Alor is wild, volcanic and drop-dead gorgeous. There are crumbling red-clay roads, jagged peaks, white-sand beaches and chilly, crystal-clear bays that have some remarkable diving – with plenty of pelagics and sheer walls draped in eye-popping sponges. The cultural diversity here is simply staggering. In this tiny archipelago alone there are over 100 tribes who, by some accounts, speak eight languages and 52 dialects. The terrain and lack of roads isolated the 185,000 inhabitants from one another and the outside world for centu ries. Although the Dutch installed local rajas along the coastal regions after 1908, they had little influence over the interior, where people were still taking heads in the 1950s.
Today, Alor is around 75% Protestant and 20% Muslim, although indigenous animist traditions endure. Most islanders survive on subsistence fishing and farming, and are cul tivating new cash crops, including vanilla, turmeric, candlenuts and cloves.
Takpala is a stunning traditional village etched into a hillside about 13km east of Kalabahi. There are several talihutan (traditional high- roofed houses), held together with lashings and scattered beneath mango trees, papaya and banana groves. The villagers are from the tribe of ABOI. They are charming, and will be more than happy to teach you how to use a traditional bow and arrow, or roll you one of their home-cured ciga rettes, which go well with a pinch of betel. And you’ll probably notice the massive sea views from every angle.