Riung or not Riung? This was the question… M and I discussed a lot about it as it was clearly out of our way. It looked amazing on google and we were keen to check it out. However since it was located up north, it would have cost us three precious days of our time on Flores. Without having a definite answer, we left LB and headed East. Coz… why not? This wasn’t the first time we sat on a bus without knowing what was coming next. We jumped on a bus to Bajawa, a hub to either drive to Ende / Moni or head to Riung. We had found a hotel there and we settled down for the night, hoping to have an answer by the morning. Bajawa was small and I somehow liked it and disliked it at the same time. As soon as we stepped out of the bus, some men made me feel like a piece of meat, being disrespectful even tho I had made the effort to wear pants, long sleeves and a scarf on my head and it felt very uncomfortable. I guess this is the price to pay to visit less touristic areas and men still think “middle-agely” backward. I didn’t like the way they made me feel but we weren’t about to let it stop us to explore the town – tho I did consider hiding in my hotel room until the next morning. A stroll through Bajawa, a delicious Bakso at a local warung and some talks later, we had more or less taken our decision: we were going to Riung.
During the long (5 hours to drive 70 km…) bus ride to Riung (we never made so many detours to load and unload passengers! We have seen villages that probably had almost never been visited by foreigners! Exciting!), we talked to the driver and he warmly recommended us a homestay that was cheap and on the water. We weren’t sure what to expect but after 5 hours sharing a bus with onions and heavy smokers, we were ready to accept pretty much anything to escape the smell. Ah! The joy of riding local! The old man who welcomed us at the homestay surprisingly spoke English very well and even though, our room had no proper shower (a bucket was provided. What else do you need?), we immediately loved the place. I wasn’t sure what I had pictured but Riung was nested in the woods, a few families living by the pier and the others living deeper inland. A walk around town (or into the woods) was quickly made and we found a restaurant that served us delicious grilled squids. A Spanish couple joined us and it felt great to be able to speak Spanish again. How we have missed this language!
After a wonderfully (much needed) long and peaceful night, we enthusiastically boarded a fisherman boat. We should have stopped by now having expectations as a few ‘wonderful’ and ‘unmissable’ places were very disappointing along the way but that morning we couldn’t help it: our hopes were high. Our host had organized a tour to the 24 islands that composed the 17-island marine park. Our captain couldn’t speak a word English therefore we had no choice but to practice our Bahasa. Win win! The captain had picked 4 islands for us to visit that day. We loved the first one, Ontoloe, as it was inhabited by fruit bats, also known as flying foxes. It was surreal to see so many giant bats outside of a cave. We somehow had always associated bats with caves and we were flabbergasted to see so many bats gathered on the mangrove trees. The rest of the day was dedicated to snorkeling and we enjoyed very much our time on (around) islands # 2 (Nunsa Tiga), 3 (Nunsa Bampa) and 4 (Nunsa Rutong). The corral was fantastically colorful and we swam among lots of different types of fish. I didn’t expect so many varieties!
One of my highlights of the day, strangely, was my scary encounter with a deadly white banded sea snake who swam towards me while I was walking on the rocky shore with water up to my ankles. Panic and an almost fall on my butt was of course involved but I was extremely (again strangely) happy to meet such a beautiful venomous snake (after panic left me). The scenery surrounding us was absolutely breathtaking and even tho we were again disappointed by the dirtiness of the beaches themselves, the colors of the water from dark blue to turquoise blue were wonderful and it felt magical to swim in those waters and enjoy a fresh grilled fish on Nunsa Tiga, deliciously prepared by our captain. It was hard to jump back on our boat to head back to Riung.
After such a beautiful time in the 17-island marine park, it was time for us to move on as we could have easily stayed here a few days longer. However, Indonesian authorities need to understand the necessity and the urgency for his people to respect our environment. Getting rid of garbage from a driving bus, leaving a can of coke on the curb or throwing plastic bags and other rubbish in the sea are unfortunately too common over here and we can only hope that Indonesia, among other countries, will take the needed measures to educate its citizens to stop this giant littering! It cannot be that stepping on a deserted island means stepping in a public trash. Rant over. Next stop: Kelimutu!Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!