The Old Man and The Legendary Kelimutu

If Tony "Doris" Eltherington (Padang and Captain Tony) was a friend whom I met in the middle of the ocean, then Bapa Johanes (Mr. Johanes) was a friend whom I met on top of Mount Kelimutu, Flores. He was also in his sixties, but had a totally different story from Tony. Bapa Johanes was living day by day selling coffee and tea for the price of Rp.3.500/cup (about 30 cent in USD).

I'm not going to tell you a sad story about an old man who woke up at 3 AM everyday to walk to the top of Mount Kelimutu to sell his coffee and tea to tourists. And get absolutely nothing if fog came and cover the whole top of Kelimutu (and that happens quite frequently). Nor will I tell you about the miserable condition of his thermoses and glasses. Or about his children who no longer went to school because he couldn't afford it. I will not tell you all that, because I know that he didn't portray himself to me to be pity by anyone. He held his head up high and I admire him for that.

Sunrise is the best view that Kelimutu can offer. When the weather is good (ie. no fog) we can just stay there for 2 hours or so and enjoy the beautiful colors of the sky that slowly changes from dark to light, offering the gorgeous purple that carefully changes to a beautiful dark orange mixed with a splash of red. A spectacular view. To get there on time, you should be there at least on 4.30 AM. Or you'll miss the show. I woke up at 3 AM and arrived at the gate of Mount Kelimutu at about 4 AM. Then I continued my journey by foot. Hiking that is. For another 45 minutes or so (could be less with someone else's feet).

There were a number of ther tourists the day I visited Kelimutu. Mostly foreigners. Actually the only ones who were not, were me, my photographer and a girl with a foreigner lover. I was sitting on one side of the viewing area, just waiting for the sun to rise, when a man came approaching me. He then sat beside me and offered me tea or coffee. I declined the offer, saying that I would have it later (and I did). I wasn't cold then. By the way, it was cold up there. It will always be, I guess. Then the old man lit his cigarette and let himself in my companion. We introduced ourselves and started talking.

He told me about the Kelimutu and the magical story behind the legendary Flores volcano. The volcano contains 3 crater lakes in varying colors. The colors changes quickly and sometimes very dramatically. According to the local story, the three craters have their own purpose, especially regarding the destiny of someone's spirit after they have passed away. It is widely believed that the young spirits will go to Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai, spirits of the elderly will go to the Tiwu Ata Mbupu and the spirits of the evil will go to the Tiwu Ata Polo. Bapa Johanes told me about all this. Kelimutu was his bestfriend. For more than 20 years he had been a part of the scenic lakes. He helped keep Kelimutu clean and he made money by offering service as a tour guide and selling hot beverage to keep the tourists warm. His wife also worked in Kelimutu. She sold ikat (traditional Flores weaving) and snacks near the entrance gate of the lake.

We also talked about the harsh condition during dry time of the year. And in Flores, dry means dry. In some parts, they can absolutely ran out of food and have no choice but to eat inedible materials such as wood. But they manage to survive. The climate and environment push them to limits normal people would not even dare to imagine. In the case of Bapa Johanes who lived in Moni, it was a bit better, since Moni is a mountain area. Cold atmosphere helps to grow vegetables. But still, in the dry time of the year, they have no choice but to make money only by making and selling ikat weaving. This is why you can get "attacked" by ikat selling women if you look interested in buying one (or in some cases, even when you are not interested). They are badly in need of the money.

Anyway, Bapa Johanes was a lovable person. He was funny and friendly with everybody. Eagerly went from one tourist to another to offer his hot drinks. And along with the "NO" in their answers, Bapa Johanes just gave them a big smile and sometimes let himself into a conversation with the tourists. He was not just selling drinks, he was welcoming people into his home. He was making sure that everyone was having a good time and taking back a great memory of the legendary Kelimutu. He was a superb host. The host that sometimes insisted his guest to take a picture with him. Funny man this Bapa Johanes is.

When it was time to come down and continue my journey, Bapa Johanes approached me, and in my surprise he untied the ikat that he wore on his head, and put it around my neck. He shook my hand and said thank you. My driver then explained that Bapa Johanes' gesture showed that I was then considered as his friend, not some stranger. It was one of the best feelings I had ever felt in my entire life. I wear that ikat proudly. It will always be a rememberance of that one beautiful day in Flores. The day I made a new friend on top of one of the most beautiful volcanoes ever existed.

It was probably the last time I would ever meet him ever again. But the memory of that beautiful morning will stay with me all of my life. I hope Bapa Johanes has new thermoses now. And better glasses too. They would probably bring a lot more customers. But if he still uses the same old ones, then at least he has great marketing! ;)


  1. At this very morning I watched a tv show about traveling to NTT. I was unaware at first until the host spoke about climbing to the top of Kelimutu to greet the morning sun. Suddenly I remembered of one of your story about a great old man that sells hot tea and coffee there. I was really hoping to see him interviewed by the host. At the top of the mountain, the host order a hot coffee, while waiting for the sunrise to come. There was an old man, humble and shy, poured a glass of coffee. After having his coffee from the old man, the host made a short comment about the beauty of the sunrise, after that he talked about the legendary lake, and finally went directly to the nearest waterfall. No interview at all. that was terrible. I missed my chance to see the charm of Bapa Johanes... :(

  2. How I wish I could meet Bapa Johannes again.. You should really go to Kelimutu and meet that wonderful old man yourself. Do say hi from me! :)


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