Day 19-20: Liang Bua cave, Homo floresiensis, and the spiderweb rice terraces of Flores

On Day 19 we headed off from Bajawa towards Aimere and Ruteng to see arak being made, the “hobbit” cave, and spiderweb rice terraces. On the way, a man was chopping up this tree that fell across the road. Thank goodness he’d already cleared enough for us to pass when we got there.

A stop to take in a verdant view of Flores.
So lush and rugged.

Tea with a view in Aimere

An open air restaurant makes for a very picturesque tea stop.
Elina loves animals, one of the reasons we got her rabies shots before we left Australia.

How arak is made

Arak is Indonesia’s moonshine. It’s illegally made all over the country from different sources including coconut. In Flores, it’s made from palm trees.

According to the FloresPlus website, “To make the Arak, men would climb the Lontar Palm and flatten its fruits. The juice from the fruit would then drip into a bucket and after 6 days the liquid will drip into a bamboo pipe before going into a water bottle. This process takes about 6 days using different ‘drips’. The result for each would vary, giving you Arak with different volumes of alcohol.”

You can see the footholds they’ve nailed to this palm tree so they can harvest the fruit.
Heating palm fruit juice.
The juice is then distilled via the long bamboo tubes into the plastic jug on the end. Paul had a little taste. It was disgusting.

Staying at a convent in Ruteng

A Catholic church in Flores.

All over Flores, there were mosques alongside Catholic churches. We heard the Islamic call to prayer a few times a day all over Indonesia. We stayed at a Catholic convent in Ruteng. To stay there, you had to be a married couple. Lucky for us then.

One of the buildings at the convent.
The sparse room and bathroom were very clean, and the shower was nice and hot.
Breakfast at the convent: toast, eggs, jam, butter, fried rice, tea and instant coffee.

From Ruteng we headed towards Liang Bua cave where they found the remains of two “hobbit” people, aka Homo floresiensis.

The landscape was gorgeous. There were rice fields on both sides of this river.

Liang Bua cave and Homo floresiensis

The old and tired gate reads, “Welcome to Liang Bua”.
The building in this photo is the museum, which is badly in need of upgrading.

Located at Liang Bua is the limestone cave where two “hobbit” people, aka Homo floresiensis, were discovered in 2003 by Mike Northwood, an Australian professor of anthropology. They’re nicknamed hobbits because at 115cm in height, they’re only the size of a child.

Inside the museum: what they think Homo floreiensis would’ve looked like.
A photo of the bones they found here.

“Dr. Norwood and others have shown that this human existed as recently as 12,000 years ago, possibly putting this species in contact with local homo sapiens. What makes H. floresiensis so remarkable is that they accomplished the same things as their larger H. sapiens cousins, such as making fire and hunting in cooperation with each other, while being less than four feet tall and having brains approximately one-half to one-third of the size of H. sapiens.” From Atlas Obscura.

The entrance gate to the cave.
A view from inside the cave. That’s Paul. We were the only visitors at the time.

Spiderweb rice fields at Cancar

Just outside of Ruteng, in Cancar, are these magnificent rice fields divided into plots that make them look like giant spiderwebs. They were created this way by indigenous Manggarai people many years ago. We had to hike up many stairs to get to the viewpoint, which charged a nominal fee.

Video panorama of the spiderweb rice fields in Cancar.
Can you see the farmer on the right side of this photo?
Here’s a close up of another farmer.

Back on the road

Here’s what we saw as we got back on the road towards Labuan Bajo.

Wooden house.
A kiosk selling cigarettes, snacks, etc.
The pink-tiled thing (and the concrete one in the foreground) are graves. They usually had Catholic iconography on them. We saw these all over Flores in front of many houses.
Just like Bali, school children were walking down main roads to get home.
That’s rice drying by the side of the road on huge tarps.
The first straight road we saw in Flores! We couldn’t believe it. Elina and I had to take travel tablets each day because of the curvy roads.
Our last break before arriving in Labuan Bajo, which is the end of our road trip in Flores.
Next stop: Labuan Bajo.