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A Brief History of the Banda Islands
The Banda Sea is surrounded by the sprawling mass of islands that comprise eastern Indonesia, lapping the shores of Sulawesi to the west, Alor to the south and with West Papua to the east. Within this body of water lie the fabled Spice Islands in the modern day province of Maluku.
The islands have had a long and fascinating history, including being among the most expensive real estate in the world! Spices, foreign traders, wars and earthquakes have all featured heavily in their checkered past. Topside, the Banda Islands boast climbable volcanic mountains which are covered in lush green vegetation. For a taste of historic atmosphere going ashore in Banda Neira is a must for its remnants of colonial times.
The islands are 200 km from the nearest port town of Ambon, and are made up of 10 small volcanic islands - Run and Ai to the west, Manukang to the northwest, Pisang to the east, Hatta to the southeast, Banda Besar to the south, and the main central island of Banda Neira and its close neighbour, the volcano island of Gunung Api, and 2 rock islets - Batu Kapal to the east northeast and Keraka at the Banda Neira strait entrance. There are some 15,000 inhabitants.
They have attracted regional and international traders for more than 3,000 years. Prior to 1500, no European had ever landed on the shores of Maluku, but there had always been Asian traders. Up until the middle of the 19th century this was the only place on Earth where the spices nutmeg and mace could be found and as a result they were crucial hub for the spice trade. Foreign visitors are therefore nothing new to these islands.
The Colonial Powers Arrive
After the first Portuguese and European vessel, under the stewardship of Francisco Serrao, arrived in Maluku in April 1512, the balance of power that had remained quite stable and little changed over the centuries, changed abruptly. The building of a series of forts set a new precedent in Maluku. The forts were built to ensure security as an Asian trading centre and to protect goods and people so they would not be arbitrarily seized by a local ruler. This pioneer idea later evolved into the modern concept of foreign naval bases. But it also set an immediate cultural barrier between newcomers and local people also a local legacy of foreign naval bases.
The Portuguese power in the islands faded with their empire. The Dutch had a confrontation with them in Ambon, and expelled them. That was the end of their presence in the Banda Islands at that time.
The huge impact that these tiny and remote islands had on the European continent at that time was immense. Maluku was the most valuable piece of real estate in the world 500 years ago. Thus Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan began their fates with destiny. They spread the word of god and enthusiastically secured as much spices as their boats would hold. Although the work was treacherous, a sack full of nutmeg from Banda would put a common sailor into an early retirement if he made it back to Europe alive with the legendary spices to hand.
In 1579 the Englishman Francis Drake arrived in Ternate, at nearby Halmahera, aboard the Golden Hind, taking several tons of cloves with him and in 1603 James Lancaster arrives and raises English flag on the Banda island of Run.
In 1602 the Dutch East India Company was formed with a base on Banda Neira, and in 1609 the Dutch arrive in force, thus bringing the ensuing conflict with the English into sharp focus.
The Most Valuable Real Estate in the World?
In 1667 the Treaty of Breda was finally signed, bringing an end to the Dutch - English hostilities. It transpired to be a hugely significant moment in history, as the agreement was based around a property swap of the then English Run Island with the then Dutch New Amsterdam - Manhattan, New Jersey and Delaware Estuary, in modern day New York.
By 1770 the writing was on the wall for the Dutch monopoly in the Moluccas. The French arrived and secured a supply of nutmeg and cloves on Gebe Island, and in 1810 the English were at it again as Captain Christopher Cole seized Fort Belgica on Banda Neira.
1854 saw the arrival of the famous British natural historian Sir Alfred Wallace, who spent 8 years in the area and collected "125,660 specimens of natural history", mostly in Maluku.
Nutmeg and Mace
Apart from the scuba diving tourist economy, fishing and nutmeg are the only 2 industries that the Bandas have. Nutmeg is a large evergreen tree, native to the Moluccas and the Spice Islands, and is now cultivated in the West Indies. The fruit produces 2 spices - mace and nutmeg. Nutmeg is the seed kernel inside the fruit and mace is the lacy aril covering on the kernel.
Mace is the spice that originally made this commodity so precious as it was used as a meat preservative, but also critically it was thought to be a cure for the bubonic plague which was so fatal at that time. Nutmeg is usually used in sweets and spicy dishes, but also combines well with cheeses and sauces, and is used to flavour sausages, and lamb dishes. It has medicinal properties too, such as aiding digestion, treating diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea, improving appetite and reducing flatulence.
The tree grows from 12-20m tall, has dense foliage with dark green, 10 cm long, oval leaves, and a dark green-grey bark which produces a yellow juice which oxidises to red. It has small, yellow bell-shaped flowers. A single mature tree produces up to 2,000 nutmegs per year. Nutmeg has no particular season the fruit ripens all year round, so its harvest supplies the Banda islanders with a steady income.
These days intrepid visitors come not to trade for spice and fill their ships with booty, rather to photograph marine life both large and small and wonder at the richness of the local seas as the Bandas are now considered one of the finest dive destinations on the world.
It is generally considered by those in the know to be the big fish capital of Indonesia. If you join a liveaboard cruise in the area you could see practically anything there. Have a read through our Banda dive site descriptions to learn of some of the wonderful creatures and breathtaking dives this part of the country has to offer.
The Banda Islands most famous citizen and leader was Des Alwi, who was an influential figure in Indonesia's struggle for independence. He was forced into exile in the late 1950s by the Sukarno government, but in 1970 he returned to Banda and began the first moves to bring tourism to the islands. In 1995 he successfully restructured the Indonesian nutmeg contractual rights in favour of the small Bandanese producers.
Unfortunately Alwi died in 2010 but his family continue to push his unbridled optimism about Banda's future as a tourist eco travel destination, provided that proper management is in place to safeguard the long term interests of the local environment, natural resources, historical sites, and Bandanese cultural integrity.
The region has already been nominated as a World Heritage Site, and talks are under way to create a national marine park in the islands too.
The Local People
The majority of the inhabitants of the Banda region are descended from migrants and labourers who arrived from various different parts of Indonesia and mixed with the indigenous population. However, immigration from many parts of the world are evident in the people including from Java, the Bay of Bengal, and indeed Europeans who mixed with locals during and after the time of the spice trade. The unique cultural identity of the pre-colonial Bandanese is still very much in existence.
Language is one such example with a form of Malay dialect, distinguishable from Ambonese Malay, being spoken by the Bandanese. Ambonese Malay is the main language of the greater area however, the more local dialect with its Dutch influences and sing-song character sets it apart.
Approximately 95% of the local population are Muslim and 5% are Christian.
Dry season in the Banda Sea runs from approximately May to November, with more likelihood of rain in the months of January and February. The temperature is quite constant between 27°C and 32°C.
Around the Banda Islands
The Bandas are best visited by liveaboard, and there are several different points of access depending on the boat and its itinerary. While some trips that visit the region begin in Raja Ampat and others in Alor and Flores, the most common access is from Ambon.
The vast majority of Banda liveaboard operators take care of domestic flights on behalf of their guests, so you need not worry about the trouble of dealing with the Indonesian airlines. Otherwise, flights to Ambon are daily and from the major airports in Indonesia - Jakarta, Bali, and Manado - all travel via Makassar (Ujung Pandang). Domestic airlines include Lion Air and Garuda whose schedules are relevant to flights to and from Ambon. You should be able to book direct online with them and pay with your debit/credit card. If you experience problems, please ask us for help.
Things to Do
Banda Neira is the major town in the Bandas and is where you kind find a bustling local market where all the aromas, colours and characters are concentrated. Colonial Dutch architecture is evident and while many are in ruins, some have been restored and carry an air of faded grandeur.
Other islands here offer their own activities although they are much less developed. Banda Neira may have roads but it has very few cars. The other islands such as Banda Besar are characterized by rugged, mountainous interiors with small developments scattered around the shoreline. Trekking up Gunung Api gives amazing panoramic views of the area.
Tourists, particularly divers, are beginning to visit the Banda Islands more and more, although you will still feel like you are a pioneer adventurer since it is still very much a region off the beaten track and tourist facilities remain largely undeveloped.
Ambon is often the start and end point for Banda liveaboard cruises and, while many guests simply fly in and out, some choose to spend some time enjoying the many wonderful beaches and other activities the region has to offer.
Among the finest beaches are Namalatu, 16 km to the south of the town, which enjoys excellent coral shallows, making it a great spot for snorkeling. 21 km from Ambon, you can visit Poka-Rumahtiga beach, where many watersports events are held such as local canoeing competitions. Other beaches include Natsepa and Pantai Liang, and all of them offer the kind of white sand and sparkling clear water that beach-lovers dream of. They are often deserted too so you can have the shore to yourself.
For those not content to laze in the sun there is an interesting museum at Siwa Lima, only about 20 minutes from the town. Here you can immerse yourself in the fascinating history of the region. The Commonwealth War Museum set in beautiful serene grounds, can be a welcome break from the noise of the city. There are also lots of churches around including the impressive cathedral and the Maranatha Church, which has been fiercely protected from damage over the years.
Dining Out, Shopping & Nightlife
Since tourist numbers are still low in the Banda Islands, you will be considered a novelty and you may find yourself the greatest entertainment in town. You may be roped into dancing sessions with locals, who enjoy dangdut parties where gyrations are to the sound of a strange but interesting blend of Arabic and house music - the closest you will find to a disco!
Aside from local markets in Banda Neira and the outlying islands and the occasional curio stand, there is not much in the way of retail which might interest the international market. If you need to be within touching distance of an Ikea or a Tesco then perhaps Banda is not for you.
Similarly, dining options are restricted to a few small restaurants serving tasty local fare, where you can expect plastic chairs and less-than-salubrious surroundings.
Ambon is a bustling city of markets and local businesses, and you can find quite a variety of restaurants serving a wide selection of food. The higher end hotels probably serve the best food in comfortable surroundings, and the Mutiara Hotel is a cozy little spot for a coffee and to unwind. There is plenty of Indonesian food to choose from including Malukan food like papeda and sweet potato.
There is nowhere big enough in the Bandas to need public road transport. Indeed, only Banda Neira has proper roads. Most of the local transport you will use will be boats.
Getting around Ambon is probably best done on foot, but for longer journeys you can use taxis, minibuses and becaks. A taxi from the airport to the city takes about 45 minutes.
Second Group of Tinier than Hobbit Hominins Found on Flores Island
Researchers announced today that in 2014 they found remains of a second group of even tinier archaic humans dating back at least 500,000 years before the “Hobbits” of Flores Island near Indonesia.
Scientists say the little people, called Homo floresiensis and discovered in 2003, lived on Flores Island about 100,000 to 50,000 years ago. They are likely descended from an earlier group of hominins who lived nearby on the same island about 700,000 years ago.
They speculate that the little humans evolved from large-bodied Homo erectus to Hobbit-sized creatures within 300,000 years.
Researchers are questioning whether Homo floresiensis lived alongside modern humans in Indonesia and whether Homo sapiens had anything to do with their dying out.
“This find has important implications for our understanding of early human dispersal and evolution in the region and quashes once and for all any doubters that believe Homo floresiensis was merely a sick modern human ( Homo sapiens ),” said lead researcher Dr. Gert van den Bergh in a press release from his institution, the University of Wollongong in Australia. “It is conceivable that the tiny Homo floresiensis evolved its miniature body proportions during the initial 300,000 years on Flores, and is thus a dwarfed side lineage that ultimately derives from Homo erectus .”
The latest remains were found in layers of sedimentary rock. Dr. van den Bergh was also on the team that discovered H. floresiensis.
Researchers introduce a new article in the journal Nature by laying out the controversy surrounding who Homo floresiensis’ ancestors were. They wrote that some believe H. floresiensis were descended from Asian Homo erectus and “represents a unique and striking case of evolutionary reversal in hominin body and brain size within an insular environment. The alternative hypothesis is that H. floresiensis derived from an older, smaller-brained member of our genus, such as Homo habilis , or perhaps even late Australopithecus, signalling a hitherto undocumented dispersal of hominins from Africa into eastern Asia by two million years ago.”
The researchers examined six teeth and mandible bones of three “small-jawed and small-toothed” humanoids found at Mata Menge on Flores in 2014, the same island where the H. floresiensis bones were found in 2003. The mandible and teeth found at Mata Menge date back 700,000 years and are even smaller than those of H. floresiensis, whose remains were found about 70 km (43 miles) away at Liang Bua.
H. floresiensis stood about 1 meter (3 feet) tall. The researchers are unclear if the size difference in jaws and teeth of the two groups is simply variations between individuals or between entire populations.
Aerial view of Mata Menge. ( Kinez Riza )
They assume the oldest artifacts on Flores, dating to at least 1 million years ago, were made by “large-bodied ancestors of the Mata Menge hominins” and go on to write:
“This apparently very fast transformation in hominin body size is surprising. Although no other documented examples of rapid island dwarfing exist for primates, we note that red deer from the island of Jersey had reduced to one-sixth of the body size in the ancestral population within about six millennia. Flores may have been an exceptional case however, the fossil evidence from Mata Menge highlights how quickly major evolutionary changes could have occurred in hominin populations cut off on isolated and impoverished islands of Wallacea.”
The researchers tentatively concluded that H. floresiensis originated from Javanese Homo erectus humans of 1.2 million to 800,000 years ago. The H. erectus femurs were 55 to 61 percent longer and had brain size about twice that of H. floresiensis, the Nature paper states.
“All the fossils are indisputably hominin and they appear to be remarkably similar to those of Homo floresiensis ,” Dr. Yousuke Kaifu, another researcher on the team, told University of Wollongong news service. Dr. Kaifu said:
“The morphology of the fossil teeth also suggests that this human lineage represents a dwarfed descendant of early Homo erectus that somehow got marooned on the island of Flores. What is truly unexpected is that the size of the finds indicates that Homo floresiensis had already obtained its small size by at least 700,000 years ago.”
The location of some of the fossils found at Mata Menge on a skull. ( University of Wollongong )
They researchers believe that the fact that the earliest evidence of hominins on Flores, going back about 1 million years, does not predate H. erectus on Java is evidence of the relationship between the two species.
News of the discovery of fossils of a tiny archaic human species Homo floresiensis that lived on the island of Flores piqued the imagination and delight of people around the world when it was announced years ago. People compared the species to the Hobbits imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings.
The University of Wollongong press release states: “The findings, also published in Nature, pushed back the time of disappearance of Homo floresiensis from as recently as 12,000 years ago to about 50,000 years ago, suggesting that they may have lived alongside modern humans in Indonesia, which begs the question – did we have anything to do with their disappearance?”
That speculation is tantalizing, but the press release does not elaborate. Scholars say when modern humans came into contact with archaic human species, the archaic peoples usually died out. Homo sapiens are the only species of homo that still exists today.
A second Nature article from today by some of the same researchers describes the finding of the fossils from 700,000 years ago and say that the remains were “deposited in a small valley stream” although the palaeoenvironmental information suggests that the area had a relatively dry climate at the time. This data suggests to the researchers that the “hominins inhabited a savannah-like open grassland habitat with a wetland component.”
Furthermore, the University of Wollongong is offering those interested in the mysterious “Hobbits” to learn more on the subject via a free month-long, online course beginning on July 18, 2016.
Top Image: An Indonesian scientist holds the skull of the remains of Indonesia's hobbit-sized humans in Jakarta on November 1, 2004. Credit: Beawiharta Beawiharta
Evidence of New Human Species Discovered in a Cave in the Philippines
MYTH: Putri Naga or the D ragon P rincess of K omodo
L ong, long ago when the world seemed much smaller and its creatures much greater, there lived on Komodo Island a man called Empu Najo and his waife, Lea. They were among the first people of komodo and they lived in a bay called Loh Lavi in Gili Mana, where Empu Najo was the chosen leader of the village. But the community was constantly attacked by the fearsome Bajo people, nomadic sailors who would openly signal their raids while still far out sea, with a great clashing of swords, held high so that they flashed in the sunlight. At this, Empu Najo and his people would flee to the mountains, returning to find their village plundered of whatever had been left behind.
One day, Empu Najo gathered the villager together and made an announcement. “My people, we must move from this place! The Bajo will attack us until at last we become little more than wild animals. Let us go instead the mountains, there to live from the bounty of the forest. We shall cultivate gardens, pick fruit and hunt the deer and the wild pigs that are plentiful there.”
And so, hight in the mountains, far from the reach of The Bajo, They built houses that were raised platforms made of branches, with roofs of lontar palm (kind of coconut tree). They grew their gardens and lived in peace, calling their new village Kampung Najo, in honour of the leader who had saved them.
Now it so happened that on their last night in Loh Navi, Empu Najo’s wife Lea had fallen pregnant. By the time the new village was finished, she was ready to give birth – indeed she was experiencing great pain for it is not easy to leave your home and build a new one when you are carrying a child. And there was another problem. The village had no dukun (local doctor), she had been taken by The Bajo even before she had an apprentice. In those days, without dukun, there was only one way to give birth and that was by the knife. It fell to Empu Najo himself to deliver his child. He made the cut with a steady hand felt for the baby’s head… As he died so, the wind picked the dry leaves that lay on the ground outside and sent them through the window and into the room where they swirled around lea, lit golden by the last rays of the sun. And then Empu Najo gasped “Sebai!” he said at last “but this is strange..”
Strange indeed, for Lea had given birth to a human son and a twin sister who was far from human. She had speckled, scaly skin, hooded black eyes and a tail. There was no mistaking it. Tiny as she was, Empu Najo saw in his daughter the characteristics of the giant lizards that roamed the savannah beyond the village boundary. “We have a son” Empu Najo began uncertainly, looking up at his wife. But to his dismay he saw that she was no longer breathing.
There was a little time for Empu Najo to indulge his grief, for he had two newborn babies to bring up alone. His son he named Si Gerong and his daughter, Orah. He fed them goat’s milk and honey and both human and dragon grew quickly. But long before her brother could walk, Orah was already exploring the street outside the house and even climbing trees. And though the milk sustained her, she was beginning to take an uncommon interest in the neighbor’s chickens. When she actually attacking them, the neighbor complained to Empu Najo “I will give you meat,” he told his daughter, “but you must not attack our goats and chickens!”
Time passed and though Orah stayed away from the livestock, the villagers grew suspicious of this dragon living among them. Only her father and her brother Si Gerong showed her love. In fact, Si Gerong preferred to play with his sister than with the other children. The two would climb trees together, the little boy naked but for his shell, or chase the strange looking kalkun birds through the forest. Sure enough, Orah finally ambled back to the house that evening. Si Gerong was overjoyed and embraced his sister, their father smiled, but said nothing. He knew that she had visited with the wild dragons of the Savannah. Orah remained at home fore a week before growing restless once again. This time when she left, she was gone for two days. When she same back, there was no sign that she was hungry and Empu Najo knew then that she had learned to hunt.
And so it went on, except gradually her time in the village grew shorter, while her trips into the forest grew longer, untli at last she was coming back to the house just once every ten days or so. One morning, Si Gerong woke to find his sister by his bed. They looked at once another for a long time and then she turned and left. Si Gerong knew that this time, she would not be coming back.
As the years passed, Si Gerong forgot about his dragon sister, perhaps the less to grieve her disappearance. He grew into a man of uncommon skill and wisdom. He was a gentle gardener who could coax even the most stubborn plants to grow and he even to make medicines from the wild herbs he found in the forest. But he was known first and foremost as ans expert hunter. There was not a wild boar elusive enough, nor a deer fleet enough, to avoid his spear, which seemed even able to curve through the air.
One day, Si Gerong was hunting at the edge of the forest close to the Savannah when he heard a rustling close to a stream. He stopped at once and stood stock-still. The deer was a big one – a male with high pointed ears and regal antlers. So confident was he in his abilities, Si Gerong decided to creep closer, hoping to plunge the spear directly into his quarry. Silently, he approached ad the deer drank, until at last he gathered himself and leap from the underbrush with his spear raised. But, in that instant, another form appeared, rearing onto its hind legs, mouth open and a single eye, black as ebony, fixed on the deer, which stood paralyzed. It was a dragon, the largest Si Gerong had even seen.
Reflexively, he turned and leveled his spear at the great reptile, for he was loath to lose his prey. The dragon turned its head slightly and lifted itself higher on his forequarters. But as Si Gerong drew back his weapon, a dazzling struck his eyes and he turned his face to the ground. When he looked up again, the deer was gone and there stood before him the radiant figure of a woman.
“Put down your spear, my son,” she told him. “Would you kill your own sister?”
Instantly, all the memories from his childhood came back to him and Si Gerong fell to his knew. “Yes, she is Orah. I bore you together. Consider her your equal because you are sebai.” With this, the vision of their mother disappeared. Man and dragon stared at each other for a long time. Then, as one, they turned away – Si Gerong in the direction of his village, Orah for the Savannah.
From that day forth, Si Gerong and his people treated the dragons with kindness.
The lizards roamed freely in the surrounding woods, feeding themselves on the wild pigs and the deer and the other creatures that dwelt there. And if a dragon became too old to fend for itself, the people of the village would feed it as though it were a member of their own family.
Were “Hobbits” Human?
In 2003, researchers excavating a limestone cave on the remote Indonesian island of Flores made an extraordinary discovery: the 18,000-year-old bones of a woman whose skull was less than one-third the size of our own.
Modern humans were already living throughout the Old World during her time—yet she was physically very different from them. The researchers, led by paleoanthropologist Peter Brown and archaeologist Michael Morwood, both of Australia's University of New England, concluded that the woman represented a previously undiscovered species of archaic human that had survived for thousands of years after the Neanderthals had died out.
They named her Homo floresiensis and nicknamed her the "Hobbit," after the diminutive villagers from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The team has since recovered bones from as many as nine such people, all about a yard tall, the most recent of whom lived about 12,000 years ago.
The Hobbits of Flores created an uproar among anthropologists, causing them to question assumptions about evolution and human origins that had held sway for more than half a century. Some agree that the "Hobbits" are a distinct species. But others, such as anthropologist Robert Martin of Chicago's Field Museum, say the bones belong to small Homo sapiens—perhaps people who suffered from microcephaly, a condition in which the brain fails to grow to normal size. Five years after the initial discovery, says Martin, "nobody's budging an inch."
Some critics say that it would have been impossible for a hominid with a brain the size of an orange to make the sophisticated tools found at Ling Bua Cave—let alone hunt with them—and that they must have been crafted by modern humans. But supporters of the separate species hypothesis modeled the shape and structure of the Hobbit brain and say it could have made the tools.
When Smithsonian anthropologist Matthew Tocheri and other researchers analyzed the Hobbitt wrist, they found a primitive, wedge-shaped trapezoid bone common to great apes and early hominids but not to Neanderthals and modern humans. That fits a theory that Hobbits are less closely related to Homo sapiens than to Homo erectus—the human ancestor that is thought to have died out 100,000 years ago. Morwood has found crude Homo erectus-type stone tools on Flores that may be 840,000 years old.
The skeptics retort that disease is a more likely explanation for the wrist bones. A study this year speculated that the Flores people could have suffered from hypothyroidism, a form of cretinism found relatively frequently in modern Indonesia that, the researchers say, could also produce deformed, primitive-appearing wrists.
Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian's Human Origins Program, who once doubted that the Hobbits were a separate species, says he's changed his mind: "Flores was this wing in the building of human evolution that we didn't know about. There is no reason that 800,000 years of experimentation could not evolve a small but advanced brain."
Location of the Island of Flores, Indonesia - History
Indonesia is often referred to as the world's largest archipelago, a name which aptly represents its 17,000 or so islands which span more than 5000 km (around 3,200 miles) eastward from Sabang in northern Sumatra to Merauke in Irian Jaya. If you superimpose a map of Indonesia over one of Europe, you will find that it stretches from Ireland to Iran compared to the United States, it covers the area from California to Bermuda.
There are eight major islands or island groups in this enormous chain. The largest landmasses consist of Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes) and Irian Jaya (the western half of Papua New Guinea). The smaller islands fall into two main groups: the Molluccas to the northeast, and the lesser Sunda chain east of Bali. Bali is a unique island, which for a number of reasons can be put into a class of its own.
Mountain lovers will find plenty to enjoy in Indonesia. A great volcano chain, the Bukit Barisan, runs the entire length of Sumatra. On the West Coast, the mountains fall abruptly to the sea, while to the east they ease gradually down to plains in a broad fringe of coastal mangroves. Vegetation-clad volcanoes also rise dramatically from the sea at Banda, Ternate and Makian. Many of the volcanoes are still active, constantly smouldering and occasionally erupting violently, though geological stations monitor the active ones constantly and give warning if they are unsafe to climb. Mount Merapi in Central Java is a favourite for climbers, despite being one of the most active on the archipelago.
Mountain lakes are also abundant in dormant craters of many volcanoes, the most famous of these being lake Toba in the northern highlands of Sumatra. This mountain lake covers an area four times the size of Singapore. In Kalimantan, waterborne transportation moves cargo and passengers up and down the major rivers: Mahakam, Barito, Kahayan and Kapuas. The mountainous island of Flores is famous for its multi-coloured volcanic lakes, known as Keli Mutu. The three lakes are in a close group and range from dark red to turquoise.
Located between two distinct bio-geographic groups - Asia and Australia - the flora and fauna of the archipelago is also quite idiosyncratic. Species found nowhere else on earth have flourished in certain areas, including the famous Komodo dragon on the island of the same name. Also in abundance are rare flowers, including exotic orchids, unusual insects, birds of paradise and numerous indigenous spices such as cloves, nutmeg cinnamon, mace and many more.
Flores takes its name from the Portuguese for "flowers" and while it isn’t particularly known for its flora, it is nevertheless a beautiful place. If you’ve got the time, it should be on the itinerary of any traveller to Indonesia.
More on Flores
Flores is so big, we’ve split it up into areas, select one of the below for detailed accommodation and food listings in that area. Sights and general overviews for Flores as a whole can be found via the icons above. Don’t know where to start? Read an overview of Flores’s different areas.
Browse hotels in Flores on Agoda
Provided by Travelfish partner Agoda.
Dotted by volcanoes that are often surrounded by terraced valleys, then ringed by glorious beaches, the island of Flores is a fabulous destination for independent travellers happy to endure a little discomfort. Despite this, outside of July and August, Flores is devoid of big numbers of tourists, so you can have large portions of it as a traveller mostly to yourself.
The western reach of the island is the heart of the tourist scene. Here, from the port town of Labuan Bajo, people can visit both Komodo National Park and a number of other islands, including Kanawa Island and Seraya Island. Many people—especially divers—visit on liveaboard boats and barely venture ashore, which is one reason the tourism infrastructure here remains relatively poorly developed.
Heading east, highlights include the remote and traditional village of Wae Rebo, the "hobbit cave" outside Ruteng and the Ngada village of Bene outside Bajawa, which offers spectacular views of one of the island’s most beautiful peaks, . Travelfish members only (Full text is around 600 words.)
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Unearthing Little Humans
Digging in Liang Bua since 2001 , an international team has uncovered bones from about a dozen hobbits . But the star specimen is called LB1. It’s the most complete individual, comprising a skull, partial pelvis and bones from the limbs, hands and feet. LB1 appears to be a female adult (her wisdom teeth are fully formed), but measured just 3 foot 6 inches tall and weighed 75 pounds — as tall as a present day 4-year-old, but heftier.
Using micro-CT scanning (high resolution 3D X-ray imaging), a 2013 study estimated her brain volume to be about 426 cc (
1.8 cups). Similarly sized brains are characteristic of much earlier human ancestors, such as Australopiths who lived in Africa some 3 million years ago. The global average for modern humans is
1,350 cc (5.7 cups), over 3 times larger.
Besides their wee bodies and brains, hobbit skeletons show a mix of primitive and modern -looking traits. Like Australopiths and other early hominins, LB1 has ancient features including broad hips, a short collarbone and forward-positioned shoulder. At the same time, the hobbits’ brow ridges, skull thickness and brain shape are more modern, resembling H. erectus and later species.
The Liang Bua team has also dug up more than 20,000 stone tools . Most are made from volcanic rocks, deliberately fractured to have sharp edges for slicing and dicing. This simple technology resembles the earliest widespread style of toolmaking, the Oldowan, made by numerous ancestral species, starting in Africa 2.6 million years ago .
Evolutionary history and adaptation of a human pygmy population of Flores Island, Indonesia
Flores Island, Indonesia, was inhabited by the small-bodied hominin species Homo floresiensis, which has an unknown evolutionary relationship to modern humans. This island is also home to an extant human pygmy population. Here we describe genome-scale single-nucleotide polymorphism data and whole-genome sequences from a contemporary human pygmy population living on Flores near the cave where H. floresiensis was found. The genomes of Flores pygmies reveal a complex history of admixture with Denisovans and Neanderthals but no evidence for gene flow with other archaic hominins. Modern individuals bear the signatures of recent positive selection encompassing the FADS (fatty acid desaturase) gene cluster, likely related to diet, and polygenic selection acting on standing variation that contributed to their short-stature phenotype. Thus, multiple independent instances of hominin insular dwarfism occurred on Flores.