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Gula-Gula! (Candy!)
Kupang (Indonesia), May 15th 2009

The islands of Nusa Tenggara belong to the part of Indonesia where that still sees relatively few tourists. Most travel books describe these islands as an area where it is still possible to visit villages in where you can experience the diversity of old traditions. The Lonely Planet travel guide describes the Nusa Tenggara islands for example as follows: “There are few regions in the world that can compete with Nusa Tenggara for its sheer diversity ….. on all of these islands, animist rituals and tribal traditions continue along mosques, temples and chapels”. That sounds good is what we thought. We have to see this!

But as often, also in this case the Lonely Planet used beautiful poetic sentences to describe the reality more fantastic than it in reality is. Of course, the islands are really beautiful. Especially Flores with its mountainous landscape in combination with the vast forests that did not become the victim yet of chain saws, is really beautiful. In our opinion, it is one of the more beautiful islands of the Indonesian Archipelago. We also visited some of the villages that are described by the Lonely Planet in a very lyrical way. Most of the villages are relatively easy to reach, because they are close to the more touristy places. And that is also the main problem of the villages. With generalising too much, one can conclude that the villages that are on the tourist trail, are already spoilt by the steady flow of tourists that visit these places. And of course, that is understandable.

The people that live in these small villages live a hard life. They live in ramshackle houses, there are no sanitary facilities, there is often no electricity and for their livelihood, they make long hours in the surrounding fields. Tourism is for them the little light at the end of the tunnel. Tourism can bring the necessary money. In many of the ‘traditional’ villages, tourists are asked to make a sizable donation and many of the families in the villages also try to sell some souvenirs. There are also villages that do not want individual travellers anymore. They demand to bring a guide that is used to the local traditions and customs. In other words, it is often not possible anymore to bring a spontaneous visit to the village and wave and smile to the villagers while you are strolling through the village, or play some soccer with the local children on the central square. No, it is big business now. The agenda of your visit is determined by the guide and of course, he leads you past as many souvenir shops as possible. And if you decide to buy something, you pay the typical tourist price, because the guide also wants to have his provision. It is of course still possible to visit villages on your own. Sometimes you are lucky when you find a nice and friendly village, but more and more often you are waited for at the edge of the village by local children, yelling for gula-gula (candy). This is the result of the travellers that visited the village before, and undoubtedly with the right intentions, handed out bags of candy like a real Santa Claus. And it can be even worse. Some children are already asking for money and some if these kids can’t accept a ‘no’ anymore. They respond to a ‘no’ with scolding and sometimes don’t hesitate to go a stone to your head. And that’s time we think again: “thank you tourists!”.

But it is also possible to have a great experience. We met for example, a very nice English student in the small town of Ruteng on Flores. He took us to his remote traditional village in where he was born and raised, and it became our best experience in the whole of Nusa Tenggara (see also the article: “as traditional as traditional can be”.).

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