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Bajawa

Written on: Tuesday July 15th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Unlike Ruteng, Bajawa proved a very worthwhile stop-over on my way to Kelimutu. Described as the 'spiritual heartland of Flores', Bajawa lies in the Ngada district where yet another language is spoken, other than Bahasa Indonesian, which I'm learning as I go on that everyone in Indonesia understands, but nobody speaks because they all have their own language native to their own island or in this case part of the island. With the language comes many different traditions and cultures that made Bajawa a very interesting place to stay. I got the impression I was heading to less well travelled parts as all the villagers seem very surprised to see any sort of Western travellers coming through here. I've found the locals form two very distinct groups. There are those that beam at you, hailing 'Hey Mister' and bearing a mouth full of less than straight teeth and there are those that look like they're itching to cut your throat. What makes these ones particularly menacing is the fact that they almost always have a huge machete in their clutches as they pass you. Most of the ones I drove past on my way to Bajawa from Ruteng were luckily of the former description. One young boy, perhaps seven years of age, came running towards the mini-van when we had paused to navigate around a huge hole in the road shouting the usual 'Hey Mister', but this time followed by the request, 'Snake?' as he dangled a snake held by a piece of rope up towards me as if I would have wanted to pay for it. I was quite thankful that the van began to move just as he arrived with his reptilian captive at my window. Bajawa was just as sleepy as Ruteng, but had a few more travellers roaming through it. I coincidentally bumped back in to my French companions whom I had climbed Rinjani with the week earlier. Seeing them again I was reminded just how well I had bonded with them and it was a shame to see them leave once again. Despite the language barriers we had become very close. I also met a Dutch family who had been travelling along the same route in Flores as I had taken. They had told me that their mini-van from Ruteng to Bajawa had broken down halfway here and that they had managed to hail an ambulance down and convince them to drive the six of them the three hours further to Bajawa. I just hope nobody had an accident or got ill in Ruteng in the meantime as I can't see them having a huge collection of ambulances or paramedics in that area. Bajawa had many attractions to keep my attention, but is mainly known for its Ngada villages lying in the vicinity. Before visiting some of these villages I headed out for the day with my guide Alfonse up to Wawo Muda, a new volcano that first erupted in 2001. Not a particularly difficult climb and only taking just over an hour to climb it was worthwhile seeing, especially as I happened to run in to Zander and Greke, who had been on the boat with me from Lombok, at the top of the volcano. We spent almost an hour trying to lob stones in to the crater lake beneath us, without any success whatsoever. After a spot of lunch Alfonse and I headed out past Gunung Inerie, another towering volcano at over 2,000 metres tall, through the village of Langa and on to the extremely interesting village of Bena. The village here is built on nine levels and contains nine different families or clans. Here and in the other villages around this area they have many ceremonial edifices that play a very important part to their animist beliefs and their ongoing worship and offerings to their dead ancestors. The majority of Flores is Catholic, but many of the population hold strong animist beliefs that go hand in hand with their Catholicism. Each level in the village has both a male and a female representation. The male symbol, called the Ngadhu is a tall umbrella-like structure, consisting of a central phallic-like wooden pillar, topped with a thatched flailing skirt-like roof. The female partner, the Bhaga, is a stone made enclosure that looks like a big oven with, like the Ngadhu a thatched roof on top. This represents the womb, and is where offerings are laid so that the family's ancestors will continue to protect and look after the village. Next to both these structures is another construction made crudely, but effectively of stone where sacrificial offerings are made. Lucky for me English, bearded backpacker sacrifices were not currently in fashion, instead they mainly opted for a big, fat pig that is tied to a stake and offered to those residing in the afterlife. Men and women in the village are not permitted to marry outside of the village, and rightly so are not allowed to marry within their own clan (to save having a bunch of one armed, three legged children running around the place), so they must marry a person from another clan. If they chose to marry somebody from another village they must then move out of the village to a somewhere different. Sadly, like all the most interesting places on this planet (although not Bedfont yet) tourism sooner or later has an impact and changes things, and as you wander around this extremely poor but happy village you're coerced by the villagers to buy their ikat weavings, vanilla and similar products. Nonetheless, an interesting visit and of course you cannot blame these people for wanting to cash in on some foreign dollar. Departing the village and returning to Bajawa I'd had enough of riding on the back of Alfonse's bike and convinced him to hand over the reins and let me head off on my own to Soa and for a well needed dip its hot springs. It was great to be back on a bike again, especially climbing up through the hills and mountains, gazing out over the rice paddies to volcanoes bubbling in the distance. I'd underestimated how close Soa was, thinking that it was perhaps a ten minute drive down the road. It ended up being a twisting one hour drive where I had to constantly put my Bahasa Indonesian to the test to ask the locals if I was on the right track. But what a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow the hot springs were. By far the most beautiful of the hot springs I've visited, with a natural pool where the springs release in to a narrow channel that flows down in to a stream where it mixes with the cold water, a great place to sit and refreshingly enjoy the afternoon sun. With the hardship of getting from one place to the other, each day living out of your backpack, I sometimes forget why I'm doing all this, but on the way back to Bajawa, with the sun setting yet again, driving through the banana plantations, waving to the children, men and women who constantly are bewildered at seeing a white man drive past them made me remember why. That feeling is like no other, a feeling of euphoria, a feeling of immortality, a feeling that despite all the shit that is going on around the world, it's an absolutely wondrous and incredible place after all.