masks fell from the ceiling… I suppose at least that means that they were there? In all honesty one of the smoothest landings I have ever had.

I arrived not really sure how to tackle getting to Moni as I had missed the last bus and didn’t fancy chartering a car. So I do what I do best when not sure, ask for directions. I asked a French family that had been on my flight if they were going my way, they were and were willing to share the cost of the drive so I was dutifully adopted.

Moni is the closest village to Kelimutu, a sleepy volcano with three crater lakes all different colours. They were in the National Geographic photo reel and were on my hit list. The locals believe that when you die one’s spirit goes into one of the three lakes, which one depends on what type of person you were before you died.

As always, the best time to see Kelimutu is at sunrise. So with a 5:00am rise and shine we headed off from our guest house to the almost top of Kelimutu by car. TIP – if your driver suggests that he pick you up at 5:30 you say 5am please. You will need to stop for park and camera passes which takes about 5 minutes and then hike, stroll or speed walk/jog up the last few km. We did the later as with a half five time frame to make the sunrise, you need to sprint up the mountain. I won’t lie, I looked like a tomato at the top. My little body didn’t fancy that first thing in the morning but it was beautiful. We did miss the first red sky though. So take the extra half hour and enjoy the stroll in the dark to the top.

At the top, two lakes, the turquoise green one and the deep deep red pool lay to your right, a mountain range lays in front of you and the third, forest green lake is behind you. The sunrise was beautiful, coming up over the mountains with a sheet of cloud laced around their bases, the light slowly bringing out the true colours of the lakes as it reached them.

Most people get a ride to the top of the mountain and then head down on foot which is about a two and a half hour walk. We did it slightly differently. We rode in the back of a police truck on the way down. Our group of four had grown to eight as we ran into a French couple that I had met in Bali and their friends, as you do, so we all headed down together. After about half an hour a police truck passed by. Remi flagged it down to ask where the hot springs were and ended up getting us a lift most of the way down the mountain. I must admit I had been dying to drive on the back of a pick up truck in Asia as all the locals do, so that was checked off the bucket list.

Our ride down Kelimutu on the back of a police truck.

Our ride down Kelimutu on the back of a police truck.

We spent the afternoon at the local waterfall across the road from the Rainbow Cafe, reading, napping and having boat races on the rapids with leafs. The day also happened to be a day of celebration in the local village, which we happened on by mistake when we were exploring the area. Equivalent to May Day, all the villagers get together listening to music, a church service and eat rice together. Walking straight into the middle of affairs we were intrigued by them as much as they were us. Remi spoke a little Indonesian so he asked a local about the festivities and what we had all been dying to know. What were all the older women chewing which gives them a ruby red mouth, and a slightly joker like smile? Answer: They are chewing a betel seed from the Areca tree. It resembles garlic and a green root which looks a bit like a mini courgette. They believe that it makes them beautiful, strengthens and whitens their teeth and makes their skin look younger. I am not 100% sure of the validity of this method but it must do something as everyone seems to do it. I personally won’t be turning in my toothpaste or Olay anytime soon. I did try a bite of the betel as I was curious. It immediately sucked all the moisture out of my mouth and tasted like chalk. I am guessing that is why you eat it in conjunction with the other seed.

My evening in Moni circled around a meal (obviously) and a positively scrumptious one at that. We were recommended to go to the Bamboo Restaurant run by local chef Eran Iwan. So with reservations made the eight of us arrived to taste some local fair. The restaurant looks like a large porch with tables and chairs with a small kitchen where the magic takes place, but don’t be deceived. A five dish meal began. First we got wild and brown rice which was exciting on its own as I hadn’t had anything but white rice in almost two months. Then a smoked vegetable soup chock block full of fresh roasted garlic. Papaya salad with peanut sauce and wild banana leaf salad on the side with fresh fruit and a good helping of barbecued chicken or tofu (I went for the tofu) smothered in a rich brown BBQ sauce. Home made crisps for snacks afterwards. Pretty amazing for 75000rp. I rolled home that evening under a blanket of stars!

While I came for the craters I would be lying if I said they were the highlight. For me, I think I will be dreaming about that dinner for a while to come, I got to exercise my brain speaking French and the journey to and from the mountain was just as beautiful as the view from the top.

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