Traditional villages and hot springs in Bajawa, Flores

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In the early morning hours, just before dawn started awake from its slumber, it was like I was running for my life, as if I was illegally crossing or fleeing a border.

It all happened so fast: The bus zipping through the street, the men hanging from its door screaming out “Bajawa bajawa bajawa” the way people would hastily cheer for their favored horse during a horse race.

Bajawa! I yelled back, and we made a run for it. The two men lept from the bus, one grabbing my bag and throwing it on board, the other herding us onto the bus the cattle.

I grabbed a seat. It was 5:30 in the morning. For a country that normally runs on its own, imaginary island watch, this local bus was surprisingly on time. We weren’t sure whether it left at 5:30 or 6:00, so thank god played it safe and woke up early.

The night before, I met two Swiss girls named Diana and Dani in my hostel dorm room after overhearing their conversation with another guy about traveling through Flores. They were sisters traveling together, and they too were interested in traveling across the island. Roberto left me in Flores to go back home, and I was once again a solo traveler. So, I introduced myself joined in on the conversation and within a couple of minutes had two new travel buddies.

The three of us decided to grab the bus together the next morning, which was a long, 10-hour ride to the town of Bajawa in the center of Flores.

The bus was cheap, relatively easy to catch and cost us about 120,000 Rp, or like 11 bucks, for the 10-hour journey. We were not shelling out any money for comfort – these buses are a no fuss transport where you keep your fingers crossed that they will get you from Point A to Point B within 24 hours.

It was not too crowded, either, which made things more comfortable. Along the way we made friends with the only other traveller on the bus with us: a Canadian girl named Selena whom I shared a room with through the rest of my travel in Flores. (Travel usually means quick friendships that jump right into sharing beds and rooms to save money.)

Flores is not known for its good and safe roadways, which is why it took us 10 hours to travel a short distance. Yet while the trips may take forever and a day, that gives us all the more time to soak up the beautiful, countryside scenery.

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The four of us arrived in Bajawa to a gaggle of ojek, or motorbike, drivers surrounding us as we tried to orient ourselves with the town. We had no accommodation booked, but it was not long before we found ourselves 10 dollar rooms (5 dollars each) at the up-and-coming (re: construction site) Hotel Johny.

Bajawa serves as a base to explore the local villages that are nestled out in the countryside as well as for its natural hot springs.

The best way to explore the surrounds of Bajawa is by motorbike, and Dani and Diana had agreed that they would share a bike. Truthfully speaking, because they are European, I was hoping they would each volunteer to drive a bike and then Selena and I could get on the backs of their bikes. Selena had just gotten into an accident in the Philippines, so she was in no rush to rev the clutch.

I reluctantly volunteered to attempt to drive a bike with the two of us on it, and though I usually like to start my day’s activities early in the morning to make the most of the time I have in a place, our late start was my saving grace.

The four of us were unable to organize automatic motorbikes at first, and then when we finally found two automatic bikes we were then completely unable to find helmets. The locals did not see the lack of helmets to be as big of an issue, so I tried to put it to them bluntly: No helmet, I said tapping at my head and making an X with my arms, we die, and then made the motion to slit my own throat.

They laughed, and though this helped them to better understand our trepidation in not wearing helmets, it did not remotely get them moving any faster in an effort to help us find them.


So the four of us decided to ditch the plan for motorbikes and instead hired our own bemo.

Let me put it to you straight: You know how in high school maybe you and your friends may have at some point rented some ridiculous limo for the night that would drive you around the city while you yelled out the windows and loved living life as some sort of temporary millionaire?

That was slightly how I felt renting out our own bemo – coupled with feeling like I was on an episode of Pimp My Ride. Our bemo was pimped out to be a shrine to stuffed animals (specifically yellow ones) and the Despicable Me characters.


A bemo is essentially a small, mini-bus that serves as local transport around a particular town or city, but the bemos on Flores are known for being nightclub-like experiences. But I mean really, all the local transport on Flores is a nightclub of an experience that, though brutal when you are tired and hot, turns out to be some of the funniest trips you will have.





Despite my reluctance in driving a bike, I was somewhat devastated that we would not be enjoying Bajawa with the fresh, open air rushing at us to make the day all the more liberating.

That was until we met Iggy Das.

Iggy Das is my favorite local of all time. He sits right up their with my Gili T hero Eddie, because like Eddie, he was genuine right from the get go. There was never a thought that crossed my mind thinking he was out to get us.


Iggy organized the bemo for us, and he decided to come along for the afternoon. He spoke very little English, but he tried, and he spent much of the afternoon teaching us Indonesian words and phrases that were a massive help in my last few weeks in Indonesia. He had a high pitched and jovial laugh, and every time he laugh he sort of ducked into himself as if he was trying to hide – almost like that of a teenage boy who was making fun of his teacher.

We first stopped at a small village called Langa, which was small and not remotely touristic. Most tourists stop at a small village called Leba and Bena, both of which can be found in Lonely Planet.

The villagers were welcoming, kind and friendly and excited to see us there. There were plenty of young kids running about with perky pups chasing and sqeauling after them.

Some of the kids were shy at first, and it is somewhat difficult when there is no ability to speak other than to say hello, but I have learned in my travels that cameras break the ice. They bring the shy kids to crack a smile and the adults to have a good laugh, and I am assuming it is because they do not often see photos of themselves.






There were only a handful of houses in this village, and sprinkled in the middle of the grounds were these elaborate graves made of straw and wood. Because no one in the village spoke much English, it was hard to understand the purpose of the graves. Some were marble and tile structures built above the ground, which I has seen similar versions of driving through Flores, and others were these massive shrines made of wood and straw.



The villagers’ homes were barren inside, just big rooms with nothing in them, and if I understood Iggy correctly, they were made out of a combination of wood and bamboo. At the top of each house was what seemed like a small relic of sorts to keep a house safe and out of harm’s way and protect those inside.




 Additionally, alongside each house were these strings of jaws with some of the teeth still in tact from deceased animals that represent when each family member dies.



We left Langa and headed out to the village of Bena, which was bigger and more crowded with tourists. We had to pay a village fee to enter Bena, and sign the guestbook, so it felt less authentic and much more exploited.

Bena was another Christian village centered around shrines, graves and tombstones to the family the villagers lost and the offerings (usually plates of food) the villages would make to the departed. There were more puppies, more kids and this village was nestled in some of the most beautiful and pristine landscape that made me feel a world away from the rest of life.













We ended the day with a stop at the local hot springs, or natural geothermal waters that around the jacuzzi’s of the earth. We did not stay too long, as the water was so hot  we could see the steam rising from its surface, and many of the local men started filtering through to take a dip and relax.


Bajawa easily stole my heart. I don’t know whether it was Iggy Das or the friendly village kids, but this is a town that will not stay so pure and pristine for much longer.

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