Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
I swear I didn’t know that Bajawa was elevated on a mountainside and was so cold. The air was the first surprise I experienced coming in the town that night. I couldn’t see anything other than the town lights in the distance falling off a slope. The surprises followed the next morning. It started with the breathtaking landscape, the iconic Bena village, the hospitality, a bit of boxing, and shopping for fabulous ikats (traditional cloth). So how long did we do all this? In a day! And there is no better way to enjoy that day to travel around Bajawa, Flores.
The market is always the first spot to visit.
Travelled to the village of Bena, the iconic traditional village on every brochure about Flores. No matter how touristy it seems, this village still a great place village to visit. Not to mention, the ikats or traditional weaved cloth are excellent.
A little Sagi, or traditional boxing, never hurt anyone. It’s always a friendly match.
Bintang Wisata hotel offers a many rooms in the middle of the city.
Jl. Palapa 4, Bajawa.
A non-AC (don’t need one) room including a bathroom inside will cost you IDR 150,000 / night which include breakfast.
Had a late lunch at Dito’s. A nice serving of one grilled fish, tofu, and veggie dish, with 4 rice plates will cost you about IDR 100,000.
How to get there
Flights to Bajawa are available from Kupang by Merpati air. Early bookings can cost about IDR 500,000 / pax.
Buses run from Labuan Bajo and Larantuka. Bajawa is the middle town of the island. Busses from Labuan Bajo can cost about IDR 100,000 / pax. While we took a taxi/travel from Ende which cost us IDR 75,000 / pax, blue lights included.
Bought an ikat for IDR 350,000. Expensive? Maybe, but worth the money.
There are public transport around the city and surroundings. There are even trucks that are transformed in to public transportation. We took a days worth of ojeg ride, which cost us IDR 125,000 / pax with fuel included. It was pretty far destinations. And it was worth a lot more! Read on to see why.
It was a long day, the day we arrived in Bajawa, and I was relieved that I was going to stay 2 nights in this town. Bajawa has crisp cool air, the kind you wanna suck in a lot but also the kind that you wish you could sleep in a little late. The air compliments Flores gorgeous view, which I think I’ve stressed enough in the past 3 entries. It makes the view a lot clearer, like enhancing a picture using ‘photoshop’. Cameras does not do it justice. And to add to all the goodness of the day, it was sunny! Hurraaahhh!!! Three cheers for another day of excitement.
What’s always interesting to see at any town is the local market. There, you can enjoy the sight of new, authentic, and intriguing things in the market. Not to mention see and hear what the locals are really like as opposed to the ‘tourism’ face they put on at any tourist-visited venue.But waking up at 6 when the market opens at about 9 amwas a bad idea. See!!! There is no point of waking up so early in a place so cold… bbrrrr…
Good thing that we got to see the roadside market where the majority of sellers were women, all different ages and sizes. Most of them sold produce for the household kitchen. Twas lovely sight was seeing them in ikats. May I emphasize that people, men and women, in Flores wear ikats as their daily wardrobe. L O V E! Among the typical veggies that would be sold, We saw something new. It was the stems of the green pumpkin. I don’t see that everyday. I asked the seller how people eat it, and with the red smile of chewed nutmeg she explained kindly that it was to be cooked like any sautéed veggie dish. But finding this prepared dish in restaurants was impossible since it was considered a very basic dish. But I eventually did, and you could read more under the Eats tab.
It started to get late, so we organized 2 ojegs as our weapon of choice for the day. We wanted to see as much as possible and refused to sacrifice time for the trip itself.
If you’re ever interested in traveling Flores, I’m sure you’ve come across the picture of this village. Bena is the icon of tourism in this part of the world. I was a buyer, for sure. That was the main thing I wanted to see in Flores since it looked really primal as the megaliths of Bada valley. I was also ready to face the fact that this iconic place is touristy since, according to numerous travel information, it’s easy to reach from Bajawa. So I had mixed feelings of what to expect.
We stopped at a look out just before arriving at Bena. Man, the view was spectacular! The sunny day permitted us to see the whole shape of Mount Inerie (which you can hike by the way), which rises grand above the Bena village. The village itself is hidden amongst the trees in the distance but still looked pretty traditional from afar. Oh I remember the feeling being in awe, and right now, I’d like to book Superman to take me back there in seconds! Any local that has taken a tourist to Bena would know about this look out spot. On unlucky days, you just might be charged IDR 2,000 / person 😛
Bena was a lot smaller than I imagined. I thought I’d be walking in the presence of giant homes. Looking closer to the village and the residence, you can still see some remnants of the past. The old and the young lived similar lives. The men weren’t much seen around the area, I’m guessing they’re out doing fieldwork somewhere. While the women, young and old, weaved ikats in search for an extra income. It’s probably the life as their ancestors knew it.
Bena is touristy. I will not deny that. You will meet a lot of tourist, especially during peak season. On haggling for a good price for an ikat (I had to have one!), people knew how to set a price of their cloths, they knew how to stay on a certain price no matter how charming you were or try to be, but they were still friendly. You could see that they were no gold diggers, but they have learned that they have to live somewhat off of tourism.
The complex had a few ngadhu and bhaga, which are signs to their animism that they somewhat hold on to. There are so many other items that still stand within each village. How can I say somewhat? Because they’re mostly catholic now proven by the Marie mother of Jesus mini alter at the end of the village.These are what the ancestors left them, and you can still see some in modern villages too. To enter the complex, you would have to fill in the guest book located in the thatched house office across the street and also make a small donation. We made a donation of IDR 20,000 for 2.
Ikats is worth my money!
O, man! The ikats were beautiful. They were detailed, thin and cool on the skin. So different to the generated mass product sold in souvenir shops.
Oh, by the way, each house in these villages was preserved as they were built. Each house is special with its own name and meaning.I was allowed to enter a house just because I bought an ikat (which we’re giving out). The inside was so awesome. All wood, making the house cool and dark. There’s no electricity. It’s their choice of life which they tend to keep.
A friendly tip: if you like traditional cloths, do get one here. Have a survey of the whole area and then make your choice. Besides color and pattern, consider the material itself. It’s not all the same. Have a feel. If you’re lucky, you can find a thin and light cloth suitable for you, as I have for myself.
Because Bena was a tad touristy, we considered visiting another village. According to our ojeg driver, the neighboring village was a lot quieter than this. They were right. Luba was smaller and less visited.
The best part of this village was not the village itself but the fact that we were invited to drink at their terrace. Turns out, our ojeg driver had some history with the owner of a house. Since they wanted to catch up with each other, we decided to sit down for a while, even though we didn’t plan to stay very long. But that moment built up my love for the day. There we were, having coffee with the locals. An experience I’ve always loved to do. In one corner, the grandmother was preparing a cloth pattern for an ikat. There were women, children, and only one man at the time.
I listened to their conversation that I barely understood (Cindy and I made our own silly conversation about helmets), then indulged myself to join in. It’s heartwarming and an authentic experience that fell easily on to our laps. But that’s not all. The coffee we drank was roasted and pound by this lovely family. I did offer to buy more because it tasted quite nice actually *British accent. I only got about 10 cups worth of coffee because apparently it’s not for sale. It was made to serve visiting guests (being family and friends). Felt pretty honored and very much welcomed.
Ok, initially we were going to the natural hot water spring. We thought, it would be relaxing and a good way to waste the remaining time we had. But as soon as we bought tickets to enter the venue, our ojeg drivers got some info from the locals hanging around that there was a traditional boxing match happening at the nearby village. This was not some event that draw tourist in, it was really their traditional ceremony. So screw the tickets, there is no way we’re missing out on this!
Sagi, or the traditional boxing, is usually conducted once a year in each village. It’s a celebration and a showof gratitude for the year’s crop. Some way of showing it,huh?! Fights starts in this village, Piga. The host village then invited other villages to bring their strongest fighters for a friendly match. We popped in amongst the crowd and got ourselves some seating. I sat next to a local old man that had passed his prime days as a boxer. He filled me in on what was going on.
It’s no ordinary boxing. Points are won once a punch lands on the opponents face. It might sound simple but the trick is the weapon. Boxers hold on to a tight-bundled palm fibre, which is said to have cuts of glass in it. It’s pretty sharp stuff! The right hit can tear your nose out, as said by the old man. But since this is a friendly bloody match, no one is allowed to hold grudges, no matter how bad the wounds are.
I especially loved the festive warrior dance which was also an invitation to fight. It was entertaining and lively! And I loved how the men were all wearing sarongs dominated with black and decorated with yellow which was the typical motif of the region. The chosen people of the village (usually the elderly) go around and pull out the strong guys of the village from the crowd to fight. It takes hard persuasion to say no, and it’s some kind of disrespect. So is it good or bad luck to be chosen?
I needed to add that I was squashed by women in the audience that were screaming in my ear, trying to support or give advice to the boxers. What do they know? Well, here boxing was not only a man’s thing, women boxing was next. Cindy was up for it and I bowed down to her for even wanting to do so. However, it was getting too late and we couldn’t stay. So, we didn’t see the women’s boxing. But was very happy with the men’s tournament.
The day ended with Cindy shopping some local cloth in the market. She was obsessed to own one of these local ikats. Unfortunately, the choices were limited and the quality wasn’t as good as it was in Bena. Nevertheless, it ended a good day. As I reflected upon what we did, I realized that the much fun we had that day was all thanks to our ojeg drivers. They were the connection to the most enjoyable moments of my day. Thanks to their social web, we got to experience Flores more than what it could be. They’re definitely my heroes for the day!
Because we had quite a pleasant yet extended visit to Bena and Luba villages, we had a late lunch. I always regret a belated lunch, but I always end up with them. I gotta prioritize food better *cough! We chose Dito’s as the place to eat. It was a lot more humble than Camelia across the road, which was very much recommended by the Lonely Planet. We ordered grilled fish, a tofu dish, and one type of veggie dish.It was enough for us including our ojeg drivers. Now usually any dish would taste great when you’re really hungry. But seriously, the food was great!
That night I came back to this restaurant to order what I had wanted that morning: the end vine of the pumpkin. I had put in an order earlier so that they could cook it for me, and I came back to collect.
This veggie dish was similar tasting to sautéed water spinach or kangkung, but surprisingly a lot fresher. It had a stronger crunch and a more ‘planty’ taste to it. I really liked it.
Jl. Ahmad Yani
Phone: 0384 – 21162
Our ‘taxi’ driver recommended this hotel the night we arrived. He recommended it after the hotel we wanted was full. But it was good since the BintangWisata was in the middle of the city, opposed to our first choice, located just outside of town.
Bintang Wisata offers a range of rooms, which varies of hot water, AC, and bed sizes. We chose a room without AC and hot water, which cost IDR 150,000 / night. It was moderately nice, the paint was old and the room was a bit musty. But we didn’t plan to stay in all day, so we didn’t mind.
Bintang Wisata Hotel
Jl. Palapa 4
Phone: 0384 – 21744
Bajawa has an airport. There are flights to and from Kupang by Merpati Air. A ticket can be about IDR 500,000 / pax when purchased long before departure date.
Catch the bus to Ende paying about IDR 20,000/pax. These busses travel from Larantuka and reach Moni no later than 4 pm. There are no night busses. But you should be aware these buses are full most of the time so you could be standing or sitting on the roof from Moni to Ende.
Cindy and I opted to take the mini bus rather than sitting on the roof of the passing bus. A big mistake that I regret! Sitting on top of the roof would have been a blast. Not only would we be able to see the spectacular view, it would be some experience.
We happenedto hop on a mini bus that cost too much (IDR 40,000). It was a bit painful considering it wasn’t comfortable to sleep in and it had tinted windows that made us miss the view. But trying to see the bright side, we did meet some locals and had minor chit chats. Interestingly, as the night fell in, the mini bus put on a red light. With metal bears embedded on the ceiling of the bus and dark tinted windows, suddenly the mini bus was seriously pimped out. It was not the kinkiness of the mini bus that tuned me off, it was the price. Never again!
From Ende, we caught the last ‘taxi’ at about 6.30 pm. We were lucky because the last taxi from Ende to Bajawa usually leaves at 5.00 pm. But since the car weren’t filled yet, they waited until so late before leaving. The ride cost IDR 75,000 / pax. And the kinky continued with a blue neon light on. What is going on in Flores? I guess whatever happens in Flores, should stay in Flores 😛
Please fixate a price that is no more than IDR 100,000 / pax. The locals will try to get the highest price possible, but it should not be more than this.
Cindy and I needed to be in various distanced places within one day, so what better option than the ojeg. We picked 2 random ojegs close to the Bintang Hotel and negotiated on the price. We negotiated a total IDR 125,000 / person, which included fuel and local insights 😉
There are public transport around the city and surroundings. There are even trucks that are transformed in to public transportation.
I bought this traditional cloth which is used as so (in picture). This ikat originally was priced at IDP 500,000 but I haggled hard with all my wits and charm, and I did reach a lovely IDR 350,000. I was over budget on shopping, I didn’t plan to buy anything but I couldn’t refuse the temptation. Isn’t it so cute? And the material is so cool on the skin!