We have arrived after over 24 hours at sea having just a vague idea of what we can expect. We were hoping to find an island paradise untainted by tourism business with an authentic local flavor. It turned out we were in for a treat.
First ferry took us from Larantuka in Flores to Kupang in West Timor where we switched to a ferry going to Pulau Rote or Roti as it is called by the locals. The island is not really well known and it is supposed to be one of the best surfing spots in Indonesia. Obviously local Indonesians know what it is, but if you ask around Bali even among surfers some will give you a surprised look asking what the attractions over there are?
We are not surfers, well at least wouldn’t call ourselves ones yet so we did not come to Rote for that aspect of it, but we are being told that the surf here is one of the best in Indonesia. Size of the wave depends on a swell of course, but the breaks in here are supposed to be very consistent. We haven’t seen any big waves here so far, but when I look around the consistency seems to be there. The breaks here are not for absolute beginners as most are reef breaks so if you are not careful you may cut yourself up and the paddle is awfully long, the longest I have seen so far so most people are hiring boats to take them out to surf.
What Rote was luring us with was exactly why so few people heard about it – its relative lack of popularity. To give you a picture of how escape the crowds it is we went to the same beach for last five days in the most popular village among tourists Nembrala to see the sunset and there was never anyone sitting on this beach to watch the sunset. Sometimes you could see a lone surfer paddling back from the late evening surf, once we saw a group of three people passing by on their walk along the beach, but that was it! During low tide the are some local people in the water working the sea weed paddies (Aga Aga), but on these occasions they only add authenticity to the place and provide good photo opportunity if you are after one. And as for the sunsets these are truly spectacular in Nebrala and Bua as both these villages are facing west.
The island has countless beaches of different kinds: sand, coral, coral powder. We did not come across a volcanic one (black sand) what suggests that this island is not an effect of volcanic activity as most Indonesian islands are, but seems to be mostly composed of limestone. The beaches we went to we met virtually no tourists. It is not that you will not find any, but the island is still very quiet and local people do not seem to be especially fond of sunbathing. If you venture away from Nembrala or Bua which are two main surfing destinations you are likely to be the only tourist on the beach. What you can expect at most is some locals going about their busyness like harvesting or planting seaweed or going fishing with a harpoon.
Local Rotinese people are farmers and fishermen. Historically a Lontar palm tree was and still is a main source of income for majority of people living in Rote Island. You can also spot many cows, pigs, goats and horses roaming freely like we have never seen before. It is a common site to share a beach with a few piglets in search of a diner. Rote Island is a ultimate free range place in this sense. We are wondering how do the locals keep track of which animal belongs to who as with them running around with no visible markings and in most cases not being tied up it seems to be almost an impossible feat.
When it comes to places to stay in Rote most of them are to be found in Nembrala and Bua and beware most of these places are pricy with full board rates starting at USD 70 per person and going north from there. The highest we were quoted was USD 140 per person and I am guessing it does not end there. Having said that there are some places that offer more reasonably priced accommodation, but these are few and far between at least in Nembrala. We did not hear about any in Bua. When it comes to non-surfing spots there are some hotels in and around Ba’a that offer budget accommodation (USD 20-30 per room) and some rather shady places in villages like Papela that will try to rip tourists off at about USD 20 for a room for two with rather basic/traditional conditions. There are not upscale accommodation anywhere on the island apart from Nembrala and Bua.
If you are looking for an authentic experience and want to see a quiet island virtually untainted by tourists Pulau Rote is the place to go. It is one of best places to enjoy matahari(the sun in Indonesian) sinking into the ocean on the beach listening to nothing more than a gust of wind and waves breaking in the distance.