Three Colour Lakes In A Crater Of A Volcano – Kelimutu

Kelimutu Lakes look as if God accidentally dropped bright-colour paint in a crater of a volcano. There are three of them in one crater, each of a different colour, and the colours are constantly changing. When I saw them, two had almost the same tone of turquoise (one slightly brighter than the other), and the third one was very dark green. They used to be different, and had colours including: blue, black, brown and reddish. The process of colour changing is due to a chemical reaction and weather and is happening fast. According to Wikipedia (yes, I have just used Wikipedia as a reference), the colours changed six times between January and November 2016.

Tiwu Ko'o Fai Nuwa Muri (slightly brighter) in the front and Tiwu Ata Polo in the back
Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri (slightly brighter) in the front and Tiwu Ata Polo in the back.

I made two attempts to reach Kelimutu crater. My goal was to get there from Bali on a motorbike. I wanted to do that trip overland and by ferries between the islands. I eventually achieved that, but there were some moments when I was thinking that I had set an impossible goal. I failed at the first attempt when I was already in Sumbawa island (one more ferry cruise and I would be in Flores – the island where Kelimutu is located). It was in Lakey Beach when I got to know that Bima, the city in Sumbawa, is flooded due to heavy rainfalls, and there is no other way to reach Sape, the place where the ferry to Flores starts from. So from Lakey I had to turn back to Bali.

We Love Indonesia - a ferry I saw between Lombok and Sumbawa.
We Love Indonesia – a ferry I saw between Lombok and Sumbawa.
The view from the ferry going from Sumbawa to Flores - Komodo National Park on the horizon.
The view from the ferry going from Sumbawa to Flores – Komodo National Park on the horizon.

The second time I tried, and it was eventually a successful attempt, was also during the rainy season, which does not last that long in Lesser Sunda Islands. But the journey me and my friends embarked on had a bad timing – it coincided with the heaviest and most frequent rains. We were travelling on motorbikes with backpacks and tents, the journey lasted four weeks instead of the planned two or three, so the most often repeated words during that trip were: “girls, we are not normal”.

A bike trip in rainy season. Who came up with this idea?
A bike trip in rainy season. Dijana, why did you come up with this idea?

We did not take a single homestay during that time. Among the weirdest places that I slept in were: a hospital, a church, a tent in a local house (tent as a protection from mosquitoes or cockroaches, once even from snakes). I still cannot believe that we spent one month of our lives in that way.

Getting ready to sleep in a hospital. Dompu, Sumbawa,
Getting ready to sleep in a hospital. Dompu, Sumbawa.

During the second attempt a few things occured which made me doubt again whether I was ever going to be able to reach Kelimutu. Among them were:

  • Ewa got a fish bone stuck in her throat, but luckily the hospital staff in Dompu did a great job and removed the unwanted object.

    A professional surgery requires: one smartphone as a flashlight, one pair of tweezers and four hijabs.
    A professional surgery requires: one smartphone as a flashlight, one pair of tweezers and four hijabs.
  • Once we got to Sape we were told that the ferry from Sumbawa to Flores was not operating until nobody-knows-when, and “maybe tomorrow” turned out to be five days.

    In Sape we had a chance to admire this view for five days, while waiting for the ferry.
  • When we eventually got to Ende regency in Flores, we saw streams of water and rocks on the road, fallen trees, and tourists turning back from Kelimutu, saying that the crater had been closed due to terrible weather conditions.

    It lookes as if someone was preventing us very hard from reaching Kelimutu
    It lookes as if someone was preventing us very hard from reaching Kelimutu volcano.

So we waited. We were waiting for another four days in Moni village, at the foot of the volcano, with no electricity, since the falling trees damaged the cables transmitting electricity to the village. We ate sweet potato and pumpkin soup in Mopi’s Place, in the evening we sat together with the brothers that ran the business and we played instruments (unplugged) and sang, barely being able to read the lyrics with the candle light.

Waiting patiently in Moni for the clouds to go away.
Waiting patiently in Moni for the clouds to go away.

It seems that we appreciated the stunning beauty of Kelimutu even more, also because we had to wait so long for the nature to reveal that beauty.

In the first hours that Kelimutu National Park was open for visitors again, we rode our bikes up the road to the crater. It was foggy. The clouds on the top were dense, coming in and away. Finally, after maybe half an hour of waiting on the top, all three lakes were visible: the two turquoise lakes adjacent to each other; and the third, a dark green one, looking very enigmatic. Me and Dijana were completely alone there. It was almost a spiritual experience.

First moments, when the clouds began going up and revealing the beauty of the dark lake.
First moments, when the clouds began going up and revealing the beauty of Tiwu Ata Bupu.
Tiwu ata Mbutu - mystical lake where the souls of old people rest.
Tiwu Ata Bupu – mystical lake where the souls of old people rest.
Tiwu Ko'o Fai Nuwa Muri - the lake where souls of people who die young rest. Soon, the fogg went up.
Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri – the lake where souls of people who die young rest. Shortly after I took this photo, the fog went up.
The view was worth riding 1500 km, most of it in rain. But I will never do that again.
One more smile.
And one more
And one more.
Wondering what coulour they will be the next time I am here…

The lakes are believed to be a spiritual place though. According to the local beliefs, souls of the dead rest in Kelimutu lakes. One lake is for those who die young, one is the lake for old people, and one is where evil spirits go. For my friends from Poland – if you want to know more, you can listen to a short broadcast about Kelimutu by Tomasz Gorazdowski.

Ende regency has a lot of this bluish pigment. Blue Stone Beach.
Ende regency has a lot of this bluish pigment. Blue Stone Beach, Flores.
More blue.
More blue.

Celebrating The New Year In Flores – Reba Ceremony

“Do you want to join a ceremony in my village tomorrow?” – we were asked by a lady in Bajawa, Flores island, who was hosting us for couple nights.

We had reached Bajawa completely exhausted, after over a 1000-km motorbike ride from Bali, on our way to Kelimutu volcano. The beginning of our stay in the town I associate with feeling terribly cold. Bajawa is a cold place due to its height – the town is elevated over 1200 m above the sea level. And since we embarked on that trip during Indonesian rainy season, the journey involved riding in huge rain (in fact some parts in the mountains were like riding through a huge cloud, with very little visibility and raindrops all around). I was falling ill.

What is more, we had been already behind our initial schedule by several days. In the rainy season ferries rarely operate as per timetable, so in the meantime we got stuck in Sape (Sumbawa island) waiting for the ferry to Labuan Bajo (Flores island) for five long days.

But the lady who invited us to the ceremony was so nice, and we were not in the mood for hitting the road again the following day, so we accepted her invitation. “They will be dancing there” – this is as much as she told us, which equals to how much I knew about the annual Reba ceremony, the most important time of the year in Ngada regency in Flores, which I was about to join.

And they were dancing indeed, but the dance and all other rituals that we saw in Warusoba village were astonishing.

The people living in the village formed a circle and began beating the ground with their bare feet to the rhythm of the song they sang along. One of the eldest men was clearly the leader, and often would take the position in the centre of the circle. At some point, a few kids joined the dance – they were visibly less confident with their moves, and didn’t have red teeth from betel leaves, a very common herbal stimulant – not just yet. The dance lasted all day and all night. Later the people explained us, that this dance is called Tandak and is conducted to gratitude the ancestors. Feet pounding has yet one more meaning – it expresses connection with the earth and prayers for good harvest.

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Members of the community were taking turns, so they were not exhausted and could happily celebrate other elements of that special time which is the New Year, held every year in January or February in Ngada regency. The other elements include sacrifices of pigs or bulls at the porch of the most important house in the village – this part we were late for, it took place the previous day. We only saw the evidence of that – fresh blood on the porch from the day before, and pigs’ jaws or bulls’ horns from previous years.

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Also, during that special time, each clan would gather at the inner part of the house – where there is a hearth in the heart of the house. They would discuss matters important for the family in the upcoming year, including maintenance works needed or planned weddings. But this element – for obvious reasons, we did not participate in.

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What we were invited for, and we couldn’t skip it even if we wanted – was a great feast. It would be impolite to reject an invitation to any of the houses, so we eventually visited eight of them, and ate in each of those houses (well, in the last one the hosts had a little mercy and served only coffee). In the first houses mainly meet was served, so me and Dijana, who are vegetarians, ate mostly rice (with chilli). But we were treated there so nicely, that starting from 4th or 5th house we received a wide selection of vegetarian food: a lot of vegetables, eggs, tofu and tempe.

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The rites held to express gratitude to ancestors and ensure abundant harvest come from the times long before Portugal claimed Flores their land. Together with colonisation, a new religion came – Roman Catholicism. But the new doctrine did not eradicate the old traditions – it grew around them and gave them a new, refreshed face. These days in Warusoba village and probably in all other villages in Ngada regency, in every house there are icons of Jesus and Mother Mary. One of the men dancing in the circle was wearing a T-shirt with an image of Jesus in the crown of thorns. To me, a person who grew up in a traditional Catholic family in Poland, the elements of animistic beliefs next to the image of Jesus Christ, was a bizarre juxtaposition. Indonesia doesn’t fail to surprise me.

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What we could learn from people from around Bajawa is how the celebration is “passed” from one village to another, so if one person belongs to a few communities, he or she doesn’t need to choose where to go. Here it’s not the fixed date which is important, what matters is being together without the need to rush to another place. The life is happening now, and here, in the little Warusoba village.

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