Wae Rebo Diary, Indonesia, Flores 16th March, 2014
16/3/14 – Wae Rebo is a traditional village, located in the crater of a very old volcano, 1100 meters above sea level, in the Manggarai district, West Flores, Indonesia. Isolated, it takes an adventurous drive to the small village of Denge (4-5hours from Ruteng), then a 3-4hour trek up into the beautiful mountain rain forest to get there. Open to visitors only in the last few years, village life is still very traditional, making it a very worthwhile to experience. The life of the village centers around seven large, conical buildings, made of bamboo and palms. A communal, grassy area in-between serves as a playground, work space and place for performances and ceremony. The surrounding forest is filled with crops, almost everything they need. We arrived in Denge with a driver that we hired between 5 of us. He knew Blasius as most guides should as he is the main place to stay. A guide for how to organize the trip and how to get to Wae Rebo.
We arrived on 15/3/14 in the late afternoon, were given masses of fried banana and tea and coffee then later dinner. Blasius organised a guide, Gabriel, for us. Between us he cost 150,000 Rupiah, he spoke no English but our driver came with us to translate. A guide is mandatory now to negotiate the customs and cultural needs associated with arriving, giving a gift and being accepted to stay at the village. He stayed with us the whole two days and was well worth it.
We woke up at 6.15am, and after breakfast we set off, leaving unneeded luggage with Pak Blasius.
We leave at 7.30am, it is already very hot. The hike is around 8 kms. The first 2 kms are in the open on the makings of a road. Apparently they are going to put a road up to Wae Rebo, not sure of the time frame, but we hope it doesn’t happen, maybe just to the farms on the lower slopes.
We come to a large stream, where beautiful water cascades, our first rest stop after about 80 mins at a slow pace taking a lot of pictures. It was here we first encountered the Wae Rebo custom of introducing themselves to every person and asking your name, and some times where you are from. This often took a while if there were a few locals, with the 7 of us. But we all enjoyed this unhurried, friendly custom. On the way we met a lot of locals carrying coffee down to sell at the market (it was a Sunday and market was on Monday), or carrying rice up and children coming down to live with relatives in Denge or Kombo for the school week.
I wore my walking sandals by Teva, with socks to protect from leeches, Mark got a leech on his calf, despite having walking boots. I didn’t bother on the way down and only got a small leech, which couldn’t have been on for more than a few minutes as I kept checking.
The next stop was after another few kms, but this is now more uphill, though a good track. The heavy, regular rains had made it slippery in parts and you walk past some landslides. There are signs now as well, every 100meters, telling you how far you are from Wae Rebo. At around 2800meters to go, there is another rest stop with great views down to the valley and mist floating through the mountains. Another 1km and you are at their crater rim (Wae Rebo is set inside an old volcano), from here it is level for a km, then slowly you descend to the village.
Before you get there, it is important to announce yourself. The first building you come to is like a viewing platform, looking out over the village and hills. There is a bamboo instrument hanging up. It has a split almost the whole way down its foot long shaft and you shake it hard to clap it together. This alerts the village to your arrival.
From here you need to refrain from taking photos for the time being. Walk down the path to the biggest, central house. You go inside to be welcomed by one of the 3 village chiefs and give them a donation of 10,000 Rupiah or a bag of rice, this allows you to take photos and be welcomed to the village. If you choose to leave the same day, there is a cost of 100,000 Rupiah. We choose to stay overnight for 250,000 Rupiah, this includes all meals. We first went to the guest house, like the others traditional houses it is large, around 11meters in diameter, it is conical in shape with sleeping mats positioned around the outer edge. Here we are welcomed by the owners and given coffee, tea or water. The coffee is one of their main crops and is superb. You can buy big bags of it from 50,000 Rupiah. Then we had a traditional lunch with the best cassava chips I have tasted, very hard to stop eating!
We spent the afternoon discovering the village: watching the woman weave, underneath the houses for protection from the rain or sun, all the animals everywhere and playing for hours, simple, silly games with the children. They could only say hello in English, but we managed tag, other chasing games, kicking a ball, spinning them around, counting games, tickling and making silly faces. The community spirit with which they played and helped each other was wonderful to watch, as was their ability to be happy and content with basically nothing. They could play and invent games with a piece of rubbish, tying string on it, flinging it, spinning it, just examining it. It was wonderful to see children so happy, only the small kids every cried, if they were hurt or infants. The female elders all still had roles, looking after babies, cooking, playing drums when it was a music session or general help. The males were always busy unless they were having a smoke break.
Change is easy to see everywhere. Apart from sarongs, everyone wears western clothing. There are smallish solar panels on each house for a central light. There is a plug socket and extra lights for when the generator gets turned on for 3 hours each night, with crude power lines running to each hut. Around the outside, non-traditional houses have popped up made with corrugated iron and timber.
But what I love is the forest of food surrounding the village. On every trail there is something edible. Even on the walk up, there is often chilies, tomatoes, bananas, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cassava and coffee plants. They are almost completely self-reliant, apart from white sugar and rice it seems (they have their own brown sugar). Knowing this made every meal a really big deal for me, a lot had gone into making every part, each item a sacrifice, especially the chicken at dinner. That night we sleepy on a woven (plant), stuffed mattress. Much more comfortable than I thought. Breakfast was cassava in palm sugar syrup. We had a last look at the new library for teaching the young children, said our good byes and started the trek down. The people of Flores are a friendly, beautiful people.