National Geographic Orion approached the island of Flores on a beautiful sunny morning. We docked and were greeted by an incredible group of dancers in traditional clothing. Swiftlets buzzed all around us overhead as we observed the welcome procession. We boarded a variety of ornate local buses, some decorated with spray-painted panda bears and some with fire breathing dragons. The parade of buses was led by a police escort complete with flashing lights and alarms — quite the fanfare to welcome us to an amazing island. We wound our way through the town of Maumere and began an ascent into the mountains. The buses rode in a tight line up a narrow winding road surrounded by amazing jungle agriculture: avocados, papayas, coffee plants, cacao, mango, turmeric, and pineapple.
We drove for about an hour up the mountain and found ourselves at the entrance of the amazing village Watublapi. There we were met by the most welcoming group of people, including a group of singing children dressed in their school uniforms. We walked in a procession towards the village and everyone from the town came out to greet us. They danced and performed for us, which beautifully showed off their incredible hand-dyed and woven fabrics. A few of us were offered betel nut to chew; it gave a bitter flavor and a numbing effect. It is a common tradition to chew it as a stimulant to stay alert and awake. They also offered us a taste of strong palm wine.
After the performance, we walked to observe the process of fiber production and dying. They use indigo, turmeric, and tobacco leaves, among other things, to dye their fibers before using a beautiful loom to weave the most stunning fabric. Some of us — okay, a lot of us— took advantage of the souvenir center before returning to the buses and heading back to the ship.
The afternoon was spent on board as we sailed towards the Banda Sea. We enjoyed a presentation from David Cothran about iPhone photography; next we learned about volcanoes of this area and the Flores Man, from Elise Lockton. This really is just the beginning! More adventure awaits as we sail towards Banda Naira.