Five hours after leaving Bajawa I arrived in Moni unscathed1 and checked into the Hiddayah Bungalows, a lovely collection of bamboo huts clustered next to some paddy fields on the uphill side of the village. As I wasn't feeling too great and had a bit of a sore throat from all the kretek smoke and dusty roads (though no fever, so there was no worry that it might be malaria), I figured I'd take a day off and relax, and that's precisely what I did the next day, sitting on my balcony, drinking Indonesian tea (no milk, lots of sugar, delicious flavour), visiting the local market and waterfall, and generally watching the world wander past.
As if to answer the change in my outlook, on my first night in Moni I met a very friendly German called Rainer (pronounced 'Rhiner') and we went out for a slap up beer and cap cai (vegetables, noodles and a stunning soupy sauce), improving my low physical and psychological state immensely. The next day I met more and more people, and by the evening six of us had gathered together to eat a huge buffet of local cuisine (for the less-than-scary sum of 4000rp per person, or about 85p). We were practically one big happy family as we prepared to scale the heights of Keli Mutu at 4am the next morning.
Keli Mutu is one of the big tourist attractions of Nusa Tenggara, along with Lombok's Gili Islands and Komodo's dragons. My guidebook says, 'This extinct volcano is the most fantastic sight in Nusa Tenggara, if not all of Indonesia,' and although this is a bit of an exaggeration, Keli Mutu is well worth a visit.
The big attractions of Keli Mutu are twofold: first, it's easy to get to the top, as a truck goes up and down for 3000rp a ride; and second, the three main craters are full of coloured water, making the whole experience somewhat surreal. The black, green and blue lakes change their colours regularly over time, so although they're named after their colours, the green lake is now very dark brown, the colour it was in the mid-70s. There's a convenient lookout where hawkers sell tea, coffee and pancakes, and the truck leaves Moni at 4am, reaching the summit in time for the sunrise.
Hyped up sunrises are, generally, disappointing, and Keli Mutu didn't prove the exception to the rule. I always find a good sunset to be far more enjoyable and relaxing, but it never ceases to amaze me how many places make a real thing of the sunrise – Uluru, Keli Mutu, Yellow Waters in Kakadu and Rinjani, to name but a few – and how, about an hour after sunrise, all most of the tourists have disappeared, as if the location has nothing more to offer now that the sun's up. This happened at Keli Mutu, much to my satisfaction, and as the sun climbed up and lit up the blue lake, showing off its real colours, I was left almost alone. I'd decided to walk round to the other side of the crater, a walk that maybe three other people bothered to do, and the view as the sun rose behind me was breathtaking; it isn't Rinjani, but it's well worth getting up for. As Peter, a friendly German whom I'd meet on the bus to Maumere, said, 'When God made the world, he washed his paint bushes in Keli Mutu.' That's a very good description.
The walk down from the top – a preferable alternative to taking the 7am bus back down – was pleasant, but it did illustrate one of the frustrating things about Indonesia. I was bounding down the path, passing through villages where locals tried to flog me warm Coke and cold pancakes, and when I got to the second village, very close to Moni, I passed a couple of kids who said hello and tried to start a conversation in the best traditions of the Indonesians. I mumbled a hello, but not wanting to be too delayed, I hurried straight on, passing them by and heading for my breakfast back in Moni.
It was only after half an hour of following the path away from Moni that I realised I'd made a wrong turn. Backtracking, I discovered that the kids had been standing right across the right turn I was supposed to make, and when I asked them why they hadn't pointed me in the right direction, they said that I hadn't stopped for a conversation, so they thought it served me right to go off down the wrong path. This might have annoyed me if I hadn't already discovered that getting angry with the locals is like punching bread dough: it's pointless and more than a little tiring. Sometimes it's good to be reminded that you're a guest in their country, and that your western expectations are not only wrong, they're your problem. I had to laugh at the little bastards; it served me right for commuting when I should have been strolling.
1 Well, physically unscathed at least. With my musical sensibilities I found the hardest part of the journey to be the music, played at decibel levels that the British police would claim justified all those arrests, m'lud. Every bus has two tapes, one in Indonesian and one in English, and they're both absolutely abysmal; these tapes are played on auto-reverse for the entire journey, so by the end you know the lyrics to everything (even though you don't know what they mean), and for days these god-awful ditties lilt through the subconscious, gnawing at the soul until you're left weeping on the sidewalk. That's just my humble opinion, of course; I'm sure that some people find Indonesian bus music to be the epitome of symphonic excellence. Like the Indonesians, for example, who sing along like people possessed, not exactly adding to the listening experience...