A Bemo transport van in Labuan Bajo can be heard long before it arrives. A pounding mega base sub woofer reverberates through the tropical verges as the vans wind their way through the hills above the Labuan Bajo harbour. Here comes another Bemo Boy in his decorated van. The wait is never very long. Climb on board and watch your head as you duck in the open doorway.
I suspect the bemo boys are local heroes here in Labuan Bajo. They travel the four kilometre circuit around town all day, finishing at 6pm in the evening. After that time, it’s a long walk in the dark or a ride on the back of a motorbike. The passengers pile into the side bench seats in the rear of the van: local women with shopping from the market, slight young teenage schoolgirls, heads covered in snow white hijab and dressed in full length navy blue tunics neatly pressed, and then of course, us, the tourists.
Sometimes the volume is turned down when a middle-aged Muslim matron travels the route. It is quickly cranked up again as soon as she disembarks, to impress the teenagers hanging about on the corner or to serve as an announcement for potential passengers.
These young men have a wonderful time and decorate their vans with youthful kitsch. Stuffed multi coloured felt caterpillars line the dashboards, the rear window usually sports a large modern transfer, and lots of strange mirrors and other paraphernalia dangle from the rear vision mirror. The names of each bemo soon become familiar “Casanova“, “Playboy” and “Pleace be my baby“, to name a few. One bemo specialised in country music, complete with a little DVD screen, but we only scored this driver on one occasion.
For 5000 rupiah (under 50 cents) one way, we travel in style, down to the restaurant belt near the harbour and back to our guesthouse, located on the side of a steep hill. Beats walking in the heat!
This week, Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack has nominated the colour Purple as the travel theme for the week. As purple is one of my favourite colours, I expected to find a plethora of exotic purple images amongst the sari draped women of India or in the temples of Myanmar. Other than a few purple clad young fairies and tu-tued ballerinas who come to visit, I found very little in my digital files.
So, with my favourite travel accessory, the purple Olympus Pen camera, I ventured outdoors into the cold morning fog of Melbourne winter. The only colour in my garden at present is Purple. An Australian native plant, hardenbergia flowers in winter for around a month and can often be found growing wild in the bush, a startling thunderbolt of colour amongst the grey green of the eucalyptus.
It is odd how songs just pop into your head sometimes and then become permanently associated with a place.
Each evening, at around 5.30 PM, I start humming the tune ” Lipstick Sunset” by John Hiatt.
It’s a sad country song about leaving ( aren’t they all !) and as I fondly gaze at the gorgeous light show this evening, I feel sad to be leaving Labuan Bajo, her stunning sunsets and entrancing harbour, and her smiling but shy people with magic eyes.
There is a lively energy here in Flores. The locals belong to a distinctly different ethnic group, being much closer to Timor, and the sense of ‘Adat’ can be felt. The population at Labuan Bajo are either Catholic or Muslim, and there’s a small but growing Italian community in the “Little Italy” restaurant belt along the main street. The tourist industry centres around diving, with competing companies offering trips to the numerous islands of the Komodo archipelago as well as trekking opportunities to see the dragons on Rinca island. Komodo National park is a Unesco World heritage site and offers dramatic scenery for those who venture away from the main port. See my last post.
I probably won’t return , and if I did, I am sure it will have become a very different place. But, back to that haunting country song,
‘There’s a lipstick sunset
Smeared across the August sky
There’s a bitter sweet perfume
Hanging in the fields
The creek is running high
And I left my lover waiting
In the dawn somewhere to wonder why
By the end of the day
All her sweet dreams would fade
To a lipstick sunset “
John Hiatt 1987
To my brother Michael, who sings and plays this song better than anyone.
How do you describe the colours and patterns of tropical fish?
I had one day of glorious snorkeling experience in ideal conditions on Kanawa Island yesterday. Returning to the shady tree on the beach for a brief siesta in between forays, I attempted to explain to Madame H the colours below the water in this little stretch of paradise in the Komodo archipelago.
But let me back track a bit. Madame H does not really enjoy water activities and it was enough to get her onto the funky wooden boat that took us out from the harbour at Labuan Bajo. The sea was deep blue and calm. We pass a few magical pirate vessels in the harbour and later a group of islands, arriving at Kanawa after an hour or so. Madame H found a shady tree, a log of wood and stretched out her sarong, determined to finish the book about the whingeing widow.
Mr Tranquillo and I donned our masks and snorkels, and headed off into the crystal aqua waters off the beach. The coral is protected at Kanawa and provides immediate rewards for those who venture in. Schools of tiny blue and purple fish swarm over a small hill of coral, Angel fish glide by, a giant clam closes its blue and purple lips, Nimos play shyly as Mr T tries to coax them out from hiding. A pale pink fish with green stripes decides that I am the funniest thing he has ever seen: refusing to move, he continues to stare into mask. Black fish with white spotted tails, orange ones with beige/black designer stripes glide by in pairs, like Japanese origami. Schools of baby blue float about like confetti, a lone barracouta glides by, all pointy nosed and silvery.
I try to explain all this to the Madame reader. The words fail. I think about iridescence, or translucency. Purple and blue and orange. No, these colours are not right.
You just have to be there, under the sea in a far away place, with the heavenly fish off Labuan Bajo.
A quick peruse of a recent Aljazeera press release reveals a most interesting article. Non Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed to use the word Allah! It’s a blanket ban, it seems, which the Catholic church has challenged in the high court of Malaysia, and lost.
Thoughts of Allah are often on my mind, as I settle back on my stunning verandah, perched high above the hypnotic harbour of Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores, Indonesia. Allah makes his presence felt here, via the nearby mosque, in a loud and most annoying way at 5.00 AM, then more pleasantly at 3.00 PM and then again, with a long, mystical call at 5PM, ( this one I quite enjoy), which symbolises a “Call to Drinks” for me.
Flores is a Catholic island sitting in vast islamic Sea , except for Bali which is Hindu, but Allah has a small foothold here in Labuan Bajo. particularly around the harbour and fishing port.
Mr Tranquillo, a patient and generally tolerant man, talks often about wire cutters at 5 Am or whenever he passes a hardware. He fancies the idea of sneaking out in the dead of night and cutting the speaker wires of the nearby Mosque. The volume of Allah at 5 AM, via his earthly agent, the recorded Iman, is extraordinary and it is not a coincidence that the shop next door to our nearest mosque specialises in loudspeakers and stereo equipment.
Mr T suggests, in response to the ban of the use of Allah’s name by Non Muslims, that we just call him Allan.
Tang dynasty shrines, temples and houses draw you in, inviting you to explore further. Entrances lead you to the numerous courtyards within, giving real meaning to the word ‘amazing.’ Most entrances lead you ahead, others take you sideways.
Masters of Feng Shui, the Tang dynasty ( 618- 907 AD) was the Golden Age of Chinese culture. Tang dynasty courtyard design is now quite fashionable and is copied in boutique hotels in Chengdu.
Many large houses remain- they are sympathetically renovated of course – from this era, and the best examples can be found in the ancient city of Langzhong in the north of Szechuan province, as well as at the beautiful shrine to Dufo, the famous Tang dynasty poet, in Chengdu.
Follow me through a few entrances, gateways and courtyards. Smell the oil in the wood. Sit an Imperial exam in the oldest remaining examination hall. Sip tea or dine in the courtyards within. The ancient houses of Langzhong are open to the public and some are now hotels.
This post is a response to Ed’s photo challenge this week, Entrances and Gateways, on Sunday Stills
“Would you like a Mao Bookmark, Helen?”
I was sorting through my remaining yuan, Chinese banknotes that I call Mao money. His face appears on all the big notes, so I have a tendency to think in green Mao, blue Mao, and so on, where the humble and rare Jiao notes feature attractive ethnic minorities and are only good for a token toilet fee.
“Oh what a lovely idea. I would love a Mao bookmark”. Helen responded, looking up from her e-reader. “But I don’t really need one now that I have one thousand books stored on my e-Reader and Kindle.” Helen doesn’t do things by halves when it comes to relaxing travel toys!
I wandered back to my room, still pondering how to laminate my Mao money, my left over Thai Baht and other paper ephemera loitering at the base of my new fake Chanel overnight bag.
Frangipani blossoms drop silently from branches.
A black kite soars in the evening sky like a giant stingray in a waterless sea.
Scattered floral offerings decoratively litter the ground.
Gamelon sounds in the distance, precursor to another funeral.
Slender young women glide by, all lacy kebaya and sarong.
Dusk is too fleeting.
Roosters crow before dawn and wander at will.
A magic lizard on the bathroom wall feigns a new colour
Early morning, and the night’s fallen jewels are swept away.
Tempe and Tofu, long beans and coconut, sambal pedas
Tumbles of greens with peanut sauce,
Krupuk, Bintang and fruit shakes.
I’m back in Bali again,
The gentle Bali of my dreams,
This time in Pemuteran.
In my kitchen is an Australian colonial kauri pine dresser and in the top drawer is my collection of antique cutlery.
This drawer full of treasure threatens to disgorge its heavy contents whenever I yank it open. Despite the disorder, this drawer makes me feel simultaneously happy and nostalgic. I think of my grandmothers, old fashioned soups, puddings and Sunday family gatherings. My modern cutlery, by contrast, is simply functional, quotidian and dishwasherable. It evokes little!
Although still on the road in Asia, I couldn’t miss the chance for a simple little post on Celia’s monthly round of IMK. See Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for more world kitchens, cookbook recomendations and gadgets.
After an enforced absence from posting due to internet censorship in China, with no access to Google, Gmail or WordPress, I re-visit my blog tentatively, my brain now wonderfully word slow but over stimulated with image and colour.
This week, Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack, has chosen World Cups as the travel theme. With all the tea in China, beautiful cups are never far from sight.
The cups above graciously decorate a Tea House in Chengdu, Szechuan Province, China. The cups below wait for the return of Mao in a well preserved Tang dynsasty courtyard house in Langzhong, an ancient city in the north of Szechuan. Mao visited this particular courtyard house on the Long March. Mao memorabilia is now quite scarce in capitalistic China.