Woke at 7 and had tea and pancakes for breakfast, then took a taxi to the airport to catch my flight to Ende with Merpati. Met a Kurt Cobain lookalike from Colorado – Charlie, who had been travelling around Kalimantan, Bali, Lombok and Flores for the last 3 weeks. He was with a Japanese guy, Nawa, 60 years young but could pass for 50 – as fit as a flea, and as enthusiastic as a first-time traveler.
Charlie and I chatted for a long time, and sat next to each other on the flight, bonding over our love of travel and adventure. He told me some great stories about growing up in California and Colorado – surfing everyday, flying planes, skiing, snowboarding, trekking, climbing, dirt-biking….he was a real outdoors-type, loving nature, and disliking big cities. He works as a barman in Teloride, Colorado, a ski resort rivaling Aspen. Two nights a week he works at a fine dining restaurant. What he makes in tips is enough for him to be able to travel 5-6 months a year. Not a bad life at all. He’s certainly the most worldly-wise barman I’ve ever met.
We arrived in Ende, and worked our way through the touts offering ridiculous fares of 500,000 Rp to Moni, which was where we wanted to base ourselves. We got past the touts, and 3 ojeks came up to us and offered to take us to the bus station for 5,000 Rp each. The 3 of us, me, Charlie and Nawa, hopped on a bike. Just before the bus station, we were stopped by someone in front of a line of jeeps – unofficial private hire taxis. We agreed on a much more reasonable 30,000Rp each to Moni. The 3 of us had to share our ‘taxi’ with 2 mothers, 2 babies, and 3 other men. A tight squeeze.
The road to Moni was winding, ascended quickly, and was nearly vomit-inducing. The scenery was breathtaking – mountains, ravines, valleys and snaking rivers all the way. After 2 and a half hours, we arrived in Moni, which is a tiny village with huts dotted on the road and in the fields beyond. We were dropped off at the top of a hill, next to the driver’s mate’s accommodation, and other mates of his who had accommodation further up in the hills. Nice trick. We walked down the hill instead, and checked a few places out. Nawa opted for Bintang ‘hotel’, and Charlie and I for a nice place opposite, with rooms set below road level, opposite a pigpen, sprinkled with roosters. The people here seemed really nice; especially welcoming was the crippled Rasafarian John, who was a mine of information. The shower in my room didn’t work, so I got a discount from 150,000 to 100,000Rp. It was going to be a mandi shower for me. Never mind.
We were served a welcome drink of sweet black tea and a plate of homemade peanuts, which they should seriously bottle and sell. Then, Charlie and I decided to take a stroll up the road. John had told us about a waterfall we could have a look at, so we went there, accessed by a small trail to the left of Rainbow Café, which was a typical village shack with some plastic tables and chairs.
The waterfall, though nice, wasn’t that impressive. No waterfall will ever be now, after Angel Falls. A track led up and away from the waterfall, so we followed it, and it led to a small village. People were waving and smiling at us, and a few women beckoned us over and we chatted for a while. The children were playing a form of bowls, but with pebbles. Everyone seemed happy. Simple, and happy. Charlie and I took lots of snaps for the memory banks. The faces of the women were hard, and they looked much older than they were. One of them, Amelia, offered to show us around the village, and we went with her to her parents home. They looked as old as the hills, her parents, and were both chewing betel nut, the addictive green nut you eat with a stick of something sweet and a white powder, that taken all together induces a mild high and leaves the mouth numb, and the teeth, tongue and lips red. It was to be my first of many encounters with betel nut addicts. The old man took out his betel nut box, a wooden box with a colourful beaded pattern on it, and offered me one. I had to accept, and chewed the bitter nut with the stick and the powder together. It was horrible, and made me feel slightly dizzy. I spat it out on the floor, which is perfectly acceptable – the red stains of spat out betel nut are splashed on the ground everywhere in these parts. The old couple laughed, delighted I’d tried it. We were offered a choice of tea or local coffee, the coffee grown right here in Amelia’s garden. We chose coffee, and heaped many a spoon of sugar into the muddy, murky depths of our cups before drinking it. It wasn’t too bad. We were also given some oranges to try – the most delicious, juciest oranges I’ve ever tried.
Amelia invited us back for dinner – chicken, rice, vegetables, soup and fruit, she promised. 100,000Rp. We agreed to go, and decided that we should invite Nawa. We said we’d be back around 7:30ish. We left and walked back to the other part of the village. On the way down, we met a charming and very flirtatious village girl, Ida, who said Amelia was her cousin. I invited her to dinner too, and she readily accepted. Charlie and I went back to our rooms happy. Showered, changed, and headed back to the village at 6:30pm with Nawa. It was dark, so we needed torches. It was slightly spooky heading to the village at night, past the silvery waterfall. It seemed so much larger at night. We got to the first part of the village, and Ida invited us into her house to wait while she got changed. There had been a Moni-wide blackout, so we sat by torchlight, and I spoke with her father. My Bahasa Indonesian was improving, it was all the villagers communicated in, and I knew it was a big reason we’d been invited back to the village. I acted as interpreter for everyone. The village was so quiet at night. No music, no TV….perfectly tranquil. Ida was ready, she’d dressed in her best dress, and her hair was combed. She wore no make-up, nobody in the village has any, yet Ida was naturally beautiful and didn’t need any. We headed up to Amelia’s. Dinner in her village hut by candlelight followed. It was a beautiful, romantic, simple affair. The food was good, and we ate it all in this little hut, with kerosene-fuelled torches lighting our table, the flames licking the wood, bathing everybody in a light that is seldom seen in the city. We chatted (in Bahasa with Ida), and ate the food. Amelia and her mum and dad came to join us after. They were eating betel nut again, and Nawa decided he wanted to try. Everybody laughed as he struggled with the nut, his face screwed up in disgust as the bitter nut juiced in his mouth. When I’m 60, I want to be travelling the world just like Nawa, trying new things. A legend. Maybe he had worked as a salaryman too long, and needed to get out and see the world. Total respect for him.
Dinner was over. We were honoured to have been invited to this lovely village to eat with the locals. A very special day. We returned back in the pitch black by torch, and I set my alarm for 4am. Tomorrow was going to be another long day.