Picture this: the mist rolls down the mountains as you lay in the grass, dogs and cats chase each other between the legs of happy children, the air is cool but thick with the scent of nature and coffee roasting. No wifi, no phone reception, no electricity. Where, in these modern times where even our cars have WIFI, can I experience this return to simpler times? Wae Rebo Village in Flores, Indonesia! Indonesia is studded with 'traditional villages' offering visitors a glimpse into a unique way of life and the chance to buy local textiles to support the community. Most can be reached by way of car or tour bus, so may seem too 'on the beaten track' for some travellers. Wae Rebo is the opposite: isolated, traditional and only reachable by foot.
An old Manggaraian village in picturesque settings atop a mountain (1,100m), Wae Rebo offers visitors to Flores the chance to experience life in a traditional Manggarai community where the villagers strive to keep their traditions alive. The village has been recognised with numerous awards by UNESCO and is considered a World Heritage Site.
Our trip to Wae Rebo started in Denge, a small town at the base of the mountain where trekkers can find lodging in various homestays. After an arduous 6 hour drive that caused excessive car-sickness among half of our group, we arrived at the home of Blasius in time for bed. Unfortunately for us, a large group of Belgians had arrived and taken the last of the rooms, so we were forced to squeeze 5 full-grown women onto two tiny single mattresses (see previous post for more of our ridiculous bedding adventures!). Once the fits of giggling over our ridiculous close quarters subsided, we managed to get some rest - albeit uncomfortable! - before our trek up to Wae Rebo the next morning.
Wae Rebo is only accessible by foot. The trek is around 3 hours (depending on physical condition) of mostly uphill walking through dense rainforest. I'm not going to lie, the hike was tough. If you're not in the habit of walking up mountains, take it slowly (I took about 4 hours!), take lots of breaks (water & ginger sweets are a great help!) and know that you'll reach the top...eventually.
The road to Wae Rebo may have been long and the trek may have involved more uphill than I was prepared for, but visiting this remote village was well worth the effort. The first glimpse of the 7 traditional Mbaru Niang houses placed in a semicircle around an alter is a sight to behold. We were first taken to the main house to meet the village elders. I'd heard that they used to sacrifice chickens to commemorate the arrival of outside visitors, but I suspect this ended when the village became more popular.
After this (and a small Rp50,000 'donation' to allow our group to take photographs), we were free to explore and bask in the warm afternoon sun outside the traditional Mbaru Niang houses. Wae Rebo is the only place in Flores where you can still see this traditional housing style, so wonderfully preserved by the 18th generation of the original village elder.
The houses consist of 5 levels: Level 1 (lutur or tent) - the living quarters, usually housing extended family. Level 2 (lobo, or attic) - storage for food and goods. Level 3 (lentar) - storage for seeds for the next harvest. Level 4 (lempa rae) - storage for food stocks in case of drought. Level 5 (hekang kode) - an area to place offerings for the ancestors.
The main activity of the village seemed to be preparing coffee for consumption. I'm not a coffee drinker but the process of making the coffee is pretty interesting - will save that for another post! The women of the village spent most of the afternoon drying coffee beans, grinding freshly roasted beans or sifting through beans in the in-between stages (post-drying, pre-roasting). It was fascinating to watch and I was fortunate that my friends and I have enough Bahasa Indonesia skills that we were able to speak directly with some of the villagers.
Our accomodation for the night was in one of these Mbaru Niang houses, specially set aside for tourists in the busy season. A large open room with blankets and pillows atop tikar (woven mats made from Pandanus leaf) around the perimeter where we also ate breakfast, lunch and dinner during our stay.
Unfortunately, arriving at Wae Rebo for me coincided with the beginning of a nasty stomach bug which would last, on and off, for the next two weeks. My enjoyment of the village was marred slightly by nausea and vomiting. Breakfast the next morning was boiled yam with palm sugar. Not the appetising pre-downhill trek meal I had been hoping for!
So with no food in my belly, we commenced the trek downhill. In the long 2-hour downhill trek I managed to badly twist an ankle, almost fall off the side of the mountain from dizziness, dry retch a few times, smash my knee badly on a stone, twist the other ankle and generally have a horrendous time. Oh, and then in my space-y-ness back at the homestay in Denge, I left my expensive running shoes and orthodics behind. Nice work, Louise!
But despite the sour end to my trip to Wae Rebo, I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit if you're in the area. The warm welcome we received from the villagers, the true hospitality, stunning vistas and glimpse into village life made the trip special. And to see the incredible night sky on top of the mountain was worth the effort!
- We paid Rp175,000 to stay at Blasius's homestay. Your driver can organise your accommodation directly with Blasius as phone reception is limited. This cost includes basic breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- A local guide is required for the trek and to introduce you to the village elders. The cost of a guide is Rp150,000 per group and you will also need to pay a group fee of Rp50,000 when you arrive at the village (a 'donation' that basically allows you to take photographs).
- An overnight stay in Wae Rebo will set you back about Rp250,000 and includes bedding (it gets cold, make sure you raid the blanket cupboard!) as well as simple meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- I recommend hiring a driver to reach Denge. See my previous post on Flores for a driver recommendation.