Although we had intended to stay longer in Maurole we set off for Ruing, our next official stop, after one night due to the uncomfortable roll in the anchorage.
The water was a magnificent deep navy blue that day and we had a good sail for some of the time although we had to motor sail for a while before stopping overnight in Ciendeh Bay which was beautifully calm. We had a lovely cooling swim there and a great night’s sleep.
The next day there wasn’t much wind again so we motor sailed most of the way and arrived in Ruing at mid afternoon.
We should have learnt our lesson that when in a new anchorage we should take the dinghy to land for the first time in daylight – especially after we copped a soaking in Maurole trying to get onto the beach in the pitch dark.
This time we became disoriented in the black-as-pitch night and ended up going down the wrong side of the long, long finger wharf. We eventually found where we were supposed to tie up on the correct side but had a fraught time negotiating mooring lines put out behind the fishing boats before we were able to sidle in between the cheerfully coloured craft.
We tied up on an extremely dodgy floating wharf which leant drunkenly to one side and which lurched as we walked along it. Then we had to negotiate a steep ladder which was vertical or horizontal or anywhere in between, according to the state of the tide, and which was joined to the safety of the cement finger wharf.
At the end of this was a great little restaurant where we caught up with some of the fleet that we hadn’t seen for a while. Delicious freshly caught fish (grilled) and chips (the first for a long time) were on the menu.
The next day we had a much needed clean up and got rid of all the black sand (full of iron-ore) that had been tracked on to the boat in Maumere.
The following day was the “gala dinner” which ended up being the lowest key festivity yet. I think most people found that to be a great relief.
Rather than gala dinner it was a gala tea and cake and thankfully there was only one speech followed by some dancing (everyone shuffling round in a circle).
We were keen to visit the traditional villages in this region of Flores and although we knew it would be a long day, decided to do it in one day rather than over two with a stay in the mountains as some people had opted to do.
So it was an early start – on land ready to meet the car for a 6.30 am departure.
On our way through Ruing we picked up a huge sack of rice (20 kilos at least), a large envelope and had to stop so our driver could have a chat with someone and make a phone call! So half an hour later we eventually left the little town and started climbing the first mountain on a road that was more pot holes than tarmac!
Despite the bumpy ride, the trip was excellent as the scenery was breathtaking and we drove through some really interesting little villages.
The road improved on the other side of the mountain and became even better as we climbed up to the town of Bajawa (about 70 km from Riung) in the central highlands of Flores.
Here we picked up our guide who had excellent English and explained a little about the traditional villages, the ngadhu (carved poles representing the male ancestors of a clan) and bhaga (small huts representing the females).
On the way through to the main tourist attractions – Bena village and Luba – we stopped off at two small collections of dwellings with ancient stone megaliths in front of the houses. It was great to see these in an absolutely non-tourist situation.
These amazing and mysterious megaliths connect the clan members to their dead ancestors – there are two different types of stones – the ones that are placed vertically and a few horizontally – rather like altars. In fact they are the sight, even to this day, of animal sacrifices that occur whenever a new home is completed or something else momentous happens.
When we arrived in Bena we were told that such a sacrifice had happened only days earlier. Several oxen, a larger number of pigs and lots of chickens had been sacrificed. We could see the blood stains and the sickly smell of death was still evident as we walked through the village.
The sacrifices do not go to waste – the carcasses are partially cooked, cut up and then distributed between the hundreds of extended family members that attend the ceremony. Nothing goes to waste. The horns of the buffalo and pig skulls are then displayed outside the new house.
We were interested to see at Luba village that there were Christian headstones in amongst the megalith stones. It seems that the clan members are happy to accept Christianity but continue their ancestor worship as well. I suppose there’s no harm in having a bet each way!
The traditional villages were just amazing – although they are visited every day by tourists they are not there for tourists. They genuinely exist as part of the life of the people – both the matriarch who lives there and all her descendants who throughout the years come back to visit to touch base with their family both dead and alive. Unusually these clans are matriarchal and everything is passed on through the female line.
Outside the intriguing thatched houses the women spun cotton, prepared looms and wove cloth. It was fascinating to see how they introduced the patterns into the warp dyed (Ikat) fabric.
On the way back to Ruing we stopped to drop off our guide in Bajawa and bought some fruit and veg in the market and then started the long bumpy trip home.
A quick diversion to a lovely park with hot springs was our last stop before enduring what seemed hours of extreme four wheel driving. Our travel companions jumped in but we were happy just to paddle rather than go through the drama of changing in the rather unappealing bathrooms or the exposed changing rooms
We arrived back quite weary but very happy to have made the trip to catch a glimpse of a culture which hasn’t changed for possibly many thousands of years.