When I first received my invitation to join Peace Corps Indonesia, it was never a question on whether I wanted to serve as a volunteer. I did, however, question the location.
To help with this big decision, I went out and bought a Lonely Planet book. I hadn’t made a commitment yet, and I was hoping this very large book would inspire me to make one. Once I got home, I sat on my knees, the guidebook beside me, leafing through piles of travel magazines until I’d find an image captioned “Indonesia.” I’d lay the magazine beside me, fanning out the best ones, forming a collage on the floor. The more I learned about Indonesia, the more enchanted I became with this paradisiacal archipelago filled with diversity and magical landscapes one would have to see to believe.
Kelimutu was the first of those magical images I found. The magazine photographs of the three colored lakes were stunning, and the first place I marked on the large guidebook, unaware that not even a year later, I’d actually be there myself.
On December 22, we awoke at 4:00 am in our bungalow in Moni. The early morning air was fresh and cool and all of us wore our rain jackets. I laughed at the thought that we were dressed like Power Rangers. Each PCV dressed in a different color jacket as if we had selected which ranger we wanted to be, mine being the undesirable yellow ranger of the games we used to play.
We got in the car and made our way to Kelimutu National Park, riding up the mountain as the sun breached the horizon, dyeing the clouds pink and orange, shading the sea purple.
Several steps later, we reached the top of the lookout point for the three-colored lakes of Kelimutu and learned of its legend. In this area, it is believed that all spirits come to the sacred Kelimutu lakes when they die. They meet the gatekeeper, Katu Ratu, and depending on their age and character while alive, their soul will eternally rest in one of these lakes. The souls of the young people will rest in the Turquoise Lake, Tiwu Nuwa Muri, which never changes color. Older souls will rest in the adjacent Brown Lake, Tiwu Ata Polo, and the souls of the wicked will go to the Black Lake, Tiwa Ata Mbupu.
Scientifically, the colors are caused by high-concentration of volcanic gases mixing with the minerals in the lakes, but the Black and the Brown Lake change color inexplicably, varying in shades of yellow, orange, red and brown. Legend has it that the quality of the souls inside the lake influences its color, the Black Lake being darkest when it’s concentrated with evil souls. When we saw the lakes, two of them were turquoise and one black, and we sat in Inspiration Point contemplating where our souls would go.
Here’s a short video of the lakes with a little narration by Ellen and Tim.
* for more logistical details about traveling to Flores check out this blog post.