Lamalera is in a glorious coral reef fringed bay, with a black sand beach and rocky headlands. It's a good 3 hour ride in a bus or truck, along potholed, barely surfaced roads to this little village where there are a few simple homestays available for those hardy tourists willing to brave the discomfort of getting there. The people are friendly, relaxed, and, surprisingly for a village which has had tourist trade for a long time, not at all pushy about selling their wares. The ikats I am shown are made from handspun cotton, use natural dyes, and feature motifs of sea creatures like mantas.
As you come into the town you are greeted by an avenue of whale bones lining the road. Yes, it feels surreal.
Down on the beach are the first tourists I have seen since Larantuka, although I haven't had a conversation with another foreigner since Sunset Cottages at Maumere. These ones aren't particularly friendly, and the next day they've all left, despite one couple arriving the same time in the afternoon as me. Now that's travelling a bit too fast for my comfort! I have checked in to Mama Maria's Homestay, and am her only guest, the others are obviously staying elsewhere.
The entire length of the beach houses locally built boats sheltered in lontar palm thatched boat sheds, which also hold the fishing gear, an assortment of livestock, and drying produce from their fishing expeditions. There is the unmistakeable smell of whale blubber which wafts around the entire village. It's not overpowering, but it's always there.
The whaling season starts on the 1st of May and continues through till October. Purpose built boats, which are rowed, not machine driven, are used to hunt their prey. In fact, as Jeffry, Maria's son, explains, they don't consider it to be hunting, because the whales are seen as ancestors that are being given back to them by a higher being. They catch 20-30 whales a year, and have been given exemption from any international anti-whaling laws due to their continuance of traditional fishing in a sustainable way. They even continue to barter whale meat with nearby villages for other food supplies, although a cash economy is also present.
My first evening I enjoy the sunset, and watch a group of men return in a boat and drag it up the beach to its little shed. The boats are treated with great care and respect here, no standing out in the sun for these important tools of their trade. Each has a home, is regularly painted, and the roofs are continuously rethatched to keep the weather out.
My three days are spent doing little. I wander up the hill to get some panoramic views of the little bay with its coral reef.
I go snorkelling then supervise the kids as they all take turns borrowing my goggles. Like kids everywhere, they get greedy and someone needs to make sure the older kids give the younger ones a turn. I am impressed by the cleanliness of the town and beach, and there is very little litter anywhere. Jeffry says it's because there is little plastic used here, the villagers still use a lot of environmentally friendly products. One afternoon I sit and watch the men making the Lontar palm thatching, everything is fully biodegradable, not even string is used.
I visit the barter market. It used to be further away but there was a dispute over land, and now the market is much closer to the village. I join many women walking up the hill with produce in baskets on their heads, hoping to exchange it for other goods. I notice there is also a cash economy, it's not simply barter only, and there are also traders there from Lewoleba. The whale meat is traded far and wide, in fact my hosts in Larantuka showed me some that they had. It looks and smells horrid.
On Saturday morning I am sad to leave. It's a 3am start for the bus back to Lewoleba. By 6:30am I am deposited outside the Hotel Rejeki and have to decide whether I head off to climb a volcano tomorrow, or leave it till my final day. In the end I opt for the comfort of a cool dark room and put off the pain for another day.
But I will be climbing that volcano, I've booked my transport now.
Oh gosh, that's going to be next…..
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