Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 10 June 2014 • Destination
I am bewitched by Riung, a mundane little town up on the north coast of west Flores. I can remember the rocky roads, mediocre hospitality of the locals, lines of coconut trees, board-wall houses with thatched roof, scent of afternoon sea breeze, and scorching sun at noon, as it was my last trip. I had expected to be used to the villagey-town the second time around, but apparently it’s magic hadn’t faded off even after about two years. I would describe Riung to be the epitome of those looking for an authentic and quiet traditional town, far from touristy.
The flying foxes are located on a certain island at the Tujuh Belas Islands. The boatmen are usually those that know where they are located exactly. These huge flying mammals have a tendency to change neighborhood once in a while, I suspect, because of the disturbance by the boatmen. I’m ashamed to admit, my last visit to see these flying foxes in daylight involved the boatmen waking these nocturnal creatures abruptly. This is such a big ‘No No’. I should know, being a fan of sleeping myself. It’s also irresponsible traveling to bother natural cycles. I admit guilty not stopping the action, although not supporting them also. Please, don’t repeat what I did, and prevent the boatmen walking them up for your pleasure.
Nonetheless, you’d be surprise to see how big they are. They’re worth the detour, even though it might cut out an hour of your island-hopping trip. Just approach their nest quietly and admire from far. Considering how big they are, you can easily see their whole form.
This is roughly the main attraction of the village. The mini archipelago is rich with white sand beaches and colorful corals. Visitors are usually taken to the three typical islands, including the famous Pulau Tiga (Tiga Island) as recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook. Each island has its own white sand beach and house reef just in case you get bored tanning. Pulau Tiga has the best corals fo sho! There are so many colorful hard corals, snorkeling feels like floating above a garden.
That day in August or during the high season, we saw 3-4 boats doing this snorkeling trip. Our boat was the only one with about 8 people in it. The rest had about 2-3 visitors. This is as touristy as it gets. Even with that many boats circling around, we still had Pulau Tiga to ourselves for about two hours. Isn’t it lovely when you have a place all to yourself or a very few? Muhaha!
My fondest moment has to be sitting on the soft sandy beach, half-submerged in water and marvel the Flores Island from a distance. I’m accustomed to seeing the open ocean or other islands when bathing at the beach, but this was on a whole different level. The majestic Flores across the strait with its thin layer of vegetation due to the climate is nothing that I’ve enjoyed before. It was like a gigantic beautiful painting and I could look at for hours, if only my skin wouldn’t melt sitting under the sun forever.
An island-hopping trip includes a wooden boat for the whole day, usually to these nearest islands. The captain will give you time to swim at the first snorkeling spot to then take you to Pulau Tiga or the neighboring island for lunch. His team will cook you grilled fish on the beach, prepare rice and other dishes, while you go swimming. Mineral water and fruit are also included. Ain’t life grand?
Boat trips are variable depending on how many people are with you. Our boat trip this time cost IDR 80,000 / pax but there was the eight of us. On other occasion, a boat ride will cost IDR 300,000 for a small amount of passengers, which includes lunch.
Riung and the surrounding villages are small, coastal settlements. Life consists of farming or fishing. The roads aren’t the smoothest in the world, but they spread all through the town. There’s only one recent ATM, two places where you can get a good meal, and a bout 4 accommodations with different price and facility range to choose from. There’s a market that lives once a week, but small shops are available all week. Walking is possibly the best way to get around, as everything isn’t too far away from each other. Aside to the typical government offices, that’s about it.
Locals are friendly to visitors, though not overly as they don’t get many anyways. Tourism isn’t something they can live on and they’re just pretty happy that people come here in the first place. You can walk the streets and easily feel like you’re one of them even with your different skin color and language. Believe me that also applied to me coming from Java. Having said that, life in Riung makes you feel like you’ve been there forever. The normality doesn’t make you feel like you’ve traveled far, but it’s also not your usual home. If I may, Riung is my home away from home.
Traveling to Riung and back from Bajawa has its own story. I would recommend people to take the public bus and strongly urge the ‘shotgun’ seat. The seat beside the bus driver is a priceless spot to understand the life of this rural isolated town. Bus drivers aren’t merely bus drivers. They are chauffeurs, mailmen, and news bearer. They will pick each and every passenger and their goods up with their bus. They will deliver mail to and from the villages along the route. They will bring good or bad news given through him. Though common in life in general, but cellphones are still a luxury in Riung. Not only are they an expensive item, telephone signals are an uncertainty. Cellular services are a definite zero in villages between Bajawa and Riung. Thus, comes in the drivers. These bus drivers, like many bus drivers in Flores, are the most popular, resourceful, community-middlemen known between towns. It’s amazing how much the town people depend on these drivers to run their route and help them transport news and goods.
Last but not least, they are friends. They are the entertainers of your 4-hour ride, that would cheer you up with their insights of life. This is Bang Halim, our driver friend. We remain to be friends, as he still often text me and ask me for my pictures. Err…
There are two daily buses that make this route from Bajawa and vice versa. One bus departs each town early in the morning, arriving in the destination at about 10 a.m. and the next one departs at noon arriving at about 4 p.m. The most effective way to catch these buses is by asking your accommodation host to contact the driver for you. The bus will tell you when he will pick you up.
Bus fare is a whopping (cheap) IDR 20,000 / pax for a 4-hour ride in a tight seated bus. Yes, this would mean it would be a painful ride for Caucasians in general. I suggest you take the front seat, or that close to the doors as there are more legroom for you. This is the best way to meet the locals and their livestock.
During this visit, I was kindly dropped at the Tamri Homestay by, who else than, the bus driver. Tamri Homestay is very basic. It has beds with thin mattresses and mosquito nets in a room with no AC, just a fan. It had shared bathrooms but clean. Rooms cost IDR 85,000 / person, which included breakfast.
Tamri Homestay can be contacted at Mrs. Ety +62 812 3912 9350
Information on my first trip to Riung, where my camera broke click here.