Flores fun – part 5: water, water everywhere

Later on in the afternoon (after we visited the waterfall), three of us went for a drive around the edge of the lake. It was a great sightseeing trip, although the roads were pretty rough. And by rough I mean the rockiest, skinniest, most unsafe donkey trails you can imagine. Around the far side of the lake, we stopped to visit a little rock island accessible only by hiking down a steep hill and across a VERY sketchy “bridge” made of rotting bamboo. I almost didn’t make it. But once across, we could see the beautiful green of the lake, as well as our own campground on the other side of the water.

Next we stopped at “coconut village” (comprising two houses and some coconut trees) to have a fresh coconut drink. It wasn’t much to write home about. I’ve had fresher coconuts. But it was a neat little stop and I was happy to support the family business. LittleB was most keen on the litter of puppies they had out back, and couldn’t care less about the guy climbing 20 m up a tree to get us a snack.

Our last stop of the trip was at the local hot springs. If you can call them that. Having seen our share of amazing geysers and thermal pools before, this pathetic trickle of water falling into a pool of garbage was pretty underwhelming. But at least we enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the beach. And it was nice to see that the locals were well sustained by this little bit of geothermal magic, using it for the cooking and cleaning ease that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

For our final day in Flores, we packed up and took off to see another waterfall on the way back to town. These falls were a bit of a further hike and more secluded, but they promised nicer views and privacy.

The drive took us down some narrow cliffs and into a dry, sunny valley. We stopped to register at the park desk and pick up a little old man guide, then we parked our truck at the top of a forested hill. With swimsuits and lunch in tow, we headed down towards the valley floor.

The walk was steep in places, and very rough on J. She spent most of it crying and balking at the big steps. It took major persuading and negotiating to get her down the whole way. Also, our (barefoot) guide managed to cut his foot and was leaving a blood trail the whole way along the path. Needless to say, it was not a peaceful, one-with-nature kind of trek, and we were aching for a beer and some rest by the time we emerged at the base of the falls.

The falls were cut into a huge rockface, carving their way out of a cavern and along a cliffside. The only way to see the falls was to swim about 50 meters along the trench and squeeze through a small opening into the cavern.

The water was cool and pleasant, and there were ledges along the way where we could easily rest our tired kids. Soon we made it to the cave opening. Two adults went first, to make sure it was safe for the rest of us. We had to pass through a small opening guarded by a bunch of spiders, but it was worth it. The space seemed to have been carved over thousands of years and thousands of liters of water, swirling away a small domed cavern in the rock. The water was thunderous and strong, but the bottom was shallow enough to stand in places.

 

After our swim, the sky was starting to darken, so we hurried up to the truck. Thankfully J had a much easier time going up than down, and we were quick to make it back to the top. Unfortunately, the rain was close behind us, and we made it into the cab just as the clouds opened up. It poured so hard that the dirt road back to the park entrance turned into a river, and the truck was fishtailing the whole way up. I was pretty sure we were going to fly off the cliff edge on the side of the road, but we made it. We stopped for a few minutes at the park building to decide what to do, and to mourn for all of our things getting totally soaked in the back of the pickup truck. We decided to skip the planned final stop at another viewpoint/village, and return to the big city where we had booked a hotel for the night.

We made it there in time for a last beautiful sunset as the rain cleared, with enough time for warm showers, a chance to hang all our clothes around the room to dry, and to enjoy a few evening beers before bed and back to Jakarta in the morning.

Thanks for the visit and memories!

Flores fun – part 4: great outdoors

Our trip to Flores didn’t end with komodos and sharks. Instead, we packed up from our island paradise early in the morning and caught the shuttle boat back to the main island, where we were scheduled to meet up with our next adventure team!

I arranged a three-day “crater lake camping tour” with a local company who made it easy for us by arranging everything from transport to food to tents, plus we had great fun with our tour guide and driver.

They picked us up at the marina in their awesome vintage land rover. We piled into the cab, along with provisions, packs and a foursome of live ducks they were taking up to the campsite – I assumed for dinner, and I was not wholly displeased about that – but they were for a little menagerie the company was starting up at their campsite. Roast duck was off the menu. Up we went, climbing the winding mountain roads away from the dry coast and into the cloud forest at the heart of the island. The roads were steep, but luckily they were freshly paved, making the ride a bit easier. Not easy enough, though… about half an hour up the road, the Land Rover started running too hot, and when smoke started billowing out of the hood it was clear we weren’t going any higher. We pulled over and leaped out as smoke filled the cab, and I was pretty sure the whole thing was about to burst into flames. Luckily the rad purged and put out the fire, but not before the wiring was completely destroyed.

So there we were, on the side of the road with a menagerie of hot, tired kids and hot, tired ducks, and no obvious way to continue up or go back down. At least we had a whole truck full of outdoor gear. We set up camp on the shoulder, played some cards, ate some chips, drank some beer, and watched trucks and buses pass us on the highway. The commuter buses are colorful and open-air like South American camionetas, but instead of being filled with people and chickens, they are filled with people and sound systems blasting dance pop music. We dubbed them “party buses”. In the end, we didn’t have to ride the party bus back to town (I can’t decide if I’m sad about this or not), since the Land Rover replacement truck rescued us an hour so later. This one was just an extended cab pickup, which meant 7 people couldn’t all fit. So I crammed a kid on my lap and our tour guide ended up on the pile of packs in the truck bed. Mostly settled in, we continued our climb up the side of the mountain and then dipped back down toward the crater lake that would be our home for the next few days.

We arrived at the campsite in mid afternoon and spent a few hours relaxing while they set up camp. The site was a clearing in the forest, sloping down toward the water, with a bamboo gazebo for meals and a toilet curtained off in the roots of an old fallen tree. I’d say it was pretty much fantastic. Oh except that a bunch of ugly cicadas had shed their skins recently, leaving giant discarded bug skins all over the place, which then got stuck to all our stuff. But I guess you can’t win ’em all.

That afternoon we took it easy, went for a swim in the sulphuric crater water (filled with dragonfly larvae, it was gross), and hammocked away the day. Evening fell, and we stayed up late playing cards, stumbled to bed in velvety darkness and slept in tents under the stars – the sounds of the jungle a soft lullaby around us.

…Until morning, when the loudest, most annoying birds and monkeys apparently wake up before the sun and like to share their raucous eating or fighting or copulating or whatever it is that annoying jungle creatures do at the crack of dawn. So we were up early. Seriously, I could still see stars.

Having such an early start to the day, we decided to go on a couple of little trips around the area, with the promise of waterfalls, forest hiking, coconut villages, hot springs, and beautiful views. B wasn’t feeling too great and decided to hang back to test out the forest potty for the day – and he had adventures of his own while we gone. More about that later.

Meanwhile, C and I set off with the kids, destination: hiking to and swimming in a nearby waterfall. We drove for about half an hour and stopped in a little village to park the car. Now, we were basically in the middle of nowhere in the jungle of a remote island. And our pair of blonde-hair, blue-eyed kids was just too much for the villagers to handle – they surrounded us, chattering and cooing and trying to touch, calling the kids ‘angels’ and ‘so beautiful’. All with good intentions, but it was just too much for the kids to handle. LittleB lost it and hid behind the truck for a time, while J clung to my legs like a panicked sloth. We shuffled them off toward the hiking trail, and I did my best to explain to them how “we are visiting these peoples’ land and property, and as their guests we must be gracious and accepting of their culture and behavior…” etc. Not sure it helped very much. But thankfully the villagers only followed us down the path for about 15 minutes or so until we managed to leave them behind.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that we have some issues with J being the tripping & whining master of the household, so hiking is not always the easiest thing with her. And it wasn’t a perfectly smooth trail by any means, with rocks and leaves and hidden roots and holes. But we made it relatively unscathed other than one or two slips. Miracle! And then there we were: waterfall!

It wasn’t a huge waterfall, but it was nicely positioned and the rocks were streaked with beautiful blue and orange hues. After some coaxing, we got the kids into the water. It was… pretty cold. Actually, more like gasping cold. But it was refreshing after our hike, and who wouldn’t take the opportunity to swim in a waterfall in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago? We probably only got one or two parasites, no big deal. So we swam over to the falls, and under them, and through them. J was too grossed out by the little bit of fuzzy algae on the rocks to pay attention to the waterfall, but the rest of us enjoyed it thoroughly.

Soon we headed back, managing to avoid any major bodily harm on the way, snuck out past the villagers and arrived back at camp.

Apparently while we were gone, B had spent most of his time sitting in the gazebo and playing solitaire with a deck of cards. Then a guy showed up. Just a local villager guy. He didn’t speak English, and B’s Indonesian is primitive, so the guy managed to gesture that he wanted to play cards with B. Weird. B was gesturing kind of like, no no, I’m sick, go away… Guy hung around anyway. Ate some gross crackers we left on the table. Watched B play cards. Finally wandered off. CAME BACK. But this time with about 50 other villagers, all of whom were super excited to see the white man-giant in their neighborhood. And they proceeded to queue up to shake B’s hand and introduce themselves one-by-one. So Instead of a quiet afternoon, B had to run the gauntlet of the most uncomfortable receiving line ever.

Next up? Coconuts, hot springs, and MORE waterfalls!

 

O Canada: part six – Beaches

There are many wonderful beaches in the Cheticamp area. Cheticamp beach itself is a lovely sandy/rocky coast that is sheltered from the open water. It has a sand bar close to shore which makes it easy to walk out quite far, even with the kids. There are sometimes jellyfish, but we were lucky to avoid them all this year. It’s close to town, so we spent several lovely afternoons enjoying the sun and warm water – well, warm for the north Atlantic at about 20 degrees or so (celsius).

We also took a special trip over to the western coast of Cape Breton to visit Black Brook beach. This is another little sheltered bay where a waterfall/brook meets the ocean. The waves were perfect – not too big, not too small. And there was a great rock cliff to climb and look out over the beach. We whiled away the afternoon jumping in waves, building castles, and hunting lobsters (but not catching them!). It was lovely.