The smell was gagging but the sights were so interesting that I didn’t care.

I was standing on the rim of the newest formed volcano in Flores, Wawo Muda, which erupted in 2001.  The now-dormant volcano has 3 disgustingly colored sulfur lakes in the vents – sort of a mini Kelimutu.  As usual, it was just myself and my older guide “Alfons”.  We hiked about an hour and a half up a steep jungle trail tangled with bamboo and coffee trees to the rim.

This hardly counts as my “volcano climb” in Indonesia, but is well worth the time and sweat to get here if you’re near.

The small volcano is only a 20 minute motorbike ride from the village of Bajawa, which I could have managed, but I never would have found the place through the matrix of trails.  I hired Alfons in town for $10 to lead the way, and he proved good company other than trying to constantly upsell me to bigger (and more expensive) adventures.

Most tourists stop at the rim and snap photos, but since it was only the two of us we scrambled and slid in the loose ash and crumbling rock down as close to the lakes as we dared venture. Every step created a mini-landslide of loose gravel which splashed into the fetid, stinking water below us.

I took a good slide and had to dig in with my fingernails.  I managed to stop long before it became a serious problem, but I did scrape up my leg – my first volcano related injury — excellent!

The landscape was apocalyptic with burned, limbless trees sticking straight up out of the yellow earth like toothpicks.  I peered into the vents and knew that beneath the yellow water deep in the earth there were probably messy, hot, and dangerous things going on.

We had to pick up fire hardened tree limbs to use as sticks to keep from sliding further down the steep incline.  The entire time there in the silent crater I had the eerie feeling that I was someplace I wasn’t supposed to be. It felt like I was peeking into one of the earth’s windows to see its private business.  Even though the eruption in 2001 was small, the damage and scars on the land still reinforced how small we really are compared to the power of nature and the earth.

I would’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with any size volcano.  To add to the reminder, the smoking (and active) Gunung Inerie raises up out of the land like a proper volcano should just a few kilometers away.  It definitely has the potential to take this whole place out.

When we got back to town I bought Alfons’ lunch and hitched a ride in a private car on its way to Ende, hoping it would be a better ride than the local buses.  With only four of us it was a pretty comfortable ride up the winding, bumpy road until our driver kept collecting people along the way hoping to both pay for petrol and make a profit.

Pretty soon, there were 8 of us including 3 sick, snotty kids which insisted on touching me all crammed into the small car.  When one of the kids puked into a bag, I was suddenly wishing I was back on the bus!  Strangely enough, we listened to American country music the whole way including Alan Jackson and Kenny Rogers – not what I expected to hear in Flores or anywhere in Indonesia but I’ll take it.

Five hours later and I was unloading in Ende in front of my guesthouse.  Ende is a pretty good sized town right in the middle of Flores, which I hope has an ATM machine and some internet access.

When the driver opened the trunk, a wooden crate fell out and I picked it up without looking to hand it over.  To my surprise it was full of live chickens!  Bloody live chickens on top of my rucksack for the last 5 hours.  Indonesia has had recent bird flu cases but I never thought twice about it because how often do you come into contact with chicken poop?

Pretty often when its all over your bag.

Once again, I stayed in the #1 Lonely Planet pick for a guesthouse, something that I would avoid like the plague, but I after three days without a decent conversation in English, I could really use the company.  Plus, I was hoping to hear from other travelers – other than your gut, talking to other travelers and plugging into the network is your second greatest asset for getting around.

It didn’t work, I am still the only Westerner staying in the hotel.  Even the locals are surprised and tell me that there should be more travelers, even though it is early into the “high” season, they blame the global crisis for the low numbers so far.

Hotel Ikhlas is definitely the nicest place I have stayed in Flores, and maybe Indonesia for that matter.  My room is spotless and the food here is incredibly cheap – .40 cents for a healthy serving of rice and vegetables with chillis.  The air is positive and Ende seems to be the perfect place to unwind for a day or two, do some laundry and maintenance, and get some writing done.  Also, I am only a couple of hours from the Lakes of Kelimutu, my last mission here in Flores before heading out.

This place is exactly what I need to boost my morale and collect my thoughts a little.

Life is messy (thanks to the chickens) but good.