by Marc Nair, 1 Oct 2017
There are three ways to reach the town of Ende.
The first: by air
Flying in low over the water, the traveler becomes aware that the airport is in the middle of the town. The airstrip is surrounded on all sides by low houses. The only way in is through a narrow gap of tarmac, just enough for a small prop plane. The town swallows the plane without hesitation.
From the airport, any hotel is within walking distance. The pavements are hot and the houses seem vacant, but there is a constant uneasiness. Are we being watched? Where? How? The hotels are guesthouses; curt, unwashed and communal extensions of local houses. Badly dressed men lounge around in pajamas watching television in the common area at all hours. Large vats of food emerge from the fly-ridden kitchen and everyone grabs a plate. The air is still at most times. When the traveler arrives, a host of mosquitos come to greet with much fanfare.
The second: by land.
The road in and out of town lies through the mountains. The bus station is just outside of town, to ensure that locals get a chance to make a few dollars ferrying travelers. The interior of the bus station is dim, even in broad daylight. Groaning, drunk men lie there, recovering from a pounding by the local arrack. The road winds quickly down and quickly up through Ende, spending as little time as possible in the city, which is a surly collection of long, hot roads. There isn’t much open in Ende.
The third: by seeing.
There is the sleepy town of Ende. There are the shuttered businesses of Ende. There are the villages of Ende that rise upward towards the mountain. There is the Ende that is left to fall down by itself. There is nothing in the eyes of people in Ende. There is only a flicker of anger, of resentment towards the traveler. Here is a city perpetually on the edge of violence.
Most travelers pass through. They do not spend even a night in this town. There is too much of something close to death. It could be the moment before death. Waiting for the inevitable final breath, knowing it is coming, but not quite knowing when.
Little boys, naked, walk along the breakwater searching for fish, or shells, or lumps of trash. The playgrounds are full of grotesque animal sculptures, broken shards of swings and feeding goats. The inevitable statue is photographed, but no one knows what to do with the image. The haunted trees, old as Gunung Meja, swirl upwards on their twisted arms. If you would like to hear the true story of Ende, spend a night in their branches.
When you arrive in Ende, leave as soon as you can.