It was already time to bid farewell to Bali as I excitedly boarded my plane to Flores, a few islands east. My excitement was heightened by the fact I was taking my first ever propeller plane flight, with a teeny tiny plane making the 2 hour hop to Maumere to the east of Flores. Described as “Flores’ biggest city” (which really isn’t saying much), Maumere is a dusty collection of nothingness but, like almost everywhere in Indonesia, its gems lay beyond the city limits.
I opted to stay just outside the city at a great little eco-homestay called Pantai Paris. It’s just a 10 minute drive from Maumere’s tiny airport (a taxi should cost you 50,000 IDR) and is a ramshackle hodge-podge of tranquility. They’ve got dorms, bungalows and a tent with all of them overlooking the peaceful water. There’s a sort-of beach but usually the water comes up so close there’s not much of it left, though the water is great for swimming or even snorkelling. It’s also a prime spot for gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. The owner, Suzie, is very friendly with a real passion for all things ecological. She whips up a mean omelette, as well as homemade chutneys, jams, chocolate, ketchup and just about anything else you can think of. You will certainly leave well-fed.
On either side of the homestay are two small warungs, both of which serve the usual local grub. The one to the left does yummy grilled ikan (70,000 IDR for a small fish) whilst the other one is a good evening spot with cold Bintangs for 40,000 IDR. Beyond these though, there’s really nothing else here which adds to its charm as a relaxing escape (albeit with Wi-Fi so you can plan your life as well). If you have a motorbike, there are a few good beaches to the west. There’s also a nice one, Waiara, to the east that I walked to. It was about a 90 minute walk which included meandering through a local market, though obviously it would be much faster on a bike. There are various resorts there where you can get fairly expensive but tasty food and the beach is lovely. Further out, the volcano Mt. Egon looms and it is possible to trek there.
What struck me about Maumere was my celebrity status as a foreigner, despite the fact there were a handful of travellers here. Everywhere I went I was greeted with either smiles, agape mouths or “Hello Mister!” and only on occasion was this from ojek drivers trying to give me a lift. The kids in particular loved testing out their broken English on me and some were keen to get a photo, with the condition being making them social media stars: “Mister, you put Facebook!”
Before all this attention went to my head, I swiftly moved along the long Flores highway towards Moni, home of the famous Kelimutu volcano. However, before reaching there I made a three day stopover at Koka Beach which I had heard was one of the best beaches on the island. Pantai Paris arranged a shared car to take me, costing 50,000 IDR for the >2 hour drive. I’d been expecting to go in a bemo so it was nice to have a bit of luxury for the first leg of this huge road, notorious for inducing travel sickness. The car dropped me off on the road right next to another eco-homestay, owned by the enigmatic “Ricky Cowboy”. Even more ramshackle than Pantai Paris, the homestay has just 2 small bungalows (150,000 IDR a night), no internet and plenty of character. He was full when I arrived but has some overflow tents so I bunked down in one of those – even if he’s full, he’ll definitely find a way to keep you there.
A 20 minute walk down a scenic road from Ricky’s lies the idyllic Koka Beach, named after the koka bird which frequents the trees in this area. The gorgeoous beach definitely lived up to its accolades. Beautiful soft sand met dazzling blue ocean with huge green hills bookending the mellow beach. It is actually two beaches in one, forming a w shape. To the left side the clear water is a perfect swimming spot. To the right, the water is filled with large rocks and the crashing waves make it a great spot to sit with a drink and contemplate life. There are some stalls here selling snacks and drinks, as well as an even more basic homestay. The best part is the secret’s not out yet so it’s likely there will only be a few, if any, other people sharing the beach with you. That is, apart from Sunday when a sizeable number of friendly locals descend on the beach. Some serenaded the foreigners with Ed Sheeran whilst others would relentlessly ask for selfies. One woman seemed to think my nose was very lucky and touched it before rubbing her pregnant belly. I fear for the child.
Back up by Ricky’s, there is a warung, Koka 99, where I ate all my meals. Their generous portions and crazily cheap prices kept me coming back again and again. Ricky also provides plenty of entertainment, even if it’s not always clear what he’s talking about. He rustles up some tasty snacks and also set us all to work making coconut bowls, an arduous but satisfying process which took the best part of a day to perfect but left me with a lovely souvenir made by my own fair hands. The outdoor ‘kitchen’ makes for a great social space and the small size of his homestay means it’s really easy to meet other people. I’d definitely recommend even a couple of days here – between the beautiful beach and the frivolity at Ricky’s, you’ll probably end up staying longer.