According to Lonely Planet, Riung is a small fishing village surrounded by 21 islands making up the Seventeen Islands Marine Park—a name chosen out of nationalism rather than fact—in which you can snorkel and see flying foxes. I was immediately sold on the idea of spending some extended time near the beach for the first time in our Flores trip, so on our way to the West part of Flores, we decided to make Riung our breaking point for the long journey and possibly, our Christmas destination too. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting, but what Riung turned out to be, definitely wasn’t it.
We got to Riung on a rainy evening on December 23rd. This town was so small we almost drove passed it without even noticing it. We were taken to a homestay, which was quaint, comfortable and felt just like being back at site. This turned out to be a great thing for us. Since there was little else to do in Riung and since traveling on Christmas day proved to be more difficult than we thought in this primarily Christian island, we ended up spending the most amount of time in this house.
On Christmas Eve day, we explored Riung’s coastline. Contrary to my expectations, there was no white-sandy beach, but rather a small port bordered by mangroves and tilted stilt-houses. Nonetheless it was charming and we were able to hire a boat to take us out to the surrounding islands for the day.
Our boat cruised along the sea passing by various islands guarded by mangroves. Small canoes and other boats dotted the endless ocean as we approached the first island we would explore.
From a distance, we could see tall trees with what appeared to be black-brown foliage or hanging fruit. A few birds flew through the sky. As we got closer, what appeared to be birds turned out to be massive bats with 3-foot wingspans and the trees were filled with thousands of these flying foxes sleeping upside down.
As we got closer to the coast, our guide made some noise and as he disturbed the bats, they began to fly all around the island, filling the bright-blue sky, some baby bats clinging to their mother’s bellies as they flew.
After this, we continued on to the white sandy beach I longed for. We played in the empty beach, building things in the sand and snorkeled in the warm, translucent water.
Later that night, a few flying foxes flew across the night sky, their silhouettes shadowing the bright full moon. By no means was Riung the most glamorous town, but it made a lasting impression.
This is a brief video of the thousands of bats in flight. Tim narrates a little of it using his epic documentary voice. Transcription of a few of the lines that are difficult to hear (which are also improvised and NOT fact):
Tim: Animals fly through the air with their magnificent wingspan. A span of 16 meters…
Me: Whoa, that’s like a freaking dragon.
Tim:…and are capable of eating an entire cow with one swoop to the ground.
* for more logistical details about traveling to Flores check out this blog post.