An Authentic Experience in Wae Rebo Village

Monday, November 13, 2017
Visiting Wae Rebo Village is probably one of the most authentic things I've ever done. The traditional village located in an isolated and very remote place at Manggarai hinterland continues to preserve their nature and indigenous culture until now since their ancestors built the village.

Joe and I had teamed up with some of the people we met on our Komodo boat trip; Viktor, Ana and Lidia. Our journey to Wae Rebo began early morning around 7.30 am in Labuan Bajo. We had rented motorbikes to takes us as near to the village as possible. From there we had planned to hike the rest of the way. La Boheme Bajo hostel was very helpful in arranging bike-rental and handing us information about the upcoming trip.

Bay of Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, Indonesia
Some of the other people from our boat had tried to reach Wae Rebo the day before. But unfortunately they had been forced to turn around due to flat tires and lack of time. We heard everything from 5 hours to 10 hours of motorbiking to reach the end of the road near Wae Rebo Village.

Victor and I checking our directions on Flores Island, Indonesia
The roads on the way to Wae Rebo were very remote and they had definitely seen better days. Rock-filled holes, dirt paths, water streams and sandy tracks were just some of the things to overcome. The surrounding nature however was perfectly outstanding. Beautiful green fields and fresh air was on the menu.

Farmer's field about 2 hours from Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, Indonesia
About half way we parked our motorbikes in the shade of a old large tree and trekked to an unnamed and untouched beach. There is just something special about exploring places, that are yet to be commercialized.

An unnamed beach on the south coast of Flores, Indonesia
For a very long time, while we were driving along the south coast of Flores, the beautiful Mules Island was closing up with its characteristic rocky formation. We had to stop a few times just to suck in the view.

Mules Island seen from Flores Island on the way to Wae Rebo Village, Indonesia
A flat tire hit us right in the gut. But with still about 10 km to the nearest bengkel (auto shop) in the town of Dintor, we had to keep going. Challenges rarely come alone and neither did this one as we reached a broken bridge. The unforeseen obstacle forced us to go around the bridge on a stone path. And I guess that now is the time to tell you; this trip is not for the inexperienced, fainthearted and absolutely not for solo travelers. Luckily we had a few local guys helping us out, as they were hanging out in a shady area near by the broken bridge.

Stone path on the way to Wae Rebo Village on Flores, Indonesia
After two hours of repairing tires in Dintor, we continued with just about 3 kilometres to go. We reached the end of the road and luckily there was a sign which welcomed visitors to Wae Rebo. We stripped our scooters for valuables and began climbing into the hinterlands. After just a few minutes of trekking it started pouring down and we could hear the lightning strikes closing in. There was nothing else to do, but embrace the rain and keep walking. The climb was steep, slippery and narrow. My mind drifted home while we found a rhythm, as I was reminded how much I like the Danish rainy weather.

View over the Manggarai hinterlands on the climb to Wae Rebo Village, Indonesia
Finally! After 6 hours on a motorbike and almost 2 hours of hiking through the jungle in the pouring rain as the thunderstorm was rolling in; we arrived at Wae Rebo Village!
The easily recognizable traditional cone-shaped houses - mbaru niangs - told us we had found the right spot. Being the first travelers to reach the village that day, we were greeted as we entered. We were brought directly to the mbaru niang of the elderly leaders of the village. Here, a small welcoming-ceremony was held by one of the leaders, Thomas, spoken in their local Wae Rebo tongue. The last part of the ceremony was translated to; "...and now you're a part of the Wae Rebo society. From now on if somebody asks you: where are you from? You can rightfully answer with: I am from Wae Rebo."

Victor, Ana, Joe, Lidia and me finally at Wae Rebo Village on western Flores, Indonesia
The ancestor of Wae Rebo, Empo Maro, was originated from Minangkabau, Sumatra. He and his relatives sailed by boat to arrive in Labuan Bajo on Flores Island. They continued their trip to the north until they found a place called Waraloka. Based on stories from the elderly, Empo Maro moved from one village to another, before finally settling permanently at Wae Rebo.

Stefano, one of the elderly of Wae Rebo, Indonesia
Since 1994 there has been records of travelers visiting Wae Rebo. A japanese man called Matsuda Shuikhi - who was a photographer - was the first traveler to be documented in the guestbook. However the locals told us about an American who made it there before Matsuda - but that's off the records.
Since then, tourism has exploded in Wae Rebo growing from 105 visitors in 2007 to 3.741 in 2015. Leaving a positive impact on local economy, which has helped the cultural preservation of the village.

Inside the mbaru niang house where we ate and slept in Wae Rebo Village, Indonesia
Travelers are welcomed to stay overnight at the village. We all donated 50k as a tribute to the elderly and for the ceremony. For a night in a mbaru niang along with food and locally produced coffee we paid 300k each. The food was outstanding and the coffee even better. There was a small souvenir stall with local handicrafts like coffee, key-chains and two kinds of local fabric; Songke and Surak.

A local villager, Pedro, carries ayam (chicken) to Wae Rebo Village, Indonesia
We woke up early next morning for sunrise and began our decent down from the village, which took a little less than an hour. On the way we met several local villagers carrying animals, wood or spices to their community. After reaching our motorbikes again, we hit the road. A few flat tires forced us to visit the bengkel (auto shop) in Dintor, once again. And just a few kilometres after the repair we had to turn around again as one of the tires exploded. I guess a trip to Wae Rebo is bound to include unforeseen obstacles such as exploding tires.

Local auto-shop in Dintor near Wae Rebo Village, Indonesia
One of the more interesting places on the road between Wae Rebo and Labuan Bajo was an old and quite unstable wooden bridge. The locals crossed it, and so did we.

Wooden bridge on the road between Wae Rebo and Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, Indonesia
About an hour and a half from Labuan Bajo we had to ditch one of the bikes, due to yet another ripped tire. The rains had started pouring down once again and it was simply too dangerous to keep going on a flat tire. We squeezed in on the three remaining bikes and headed for Labuan Bajo, which we didn't reach until after nightfall.

Labuan Bajo Night Market at Pantai Kampung Ujung on Flores Island, Indonesia
We ended our eventful last two days with some nasi goreng ayam (fried rice and chicken) and a cold Bintang beer at the local night market in Labuan Bajo. What an adventure!

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