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No trip to the exotic islands of Indonesia would be complete without a visit to Flores Island and the Kelimutu Lakes. Part of the Lesser Sunda Islands, the Island of Flores is also territory to the famed and fierce Komodo Dragon. A land of beautiful beaches, tropical forests, sandy deserts and barely-extinct volcanoes, the Tri-Colored Lakes have increasingly become a tourism attraction worthy of a 'bucket list' Indonesian vacation. The lakes have no swimming, boating, fishing or water sports. What they do have is an ever-changing water colored by volcanic action and escaping volcanic gases. Various myths, legends and lay scientific guesses attribute the color of the waters of the three adjacent lakes to different causes. The most common is that minerals in the small lakes cause the waters to take on their bright hues. That isn't exactly true, however: the Kelimutu Lakes owe their colors to a slightly more complex set of circumstances.
The Kelimutu Tri-Colored Lakes are considered sacred by the local native villagers. Considered the resting place of departed souls, their names reflect that legend. Tiwu Ata Polo, or the "enchanted lake", is the eternal home of evil spirits. It is currently blackish-green in color. Tiwu Nua Muri Koo Fai, the "lake of young men and maidens", is the home of the souls of those who die young and is currently bluish-green in color. Tiwu Ata Mbupu, the "lake of elders", houses the souls of those who die of old age and is now black in color. Prior to the most recent color changes, the "enchanted lake" was red, and the "lake of young men and maidens" was turquoise blue. A rock wall is all that separates the "lake of elders" from the "lake of young men and maidens", and some evidence of seepage between the two lakes has been discovered. The "enchanted lake" is about a mile to the west. Some tourism sites reverse the location of the "lake of elders" and the "enchanted lake". Whatever their location, the tri-colored lakes provide a stunning panorama.
Located within the Kelimutu National Park, the Kelimutu Lakes can be reached by paved road from near the village of Mori. The adventurous used to be able to hike around the three lakes, but the path has been closed as too dangerous. A fall into the lakes would be fatal, and the rising fumes at times make inhaling them hazardous. The current path and vantage points allow for gorgeous views and great photographic possibilities but are much safer.
Filling the multiple craters of a dormant Kelimutu Volcano, the lakes are at an elevation of about 5377 feet. The estimate isn't exact, but the summit of Kelimutu is generally recorded at that elevation. The surfaces of the lakes are somewhat lower, but there has not been much serious study of the small lakes at Kelimutu's summit, so exact statistics are not available. Color variations are not unusual among crater lakes in active volcanic zones; what makes the Tri-Colored Lakes unique is that the three lakes have such strikingly different colors even though they are only a few meters from each other and are a result of the same volcano.
Study of similar active crater lakes in Indonesia show that these lakes actually interact with the molten lava below and act as traps for gaseous fumaroles, commonly called 'steam vents' when erupting from a dry solid surface. Some crater lakes actually have molten sulfur escaping onto the lake's floor. These lakes are usually hot, although temperature ranges for the Kelimutu Lakes are not recorded. They therefore don't provide habitat for the usual fish, crustaceans and plant life, although specialized bacteria often grow in the waters. The waters are usually high in minerals, with sulfur, sodium chloride, calcium and any number of other minerals along with carbon dioxide common. Volcanic lakes can be either highly acidic or highly alkaline, and the amount of oxygen in the resulting chemical soup is quite limited. Technically, the lakes actually don't contain water, then, but a chemical soup that changes due to changing composition in the liquids and gasses escaping into them. Changes in the amounts of minerals, chemicals, and dissolved oxygen are what cause the lakes to change colors.
Kelimutu National Park has a number of other areas of interest to nature lovers in addition to the Tri-Colored Lakes. The park provides habitat for at least 19 rare bird species. An arboretum, a small jungle area, provides examples of 78 different tree species and preserves the area's incredible biodiversity. The village of Mori offers a unique look into the cultural heritage of the region, with the locals engaged in ikat weaving, traditional music and dances, and traditional foods. The area also offers hot springs for bathing and a number of waterfalls. Another village nearby that is tourism-friendly is Detusoko village, about 20 from Kelimutu. A number of tour agencies offer transportation and guides into the more interesting areas of the countryside, with a popular detour to the western end of the island where Komodo Dragons still roam. Across a small strait, Komodo Island is part of the Komodo National Park. The sea around the islands is considered an excellent diving location, and the beaches are spectacular.
Much of the island is rather primitive, with intermittent or non-existent electricity. A large number of resort camps have been built to accommodate tourists. Many consist of a small raised one-room hut, often with an attached porch, bed with mosquito netting, and sometimes a private bathroom. Many offer meals prepared by a native chef over a charcoal or propane fire. Several small harbors provide for boating destinations and are the headquarters of diving expeditions. Due the the line of active and extinct volcanoes running the length of the island, the native people have been isolated into several distinct cultures and historical groups that anthropologists and archaeologists are just beginning to explore. Several years ago, the skeletons of several very small adult humanoids were found in a cave on Flores. These bones, dated to between 13,000 and 38,000 years old were dubbed homo floresiensis or 'hobbits' and assumed to be a completely new species. It was later found that living pygmy-type individuals in the area could be their descendents. Now, the argument has swung back the other way, with scientists suspecting again that the so-called hobbits were a completely different species of humanoid. Obviously, there is much about this part of Indonesia that isn't well-understood by modern science.
Visitors to the Island of Flores and the Kelimutu Lakes can arrive via air from Bali or Timor. The adventurous often hike in to the many small resort camps, while others engage tour buses and excursions. There are a number of lodgings available both around the larger villages and along the beaches. It would be wise to arrange reservations prior to arrival. Real estate is available to the foreign buyer only in partnership with a local resident, as foreign citizens are forbidden to purchase property. A large number of Australian citizens have done so and are developing several thriving communities. The Island of Flores and the Tri-Colored Lakes are a must-see destination for any adventurous traveler. So pack up the hiking boots and dig out the travel brochures to find the perfect place to experience a few unhurried weeks in Indonesia. The Kelimutu Lakes await: the young spirits are restless, the color changing with their mood.
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