Day 418 Larantuka – Whale Hunters of Lamalera, Lembata (Indonesia) / motorbike GS Dakar RTW overland adventure traveller

  • Left – 6.45am
  • 27th May 2015
  • Miles rode – 53 (69km)

The small, wooden boat I had been advised to get to Lembata was old, it had no ramp and it took about 6 men to lift my Dakar on and secure it to the front of the boat. I was there early and over the next hour I watched many other people with motorbikes, boxes of stuff and live animals get onboard, I didn’t understand how it was all fitting on? I clambered around the boat and two men were working on the engine – it didn’t fill me with confidence. As we waited to depart I had images of the overloaded boats we hear about on the news where desperate people accept any conditions in search of a new life. My journey today cannot in anyway be compared to the journey these desperate people endure and sometimes don’t survive.

At 8 the captain started shouting at people and everyone got off the boat as the engine wasn’t working! We spent the next hour loading everything onto another boat!

As usual people laughed and smiled at the size of my bike and how I would get it on board.

We departed at 8.30 and as I sat on the front of the small crowded boat along with many people, their luggage, motorbikes, live chickens and various sacks of vegetables I looked across the blue sea and the surrounding volcano covered islands and smiled. I love travelling in remote places.

This is adventure travel I thought, and all for £3.75

My experience of travelling by boat from island to island is that nobody knows anything about what boats go where and when! I was told the boat today would take 2 hours, after 3 hours there was still no sign of our destination.

We arrived at Lembata and again there wasn’t a ramp so with the help of a few men we carried the bike off and I headed south over a mountain covered in jungle, there wasn’t a tarmac road to begin with, instead I navigated my way over the mountain and through the jungle via dirt, rocks, deep pot holes and deep mud pools, how I didn’t fall off I have no idea. After a couple of hours I reached the southern coast, it was possibly the best view I’ve ever had coming off a mountain down to the sea.

Lamalera is very small village with few other villages around, I only passed a couple of small villages on the way here. As I dropped off the mountain I passed through stone pillars showing the entrance to Lamalera with a stone whale cast into either side and as I entered the village there were massive whale bones lining either side of the road. It was 3.30 when I parked the bike and as soon as I took my helmet off I could smell flesh. I walked down to the beach and they were bringing the days catch ashore, the beach is small and completely surrounded by open wooden huts with Palm leaf roofs where they keep the hunting / fishing boats. Having seen bright blue sea for the past months it was strange to see it red this afternoon. As I got closer I saw a dead dolphin and many dead Manta Ray’s being cut into smaller pieces on the shore line as they were too big to haul up the beach. 

It was one week ago I went diving and swam with beautiful, majestic Manta Rays, now I see them dead on the beach, their blood running into the sea turning it red and being cut up and carried back to the village. I wasn’t sure how to feel.

I had read about Lamalera before coming here and I understand they only catch what the village needs to survive, about 20 whales each year. My emotions were unsettled and confused, should I be against this hunt or for it? 

I stayed on the beach for an hour or so and observed the boats coming ashore, off loading the catch and the subsequent dissection and distribution of the carcasses. Fish were caught too and I found it both strange and confusing to see many children in a frenzy sucking the eyes from a certain type of fish.

There was a German man who had been here for the past month who said they hadn’t caught a whale in over a month, I wondered how many Manta Rays, Dolphins, Sharks and Turtles had been caught?

I found a family to stay with in the village and relaxed after a ‘full on adventure travel’ day.

I walked around the village and saw crazy chickens running around more than usual, pigs tied up and squealing constantly, people were carrying parts of shark, manta ray and dolphin carcasses everywhere, parts of whale, manta ray etc were drying all over the village, people were chopping large pieces of carcass into smaller pieces and there were piles of whale bone and turtle shell everywhere. The smell of flesh was horrible. It felt crazy, like everyone was a bit mad, the constant exposure to flesh since I arrived was a bit of a shock not to mention the smell of drying flesh which isn’t that nice. 

I felt like the villagers had an obsession with this flesh greater than just a food source, it was an odd place that I couldn’t compare to anywhere else I have ever been. Very strange. It’s tucked away on the other side of the world on a small island where you have to really want to go there to put up with the travel conditions. It felt like it had nothing to do with the rest of civilisation (whatever that is), the villagers have their own way of life that not many people are aware of it, I think they like it that way. 

Lamalera reminds me of two great English TV programmes, a comedy show called ‘The League of Gentlemen’ where local people have developed in their unique strange lifestyle and series of dramas called ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ the episode about the family that over indulged in ‘Royal Jelly’.

Lamalera is a local village for local people buzzzzzzzzzzz… (If you’re not English you’ll just have to google it).

As darkness arrived my host took a big bowl of something into the kitchen that smelt like flesh and started preparing dinner, what was she preparing for me, how much would I have to consume to get addicted?

Indonesia is one of the most fertile places I’ve ever visited with lush crops everywhere, but Lamalera in perched on a mountainside with jungle to the north and the sea to the south, there is nowhere to grow crops here and as access is so difficult I doubt there’s a lorry turning up each day with food. I’m not too precious about what people eat to survive and when small communities manage their food supply in a sustainable way I have no problem what they eat. Just because something is bigger than something else or more beautiful doesn’t give it a right to not be eaten. I do have opinions regarding animal welfare and hate the idea of factory farms which have / are leading to some species becoming extinct. It’s a complicated subject and I don’t have a solid opinion regarding the Whale Hunters of Lamalera but it feels ok to me. I will further research the subject.

After a wonderful but long hard day a man needs a beer. The daughter of the family I’m staying with took me to the shop come someone’s front room and along the way I could see and smell flesh everywhere so I got two beers in case dinner wasn’t that great! Dinner turned out to be Manta Ray. I’m sure there aren’t many restaurants overlooking a small bay with tropical jungle all around and the sound of the sea lapping at the shore, actually there probably are a few, but how many have Manta Ray on the menu?

As I consumed the Manta Ray I wondered whether I should be enjoying it as much as I was and whether I would look upon them as the massive majestic creatures they are or a source of nutrition going forward? 


One Response

  1. Makes for great reading Dan. You’ve captured the essence of this place and your audience love it! Keep it coming. Cheers Rick.