Tourism Rebounds on Island of "Hobbit" Fossil Find

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Visitors must content themselves with the cave's limestone stalactite and stalagmite formations, however, since its famous fossils have been excavated and transported to Jakarta for further study.

Exotic creatures roam Flores, including dolphin-size Komodo dragons, the world's largest lizards. A four-hour boat ride from Labuhanbajo, on Flores's western tip, can also take visitors to see the reptiles on Komodo, the island for which the lizards are named.

Equally unique is Flores's giant rat population. The creatures resemble "large rabbits with long tails," said Richard Roberts. One of Indonesia's leading scientists, Roberts helped discover the Homo floresiensis fossils.

Flores also boasts fascinating geology. The island's main attraction has long been the trio of crater lakes atop the Keli Mutu volcano. Once vibrant shades of red, white, and blue, the lakes have changed color over time to aquamarine, red-brown, and black as a result of dissolving minerals and varying oxygen levels. A truck from the nearby village of Moni takes visitors up the mountain each day before sunrise.

Religious Customs

Local religious customs can still be observed throughout the predominantly Catholic island. In the Ngada District near the town of Bajawa, communities center on a pair of ceremonial structures, the Bhaga (a small hut) and the Ngadhu (a kind of thatched umbrella). The two represent the power of female and male ancestors.

Here and elsewhere in Flores, Christian ritual is combined with local tradition, including the Reba festival, an annual event in December, which kicks off with a Catholic mass followed by a procession of swordsmen or a deer hunt that doubles as a fertility and puberty rite.

Flores's newfound fame, combined with its many offerings, has local guides confident about the future of travel there. Paka, the Bali-based tour operator, said, "I feel there will be many people coming to Flores."

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