It’s much too early. No one should be awake at 4:30 am. You should still be snuggled in blankets and dreaming about the day ahead. Instead, you drag yourself out of bed, brush your teeth, throw on clothes, and stumble outside. A cup of coffee is handed to you, but your body isn’t ready for a jolt of caffeine. You shiver and climb into an idling vehicle, which then drives into the darkness.
It’s still pitch-black when you get out of the vehicle at a clearing. A single, silent line follows the guide and his bobbing flashlight into the dense jungle. As you hike, the sky begins to change from black to gray, and bare-throated whistlers start to sing in the distance. It becomes easier and easier to see the path and the low-hanging clouds up ahead. You reach the summit just before dawn. You sit down, accept another cup of coffee, and prepare for the magic to begin.
You’re sitting on top of Kelimutu, a volcano in southern Indonesia. Kelimutu National Park is full of ribus (mountains more than 1,000 meters high), endangered plants (the Javanese Edelweiss), and endangered animals (the Javan rusa and the drongo). It’s also home to three summit craters. The lakes—Tiwu Ata Bupu, Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri, and Tiwu Ata Polo—are highly acidic and fed by volcanic gas. Plus, each lake is a different color. Right now, they’re blue, green, and red, respectively, though the colors are said to abruptly change when the mood of the spirits change.
After the sky turns purple, the clouds disperse, and the orange fireball rises, carefully hike around the lakes, which have steam rising from the surface. Tiwu Ata Bupu (Lake of Old People) sits to the west. Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) is the largest of the three. It shares a crater wall with Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake). They’re beautiful, and, yes, magical.
Eventually, you hike back down the mountain. A couple of monkeys follow you. Stop at hot springs and a waterfall along the way. Learn about local agriculture in Lio, a small farm village with thatched-roof houses. Watch talented women create some of the most beautiful ikat weavings on the island of Flores in Jopu. Buy scarves and sarongs before you leave. See a traditional chief’s house in Moni. Then return to the Kelimutu Crater Lakes Eco Lodge. You desperately need a nap.
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