The hill town of Bajawa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Flores, surrounded by lush slopes and striking volcanoes. Gunung Inerie is just one of the active volcanoes near Bajawa: it’s an arduous but rewarding hike, and if it’s clear you can see all the way to Sumba from the summit.
Bajawa is the largest town in the Ngada district, an area that maintains its status as the spiritual heartland of Flores. Here, despite the growing encroachment of tour groups, indigenous animist religions flourish and the villages maintain traditional houses, megalithic stones and interesting totemic structures. Up to sixty thousand people in the Ngada district speak the distinct Ngada language, and a good proportion of the older generation don’t understand basic Bahasa Indonesian.
Not for the faint-hearted are the local specialities of moke, a type of wine that tastes like methylated spirits, and raerate or “rw” (pronounced “air-vay”), dog meat marinated in coconut milk and then boiled in its own blood.
The influx of tourists to the Ngada region has led to a booming guide industry in Bajawa, with a corresponding hike in prices. A day-tour should cover at least Bena and Wogo, as well as the hot springs at Soa, but many also include a trip to Wawo Muda, one of Indonesia’s newest volcanoes. If you don’t get approached by a licensed guide at your hotel, try the guide association which operates an information office opposite the Hotel Eidelweis, though it’s only open sporadically.
Soa, Wogo and Bena are all accessible by public transport from Bajawa (though Bena only has one bemo a day); it can be hard to find accurate information about this, and guides will often inflate prices to discourage you from independent visits, so ask bemo drivers directly. Alternatively, you can rent a motorbike and explore the region for yourself. The market is a good place to look for people willing to hire out their wheels. An ojek (motorbike with driver) will be around the same price. Female travellers should be careful of the latter though, as there have been several reports of indecent behaviour by ojek drivers in the area.Read More
Bena is the prettiest and most traditional of the Ngada villages, lying about 13km south of Bajawa. To reach it, take the turn-off past the large church at Mangulewa, 5km east of Bajawa. Here they have nine different clans, in a village built on nine levels with nine Ngadhu/Bhaga couplings. It’s the central village for the local area’s religions and traditions, and one of the best places to see festivals such as weddings, planting and harvest celebrations.
Some of the finest megaliths and Ngadhu are at the twin villages of Wogo Baru and Wogo Lama, the former lying 1km south of Mataloko (30min by bemo from Bajawa). Wogo Baru is a typically charming Ngada village, but the main attraction lies about 1.5km further down the road at Wogo Lama, where some apparently neglected megaliths sit in a clearing. All of the above villages ask visitors to give a donation, but the amount is up to you.
Hot springs and Wawo Muda
Hot springs and Wawo Muda
The most popular destination near Bajawa is the hot springs at Soa. The springs are set in peaceful surroundings, and a small but powerful waterfall provides the cheapest hot shower on Flores. Bemos from Bajawa market run to Soa village, from where you can pick up an ojek for the remaining 6km to the springs – you’ll need to ask your driver to wait if you don’t want to walk back. There are some quieter, though equally seductive, hot springs at Malanage, 3km south of Bena.
In the first few months of 2001 a new volcano erupted above the small village of Ngoranale, about 10km to the north of Bajawa, leaving a blackened crater. There are currently five small red lakes in the bottom of the crater, though they shrink to nothing in the dry season. There are no bemos to Wawo Muda, so you’ll need private transport to Ngoranale, where you can ask a villager to show you the start of the wide and easy-to-follow trail, which takes about an hour and a half to meander up to the summit.
In the centre of most villages in this district stand several ceremonial edifices, which represent the ancestral protection of, and presence in, the village. These include the Ngadhu, which resembles a man in a huge hula skirt, the thatched skirt sitting atop a crudely carved, phallic forked tree trunk, which is imbued with the power of a male ancestor. The female part of the pairing, the Bhaga, is a symbol of the womb, a miniature house. The symbolic coupling is supplemented by a carved stake called a Peo, to which animals are tied before being sacrificed.