Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
It was for me to part ways with Cindy. After about a week of traveling together it was time to bid adieu (for the time being). Cindy the hippie, needed to catch a plane home at Labuan Bajo. Her vacation was over, but mine hasn’t. Thus I traveled to Riung, a small town on the north coast of Flores. I wasn’t sure if I should have gone there, but considering I’ve put in the effort to do the main attractions of the island, I did.
Riung is underestimated. Riung is the epiphany of travelers seeking that modest small town (or village actually) that has everything. The area had fantastic snorkeling, landscape was awesome, people were friendly but not too familiar with tourists, had thousands of bats, and is said to have a different species of Komodo not too far away. Maybe, and just maybe, this is the mini Komodo Island.
An afternoon spent visiting the neighboring village to visit Watulajar beach which didn’t go well as expected. Hiked a few hills to see spectacular landscape views. Did some bat watching.
The main event was to snorkel a few of the Tujuh Belas (17) islands. Although not too extensive, the marine life was a scream of joy! And we had lunch in between snorkeling.
BintangWisata had just opened a hotel in town. A standard clean bedroom and relatively clean bathroom cost IDR 150,000 / night including breakfast. Unfortunately sometimes they have a mini centipede attacks, as I experienced during the visit. Harmless but creepy crawly.
However, the recommended accommodation would be the SVD, located side by side with the BintangWisata with cheaper yet better service rooms.
Rumah Makan Murah Meriah is the place to be seen in town. Meals are cheap considering the area is so isolated. What’s always on the menu? Fish! Yummy! A portion costs about IDR 25,000.
Public transport wasn’t seen running around. I rented the ojeg from Bintang Wisata for a whopping IDR 70,000 / day. I’m sure you can get service less pricey if you search for an ojeg outside of the Hotel.
How to get there
The only regular bus to and from Bajawa is Gemini, which can be called to your hotel. You pay a mere IDR 20,000 / pax for a rough 4 hour ride. Buses depart both from Bajawa and Riung at 7 AM and 1 PM.
Oh everything seems heavier once you’re traveling alone. Once Cindy left that morning on a bus to Labuan Bajo, expenses started to be half as fun as it used to, but that can’t stop me from enjoying myself heading out to Riung. The road to Riung was exhausting! It wasn’t too bad but it ran an extensive distance, too much even if you were on a land cruiser! I chant my way, praying it would be as worth as the trip itself. Remote places are hidden jewels! Remote places are hidden jewels!
Despite the fact that the asphalt was torturing, the landscape was entertaining. I was getting too used to this awesome scene. It’s everywhere you look on Flores! From the hills closing in to Riung, I could see the island spread. My chants worked! But I chant harder just in case my eyes deceive me.
You can’t see much once you come in to this small town neither than a small amount of people, some modest wooden houses, a few goats and that’s about it. It’s a small charismatic little village, if I say so myself. The neighboring villages are even smaller with surprisingly wide asphalt roads. Riung has one small market that opens completely on certain days (I think it was Mondays or Thursdays). Only a few stalls diligently open every day.
There are no ATMs in town. So the only cash I had was in my hands. As I calculated, it was just enough for me to survive 2 nights without spending on anything than the essentials, accommodation, boat, ojeg, and food. Say bye bye to ikat*SOB.
The road ambiences were green and fresh. Riding around the town and between villages is a dream. It shows the authentic life of the locals. It wasn’t peak season yet, so there weren’t many tourists. Even if there was, I doubt that it would be as much as in touristy areas. The Riung people were just mending their daily business, including field work, as any other day. Life just can’t get any simpler than this!
We headed out to Watulahar beach, which is said to be a pretty nice beach at the neighboring village. It was long and sandy, but not white. It had a view of a small island and the water was brown. So much for my swimmers that day! It had just rained and the beach was just on the mouth of the river,so… you do the math.
Riung has spectacular views. Any random highlands would give you a breath taking view from the top of the mountain to the scattered tujuh belas island. Plus, any elevated land would great for bat watching in the afternoon. Enough said! *Batman soundtrack playing.
On a random hill overlooking Riung, we met 3 local fresh high school graduates hanging out and taking pictures. Yaps, it was a great spot. Dewa, Rival, and Join told me heaps of stuff about the area like the bats, the villages, the mining company that is still trying to win approval from the locals, the islands that should be visited, if they knew how to swim or not (not all of them can, surprisingly), their future to just stay around the area and the other types of Komodo at Todongparang. They also told me about Caci, another form of traditional fight. It’s like a whipping contest until you bleed. Sounds really interesting! With no tendencies to be my guide, these guys sold me a lot of attraction of the area. Who knew it was so rich?
I’ve seen similar types of bats in other places. I’m no bat enthusiast so I’m not sure (yet) what species these bats are. They started to come out at about 5.30 pm. A blizzard of black spots burst from one side and headed to the mountains. I’ve watched bats during college. Ever tried to count bats coming out from their lair? Don’t! It’s confusing (enough said about my GPA).
Day bat watch
The morning came and it was time to hop on a boat. San asked if he could tag along since he has never been to the islands and would like to see what it’s all about. Hey, the more the merrier, right? It was easy to recognize that the port was a Sulawesi settlement from the types of stilt houses to the accent they spoke.
Watching bats closely can be done by sea, which is what I did Pak Beddu Rahing rented pink boat. A PINK boat? Bleh! The bat habitat, or what I call the ‘bat Bronx’, is located 20 minutes from Riung. It was like looking at a super dense neighborhood with all the live activities. One bat was bugging its sleeping friend, a couple were fighting, some can sleep quietly (and I’m still wondering how), and some were flying around at the sight of our presence. It was chaotic. It really looked like Jakarta in the night but without walls :P.
In the water again
The next island is where boatmen take tourists to jump in. Not sure what it was called. I did jumped in, of course, with my underwater camera. It was then and there, bubbles came out of the zoom-in button and I knew it was the end of my Canon D10. I was devastated! For about 10 minutes. I couldn’t let it continue while I was so isolated in Flores. So I continued to snorkel. Afterwards, I used my Blackberry (for the sake of endorsment) phone.
This particular spot had a lot small to medium fishes. Although there weren’t a lot of live soft corals, there were surprisingly a lot of bright colored fishes. Add to that a few lobsters. Once I looked a little closer, turns out it’s a cleaning station with about 3 kinds of cleaning fishes with bright yellow and blue colors. The inner biology geek in me suddenly took over. This time I chose to observe the cleaners and float at one spot before doing an extensive exploration. It’s so funny how fishes naturally understand when to open their mouth and gills so the cleaners can chew away. I guess dentists understand that.
The main snorkeling spot of the area is Pulau Tiga. I insisted on going, even though Pak … was a bit doubtful since it seems like other boats didn’t have to bother. But customers are kings! Muhaha…
Good thing I followed my instinct! Pulau Tiga had an extensive hard coral area and a few soft coral. But it’s the best I’ve seen with a high diversity of species. I’ve seen an extensive colorful table corals, but this had so many other types. However, that’s not all that amazed me. The color? Yikes, it made me shout in the water. There was green, blue, yellow, violet, and some red hard corals. It was so dense but filled with fishes.
I truly understand now why corals are breeding areas. There’re so many little baby fishes around these waters and they can hide amongst the hard corals. There’s probably a good 200 m of healthy corals to explore. I saw a lot of medium size fishes. It was far more beautiful than the first spot. At times, the water had a glass surface, no ripples at all! I couldn’t imagine what Vira saw in the Komodo Island (stay tuned for that). I had a feeling this was just an inch compared to the Komodo Island. I was so happy I kinda forgot that my camera was broken.
Coming in the afternoon, we came back home. Surprisingly San had a great time even though he couldn’t swim. I had an awesome time but was a bit too tired, so I was ready to head home and rest. I had to be prepared for the next day’s journey back to Bajawa, cause it’s gonna be a heck of a ride!
Imelda said that there’s a pretty cool waterfall and a traditional village not far from Riung, just about 8 km ojeg ride away. Sadly, I didn’t have the time to visit it all. Not to mention, sometimes they have the Caci, which is the traditional fight. Todongparang is also an island not far to the west, where they had a different kind of Komodo, with a more colorful pallet. I want to see those different Komodos one day! There is so much more to this little town. Having so much, could this be the Lombok of Bali? The sister of Komodo Island? I guess I’ll have to find out another day.
Murah Meriah Restaurant
Murah Meriah restaurant is the IT place for visitors. All travelers come to eat here not only because it has a nice moderate setting, but because the food is good too. If it was as crowded as the day and nights I’ve been there, then there mustn’t be anything else that’s good. Even the locals and out-of-towners enjoy their meals here.
For lunch and dinner: fish soup and grilled fish. I looooveeee fish, so it was jackpot! I swept the fish clean and had a full belly afterwards. They have a few choices on the menu and of course beer. The cooking was great! And the owner, Imelda, was awesome! She was so nice, set me up with a nice portion since I am a girl (*grin) and chatted with me seeing I was a lone traveler. She was the one that recommended Pak Beddu Rahing in the first place.
Lunch at the island.
After a bit of snorkeling, we stopped at a near by island to get some lunch. Everyone that rented a boat had lunch there, and every boatman did all the cooking. Grilled fish was my main menu, but more of this in the Eats tab. Since everyone was grilling fish about the same time, the cooks gathered at the same barbeque area along with some of the guests. I got to meet Hironimus (we have his number), a respected guide around the area, and afew other boatmen. A little language learning, story exchange, and laughs made the barbeque passable. A good thing because I was starving!
Lunch was prepared by Pak Beddu Rahing. He prepared marinated fish ready for the bbq, rice, fried instant noodles, and shrimp crackers. At first sight it might look too simple of a dish, but the taste was deli – wait for it – cious! I guess it was the fresh fish they grilled. The marinated sauce was really tasty too! The shrimp crackers were the small type, which are really tastey and of course, who can resist instant fried noodles. Perfecto!
I stayed at the Bintang Wisata Hotel. Merely because the Bajawa Bintang Wisata recommended it. And since there wasn’t any review of it, I though why not?!
Riung Bintang Wisata’s located just beside the SVD,a walk away from MurahMeriah restaurant. You can ask the bus driver to drop you there, or any driver would know once you mention SVD . The hotel is a standard white building hotel. Their rooms are clean with white sheets. It is optional to use an AC or fan. I’m not a big fan of AC (badam-bam-ching!) so I went with the fan. Bathrooms are moderately clean and rooms face a small garden. A non-AC room costs IDR 150,000/night including breakfast.
My problem was the mini centipedes that crawled around. They’re harmless as I learned eventually, but there’s quite a number of them. I’m not scared of them, or else I’ll be running and sleep in the kitchen. It just gives me the hibbijibbies. I avoid them or occasionally sweep them away. I asked San about it and he says it comes every summer. They haven’t been able to prevent them coming back. I’m definite that they won’t get much visitor if they had known this. But you have the right to know.
There are 2 buses of the Gemini service that come to and from Riung everyday. It’s reliable and the only coach line on this route. I salute the bus driver that does this route back and forth everyday! Yes, everyday! He only stops doing the route if he’s really tired. Drivers, both from Bajawa and Riung, set out at 7 am and come back in the afternoon. And they’re really nice people! They didn’t over charge me even though I was obviously not from around the area (the braces gave me out :P). I heart them so!
There is also the option of using the public truck where they make long benches for you to sit on. But it’s hardly a reasonable choice unless you want to try it. Call me a snob, but a IDR 20,000 4-hour bus ride on a bumpy road is my luxurious choice.
There is also the option of renting a car which would cost you about IDR 500,000 / day. I would never do a day trip to Riung since I choose to preserve my ass by the time I come back from Riung, please.
You can get around by hiring an ojeg. Unfortunately, I thought the hotel can help with the ojeg, but apparently they sent one of their own that didn’t quite know the area and charged more than I hoped for. I think you definitely can find a cheaper ojeg for less than IDR 70,000 for the whole day, outside of the hotel.
To island hop, I was very pleased with Pak Beddu Rahing. He drove the boat well, cooked a great meal, followed requests and was basically a nice man. The only bad thing about him is… his boat is pink! Bleh! I’m not sure if he understands English but he knows pretty much about the point of interest of the area. And since he is a local fisherman, he probably knows more about the extended area. You can also contact us to contact him for you.