Flores, Indonesia.

Our flight is in the afternoon, we spend the day in Labuanbajo catching up on internet time and then head out to the airport to catch our flight. In the taxi on the way we meet a guy who asks our names and where we are going, we tell him, seeing no reason to hide this information, we get asked it many times a day after all. People are curious here, they are friendly and want to talk with us, practicing their English where are you from, what is your name etc, etc.

Our flight goes smoothly, very short and we arrive in Ende airport. As we walk out the exit there is a mass of people pressed up against the glass, and one of them is holding a sign with our names on it. Huh? How did that happen? Turns out our “friend” from the taxi has called ahead to his buddy to try to set us up with a ride to the town of Moni (where we are planning on heading today). This guy wants a lot of money, way too much and I’m not about to give it to him, so we walk away.

When you first start to travel with someone there is a delicate play that happens. When you start to find out who the good cop is and who the bad, what are the other persons strengths and weaknesses, their financial situation/limits and their ability to bargain and haggle? Andy and I find this out on the fly, I keep checking in with her, with glances, raised eyebrows, conversations in Spanish to make sure we are agreeing about everything and it seems we are.  So it turns out (big surprise) that I am the bad cop, the hardnose, the one willing to walk away and not put up with anything I may perceive as bullshit.

So when this same guy keeps following us and slowly bringing down his price, still a preposterous amount, I’m the one who taking charge, still walking away from him insisting that we want to find a bus. We cross the street to get away from this guy, as we stand at a corner a bemo (a shared minibus) comes along and we yell to the driver to get us to the bus station, he agrees. As we hop onto the bus the original guy roars up on his moto bike and yells to us that he will now agree to take us for the price we insisted on originally. Andy and I look at each other and instantly agree, we don’t want to give this asshole our money at all, so the bemo it is.

Once on this crazy bemo one of the drivers’ friends/assistants asks if we want to private hire the bemo to take us to Moni. We confer and decide yes, if we can get the right price. The guys agree to it so all we have to do is drop off everybody else who is on the bus and then we will go. This should be a quick process but it turns out it’s not. Once all the paying passengers are off the bus there are still 4 guys with us. These guys are barely out of their teens, if that. The bus is pounding with heavy bass music, and throbbing with coloured lights, jeez what have we agreed to?

Andy, looking none too impressed with this traveling circus.

We make several more unscheduled stops, for no obvious reasons, pick up one more guy and then, finally, we are off. A good thing too as I’ve already had to give them a piece of my mind, twice, since they are taking so freaking long.

It’s a 2 hour ride up into the mountains to Moni, we’re both starving and these boys pull out some arak (the local homemade alcohol). As soon as I see this I state loudly and clearly that no one who is going to be driving will be drinking, they agree thank goodness and we are underway. It’s a tortuous ride, we’re sitting on benches in the back that run along the side walls, the road is very curvy, we have to hang onto the overhead rails for the entire 2 hours, while these guys (who aren’t driving) first get drunk, try to have conversations from us in their very limited English, bum multiple cigarettes from us and then fall asleep, taking up most of the benches when they do so.

When we arrive in Moni we meet Crystal, the ADD tour guide, and he helps us find a room. It’s been dark for a couple hours already, it’s freezing cold here and we are both very hungry. We find some very bad food and negotiate a price for Crystal to take us up to Kelimutu for the sunrise and see a few other sights in the area through the rest of the day. It takes a lot of hard work to get a price we all agree on, Crystal is a bit flakey and it’s tricky to pin him down on what exactly it is we are going to do and at what time. But we get it agreed and then he introduces us to Marcelo, a driver who has just dropped off some people he brought from Labuanbajo and who wants to head back in that direction the next day. We negotiate, negotiate and renegotiate until finally we agree on an itinerary, a timeframe and a price. Done.