In Memory of the Hobbits

volc

Monday, 24 January, 2011

Flores, Indonesia

After we were done with the dragons, we moved on to volcanoes in Flores – less intimidating but equally deadly. In fact, the reason we opted to visit Gunung Inerie in the first place is because it erupted only ten years ago and we were curious about how much of the carnage was still evident.

The simple answer being, a lot. As we stared down from the top, the damage proved very clear with piles of ash and blackened trees spreading far beyond the crater’s edge. We were gifted a version of nature that is just not that familiar to a bloke from the UK and it was pretty entrancing.

However, I know what you’re all really dying to know. Did those two superhuman gladiators go and bloody climb a frigging mountain again? Unfortunately not – our journey to the top wasn’t quite so epic this time around.

This time we hired help to take us to the top on their motorbikes. However, this led to the unthinkable happening, I got left with a rider in a Manchester United shirt – that just wasn’t going to work, was it? It’s the equivalent of asking a Christian to get on a bus with ‘Jesus was a myth’ stickers plastered all over it; it simply goes against everything I believe in! There was no way around it, Ruby and I needed to swap bikes.

Predictably, the Man United guy turned out to be terrible at handling a motorbike – don’t get me wrong, I can’t ride a motorbike either, but then, it’s not essential to my job description. As a result, I fell victim to my own bloody gentlemanly traits. I felt guilty and suggested that we exchanged for a second time before the journey back down.

He hadn’t got better with experience, our bike went over twice within the first ten minutes. It was at that point, I chose to jump off and walk the rest of the way. I could still see him in the distance wobbling the entire way to the bottom though, it was as if this was his first time without the stabilisers.

The second day we visited another volcano, we were beginning to collect volcanoes like a Malaysian man collects bees at this stage. This one, Kelimutu, is particularly iconic though. At the top, there are three lakes, each of which is a different colour. Naturally, there is a sacred belief that explains why this is the case.

As legend has it, each lake is taken up by various souls; with placement being dependent on one’s lifespan or behaviour while alive. A young death lands you in the turquoise lake, the old are thrown into the black lake and the bad people of the world wind up in the small blue lake. I refuse to belief that this is true, mostly just because I am clinging on to the idea of The Beatles doing a reunion gig in the afterlife.

Kelimutu would be another four o’clock in the morning start, as catching the sunrise was highly recommend. Sadly, we were still without torches after Poundland previously let us down. So, we ate a lot of carrots before the walk – my mum used to tell me that they help you to see in the dark and now was the time to test that theory.

Thankfully, this time the torches weren’t really required at all. The bloke that makes his living selling tea at the top was apparently just as keen as we were – meaning that we could just dawdle behind him and his torch for the journey. Of course, this would now mean we felt kind of obliged to buy a couple of cups of tea, but I’d say he earned that sale. Who knows what would have happened had we simply relied on the carrots.

His shrewd business technique was highly admirable too – one tea bag per two cups; simple but effective. I bet his kids hate him though, “Dad it’s my sixteenth birthday, why do I only have eight candles?!”

The tea seller, Ruby and I were the first to make it to the top – it was pretty special having the place to ourselves for a moment. This allowed us to spend more time admiring each lake individually, without a sea of heads obscuring the view. All of which, while having the pleasure of sipping a nice cup of weak tea.

Mr. Business was far too busy for the view though, he was grafting. He started laying out gloves and scarves on the steps – I wonder if he sells one glove per two people.

He was missing out. A close up view of the ripple from the boiling water of the lakes was fascinating – although, I must confess that they did look like three, great big paint pallets to me. We stayed for an hour, admiring the lakes, the sunset, and enjoyed the company that would later follow. We were there so long that we needed another cup of tea – everybody won on that day.

volcano

Next up was the cave of Liang Bua, a former hangout spot for Homo floresiensis (hobbits). Archaeologists have claimed to have found the skeleton of a hobbit buried amongst the dirt of the cave, with further research suggesting that a volcanic eruption resulted in the end of the species on this island.

Our guide informed us that specialists enter the cave every year with their trusty tools, in hope of finding a new discovery. They will often find leftover body parts of dead monkeys and Komodo dragons buried deep within the cave. However, the real big prize is a hobbit bone.

I bet science nerds celebrate a Homo floresiensis skull with the passion of a football fan watching his team get a ninetieth minute winner.

I mock, but I was definitely tempted to sneak back in the middle of the night with a spade and dig for myself. I mean, just imagine the look on my grandma’s face when she unwraps that as a gift. It’s Christmas day and she merrily assumes that she’s holding a framed photo of her grandkids or something. She opens it, panics, drops it and the whole table is looking at a hobbit jaw floating in some gravy. We’d be talking about that one for years.

The caves had a lot of bats living inside, which was really cool. I felt like a superhero, but I just couldn’t put my finger on which one – Flying Fox Man, perhaps?

One observation I’ve made regarding the whole of Indonesia, is that virtually every male smokes and all females chew betelnut – without many breaks too. Betelnut is a red liquid which gets smeared all over one’s lips and mouth when they eat it – subsequently, making them look like a bunch of psychopathic clowns. It’s definitely an addiction that makes a person look slightly unhinged.

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