Our penultimate stop on our epic Flores road trip was the small farming town of Moni. A cute village located a couple of hours drive from Ende with only a handful of eating establishments and homestays, this is the best place to base yourself for trekking in Kelimutu National Park and for visiting Kelimutu Crater Lakes at sunrise.
I had booked and pre-paid for our two rooms at Daniel Lodge on agoda.com but was worried that I'd had trouble getting in touch with the accommodation to confirm the booking. And worried I should be! We arrived at Daniel Lodge and were told the owner was out in the field moving his buffalo. After a long wait, the sour 'Daniel' of Daniel Lodge arrived and had a mild heart attack: he had given away one of our rooms. In true Indonesian hospitality to make up for his mistake, he had tidied up his own bedroom to offer to our group as well as one of the rooms we had booked. A nice thought but the accommodation just wasn't appropriate and we didn't feel comfortable about turfing someone out of their house. We decided we should just share the double bed and single mattress we had between the 5 of us. Another uncomfortable night but by this point, we were just happy to have somewhere to sleep. But a word of advice to the weary traveller - confirm, confirm and confirm again! Indonesians tend to live very much in the present moment, and you may just arrive to find that they gave preference over a walk-in guest despite your booking!
Before dinner our driver, Ivan, suggested we visit some nearby hot springs. We had attempted to visit the hot springs outside of Bajawa earlier that day but the whole of Flores was out in full force and the peaceful-looking hot springs resembled a crowded Bondi Beach on a hot summer Sunday. Ivan led us down through the rice fields at dusk to a small spring full of local men. It was slippery and muddy and hard to know where to put your feet - I couldn't stop remembering all of the stories I'd heard about snakes in rice fields!
Eventually we made it down to the hot spring where I promptly put my feet in the wrong spot and ended up knee deep in mud. I managed to pull myself out but lost my shoes (and half a toenail! Very OUCH!) in the process, but a lovely local boy helped me dig around up to our elbows in mud to find my shoes. We had to wear our clothes into the springs as it wasn't appropriate for us to strip down to bathers in local company, so the five of us waded in to the warm water and, after some Bahasa Indonesia pleasantries were exchanged, commenced a hilarious stare-off competition with some of the locals. No one seemed bothered that we were there and just went about scrubbing their feet and washing their hair. As the moon rose and the women and children of the village arrived for their evening bath, we sat silently and soaked up the village atmosphere, as people chatted to each other about their days while washing.
Cut to the next morning. It's 4am and I've just spent the night squished into a double bed with 3 of my friends. We're exhausted from an uncomfortable night's sleep (thanks to our accommodation giving away our pre-booked second room!) but are excited to commence our last major Flores adventure to Kelimutu for sunrise.
Kelimutu is a volcano which last erupted in the late 1960s. At the summit of the volcano (1,639m) are three lakes, formed in craters. The interesting thing about these lakes is that they change colour significantly through the course of a day or a week or a month. Sometimes one may appear red and later green or blue. It is thought that these colour changes occur due to volcanic activity under the surface and from chemical reactions between minerals in the lakes.
The lakes are named Tiwi Ata Mbupu (Lake of Old People), Tiwu Nua Muri Kooh Tai (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Lake of Evil Sprits, or Enchanted Lake). Local villagers believe that the souls of the dead rest at the bottom of the lakes based upon the deeds they performed while they were living.
We started our journey to the top of the volcano for a sunrise view over the lakes at 4.30am. Fortunately for me - unlike many other volcanoes in Indonesia - there is a road almost to the top and there is a simple 20-30min walk from the car park to the lookout. No more clambering up mountains for my weary and injured legs!
The pictures speak for themselves, the view as the sun rose above the craters was stunning and it was worth sticking around for a couple of hours to witness the changing of colours as the sun rose higher.
We decided to walk down from the summit back to Moni, which takes approximately 2-2.5 hours. Possibly not my wisest move ever as I had left my shoes back in Denge at the start of the trip, so had to walk downhill for 2.5 hours in flip flops/thongs! I'm so sorry, feet! Despite the pain, the walk was stunning and I highly recommend returning to Moni this way. The first hour is spent walking on the road under beautiful canopies and past stunning vistas and the last half is spent walking through villages and farmland.
We stayed at Daniel Lodge and while I'd like to be able to recommend it, we were let down by a distinct lack of service and hospitality. I would look elsewhere in Moni if you can. On our last night, a family arrived late at night having booked through a travel agent months before. There were no available rooms and no sign of the owners so they were forced to take their children and try to find somewhere else to stay in peak season.
Bintang Restaurant was fantastic and one of only 3 places open! Worth booking a table for dinner if you visit in peak season. Make sure you stick around for the staff's jam session and request 'Oh, Flores Island!'.