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Wae Rebo seen from the entrance alleyWae Rebo seen from the entrance alley

Visiting the Indigenous village of Wae Rebo in Flores Island (Indonesia) was a unique occasion to see how this remote tribe of coffee producers lived, but also to perceive the distorting influence of our modern economy on them. It was a sour experience at times because of the commercial approach to the stranger and knowing that as visitors were also were contributing to that.

Arriving in Denge

We hitchhiked as far as we could from the closest town, and for the last km into the jungle with no traffic, we took a local bus (an old truck with wooden planks on the trunk and huge, loud speakers) to reach the village of Denge, at the feet of the forest before hiking to Wae Rebo, when it was already too late to reach it for a visit.The first disappointment came once we stepped down in Denge, since we had to argue with the selfish and arrogant local teacher, interested only in his fat-wallet. We advise against staying at his homestay, but we wrote a full note about that event: you can read later on this link about the behaviour of Mr Blasius in Denge.

Local children interacting with us in DengeLocal children interacting with us in Denge
Luckily local children were curious and warm-hearted: we played with them, we had discussions and we were even hosted for free by one of their families!

Hiking to Wae Rebo

The following morning we started our hike towards Wae Rebo through the rainforest: it’s a very pleasant walk, not difficult, and it takes about 2-3 hours. On the way we met old ladies carrying heavy baskets loaded on their heads and backs, and they were walking even faster than we did!

Once you arrive to the top of the hill you can see the famous pointy constructions of Wae Rebo from far away. The vegetation around is luxurious and the setting against the green mountains just stunning.

Wae Rebo seen from the top of the hillWae Rebo seen from the top of the hill

Here, resting inside a small hut, there is a bamboo percussion instrument that you are supposed to play to announce your arrival. Let’s call it an archaic inter phone!

Entry fee and economy in Wae Rebo

Once we reached the village we had to bargain the price for our admission. In fact what we didn’t like about this experience, was the continuous involvement of money. We totally understand their need of sustaining themselves, and create an income also for the local population.

Local children preparing for homework in Wae ReboLocal children preparing for homework in Wae Rebo

But that was done in a very extreme and unfair way. In fact, if you have ever been to Indonesia, you probably know that there is a double entrance price: one for locals and one, usually about 10 times higher or even more, for foreigners. This is annoying but understandable if the target are tourists (it shouldn’t be so for travellers).

Tourists arriving and lining up for the paid welcome ritualTourists arriving and lining up for the paid welcome ritual
In Wae Rebo, not being a public attraction but private, they decided to set a single price for everybody. But unfortunately it was the foreign touristic price, also for Indonesians, so locals couldn’t afford to go there!
And so it was for us. Since we stayed in Indonesia for 1 year with temporary residents visa, funded totally by a local scholarship (about 120€ per month) and with same rights as locals, it was out of discussion that we could pay the sum they required just for a 2 hours visit. And on top of that you are supposed to go to Wae Rebo only with a paid guide and once you arrive in order to be accepted you have to go to the ceremonial house for a short ritual and you are forced to do an extra donation of money! So basically 3 payments: guide, hefty entrance fee and ritual donation.
If you are going there as a tourist, please do so, and help them sustain their existence.

Interior of a communal hut in Wae ReboInterior of a communal hut in Wae Rebo
But if you are a “local” then it doesn’t work. What we did, since we were really determined to go there even if they would send us back, was to go there without a guide (it was impossible to get lost) and once we were there to bargain our entrance price just for a visit (no night accommodation). We managed to get about half price entrance, still an expensive price for our Indonesian student budget, but we accepted the proposal, and find out there were also other Indonesians using the same tactic (for obvious reasons).

Visiting the village

After having participated and paid for the quick introductory ritual, we started exploring Wae Rebo.

Local female villager processing the coffee beansLocal female villager processing the coffee beans

The architecture of the village itself was really interesting with high pitched huts arranged in a semicircular way and shared between several members. Despite the height, only the ground floor was used, plus a deposit at the first level. All was made of natural materials like wood and bamboo.

Detail of the wood and bamboo constructions in Wae ReboDetail of the wood and bamboo constructions in Wae Rebo

The interior of the houses was quite dark and picturesque, and tiny solar panel were present in some of the buildings for a minimum of electricity.
Not far from the main settlement, there were a couple of construction made with metal sheets in a cubical form and even a reinforced concrete building not yet finished, intended to be a future visitor centre. Another negative influence brought from the “civilization” and unfortunately moving away Wae Rebo from its original appearance and traditions.

Portrait of a local men, possibly the head of the villagePortrait of a local men, possibly the head of the village

The guest room where tourist staying overnight slept, was really basic but tidy, with mattresses one next to the other and mosquito nets.

Interior of the touristic accommodationInterior of the touristic accommodation
The huts of the locals were generally much more messy with many objects and tools lying around, and the common kitchen was quite primitive with pots on top of an open hearth.

Communal kitchen in the villageCommunal kitchen in the village
People living in Wae Rebo looked really used to the presence of visitors and they were just going on with their daily duties as if the tourists were just invisible. They dressed with a mix of western and traditional clothes and they were happy to be photographed.

Old woman in Wae ReboOld woman in Wae Rebo

There were scenes of ordinary life, with the female lineage of the family combing each other’s hair, kids doing homework, workers drying and processing the coffee beans, or men just relaxing.

Local men having a moment of restLocal men having a moment of rest
As of 2015 when we visited, apparently, children were not exempt from manual work and we saw several of them carrying coffee bags along the trail on our way back.

A kid carrying coffee beans and a villager using and old football as a protective hatA kid carrying coffee beans and a villager using and old football as a protective hat

We are not sure how much of Wae Rebo is authentic and how much is a constructed attraction. It was not the perfect experience we would have wished for, but still one of a kind! So if you are in Flores Island consider a trip to Wae Rebo village but evaluate also your influence on them!

Davide VadalàDavide Vadalà
In 2009 I quit my job to chase my dream of exploring our planet in a sustainable way and I haven't stopped yet. I love nature, sustainability, travel photography, handicrafts and hiking, and I never stop dreaming. More about Davide Vadala'.

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Davide and Oti

We are Davide and Otilia, two friends with itchy feet, living a non conventional life traveling around the world and learning everyday something new....
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