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The remarkable Manggarai village of Wae Rebo, some 108 kilometres from Labuan Bajo is nestled in the cloud forests of western Flores and centres around seven cone-shaped traditional houses, which are built from bamboo, wood and grass and function as a remarkable piece of Flores' living history.
Thanks to grants from a Jakarta benefactor and the government, one house was built new in 2009, and another guesthouse in the same style was constructed in 2011. A visit here is a unique chance to witness traditional Manggarai village life, and to check out the interesting fauna and flora that has fostered life here for generations.
The friendly locals are happy to chat about their lives (with the aid of a guide) and will show you their homes and farms if you ask. This is the heart of Manggarai culture in many respects, and even hip Labuan Bajo natives admit to feeling touched by a visit here.
A few hundred tourists, largely from Indonesia and Europe, make the trek here every year -- but odds are good you'll have the place to yourself, especially in the low season, which is really everything but June through August.
Staying for the night at Wae Rebo, including food, costs 350,000 rupiah. You may be tempted to buy some lovely rainbow-coloured hand woven sarongs as well, which go for 450,000 to 500,000 rupiah.
Wae Rebo is generally done over the course of three days: one day for the steep car ride to the town of Denge, which serves as the trailhead, one day to trek up and spend the day and night with the locals at the village of Wae Rebo, and one half day to have breakfast in Wae Rebo and make the much easier walk down. Discuss with your guide if you'd like to take more time in Wae Rebo. Less time isn't really advisable.
Guides are a requirement here, and can be hired for around 150,000 rupiah a day. Further, a guide will usually speak at least some Manggarai, as well as Indonesian, and can help you converse with the non-English speaking Wae Rebo people, who are usually very interested in foreign guests. Blasius Monta can arrange them for you at the Denge Homestay, and you can also connect with a Wae Rebo guide in Labuan Bajo.
The trek to Wae Rebo is about seven kilometres long and is very decidedly uphill, meaning that this is an endeavour best left to the physically fit. Think twice about bringing kids along, as the trail is steep and a bit hard to follow, and often quite slippery when rain falls. And try not to be discouraged as friendly Wae Rebo natives in their late 70s sprint past you on the trail, barefoot, and carrying huge loads on their heads.
You'll be rewarded with amazing views of the sea below and perfectly triangular Gunung Inerie, as well as diverse jungle foliage and frequent sightings of tropical butterflies, birds and monkeys. Nearer to Wae Rebo, you can see forest plantings of cassava, taro, coffee, and cacao beans in the misty cloud forest surrounding the village.
Be sure to use sunscreen, and bring plenty of water and rain gear -- it's often damp here. Remember not to take photos of Wae Rebo before you approach. All visitors need to undergo a welcoming ceremony at the main drumhouse to placate the spirits before they can start snapping away. It's a basic politeness.
By Faine Greenwood.