Lembata is a place that will captivate your imagination with its unique customs and very friendly people. If you come here expect to extend your stay a little longer, as most travellers get caught up in the magic and unique customs of the people that live here. You will probably arrive on Lembata through the port of Lewoleba. You can take a ferry from Larantuka on the eastern side of Flores. Most boats leave early in the morning so make sure you ask the night before if a boat is heading to Lembata as the service is somewhat infrequent.
Lewoleba despite being the main town on Lembata is a small sleepy village that really only comes alive for the once weekly Monday market. It used to be the highlight of the week for the locals as it was the place for drinking and games. Today this custom is petering off and mostly finishes around midnight. Well worth a visit if you are here on a Monday.
Probably the most visited place on Lembata is Lamalera. It is here where you will witness a very unique thing: Whale hunting. The people here have been hunting whales for centuries using handmade tools and materials like dried palm leaves for rope; spears, harpoons and boats. Everything concerning the whaling is all made in the local village. In western society whaling has been deemed barbaric and of course illegal in many parts of the oceans, yet here on this tiny island in Eastern Indonesia, the custom continues and is sure to continue for many more years to come. If you are an animal lover, it is advised not to visit this area during the whaling season (May – October). If you are intrigued then a visit is a must on your itinerary as you may also be invited onto the boat to take part in a hunt.
The hunt itself can go on for hours but once the whale has been spotted it is very much like a game of cat and mouse. You will be amazed at what you see; a man will stand precariously on the tip of the boat, harpoon in hand, hovering above the whale. The harpooner must jump into the sea as he harpoons the whale to ensure success. There have been Moby Dick stories as well as tales of stubborn whales pulling the whalers all the way to Timor. If you are interested in witnessing this unique yet still controversial tradition, just ask the locals in Lamalera, they will be more than accommodating. The whaling season is from May through to October. The locals will never hunt on a Sunday, as they are devout Christians. Visiting Lamalera is a wonderful experience, as extremely friendly locals will welcome you into their village and all the while you will be surrounded by the lush forests and mountains of this beautiful area.
On Sundays be sure to make your way to the town square where you will be able to watch and listen to the local choir practice. Almost every afternoon, the village congregates on the beach to have a volleyball match and you will surely be invited to play.
Getting to the whaling village of Lamalera is an adventure in itself. Be prepared for a journey by boat, Bemo or even truck. The boat option is infrequent and can take up to 8 hours. The fastest, yet at the same time most frustrating way to access Lamalera is by Bemo yet this mode of transport has a tendency to break down regularly. Another option would be to hitch a lift with a truck that leaves most days at 7am.
Another attraction of Lembata is Ile Ape. This volcanoe is still active yet hasn’t erupted for several decades. Ile Ape always has smoke puffing out of its summit like an aged steam train. It is possible to climb this volcano or even visit the surrounding villages that sit precariously at the foot of the mountain. If you visit the villages be sure to bring plenty of water and food, as there aren’t any warungs.
Finding accommodation on Lembata isn’t a problem yet do not expect luxury. This is a place that has no real tourist infrastructure. In Lewoleba and Larantuka you can find a few losmen offering basic amenities with mosquito nets and mandi. Be sure to take insect repellent as the mosquitoes can become quite fierce.
Lembata is a place that will captivate you while at the same time leaving you speechless. Pack your camera and sense of adventure, as this place will hold fond memories for many years to come.