WESTERN FLORES

WESTERN FLORES

Eastern Flores is very rugged and the roads through the region are very rough. There is a range of mountains that are almost 1,500 meters high and an active volcano that is 1,704 meters high. The rainy season lasts from November to May with the heaviest rains falling in Janary and February. The area gets about 125 centimeters of rain a year. The bus out of Labuan Bajo that I took in the 1980s was a vehicle that was half truck-half moon crawler. We traveled on one of the roughest roads I had ever been on to Ruteng.

We visited one town that had a hill nearby that wasn't even there six months before we visited. It was a volcano that had only just recently come into existence. I wanted to climb it and check it out but my brother didn't want to. From there we road our bikes to Bajawa, a beautiful town nestled among some misty green craters. It was quite chilly there at night.

Ruteng

Ruteng (four hours by bus from Lubuan Bajo) is a large town that lies in the heartland of the Manggarai people. Traditional villages outside the city can be visited. Capital of the district of Manggarai, it is a pleasant, busy town backed by a range of mountains. Located some 1,200 meters above sea level the air is cool. Surrounding the town are green rice fields that provide the staple for the population on this predominantly dry island. Coffee grown around here is said to be quite good. It is from Ruteng that the Catholic mission spread to convert many of the islanders, building many missionary schools, so that Flores today is indeed predominantly Catholic. There is basic accommodation and shops are well stocked. Internet also works here.

The Catholic church in the middle of the town is the only thing that qualifies as a tourist sight in the town. The building is fairy old and has a sizeable hall. Ruteng originated from a small village, and the story goes that it emerged from the heart of Compang Ruteng, or Ruteng Pu’u. This village still exists today. and travelers go there to see the remaining original house of the Manggaraian and a compang, a stone altar that is the center of the village. A compang is a sacred place, where the ancestors are believed to live, while all the houses encircle it concentrically. Observe the locals who live as an agricultural community. Agricultural products found here are coffee, copra, candlenut, cloves, and cacao.

Located on a slope of Mount Anak Ranaka, Ruteng is unexpectedly cooler than the rest of the island, making it a place for morning or evening strolls. It lies in Manggarai, which was once a larger regency. In 2003 and 2007, it was divided into three regencies; West Manggarai, Manggarai, and East Manggarai. Ruteng is easily accessible by land transportation. Many minibuses and other forms of public transportation through Ruteng, which on the main road between Labuan Bajo and Ende, Bajawa, or Maumere. Many vehicles at least stop in Ruteng for a rest.

Accommodation, Restaurants and Ikat in Ruteng

Ruteng has wooden hotels like the Rima Hotel which has a restaurant, or other styles including the Losmen Agung, Hotel Sindha, and Hotel Dahlia. These hotels are located in the town center. In Ruteng, a few comfortable hotels are : 1) Hotel Sindha on Jalan Yos Sudarso No. 26 (Phone: +62 385 21197); 2) Hotel Maryo’s on Jalan Poco Komba, Kampung Leda, Ruteng (Phone: +62 813 530 69572 with Felix as an Assistant Manager). Email: f_de_rozari@hotmail.com; 3) Hotel Bunga is a new hotel built in 2010. For budget travelers, the hotel is a comfortable place to stay with a starting rate from IDR 80,000 a night. It is located on Jalan Merak Nekang (Phone +62 812 3771 3074); 4) Hotel Dahlia is a nice hotel with hot shower. Breakfast is included. It is located on Jalan Bhayangkara No. 18 (Phone +62 385 21377);

5) Hotel Rima is the most prominent hotel in Ruteng. With a bamboo style cottage, the hotel’s rate starts from IDR 75,000 to IDR 225,999 a night. It is on Jalan Ahmad Yani (Phone: +62 385 22196); 6). Susteran Maria Berduka Cita is a dormitory like accommodation at the Catholic convent, but guests are welcome to stay here. The hotel has a rule that limits any activities after 9 pm. It is exceptionally clean and friendly. Rates starts from IDR 140,000 and sits on Jalan Ahmad Yani (Phone: +62 385 22834)

The traditional market is a good place to get snacks and sample street food. Restoran Merlin, at Bhayangkara Street (0385-22475), serves various types of Chinese and Indonesian foods. In Agape Cafe, which is also located at Bhayangkara Street, serves espresso, beer, and Western, Chinese and Indonesian foods. Other restaurants include (note that Rumah Makan is translated as Restaurant, and Jalan or Jl. is Street, and ‘No’ is a short for number): 1) Rumah Makan Agape on Jl. Bhayangkari No. 8 (Phone: +62 385 22100); 2) Rumah Makan Cha Cha on Jl. Diponegoro No. 12 (Phone: +62 385 21489 or +62 812 3949 3747); 3) Rumah Makan Dua Tiga on Jalan Motang Rua No. 15; 4) Lestari on Jalan Komodo No. 2 (Phone: +62 385 211393 or +62 813 39187 000); 50 Mas Nardi on Jalan Adi Sucipto No. 11; 6.) Padedoang is a Padang restaurant on Jl. Adi Sucipto No. 3

In Ruteng there are shops selling many types of songket woven fabrics from Manggarai and other areas of Flores. If you like to collect long daggers, you can find many at shop terraces near Motang Rua field. Everywhere you go, you may be hassled by groups of men trying to sell kain ikat, the traditional hand woven cloths and fabrics of Flores. They can be very friendly although some of them may be a little too persistent. If you are interested, choose carefully as the sizes vary. The larger the cloth, the higher the price. There are also various patterns and you may want to ask about the different patterns. See if they can explain the meaning of the designs.

Near Ruteng

From Ruteng visit the mystifying spiderweb ricefields at Cancar (17 kilometers from Ruteng). From a hilltop view, green rice fields spread right before you. The pattern of the walkways resembles a spider web. Further on is Liang Bua cave, where archaeologists discovered fossils of the Flores hobbit, or homo floresiensis, a hitherto unknown prehistoric hominid species that lived 95,000 to 12,000 years ago and whose remains were found in the caves of Liang Bua. Watch the fantastic dance at Melo or Tado, or visit Wae Rebo, a hamlet in the hills of the district that still adheres to the megalithic culture. Todo village dates back to the time when Minangkabau sailors from far away West Sumatra landed here hundreds of years ago

Mount Anak Ranaka, an active volcano, sits behind Ruteng. Wae Rebo is a village that preserves the ancient way of living and live in cone-shaped houses. A traditional community house called mbaru niang can still be found here. The traditional drum house is symbol of the tribe. The compang, or stone altar, is where the souls of the ancients are believed to reside. There is a philosophical correlation between the spiderweb-like pattern of the Cancar rice fields and the drum house of Wae Rebo or at Ruteng Pu’u.

Off the road between of Ruteng and Labuan Bajo is Melo Village, which has a unique way to predict next year’s successful harvest. The locals of dance called the Caci, and if one of the players spills blood, the villagers can expect a successful harvest the following year. Villagers here call this tradition and dance club the Compang To’e.

Todo Village (2 hours., 36 kilometers from Ruteng), in the south central of Manggarai, is home of the royal clan of Manggaraians who claimed that their ancestors came from Minangkabau, West Sumatra. The name of the first person to establish the clan was Mashur. Mashur took a wife from every village he passed and claimed that his kinship was extensively spread in Manggarai. Even though Todo is not that far from Ruteng it takes a long time because the road is exceptionally winding, hilly and bumpy. Head north to Golo Lusang, and after passing Golo Cala, turn right to Pongkor as you will pass Papang and Ulun-Gali Village. After crossing the Wae Mese river, you will pass Popo Village and finally Todo is right ahead. Minibuses from Ruteng to Todo are called oto kayu or bemo. Motorbike rental is also available in Ruteng.

Liang Bua: Discovery Places of Flores Hobbit, or Homo Floresiensis,

Liang Bua (14 kilometers from Ruteng) is a cave where archaeologists discovered fossils of the Flores hobbit, or homo floresiensis, a hitherto unknown prehistoric hominid species that lived 95,000 to 12,000 years ago and whose remains were found in the caves of Liang Bua. Situated in a limestone hill in Manggarai District, the cave has long been familiar to the local community due its huge size (50 meters long, 40 meters wide, and 25 meters tall). Because of its large size it was once used as a religious worship place and school.

The skull of a Homo floresiensis was found at a depth of six meters in Liang Bua cave. In addition, at a depth of 10.7 meters, ancient animal bones were found including those of stegodon (an ancient elephant), Komodo dragon, turtles, and lizards. No replica or information about these findings is located in Liang Bua. Visitors can only see the massive cave with stalagmites and stalactites and imagine what the that the stegadons, ancient Komodo dragons and short hominids (Homo floresiensis) must have been like. Near Liang Bua, there are other caves such as Gua Galang (with bathing stones) and Gua Tanah. You can walk to these caves.

From Ruteng, Liang Bua is accessible by public transpor which passes through villages like Ru’ah. Bemo (minibuses) and trucks carrying passengers from Ruteng usually pass the site but their schedule is erratic. The best way to visit this cave is with motor bike, car with a driver or taxi. There are no htoels or restaurants at Liang Bua. The nearest ones are in Ruteng. Please bring along your own food and drinks. Be careful when taking a private car or a motor taxi because the road to Liang Bua from Ruteng is very narrow and only accommodates one car in width. Its driving conditions are also dangerous due to many turns and hills.

Homo Floresiernsis: the Hobbits of Flores

In 2004, scientists announced the discovery of the remains of seven hominins on the island of Flores, east of Bali, dated to 95,000 and 12,000 years ago. The bones were first thought to be children but were later confirmed to be a new hominin species, considerably smaller than modern humans, and thus nicknamed Hobbits. The finding received headlines around the globe and caused jaws to drop in astonishment throughout the scientific community. [Source: Mike Norwood, Thomas Sutikna and Richard Robert, National Geographic, April 2005]

Discovered in 2003,the new hominins were given the name the Homo floresiernsis. About 1.1 meters tall, they had unusually long, flat feet and a brain the size of a grapefruit. They existed at the same time as modern humans and are thought to have descended from Homo erectus and arrived in Flores perhaps as long as 840,000 years, the period in which stone stools found on Flores have been dated. Hominins on the island had to have arrived by sea because even during ice ages reaching Flores required a 15 mile sea crossing. Dating was done with carbon dating of charcoal found near the fossils and luminescence dating of the sediments in which the fossils were found.

Remains dated to be 18,000 years old were found in September 2003 in a cave in eastern Flores known to the local Manggarai people as Liang Bua. The remains included the skull, pelvis, leg, arm and foot bones of a female; the lower jaw from another adult; and flaked stone tools, perhaps arrow heads or spear points. Wear on the teeth indicated the creatures were adults not children. The presence of a number of individuals the same size indicated the remains weren't from modern human stunted by disease, malnutrition or dwarfism.

The bones were unearthed by a team of Australians and Indonesian scientists, led by Michael Morwood, an archaeologist at Australia's University of New England, who later got into disputes over possession of the fossils, and their meaning. At one point excavations were stopped when the Indonesian Institute of Science banned digging in the cave. The bones were found 20 feet under the floor of the cave. One Indonesia scientist, Teuku Jacob, commandeered the bones and had them shipped to his house in Yogyakarta, in the process breaking some of the other bones and denying other team members access to them.

Lifestyle of the Hobbits in Indonesia

Flores Homo floresiernsis is thought to have hunted and cooked giant rats and stegodons. The only predators they faces were Komodo dragons, which may have been hunted as well. Fireplaces, charred bones and thousands of stone tools have been found. The presence of spear points with cut marks if offered as evidence of hunting. Hunting 800-pound stegodons would have required some form of group hunting or incredible bravery for a 55-pound creature. Giant rats are still hunted by local people on Flores today.

A large volcanic eruption that occurred on Flores 11,000 years may have wiped out Homo floresiernsis . They and modern humans lived at the same time but there is no evidence that they met. Maybe some survived. Local islanders tell folk stories about hairy, pint-size people with flat foreheads called Ebu Gogo (“Grandmother who eats everything”) that stole their crops and moonshine and were “so greedy they even ate the plates." Locals say the creatures were last seen about 300 years ago. The cave where floresiernsis was found is regarded as burial places of sinners who drowned in the biblical Great Flood.

The Homo floresiernsis brain was 380 cubic centimeters in size, compared to 1,350 cubic centimeters for a modern human and 900 cubic centimeters for homo erectus. CT scans of the skull reveal that even though it was the size of a chimpanzees brain it had features that are human-like and distinctive. There is evidence the Hobbit brain was wrinkled and had expanded temporal lobes like those of modern humans. To build boats and carry out group hunts, it has been reasoned that they possessed language.

Archeology Sites on the Island of Flores

Many stone flake tools, dated between 800,000 and 900,000 years ago and ascribed to Homo Erectus, have been found on the island of Flores. The anthropologist Matt Tocheri wrote: “Flores is one of many Wallacean islands, which lie east of Wallace's Line and west of Lydekker's Line. Wallacean islands are interesting because they have rarely, if ever, been connected via land bridges to either the Asian continent to the west or the Greater Australian continent to the east. This longstanding separation from the surrounding continents has severely limited the ability of animal species to disperse either into or away from the Wallacean islands. Thus, on Flores there were only a small number of mammal and reptile species during the entire Pleistocene. These included komodo dragons and other smaller monitor lizards, crocodiles, several species of Stegodon (an extinct close relative of modern elephants), giant tortoise, and several kinds of small, medium, and large-bodied rats. [Source:Matt Tocheri, humanorigins.si.edu <<<]

“During the 1950s and 60s, a Dutch priest named Father Theodor Verhoeven lived and worked on Flores at a Catholic Seminary. Verhoeven had a keen interest in archeology and had studied it at university. While living on Flores, he identified dozens of archeological sites and conducted excavations at many of these, including the now famous site of Liang Bua where the "hobbits" of human evolution were discovered (Homo floresiensis). Verhoeven was the first to report and publish that stone tools were found in association with Stegodon remains in central Flores at several sites within the Soa Basin. He even argued that Homo erectus from Java was likely behind making the stone tools found on Flores and may have reached the island around 750,000 years ago. At the time, paleoanthropologists took little notice of Verhoeven's claims or if they did, they discounted them outright. <<<

“Almost thirty years later, an Indonesian-Dutch research team uncovered evidence at the Soa Basin which confirmed Verhoeven's original findings. This team even went further by dating some of the stone tools and fossils using paleomagnetism (a method of determining the age of ancient sediments) and showed they were probably around 700,000 years old. These new findings did not become widely known within the paleoanthropological community until additional sediments were dated using a different technique called zircon fission-track analysis. Thus, by the late 1990s more scientists were beginning to accept the possibility that another human species (likely Homo erectus) had crossed the Wallace Line and reached Flores well before our own species, Homo sapiens, had evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago. <<<

“In 2001, an Indonesian-Australian research team began excavations at a large limestone cave located in west central Flores. This cave, known as Liang Bua (which means "cool cave"), was first excavated by Father Verhoeven in 1965. Professor Raden Soejono, the leading archeologist in Indonesia, heard about Liang Bua from Verhoeven and conducted six different excavations there from the late 1970s until 1989. All of this early work at Liang Bua only explored deposits that occurred within the first three meters of the cave floor. These deposits are dated to within the last 10,000 years and contain considerable archeological and faunal evidence of modern human use of the cave, as well as skeletal remains of modern humans. However, in 2001 the new goals were to excavate deeper into the cave's stratigraphy to explore if modern or pre-modern humans were using Liang Bua prior to 10,000 years ago. In September of 2003, they got their answer. <<<

Discovery of Homo floresiensis

The first discovery, in 2003, was the 18,000-year-old bones of a woman whose skull was less than one-third the size of our own. As of 2008, the team had recovered bones from as many as nine such people, all about a meter, the most recent of whom lived about 12,000 years ago. Matt Tocheri wrote: “ On Saturday, September 6, 2003, Indonesian archeologist Wahyu Saptomo was overseeing the excavation of Sector VII at Liang Bua. Benyamin Tarus, one of the locally hired workers, was excavating the 2 x 2 meter square when all of a sudden the top of a skull began to reveal itself. Six meters beneath the surface of the cave, Wahyu immediately joined Benyamin and the two of them slowly and carefully removed some more sediment from around the top of the skull. Wahyu then asked Indonesian faunal expert Rokus Due Awe to inspect the excavated portion of the skull. Rokus told Wahyu that the skull definitely belonged to a hominin and most likely that of a small child given the size of its braincase. Two days later, the team returned to the site and Thomas Sutikna, the Indonesian archeologist in charge of the excavations, joined Wahyu at the bottom of the square. After several days, enough of the cranium and mandible had been exposed for Rokus to realize that this was no small child; instead, all of its teeth were permanent meaning that this was a fully grown adult. A few weeks later, the team had recovered the rest of this hominin's partial skeleton, the likes of which had never been discovered before. Today, this specimen is referred to as LB1 (Liang Bua 1), and is the holotype specimen for the species Homo floresiensis. [Source: Matt Tocheri, humanorigins.si.edu <<<]

“At the time of the discovery, the Liang Bua Research Team included specialists in archeology, geochronology, and faunal identification, but there was no physical anthropologist. Dr. Mike Morwood, the co-leader of the project, invited his colleague at the University of New England in Australia, Dr. Peter Brown, to lead the description and analysis of the skeletal remains. Dr. Brown is an expert on cranial, mandibular, and dental anatomy of early and modern humans and he agreed to apply his expertise to the study of the new bones from Liang Bua. This important scientific work resulted in the first descriptions of these skeletal remains in the journal Nature on October 28, 2004. This work also gave the scientific name, Homo floresiensis, to the hominin species that is represented by the skeletal material from the Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua. <<<

“Just before the two Nature articles on Homo floresiensis were published in 2004, the Liang Bua Research Team uncovered additional skeletal material. This included the arm bones of LB1, and several bones of another individual, LB6, including the mandible and other bones of the arm. Drs. Morwood and Brown, and other Indonesian and Australian members of the Liang Bua Research Team, described and analyzed these new skeletal remains of Homo floresiensis and again published their results in Nature on October 13, 2005. <<<

Traditional Village of Compang Ruteng

Compang Ruteng (three kilometers from Ruteng) is located in the center of the Ruteng Pu'u village in Golo Dukal sub-district, Manggarai, Flores. A compang is a stone altar usually found in the yards of traditional homes of the Manggarai community. The Compang is the center of traditional ceremonies, among which is the penti, a ceremony to thank God for a bountiful harvest. During the ceremony, water buffalos and cows are tied to the compang and sacrificed.

The stone compang in Ruteng Pu'u village and the yards surrounding it are on higher ground than the local homes. A Beringin tree (Ficus Benjamina), locally known as a Ruteng, once grew in the center of the Compang. The tree is no longer there and is now replaced by a Dadap tree. To its east, the Compang has two local traditional tall houses with sharp roofs.

You can go inside the traditional house, called Rumah Gendang, to see its structure, wooden interior, and equipment such as a gong, small drums and shields used for traditional dances. When you first enter the house you will be received as an official guest and there will be a series of ritual ceremonies that you must follow. Local inhabitants can only speak in the Manggarai and Indonesian languages. It is necessary for you to have an interpreter if you can't speak Indonesian and wish to enter the Rumah Gendang.

If you want to see the interior parts of traditional house, Rumah Gendang, in Compang Ruteng you can pay Rp. 10.000 or 1 USD to its tennants or guards. From Ruteng town center, you can take a bemo or a motor taxi to go to Compang Ruteng. After that, you can walk. The total Compang land area is about half a soccer field

Traditional Village of Wae Rebo

The traditional village of Wae Rebo (4 hours from Ruteng and 7 hours from Labuan Bajo) in the district of Manggarai, Flores, received the Top Award of Excellence from UNESCO in the 2012. This small and isolated village was recognized for its rebuilding of the traditional Mbaru Niang traditional house based on the spirit of community cooperation towards a sustainable tradition, while at the same time improving its village welfare.

Wae Rebo is a small, very out of the way village. Located some 1,100 meters above sea level, where the air is cool and the village completely surrounded by panoramic mountains and the dense Todo forest. This tropical forest is rich in vegetation, where you will find orchids, different types of ferns and hear the chirping of many songbirds.

The founder of the village and, therefore, their main ancestor who built the village maybe 300 or so years ago, was a man called Empu Maro. Today, the inhabitants are his 18th generation descendants. One special ceremonial house is the community building where members of the entire clan gather for ceremonies and rituals. They are predominantly Catholic but still adhere to old beliefs. In this house are stored the sacred heirloom of drums and gongs.

Wae Rebo’s main characteristics are their unique houses, which they call Mbaru Niang that are tall and conical in shape and are completely covered in lontar thatch from its rooftop down to the ground. It appears that at one time such kind of houses were quite common to the region. But today, it is only this village that continues to maintain the typical Manggarai traditional house, without which these unique houses would have been completely fazed out. The house has five levels, each level designated for a specific purpose. The first level, called lutur or tent, are the living quarters of the extended family. The second level, called lobo, or attic, is set aside to store food and goods, the third level called lentar is to store seeds for the next harvest, the fourth level called lempa rae is reserved for food stocks in case of draught, and the fifth and top level, called hekang kode, which is held most sacred, is to place offerings for the ancestors.

With a small population of around 1,200 inhabitants only, the village comprises seven houses, with half of these falling into disrepair. The staple diet of villagers is cassava and maize, but around the village they plant coffee, vanilla, and cinnamon which they sell in the market, located some 15 kilometers. away from the village. Lately, however, Wae Rebo has grown in popularity as a tourist destination for international eco-tourism enthusiasts, and this has added to the economic welfare of the village. The people of Wae Rebo warmly welcome visitors who wish to see their village and experience their simple traditional life. If you wish to stay overnight, the villagers welcome visitors to their homes. You can get more detailed information on Wae Rebo at the following website: florestourism.com

Getting There: A trip to the village of Wae Rebo takes some 5 to 7 hours by car from Labuan Bajo on the west coast of Flores, hopping off point to the famous Komodo National Park. Alternatively, you may want to start your journey from the town of Ruteng, capital of the district of Manggarai, towards the village of Dintor, which takes around 4 hours. After this the road goes uphill past ricefields until you reach Denge Sebu village. From here the only way is some 3 hours trekking through the jungle until you finally reach Wae Rebo.

Bajawa

Bajawa (four hours by bus from Ruteng and five hours from Ende) is a hill town with a cool climate situated in the heartland of the Ngada people. Volcanic hills and 2345-meter-high Gunung Inerie lie outsides the town. Traditional villages and hot springs outside the town can be visited. Inside the crater of the relatively new volcano, Wawo Muda, are come colored lakes.

The capital of the Ngada district, Bajawa, is a small charming town located in the middle of the Florinese highlands. As the regional center of the Ngada people — who still keep their long-standing culture firmly anchored in communities — Bajawa is a perfect starting point to explore the past and present Ngada way of life.

Plenty of local cultural events take place in Bajawa and its surroundings. The most popular ones are ‘reba’ and ‘sagi’. Reba is held in Bajawa, Bena, Mangulewa, Wogo, and many other surrounding villages. It is the traditional new year celebration and one of the most important thanksgiving festivals, accompanied by extensive ceremonial and ritual activities. From May until July, traditional boxing, calledsagi, determines the Ngada (and also Nagekeo) ceremonial life. These, and other ceremonies and local events, are usually scheduled and take place at a fixed date. Being part of such events will definitely be an unforgettable highlight of your Flores journey.

Located at an elevation around 1500 meters, Bajawa is the highest and coolest town in Flores, making the area ideal for hiking and trekking,

You find a good choice of basic to mid-range hotels as well as many warung and restaurants, some which serve European-style food.. As the Bajawa nights can be pretty chilly, be sure to bring enough warm clothes with you.

Seventeen Islands Riung Marine Park of Flores

Seventeen Islands Riung Marine Park of Flores (north coast of Flores island, 4 hours from Bajawa) embraces an archipelago famed for its coral reefs and garden set among sandy white beaches and crystal clear blue waters, prefect for diving and swimming. One of the most popular attractions, for which these islands are famous is the 'Rose of the Sea', a renowned underwater phenomenon, which can be seen around several of the islands. Below the oceans surface you will find clusters ofsea roses waving mesmerizingly in the current. These are in fact a collection of giant sea hare eggs that, bound by membranes, together form red petals like giant red roses waving in the sea.

The 17 islands of Riung Marine Park extends from Toro Padang in the west to Pulau Pangsar in the east. The, range in size, but all are virtually uninhabited. The major islands are: Pulau Ontoloe (the largest), Pulau Pau, Pulau Borong, Pulau Dua, Pulau Kolong, Pulau Lainjawa, Pulau Besar, Pulau Halima (Pulau Nani), Pulau Patta, Pulau Rutong, Pulau Meja, Pulau Bampa (Pulau Pulau Tampa or Tembang), Pulau Tiga (Long Island), Pulua Tembaga, Pulau Taor, Pulau Sui and Pulau Wire.

The Park itself is located just behind the quiet pier in the small town of Riung, where a dozen Bajo fishing boats are tied, Although named the 17 Islands Riung Marine Park, the Park is in fact a chain of 24 small, beautiful islands. However, the name "seventeen" was given to this cluster as a sacred reminder to Indonesia’s Independence Day, which fell on 17 August 1945. The Riung Park, located in the Riung District, spans the five villages of Sambinasi, Nangamese, Benteng Tengah, Tadho and Lengkosambi.

Aside from marine adventures to be had, on land are also forests to explore, inhabited by exotic species like the Timor deer, the Biawak Mbou — a smaller type of Komodo dragon, marsupials, to name a few. There are also a large variety of rare birds, which make this a great spot for bird-watching. Here you will see eagles, bluwok, white storks, parrots, cuckoos, black stork and bats, and yellow chested parakeets.

In 1995, Ngada in the Ngada District, was on UNESCO's list as a tentative world cultural heritage because of its unique and distinctive community. Here you will not cease to be 'wowed' by the slew of natural attractions to be seen among the islands. One of which is the exceptional 17 Islands Riung Marine Park.

Tourism and Getting to 17 Islands Riung Marine Park of Flores

To reach 17 Islands Riung Marine Park is an arduous undertaking: one must ride over hills and along rutted, narrow, winding dirt roads. A number of visitors, however, have commented, that getting to Riung from the town of Bajawa,, was half the adventure. For the most part, Riung is still quite hidden from the crowds of tourists, partly due to its remote location and the challenging journey to reach it. Riung coastal settlements are inhabited mostly by the Oting Bajo known as 'the sea gypsies” of Indonesia. Some members of this community are involved in dryland farming, while others have also opened homestays for visiting tourists.

As Riung is a small remote town, currently public facilities are still minimal. Electricity, as one of the most important public facilities, is still supplied by a generator which works every day from only 6 pm till 6 am. Among the lodging places are: 1) Pondok SVD. Riung 86471, Tel. 0062 81 339 341 572; 2) Bintang Wisata Riung, Jalan Pasar Riung. Available around the pier are also private homestays. You can inquire there directly.

The closest airport to Riung is the Maumere Airport. There are airlines operating from Jakarta, Surabaya, or Bali to Maumere. From Denpasar there are daily flights to Maumere flying with Batavia, Lion Air, or Merpati. The flight from Denpasar to Maumere is about 2 hours. Flights from Jakarta or Surabaya to Maumere usually have a connection at either Denpasar or Kupang. From Maumere you can continue the journey by bus or rental car to Bajawa and then on to Riung. Car rental is available in Maumere. To reach Riung from Bajawa, it is about 72 kilometers and takes around 4 hours by car.

Public transportation is also available in Bajawa. One service is Gemini which drives twice a day once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Renting a vehicle may be the best alternative to get to Riung. Traveling alone is not advised if it is your first time to Riung, as the roads are rather difficult to navigate and it is easy to get lost

Islands of Riung Marine Park of Flores

Pulau Batang Kolong is most popularly visited by divers in search of a first-hand view of the affectionately nicknamed, exotic 'sea rose', a unique organism resembling the shape and color of a rose. Layer upon layer of red hair tendrils anchored to a rock pulsate to the rhythm of the underwater currents at depth of 10 meters. This flower of the sea has the appearance of a bright red and orange flame, waving its long petals. In fact, the 'sea rose' is a collection of the eggs of the red Giant Sea Hare (Hexabranchus sanguineus), growing to a size of 30 centimeters.The eggs are bound by mucus and float like flowers in the wind. A specific type of sponge common to the area also attracts large tortoises. The long stretch of coral gardens indicates to divers, that they are indeed nearing the home of this large sea creature.

Pulau Meja or Tembaga is the habitat for Acropora and soft coral in addition to the beautiful giant sea fans. This locality is an underwater heaven. Rocky outcrops are decorated by the table shaped acropora coral and giant sea fans, bringing a kaleidoscope of color to the shallower waters. There are schools of Dakocan fish, sedentary rock dwellers of this watery paradise Pulau Sui is touted as an ideal underwater video production location because of the stunning gulfs and steep, underwater cliffs covered with beautiful Acropora. There are a great variety of rock types and fish in the waters around this island. On the western side of Sui the table shaped acropora coral grows profusely amongst the many undersea gaps and ravines. Such steep ravines as these are rare and sought out by divers making Sui the perfect spot for using your underwater camera.

Pulau Tiga or Bampa Timur is one of the most visited islands for its beauty both above and below sea level. This island is so-named because, from a distance it looks like three separate islands. Closer it becomes obvious that they are hilltops, separated by sand and piles of seaweed. On the southern side of Bampa Timur, at a depth of around ten meters, divers may come across red sea roses similar to those found around Batang Kolong, made of collections of eggs of the Hexabranchus Sanguineus. Take to the hills in Pulau Tiga and witness a once-in-a-lifetime view. From this height you will be able to see the ocean floor and the gradation of colors as it slopes with the deepening waters. Beginning at a pale, light blue, the shades vary making this scene beautifully fascinating, an indescribable, natural beauty indeed,

Pulau Rutong or Tangil should not be missed for its wide expanse of sand that appears to have the shape of a grinning crescent arch at the end of this island. This lovely, golden view is best seen from the top of a nearby hill, which is overgrown with shrubs and grasses. The climb will work up a sweat and gets your heart pumping, but there will be no regrets once you reach the top and witness the breath-taking view. Beach parasols are made available for visitors who want to escape from the scorching midday sun. Here the underwater corals are dominated by long branches of the acropora Formosa coral. Below the ocean’s surface is a thermocline phenomenon, which is a drastic change of water temperature. On the surface, the water is warm, but very quickly, after only less than one meter, the water temperature changes drastically and becomes very cold. If lucky, divers can see whales playing on the west of the island as well.

Tanjung Toro Padang is actually part of the mainland of Flores island which juts out to form a small cape.This is the western limit of the 17 Island Riung Marine Park, where acropora coral and soft coral predominate. The adjacent hills are inhabited by a species of monitor lizards, the Varanus riungensis or known locally as Mbou, which is closely related to the Komodo, The Mbou have a flatter belly, a brighter color and a more ferocious appearance. They often visit villages to prey on chickens or goats. Those who are fortunate may see whales cruising the waters to the west of Tangil and the north of Pulau Pata. These whales often visit the seas surrounding Flores. During the monsoon season the warmer water attracts them to the Gulf of Riung.

Pulau Wire is a small island situated directly in front of Kampung Oting Bajo, a village to the east of Nangamese. All along the beach there are groups of mangroves and some sedimentation clouding the water, but at the dive location there are plenty of acropora coral and fish, with very few ocean currents. Beyond ten meters depth there is no more coral, and only a large variety of fish can be seen. At sunrise the view of this village set among the backdrop of the mangrove forests is often the object of photography.

Pulau Ontoloe is the largest of the islands with a fresh, green ring of mangrove forest. The middle of the mangrove forest ring is home to giant bats which live in large colonies. Quiet by day, at dusk they become more active. Many monkeys hang from the mangrove branches and eat the mangrove fruit, soaring eagles build their nests at the top of the tallest trees. The water is warm and usually tranquil. The sandy sea-bed is carpeted by seaweed. All of this can only be seen at high tide as the coral reef at the edge of the mangrove forest is very shallow, which makes the forest inaccessible at low tide. High Tide occurrs approximately at 11 am daily.

Pulau Lainjawa has waters rich with a variety of sea-life. The Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus Undulayus) is about a metre in length. Even larger are the giant sea-eels (Kerondong) which can grow to two meters in length with heads measuring up to ten centimeters in width. Although most of the coral is dead, at a depth of three meters there are plenty of surgeon fish (Ikan Butana) and angel fish (Kambing Kambing).

Pulau Wongkoroe, which is located between Ontoloe and Toro Padang serves as a barrier reef under the sea because of a fault there which extends as far as 10 meters. Above a depth of three meters, corals grow profusely in a colorful sea-garden. Multi-branched acropora corals extend deeper to around ten meters. There is also a sand pit some ten meters in width.

To the north and east of Riung Bay, a barrier reef offers a dive drop with coral tables right down the wall. Barracuda are often seen here, and there is also a sunken ship to be explored. Other smaller islands such as Pulau Borong and Pulau Taor also have beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters, which is almost the trademark for these islands of the 17 Islands Riung Marine Park.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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