Wae Rebo Village
We arrive at Wae Rebo Lodge - Denge Village, where we'll have lunch before we set off on our trek to spend overnight at Wae Rebo Traditional village. The village is the only one of its kind still remaining and we'll get the opportunity to see and experience traditional daily life of the village inhabitants.
The lodge we're setting off from sits in the foothills of Poko Roko mountain and was started as a homestay in 2002 by Blasius Monto.
Blasius was born in one of the seven mbaru niang (traditional cone shaped house) in the mountain village of Wae Rebo. He now lives in Denge Sebu village working as the local school teacher and lodge manager with his wife and family.
Visitors generally stay one night at the lodge, then leave for Wae Rebo around 7am before the day heats up. Unfortunately for us our itinerary had us starting the trek at 12.30pm midday, it’s steaming hot!
Before we leave we're served a good lunch of noodles, rice, omelette, crackers, chicken and spinach by Blasius' wife, there's plenty here to sustain us for the coming climb.
Our guide Vincent, carries food provisions in his backpack, I’ve got my smaller 'day-tripper' camera bag containing my Gitzo travel tripod (folds to 13.9" and fits perfectly inside my bag), passports, hard drive back-up, rain coat and toothbrush – all the important things :-) As usual, Noel is packed like a mule - we wrangle his heavy camera backpack from him to give to our porter, Wae Rebo villager - Romanus, he's then left with two cameras slung across his body and a full size tripod on his back - a glutton for punishment!
We start out across the nearby school yard and follow a partly shaded water channel which is fed by the Race Wae River.
After a time we leave the channel and make our way through lantana and clamber over boulders and rocks, always going up and up.
It’s extremely hot and the blood is throbbing in my ears. Within half an hour we're all soaked (I glisten – they sweat) and we stop whenever we reach shade to try to cool a little and get our breath.
The hardest part of the climb is this stretch between Denge Sebu village and Wae Lombo (the first rest stop) mainly due to the intense heat. Happily, when we reach Wae Lombo, cooling relief is available from the nearby river - here we fill our hats with cold mountain water and splash it over our face and head - ahhhhhhh!
There are two official rest stops on the way and rest stop number two is our next goal as we continue up the mountain. This trek should take us four hours to complete and it’s pretty hard-going for us in this heat, even Vincent is wilting.... Blasius and the other locals can make the trek in under 3 hours ... show offs! :-)
Aside from the spectacular views and magnificent forest surrounding us, the best and most memorable part of the upward journey is meeting Wae Rebo villagers as they descend on their weekly trip to market.
We’re on a fairly narrow track, so when villagers approach we stop to make way. Many of them are carrying home-grown produce down to the village to sell, such as coffee, cloves, herbs etc ..
Each time a villager passes the protocol is to shake hands with each member of the party, be it one or six. We shake hands, each of us greeting the other with ‘Selamat Sore’ (Good afternoon) and an exchange of names.
We must have shaken over a hundred hands that afternoon and I'm so glad this is the day we climbed, it was so much fun to meet everyone in such a personal manner - a truly wonderful experience.
Upon reaching Denge Sebu the villagers spend a couple of days selling their goods and purchasing the items they can't produce themselves. They then climb back up the mountain carrying their purchases. Apparently, each villager will carry approximately 2 tons of goods into their village each year.
Eventually, the going becomes easier as we wind around the mountain to cooler, shadier parts. When we arrive it's necessary to seek the permission of the village ancestors to stay in the village, if this ritual isn't performed they risk incurring bad luck. The ritual is performed in the ceremonial house, known as the 'Drum House'. When we enter we find it to be very large and also very dark with just a few tiny windows that let in a shaft of weak afternoon light.
Two elders sit cross legged in the middle of the house and we arrange ourselves on the floor in a similar manner, facing them. Romanus speaks on our behalf and the elders ask their ancestors for permission which is granted. With the formalities over, we sit on the floor and enjoy coffee and tea together.
After leaving the drum house, we’re shown to the mbaru niang (traditional house) we’ll be sleeping in tonight. The houses are circular shaped and have five levels. The first level is the living and sleeping quarters for up to eight families, the second level is set aside for food and goods, the third stores seeds for upcoming plantings, the fourth holds food reserves and the top level is held sacred and kept for offerings to the ancestors.
We're invited to climb up the ladder to the top of the house, which Noel does and finds the house architecture quite extraordinary - it's made entirely with wood and bamboo and held together with strong rattan fibres - no nails at all.
We're sleeping on a tikar, a woven mat made of pandanus leaf, the mats are arranged around the circular perimeter of ¾ of the house, with pandanus woven pillows at the head of each mat for resting food and drink on.
We put our stuff down, go outside and chat with the elders and others. Later, as night falls we go back into our house and are served dinner as we again sit cross legged on our pandanus mats.
Plates of food are placed on the floor in front of us. Chicken, Noodles, Rice, Chicken Soup, Crackers, Veg, also water and our choice of tea/coffee. We eat and later are offered ARAK, the Indonesian alcohol spirit made from palm fruit. Vincent encourages us to partake 'to help us sleep better' .. hahahaa, some slept better than others :-).
In the morning we have the opportunity to photograph the villagers in their daily life as they go about their chores and gardening.
Our hosts wish to perform a farewell ritual so we enter the Drum house where the elders are again seated facing us on the floor. They wish us a safe journey and thank us for our visit.
In our turn, we thank them for their hospitality, marvelling at how privileged we feel at being able to visit their beautiful village, wishing the them prosperity and good luck.
Then it's time to trek back down to Denge Sebu village, the return trip usually takes visitors approx. 3 hours and we manage that despite many photo stops, although this time we don't meet anyone on the trek at all. An easier trek but still a big walk and by the time we reach the lodge we're fairly exhausted.
By this stage of our Flores trip, bucket showers have become a way of life and we're grateful to cool down and clean up. Then another nutritious lunch prepared by Blasious’ wife and off we go to our next adventure!!
We've enjoyed so many highlights on this trip and Wae Rebo ranks high on the list, this a place we will definitely return to!
Note: We returned again in 2013 for the Penti Festival and it's worth mentioning a rough road has now been cleared which avoids walking along the water channel. At this time it was blocked to cars and motorcycles, but it was still a lot easier than the old way.
For the very fit, there's shortcut you can take off this road, but it's steep uphill. If you're on your own, keep an eye out for locals taking this route and follow.
Each district of Flores has their own design and colours, one of the three major districts is Manggarai, to which Wae Rebo belongs. The ikat in the image above is typical of Manggarai, it's unique in that it uses only geographical patterns. Other districts incorporate symbols of humans, animals and plants as well as geographical symbols.
As a result of the long time each piece takes to make using natural dyes, the old rituals have been discarded and chemical dyes have since been adopted.
There are still a couple of villages that make the original ikat. To my knowledge Sikka Village (just before Paga beach) and Nggela Village (close to Moni) both still use traditional hand dyeing methods.