I repacked Beastie and kept riding West. My goal was the famous Kelimutu, a volcanic peak crowned with three coloured lakes. Famous for its beauty, everyone kept saying to me: have you been to Kelimutu? I’m going, I’m going, okay!
The north coast road from Maumere was skinny, potholed bitumen through breathtaking scenery. Clinging to the clifftops, then plunging down to trace the edges of palm-lined bays.
I’d bought rice at a street stall on my way out of town, and I stopped to picnic in the jungle.
I walked along the spine of a ridge, away from the road, and the screaming sound of insects surrounded me: raucous, vital. In the valleys on each side of me, the towering jungle clung and tangled in breathtaking density. I tried to photograph it, but couldn’t capture and the scale and depth of the forest.
It was well into the afternoon when I finally turned south; I had to climb and crest the mountain range before dark. Kelimutu, and the town of Moni, were nestled just on the other side.
The road wound up through the jungle. As I crested the range, the sun set and flooded the sky with an unbelievable red. To the west, the road dropped away and I could see layers of cloud and mountaintops as the light softened, mauved and bled. It was so beautiful that I wanted to cry; in these moments, you know that you are exactly where you should be.
* * *
I descended the mountains in the thickening dusk, and arrived in the town of Moni under stars. It was immediately apparent that there were a number of pleasant accommodation options that I couldn’t afford. There were tourists here; even a cafe run, apparently, by an Australian. Everyone was out to make a buck.
A guy on the street accosted me in the guise of helping me, told me that there was no cheap accommodation in Moni. He said that he could do me a deal for about $25 Australian, it was absolutely the cheapest accommodation I would find; I told him no, thank you. I would find a suitable ditch.
And thus, the price magically halved. The accommodation was pretty ordinary but they agreed to let me park my motorbike in the dining room, which is all that really matters. And I was tired.
Later that night I treated myself to a beer and a curry, and crossed paths again with the guys on the DRs. They told me that they’d been up to Kelimutu, and had even been able to ride up to the edge of the crater where you look out across the coloured lakes. They said it was beautiful. They were having a rad time in Moni – especially enjoying the food and coffee and beers at the Australian cafe.
The following day, I ate fruit. Moni has beautiful fruit markets and a perfect climate for these divine blush-orange passionfruit. I figured that I might be in need of vitamin C, and gorged myself on their sweet pulp and crunchy black seeds.
* * *
In the afternoon, I followed the winding road up the mountain to see, at last, the famous Kelimutu and its three coloured lakes. At the top of the road was the entrance gate and a little ticket office. It was late in the day, and there seemed to be no-one around.
I stopped near the ticket office and waited for someone to come and charge me an admission fee. Soon enough, I saw a middle aged man making his way down the road towards me with a pot-bellied, pigeon-toed gait. Then, I noticed another man approaching from my left.
The middle-aged man was smiling at me, or was he leering? He came straight towards me, and grabbed my bike. He was saying something to the other man and laughing loudly, gesturing at my bike. I froze with a sense of forboding. This didn’t feel right.
He was saying something about liking my bike. That he wanted to ride my motorbike. That he was going to ride my motorbike.
He came around to the right side of the bike, and took hold the handlebars: his hand on the barkbuster, his hand touching my gloved hand. Holding onto the bike and me, and he started gesturing for me to get off the bike.
He kept saying that he was going to ride my motorbike. I felt a cold rush of anger and anxiety.
I started shouting at him to get his hands off me and my bike. Tidak, janggan, stop! Don’t touch my bike!
He laughed like it was a big joke, didn’t let go. The other man was standing close to me, on my left, and now he was laughing too.
When a man sees that his actions make you afraid, and laughs – that is never a good sign.
A woman emerged from one of the warungs by the side of the road. She could see my distress, but she was laughing too, going along with the joke. But then she started trying to talk sense to them: ‘She doesn’t want you to do that,’ she tells them. ‘She’s saying don’t, stop. Tidak boleh, tidak boleh…’
They ignored her at first, but then seemed to calm down. Old mate stopped pulling at the bike, but didn’t take his hand off my barkbuster.
They changed tack, now. They knew I wanted to see the coloured lakes. They said I would have to pay 150,000 rupiah and leave my motorbike here, with them.
Pay whom? I asked. The guy on my left pointed to the guy on my right, who was still holding my handlebars. The guy assaulting me? Yep, he was the official ticket collector.
I let the clutch out carefully, not sure if old mate was going to let go or try to pull me over. He let go of the handlebars. Thank fuck for that.
I did a u-turn and throttled past the group of them, still standing in the road. Back down the mountain.
Fuck you, Kelimutu, and your three coloured lakes.
I felt helplessly angry. These men had had a great joke, a great laugh about the time they’d bullied that woman on the big motorbike, and me? I just got to be afraid. They’d won.
So don’t ask me if I saw Kelimutu, because I didn’t.
* * *
The unease stayed with me. I felt headachy and tense, on edge. I slept but didn’t feel rested.
The next morning, I left Moni, still with a knot of tension in my stomach. About 10km out of town, there is a set of s-bends, wrongly cambered; beautiful smooth asphalt covered in a layer of sand.
I was going too fast, I wasn’t paying attention. Distracted. I felt the back wheel lose traction and the ground approached in slow motion.
I slid down the road on my knee, twenty-five, thirty, metres, watching my beloved bike slide ahead of me.