Most people go to Flores for a week, hit the tourist hot spots, and jet away. We stayed for 5 weeks.
Why, you might ask? In a word: transport.
The roads on Flores are undivided unmarked lanes, suitable for one and a half lanes of traffic, and filled with two lanes of cars and motorbikes flying around blind curves and weaving around each other. Buses are filled with live chickens, chain-smoking passengers, and sacks of potatoes. The bus conductor hands you a plastic vomit bag when you board, and all through the ride, you watch and smell fellow passengers get carsick. When you're trying to get off the bus, a team of 10 hawkers surround you, blocking your exit, yelling "taxi? taxi?" The daytime heat this close to the equator is oppressive, and you sweat buckets as you haul a backpack around.
In other words, there's ample incentive not to move around too much. If you find a nice spot, you stay there.
We found our first nice spot in a verdant hilly town called Moni, in eastern Flores. Because of Flores' arduous terrain, ethnic tribes speaking distinct languages and practicing various faiths blossomed in valleys that are as close as 20 kilometers apart, but seperated by the volcanos in between. Moni is a tiny village of Catholics -- population: 300 -- who speak a local language, Lio.
The village has only one road with very occasional traffic; the odd motorcycle cruises by every few minutes. It has a tiny number of cafes, where chickens wander freely around your feet as you wait for your order.
Once at dinner, we ordered chicken. "How many people want chicken?" the waiter asked. Three of the four of us raised our hands. He nodded. "Okay, I go kill it," he said, and began walking out back, where the livestock roams freely in the fields. "Wait, no, no!" We couldn't stomach the thought of issuing a death sentence -- fresh as the meat would have been.
The same is true for vegetables. It takes at least an hour, sometimes 90 minutes, for the servers to bring you a simple fried rice with vegetables, and I suspect this is because they're picking the vegetables after you place your order. All the houses and cafes onto terraced hills where the villagers grow rice, corn and various staples.
We stayed in a spacious guesthouse, elevated on stilts to protect it from the nearby creek. It was built entirely from rough-hewn wood, with big gaps in the floorboards that allowed the sun to shine through (and that you could lose earrings or loose change through.)
All the furniture was handwoven bamboo, which means its both authentic and uncomfortable. (Suggestion Box: A few cushions could really improve a bamboo couch.)
Every morning we awoke to the sound of hogs squealing in the field next to our house; in fact, we awoke BECAUSE of the volume of hogs squealing.
Space is ample in this village, so our guesthouse had a wraparound front porch and an actual living room -- yes, a real-life living room, a room with just a coffeetable and chairs, and a sink (sinks are a luxury here), and a door connecting to the bedroom.
This guesthouse bore the closest resemblence to a "house" we've seen in the last 10 months, and having that living room plus porch was a major reason we stayed in Moni for so long.
Most tourists dash into Moni, spend one day seeing the tri-colored volcanic lakes nearby, and promptly leave. We defied convention by staying for a week. For the first two or three days, this confused all the villagers. "Why aren't you leaving today?" they'd ask, or they'd try to sell us on a taxi ride to the tri-colored volcanic lakes.
But after we'd stayed for 3 days, they understood that we were comfortable, and we weren't leaving. And that's when Moni became really, really nice. That's when locals stopped trying to sell us things, and just started to talk to us like fellow humans.
So we spent our days reading books, splashing around in the nearby waterfalls, and taking long walks through the lush green rice paddies. The showers at our guesthouse were too cold, so we bathed in the same place all the villagers bathe -- in the natural hot springs. For a week, we got to unpack our belongings, spread them out, and LIVE somewhere.
Then we flew across Flores, and took a boat to some very remote islands off the western coast. These islands had the capacity to hold 24 people -- in their 12 bungalows -- but only 2 bungalows were occupied. In other words, we had the island all to ourselves. White sand. Clear blue water, great for snorkeling -- in an average morning, we could see moray eels, stingrays, parrot fish, angel fish and all kinds of multihued coral. The front porch of the bamboo bungalow made a perfect spot for reading.
Our days fell into a blissful routine: watch the sunrise, eat breakfast, read, go snorkeling, eat lunch, read, go snorkeling, take a walk, watch the sunset, eat dinner, read, fall asleep by 9 p.m. We stayed for 10 days.
I took a break from paradise long enough to complete the next level of my scuba-diving certification. I completed four dives in Komodo National Park, some in water with very strong currents, and recieved my new license to dive down to 60 feet, independent of a divemaster's supervision.
We also saw the Komodo dragons -- enormous lizards. "Lizards" is too weak a word. The Dragons are larger (from head to tail) than I am tall. The adult lizards outweigh me, outrun me, and are natural predators against humans. They're also cannibals; the mothers eat their own babies. Many scholars believe that the mythological Chinese dragon is based on the Komodo Dragon.
Komodo dragons are also nearly extinct. They only live in one place on earth: inside Komodo National Park, a series of islands off the west coast of Flores. (Between the dragons, the skeletal remains of the prehistoric "hobbit," and the vast array of tribes and languages, Flores is an anthropologists' dream.)