Destinations, Travel Tips

Keli Mutu – the mystery of the chameleon lakes

As most know, Indonesia gets its regular dose of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions as it is one of the most geologically active countries on Earth. However, volcanic activity proved to create not only destruction but also something as mysterious and surreal as the Keli Mutu lakes, which change their bright colors without any explanation, at least so far. So what is the story of the black, green and pale yellow drops of water surrounded by the infinity of the ocean?

The lakes are found at more than 1600 meters height on the passively degassing strato-volcano called Keli Mutu from the Flores island, which is part of the Lesser Sunda islands chain of Indonesia. The island is the happy “owner” of 14 more active volcanoes. One of the first descriptions of the area belongs to he French naturalist LeRoux, who mentions it in his travel log of eastern Indonesia in 1896, when the lakes must have been just as fascinating as now.

What baffles geologists is the fact that the three crater lakes contain exotic fluids that change their properties throughout the years, thus leading to the bizarre phenomenon. Not long ago the lakes’ colors were black, brown and blue, in the good old 60’s light brown, reddish brown and blue and 30 years ago the colors we can see now. It is very likely that our grandchildren or even children will get to see some very different lakes from the ones we know at present.

An entire mythology is related to the chameleon lakes. The natives believe that each lake is the home of certain spirits. The sorcerers’ souls inhabit the black lake, the sinners’ in the green one and the virgins’ and children’s in the pale yellow lake. This belief made the lakes receive their names: Tiwu Ata Polo (TAP), the ‘enchanted lake’, Tiwu Nua Muri Koohi Fah (TiN), the ‘lake of young men and maidens’ and Tiwu Ata Mbupu (TAM), the ‘lake of elders’ ( some effort is required in order to learn to pronounce them).

Even though it is not among the best-known tourist destinations, the lakes are far from attracting only geologists. If you want to see a little piece of mythology with your own eyes all you have to do is get a plane ticket to Bali. From here, there are regular flights to Maumere, which is one of the closest airports together with Ende. From Maumere there’s a three-hour drive to Moni, the town at the base of keli Mutu. But you will probably see the lakes quite some time before getting there as they are featured on the 5,000 rupiah bill and considered a national treasure by the people of Indonesia

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