National Geographic Orion approached the island of Flores on a beautiful sunny morning. We docked and were greeted by an incredible group of dancers in traditional clothing. Swiftlets buzzed overhead as we walked through the welcome procession. We boarded a variety of ornately decorated local buses, some spray-painted with panda bears and others with fire-breathing dragons. The parade of buses was led by a police escort, complete with flashing lights and alarms. It was quite the fanfare to welcome us to an amazing island. We wound our way through the town of Maumere and began the ascent into the mountains. The buses drove in a tight line up a narrow, windy road surrounded by amazing jungle agriculture: avocados, papayas, coffee plants, cacao, mango, turmeric, and pineapple.

We drove up the mountain for about an hour, and we found ourselves at the entrance of an amazing village called Doka. We were met by the most welcoming group of people, including some villagers who had a smoldering fire going with peeled bananas and smoked fish for us to sample. We walked in a procession towards the heart of the village, and everyone from the town came out to greet us. We finally approached the entryway, and we were given handmade crowns. We were led to the central meeting place, where our hosts conducted a formal welcome blessing and ceremony. Residents of the village performed a dance, which gave us the chance to observe their incredible hand-dyed, woven fabric. We were offered betel nut to chew, and some of us chose to partake. The nut has a bitter flavor that causes a numbing effect. It is a common tradition to chew the nuts, which act as a stimulant, to stay alert and awake. In addition to the betel nut, a generous amount of fruit was offered to us…the most amazing bananas, soursops, and papayas you’ve ever tasted. One person even said that this was the “happiest fruit day ever!”

After we sampled the bounty, local people began to dance. The joy on their faces was so contagious that everyone got up to join the fun! The heat and humidity did not deter us from connecting with this amazing community on the dance floor. After rehydrating with cold water, we witnessed an incredible demonstration of fiber dyeing. Among other things, the community uses indigo, turmeric, and tobacco leaves to dye their fibers before using a beautiful loom to weave the most stunning fabrics. Some of us took advantage of the souvenir center before returning to the buses to head to the ship.

Our afternoon was spent on board as we sailed towards the Banda Sea. We had the great fortune of hearing from our Global Guest Speaker, Lawrence Blair, who gave us insight into his time and work in Indonesia and New Guinea. An incredible storyteller with a breadth of knowledge, he left us curious for more to come. This really is just the beginning! More adventure awaits us as we sail towards Banda Naira. What a time to be alive!