Wow, life has changed in the last year. Around this time last year, at 5 months pregnant I had just returned from a trip that included three (!) 4-hour-long hikes in remote areas in Indonesia, before jetting off to Singapore to get a 3D scan of our baby and enjoy a few days of civilized life. Now, life is very civilized here in Frankfurt. Drinking tap water doesn’t seem strange anymore, and now all of my adventures are with our smiley little baby, Riva. My adventures these days are pretty tame in comparison these days – normally lunches, walks, playdates, and the occasional tour of a small nearby town.
When I returned from Flores, Indonesia about this time last year, I got busy planning our move and my energy quickly dropped off as I entered the third trimester, so I continued to put off writing a blog post. But it never entirely left my mind because this was one of the most special trips I took in Indonesia. It was special because it included one of the most picturesque sights I’ve ever seen – Wae Rebo village (pronounced “Vye Raybo”), a primitive Manggarai village nestled into the clouds, deep in the forest. It was also special because one of my best and oldest friends, Johanna, came all the way from Washington, DC with her then-boyfriend Zach (they got engaged during their trip!).
It was during this trip that I met someone who left a deep impression – Martin. About 15 years ago, the unique traditional houses of Wae Rebo were in ruins. Martin was away in the Phillipines studying to be a priest, but he found that his calling was to return home and preserve his native culture. Under the leadership of Martin and the village elders, Wae Rebo became certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the first tourists arrived in 2003. About 1,000 tourists visit every year from other islands in Indonesia and countries around the world. Impressive statistics aside, Martin seemed happiest that his village is still standing, and that they can now live a relatively luxurious life, in that they can afford to eat rice and chicken.
Martin runs a basic homestay in a picturesque setting in Dintor, a city about 5 hours driving from Labuan Bajo, the port city that we flew into. Here, friendly cats snuggled into our beds during the day, and buffalo worked the surrounding rice fields. We were really fortunate to have Martin as our personal guide on the hike to Wae Rebo. Martin is such a kind, caring person who patiently answered all of our questions. The hike isn’t extremely tough, but it’s long – it typically takes people around 4 hours, but we took 5 (hey, I was 5 months pregnant!). I regret not requesting to hire porters. Living in Indonesia, I was incredibly used to letting other people carry my suitcase, so I always, always overpacked. Thankfully Zach volunteered to carry my too-heavy backpack. I don’t think I would have made it up the mountain without his help!
When we arrived, we participated in a welcome ceremony. Zach, our lone male, was instructed to offer a chicken to the village chief. During the ceremony, the chief said (translated from Indonesian) “We are so happy that you are here, that if you were children we would have carried you up the mountain. But since you are adults, the chicken carries you.”
The trip to Wae Rebo includes an overnight stay – around 30 people sleeping on basic mats (which was tough on my already aching back) arranged in a circle in one of the traditional houses. There were 3 groups there: a large Dutch group, an Indonesian couple, and us. We all ate our meals together on the floor, in the middle of our sleeping mats – rice for every meal, and also vegetable curry with Chayote (this green squash will forever remind me of Flores).
Generally, we felt very welcomed into the village. We were free to wander into kitchens where they were roasting coffee (besides tourism this is their other source of income), watch the kids playing in the open area, and see the old women weaving traditional garments (they wear a woven tube normally over T-shirt and pants, which can be worn as a dress, or like a hoodie). Because we were a small group and we were with Martin, we were invited to a special ceremony at night time – they sacrificed two chickens because a local girl was leaving to study at university.
It was so calming to spend a day in a traditional village, up in the clouds. I would love to go back someday – when Riva is big enough to make the 4-5 hour hike. This is a trip that’s definitely worth the long plane ride to Indonesia! Call/text Martin to book your trip (62-085239344046).