Day 1. I grabbed my scooter for the princely sum £3.15 per day. And headed South East. My first stop would be Wae rebo Village. An old but new (rebuilt through local investment) Manggaraian settlement where they still live in mbaru niang (cone shaped houses)..... I had been told it could take around 7 hours to get to Wae rebo.... Looking at the kilometres involved I thought this was unlikely and guessed at nearer 5.5 hours. I hit the road at 8.30pm. The main road/highway was tremendous allowing my little 'ped to do between 50 & 60 kmph easily. Traffic wasn't bad at all. At one point I rode a long straight road where rice was being harvested in the fields to the side, then being dried in the hot sun on huge tarps, then being sacked and packed for wholesale all on the side of the road. The rice lined road went on and on.... Maybe over 1km. These little folks below were guarding their Mum's rice stash, she was working in the rice paddy beside them. The girl was sobbing her eyes out whilst her little brother tried to soothe her discontentment.
Around midday I reached a point where it was necessary to turn off the main highway on to a secondary road..... or a tertiary road.... or less.... it was rough. Bloody rough! Potholes and cobbles.
At times the steepness and cobbled, potholed surface made controlling the front wheel of my scooter a real challenge.... Once the road levelled out it took me through more stunning rice paddies where the locals worked away nurturing their most treasured crop.... This area was beautiful. The sky was black and threatening, but as yet the impending doom above held off.
It was around 1.30pm, I'd been riding along the coast for a quite some time, dodging potholes and huge broken chunks of road..... I was hungry but had seen nowhere to buy any food whatsoever. At times I wondered whether I was even on the right road. My Maps.me application on the iPhone seemed a little confused to my destination. I spotted a very small strip of small concrete houses down by the sea about 30 metres below the road. I took the steep 'driveway' down to the houses. Surely I'd find somewhere to eat. The well maintained concrete single track path/road continued flat and straight between the two lines of nicely spaced local houses.... Behind the beach side houses were old fishing boats... nets... this was obviously a little fishing community. 30 seconds later I was at the end of the concrete strip. I had seen no one. It was so quiet. Then I heard a voice shout something in Indonesian. Whoops.... Maybe I shouldn't be here I thought. I carried out a three point turn on the scooter and headed slowly back towards the man. He spoke to me with a questioning expression.... I did the 'hand to mouth' international signal for food. Then indicated that I was looking for somewhere to buys some food. He laughed heartily under the strong sun. As I watched his delighted face crease up I caught sight of the deep purple clouds approaching from behind him..... At some point I was going to get wet.... He indicated for me to wait. He went in to his little concrete house and his wife followed him back out. She was a stern looking woman with red stained teeth from chewing betel nuts. She shouted at me and wave her arm beckoning me inside the shade of their home. My knew friend ushered me to sit on the bamboo mat. His wife disappeared out back. An old lady squatted alongside me like a frog priming itself to leap from lily pad to pond. She was easily 10,000 years old. She saw my iPhone. I would have loved to take a picture of her, but I sometimes feel that folks think, 'Why the hell does he want a picture of me? Do I look strange to him. Why is he photographing me working? I'm just working. Bloody weirdo!' And seeing as I was a guest it somehow didn't seem right. Then she pointed at my iPhone, 'Photo.' she said. Okay... Photo it is. I turned it around to show her the resulting image. She was pleased.
Then betel nut lady came in holding a bowl of broth with a chunk of fresh fish along with the standard accompaniment of a bowl of rice. Wow! How damn kind of these local folks of Flores to take in the skinny, hungry looking tourist and feed him. Then Mama Betel (that's what I'll call the lady) said, 'Photo'. She got her sister in, Squatting Frog Lady and the kids.... The husband stood across from them waving for me to ignore them and enjoy my food. I took a few pictures, laughing at the entire photo debacle that was going on, and then went back to my food.
After eating we went outside and sat on the front porch area. They looked at my large third full 1.5 litre water bottle. The next thing I know one of the guys is grabbing a huge coconut from the tree beside us. Mama Betel gets the machete and begins to tackle the tough husky exterior. A few hacks later and she's in.
I drink the rest of my water whilst she empties the contents of the huge coconut in to a large plastic jug. She takes my bottle and transfers the delightfully fresh coconut water in to my bottle. There was over a litre of goodness!
More and more members of the tiny community joined us over the next twenty minutes.
Every now and again Mama Betel would screw up her face bear her red teeth and fire some Indonesian at me.... Questions a plenty... But obviously I had no bloody idea what she was on about. Her husband had grasped this early on. He just smiled and gestured, and between the two of us we communicated far better than myself and Mama Betel.
Now everyone wanted pictures! It was time for the Canon to come out from under my scooter seat. Laughter between the small group ensued. They were a little dumbfounded by me. But I was definitely the subject of great amusement and entertainment. I wished there was a way to get a photograph or two to them.... but without a 10 hour return journey to some point where I could find access to my laptop, then a print house it wasn't going to be. None of them had a smart phone or internet access. No email addresses between the whole lot group. It seems amazing in this day and age eh? One day I'll get something to them.... I just need someone to be going from Labuan Bajo to Wae reabo, and to drop in on them for me.
I sat around with the family and rest of the group for another 15 minutes before explaining I was heading to Wae rebo. They understood Wae rebo..... I thanked them all and headed off.
The next half hour took me along some lovely coastline and through more paddy fields....
I pulled over to the side of the single road to enquire about directions. Two kids pointed me in the opposite direction to where the small road sign opposite their home was heading me.... Hmmmm... A lady 100 metres down the road confirmed what the kids were saying. Obviously a shortcut. It began to drizzle heavily. I pulled over grabbed the polythene poncho from under my scooter seat and continued.... The drizzle didn't last long. I removed the polythene poncho and continued under the warm sun.
It was now 3pm and it appeared I'd reached the end of the main track. From here I'd been reliably informed that a two and a half to three hour trek awaited me. The rough track which lay ahead of me looked doable. I ploughed on. It was indeed doable, but it was the roughest surface I'd ever ridden on a bike. Every now and again the underside would clunk against the huge rocks. I prayed for my tyres to hold out!
One particularly steep rough section would be treacherous as hell to come back down the next day, but I thought to myself that was something to worry about tomorrow.
Now I really had reached the end of the track.... There was nothing.... An old corrugated shack sat at the side of the track.... I drove around a pile of rubble and soil to see if there was anything else. I stopped. There was nothing. Where would I leave my scooter I wondered. I wouldn't want it to get stolen, and this can and does happen. Though it's more likely to happen in Labuan Bajo, the major tourist town. Then an old man appeared.... He beckoned me back towards the shack beside the track. I turned and rode. He pointed me to park the scooter on the flat bit out of the way of any work vehicles that may come up here. They were resurfacing sporadic areas.... He took my helmet... I thought I may as well leave this old stranger who'd seemingly appeared from nowhere my tent, mat and plastic bag containing my spare underlayer and t-shirt too. No point carrying what I don't need. I thanked him, knowing I would be paying him a couple of quid for his kindness when I returned tomorrow morning.
I threw my little pack on my back which contained camera gear and contact lens solution, soap and a toothbrush and headed up the muddy steep trail in my Keen Clearwater trekkers.... I was already thinking I should have used my Borneo homemade jungle stompers, this terrain was perfect for it.
There was huge clap of thunder. And the heavens opened..... They really did open!!! I popped my camera back in to a drybag again and slipped my pack in to it's own personal dry bag cover. Me? I was already soaked through to the skin. Luckily nature provided me with heavily water resistant skin so I was going to survive. I put my head down and began what was meant to be 2.5 hours. I reckoned I could knock than down to 1 hour 40 minutes with no stops and a good push.....
BANG.... RUMBLE....RUMBLE.... The storm continued.