A few superhuman cyclists with legs of steel manage to traverse the island too, using local buses to get up the worst hills and freewheeling down, but the topography of the island rules out cycling for all but Tour-de-France trainees.
That’s Lonely Planet’s expert opinion on cycling Flores. Dissuasive. Discouraging. Daunting.
Did we let that stop us? NO! Absolutely not.
It was impossible, we reasoned, that bicycle touring on Flores could be more taxing and tiring than Borneo. Honestly… 90% humidity, 25% grades, and a steady stream of palm oil trucks on a pot-holed track known as the national highway is a pretty high bar to cross.
That LP author, we were fairly certain, was a beer-guzzling backpacker type who hadn’t sat in the saddle of a bicycle since primary school. Though we’re far short of Tour-de-France trainees, we decided to give Flores a go.
Day 1 out of the port city of Labuan Bajo and we’re ready to prove that LP author wrong. Flores requires no Superhuman strength I will inform him in a snarky email.
The road climbs steadily. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s Borneo all over again!
We gain altitude for some 30 odd kilometers. Each time we round a bend I tell my self that’s the last one. The summit’s just around the corner. But there’s another and another and yet another as the road spirals upwards.
My heart pounds and my calves groan under the 35 kilos I’m schlepping. Most cyclists set off with bursting panniers and end up shipping half their gear home within a month. Our load, on the other hand, has actually gotten heavier over the years.
At times like this, when the pain distracts me from the beauty of the surroundings, I regret all those little comforts I’ve come to require. Is a minus 15 degrees all-season sleeping bag really essential in Southeast Asia? Could I do without the big bottles of shampoo, conditioner and hand lotion? Perhaps 3 cycling jerseys is a little over the top? Is it really wise to cart around two computers–one with a 17 inch screen? Might I do without my yoga mat and the 56 items in my medical kit?
I ponder these extravagancies while willing my middle-aged body to keep cranking the pedals. We top out at around 1,000 meters and then comes 15 minutes of glorious freewheeling. I forget all about my vow to pare down my kit. Flores is the most beautiful island in Indonesia, the kids are the friendliest on the planet and this is way better than Borneo.
The Best of Flores
A ride up to Kelimutu is undoubtedly one of the highlights of bike touring on Flores. Leaving those 35 kilos of “essential stuff” back in the village meant we could really race up the 800 meters unloaded. The roads winds past traditional villages and rice paddies before becoming thick tropical forest. The views out over the valley are superb.
Kelimutu (elevation 1,639 m –5,377 ft) itself was something of an anti-climax. Sunrise is really the time to be there to get the full effect of the changing colors of the three crater lakes.
Sorry Lonely Planet, you got it all wrong this time. Superhuman strength is not required to bike across Flores. All you need is iron-clad willpower and the patience of Job.
You will, after all, have to endure the curious stares of every villager you pass and a thousand Hellooooo Misterrrr’s a day! And THAT’ S torture. Trust me.