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The rice-shed of West-Flores

Ruteng is the capital of the district Manggarai, which is by far the biggest of Flores; it consists of almost one third of the island. The capital is located at the food of a high mountain range and forms the center of a complicated network of valleys, which together make the biggest rice-producing area of Flores. The area is part of the most important coffee-producing areas of Indonesia.

Ruteng is a small, mainly Catholic town with a lively shop-and market quarter. The commercial activities are dominated by Chinese families. Because of it's high location Ruteng has a nice cool climate.

Welcome mountain

The top of Golo Curu ('Welcome mountain'), a hill north of Ruteng, offers a nice view over the city and the surrounding sawahs. Follow the road to Reo until a kilometer past Losmen Agung. Go straight after the bridge - instead of following the main road which bends to the left - until a church, the Santo Fransiskus Assisi. Behind the church is an unpaved road which brings you to the top in about 20 minutes on foot. The best time for a trip to the top is in the early morning, because in the afternoon the mountains are often obscured by clouds.

The view is the best at sunrise, around 6.00, and just after. After climbing for a while you can see graveyards: one for Catholics, one for Chinese and one in between for war heroes.

On the top of Golo Curu the view is obstructed by vegetation, but a little lower you can look over the surrounding sawah's, which look just as orderly as possible in such a rough landscape. Just west of the hill you can see one of the few lingko rondang, a traditional field in which wedge-shaped gardens are located around a central point.

Above the entrance to the upper part of the hill is a gate with the text 'Ave Maria'; behind that an altar for the Holy Virgin. The story goes that a farmer from the neighborhood saw a bright light on the top oft he hill. A supernatural voice told him that an altar for Maria supposed to be built. The church obeyed, but there have no miracles taken place yet.

Changing traditions

The residents of Ruteng consider themselves modern Indonesian with pride and maybe even a little regret because they have said goodbye to their traditional lifestyles. The most spectacular habit of the old religion is still popular: caci, or whip fights, in which the participants hit each other with whips of buffalo skin. It's an important part of the traditional ceremonies and also during a Catholic marriage. The 'season' is from the end of June until the end of August. The best way of tracking a marriage is asking for it at the local market (in Indonesian) or even better is you know someone that speaks the local language asking it for you. Attending a marriage is worth while. Who dresses and behaves properly is treated as a guest of honor.

In Kampung Ruteng, which used to be an important ritual center, you can see a compang (village altar). The village is two kilometers north of Ruteng. The compang is a platform like stage of stone and soil with the graves of the founders of the village; it is surrounded by an oval-shaped stone surrounding fence. Too bad an 'administration-fee' is counted for tourists, and if you want to make a picture, you pay double price.

Picture: sawahs

Pongkor, 45 kilometers southwest of Ruteng and reachable over an unpaved road is one of the remaining traditional villages of the district. It was the residence of the former raja of Manggarai. Among the holy heirlooms which are kept here is a special drum, of which the skin used to be made of the skin of the belly of a Bimanese female slave. You can take pictures of the drum, but a water buffalo has to be sacrificed before you are allowed to play on it. Pongkor and the nearby Tobo, about two hours from Ruteng, can be reached by public transport.

The traditional village of Lambaleda, northwest of Ruteng in the environment of Benteng Jawa, is seen as the best traditional center of weavings in Manggarai. Here, songke (songket in Indonesian) are made. The fabric is woven with an addition. Hand-made threat is used and sometimes natural dye. A songke-sarong can be obtained for a reasonable price. Lambaleda is more than 50 kilometers from Ruteng and can be reached by public transport via Benteng Jawa. The trip takes you over a bad road and takes about five hours.

Climbing volcanoes

Sportive climbers can climb Gunung Ranaka (2400 meters). It's besides the little higher Gunung Namparnos, crowned with a red and white communications tower. In the crater of the Ranaka there was a little activity in 1989, and in 1990 smoke still came out. You can almost reach the summit by jeep. An alternative is traveling by public transport to Robo, the starting point of the steep, nine kilometer ascend to the summit.

Another popular target for a daytrip is the one hectare Ranamese (Big Lake). It's surrounded by slopes with trees and contains a lot of fish. It's located 24 kilometers southeast of Ruteng, 100 meters from the main road to Bajawa.

Trip to Reo

The little town of Reo is located north of Ruteng, just inland from the northern coast. Trucks and buses make a frequent connection between both places over a paved, but bad road (two hours). About five kilometers out Ruteng the nice panoramic views start to appear. They last until the village of Pagal, 21 kilometers from Ruteng. The area around Pagal, the sub district Cibal, is known because of its weavers. In the villages east of Pagal, people weave from May until October, in the west from October to March.

From the place Golongorong, a few kilometers outside Pagal, an unpaved road runs to the west. The road follows a small mountain range and offers very nice views over the northern coast and a valley. After a few kilometers you reach the village of Compang. An open spot at one side of this little visited village is overruled by a stone 'altar for the ancestors'. After marriages, whip fights are held here.

After Golongorong the road Ruteng-Reo descends for 37 kilometers to the coast. The picturesque harbor village Kendindi lays five kilometers west of Reo; a nice walk. From here, coffee is shipped to Antwerp (Antwerpen, Belgium) and water buffalo's to Surabaya.

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