D. 18 A day to remember

We stole away a day to a dimension we don’t belong to. When the sun rose over Wae Rebo, I didn’t move, too tired to lift myself up the dry leaves mattresses we had been provided for the night. But when breakfast was brought to the center of the hut, I could no longer ignore the call to rise.

Fried rice, corn crisps and some herb omelette I didn’t try had been served, along with another round of the local, incredibly good coffee. I found out over breakfast that I had been drinking water from the mountain the night before (I was too thirsty and in too dire need of water to inquire as to its origin), and since I didn’t get sick, I was no longer afraid to take generous gulps of clear water this morning, and re-filling my empty bottle.

We left the village around 9am, making our way down to Denge, back to our host. The man Tata, Ticka and Rian had heard about is offering us the hospitality of his family’s home for the day, and the night. We will leave at about 2am, when the public transport is supposed to depart for Ruteng. Translated into indonesian time, that may be any hour from 2 to 4, I guess.

But I wouldn’t trade my place for anything in the world. We spent the day with the family, and my only regret is to not be able to speak more indonesian to talk to them. Tata and Ticka do their best to include us in the conversation, but translating is wearisome.

We arrived from our trek at about half past eleven, and were welcomed with hot tea, that we drank on a straw sheet deployed specially for us in front of the house. We shared salt crackers, and while Magnus played cards with the girls, I went to wash away the sweat from the morning’s efforts.

I thought I’d miss hot water at some point, but definitely not today. The cool temperature struck my skin in blissful delight. When I joined my friends outside again, ready to begin this entry, they were surrounded by school children, apparently fascinated by the tall white man playing cards with the girls.

We shared lunch at our host’s table, rice & corn served with bitter vegetables and smoked fish. It was intimidating to be a guest in the household, and again, so frustrating not to be able to express my gratitude as much as I would have liked to.

Another coffee had us linger around the table, while the boys exchanged cigarettes. We ended up talking about tax rates and public education in France, Denmark and Indonesia, until I felt too drowsy to keep up with the constant language switch.

I was offered a bed in the main hut, and felt asleep almost instantaneously. When I woke again, the afternoon had ran away, and the family was starting to gather around, children taking interest in my writing, Magnus, the girls and the boys getting out the cards again.

Night fell and we moved to supper, but by now, my silence was starting to feel somewhat lighter. We are no longer strangers, imposing our presence in an unfamiliar place. We are guests, welcomed in this household for the evening.

This is not an experience you can order through a travel agency. This is the beauty and the wealth brought by random encounters, when strangers meet and share enough between them that they become friends.

I can’t wipe the smile off my face, and I will cherish the warmth growing inside my heart, that has chased away the awkwardness of the first hours.

I thought this day would be wasted away: we would be stuck in Denge, waiting for a ride out of there. But we ended up stealing away a priceless experience, in the heart of Flores.

This quote from St Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, comes to mind: « the essential is invisible to the eyes ». For sure. Even though I certainly got an eyeful, and the images of last night will be carved into my memory, no picture could even begin to sum up the feel of that day. After dinner, we all gathered in the main hut again, and the men got out their instruments to sing traditional songs.

I was on the verge of tears, so moved by the atmosphere of pure warmth, and sharing. We were all draped in sarongs (my new favorite piece of clothing, the best thing EVER), until it was time for bed.

For us, the night would be short. We had a 1:30am wake up call, to be ready for the ride back to Denge — whenever the ride might be ready. We ended up spending nearly 2 hours watching music video on some indonesian music channel, in the main corridor, sitting on the floor and drinking coffee.

At 3:30, we boarded the « trucksport », and bade our good byes. I will never forget this day. And as the truck began its bumpy descend through the jungle, it was blasting a very appropriate song, about making the moment last.

Nothing could wipe the smile off my face at this point. As we were dashing through the damp night in the jungle, I could hardly believe my own happiness. These moments aren’t even dream material, they’re token of eternity stolen from paradise.

Dawn crept on us, and lit up the rice fields as we reached the heights approaching Ruteng. Hardly the end of the road, though.

As I let the cold morning wind chill the skin of my face, I reminded myself of this thought, that I had confided in Magnus this morning, drunk from tiredness: I think this fucking ear infection is the best thing that has happened to me so far, in this trip.

Had I not been grounded for seven days, I would have been off diving around Komodo, having a fantastic time, for sure. But this day? That was a jewel, every minute of it. And I will cherish these memories like the priceless diamonds they are.

— Monday, July 25th

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