It was a toss-up for my next destination — Maluku or Nusa Tenggara Timur.
“Ooooo, Maluku, for sure!”
Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT).
It is no wonder that the people of NTT have always felt slighted from the rest of the country.
The farther one travels from Jakarta, the capital and hub of the country, it is evident that the standards of basic infrastructure are neglected and the state of economy is stagnant, such as in NTT and as far as Papua. The improvement of roads, healthcare and education in eastern Indonesian provinces have lagged far behind their western counterparts.
NTT faces another particular challenge — their climate. Stop thinking all of Indonesia is covered in lush, tropical rainforest, where it rains non-stop with 100% humidity. Many areas of NTT have a savanna climate — an extended dry season complete with droughts.
This has impacted their economy, namely agriculture, a great deal. The typical cash crops grown elsewhere in the country, such as rice and maize, fail to yield as much here. As a result, smallholder farmers struggle to produce successful harvests of crops the government encourages. However, now there are efforts on behalf of non-government entities to help these farmers find crops that flourish in NTT’s climate instead of fighting it.
In 2017, I explored a small portion of NTT on Pulau Flores — Komodo to the west and Larantuka/Maumere/Ende to the east. I saw Komodo dragons, stunning coral reefs, pink sand, Mount Kelimutu and its three-colored lakes, cashew and clove trees, wild honey harvesting, ikat weaving, palmyra weaving, and ate delicious Floresian cuisine. And despite that lengthy list, I scarcely saw what all of NTT has to offer.
For this research trip, I will begin in Pulau Sumba, find my way to Pulau Flores and explore as many of the islands I can to the east, such as Pulau Lembata and Pulau Alor. Each island within NTT has its own unique culture and traditions — Sumba, home of wild horses; Flores, home of homo floresiensis, the “Flores Man,” an extinct species closely related to humans; Lembata, home of controversial whaling communities; and Alor, home of kenari nuts. Based on that, I imagine my prospects of insightful discoveries will be high.
And finally, I am headed to a special destination to conclude my research trip, which will be announced later.
Like the other trips before it, I am prepared for the uncertainty starting on Thursday and will depend on the hospitality of strangers to guide my path through NTT. I will travel by air, by land and by water to be embedded with locals as much as possible to learn about the produce, ingredients and cuisine of this under-appreciated, yet culturally diverse region of Indonesia.
Because through this journey, if I can persuade just one of you to choose NTT over another province to visit in this country, then I will have done my job well.