27th August Kupang
Arriving in West Timor 16 hours later at 7am in the early morning haze, a search for a hotel begins in the capital, Kupang. We were befriended by an Indonesian man the previous day who we had met at the port. He had been living in Europe for a number of years, and also had family there. He seemed an honest enough guy so when he asked us to help him to move his 60kg sack and two guitars to the ferry, we were glad to help. Everywhere we turned that evening, he seemed to be there, smiling and generally friendly.
In the morning, arriving in Timor, we thought this would be the last we saw of him. However he now needed help to move the sack back off the ferry. He asked if we would drop him into town…Hesitantly we said we couldn’t as we were looking for a hotel, to which he replied ‘That’s ok, you can just drop me off wherever you like’. With his huge sack still in the car, it was hard to refuse, so off we all went into town.
We begin to look for a hotel, and ask where he would like to be dropped off. His reply is ‘Don’t worry, I will help you get a good deal.’ After seeing maybe three hotels with him, we politely but firmly ask him again where he would like dropping off. Luckily for us, his family only lived 10 minutes up the road. He kept inviting us in for tea or coffee, and to meet his family, which again we decline, so instead he decides to bring his whole family out to meet us instead! We finally leave him behind and restart the search for accommodation.
The city seems fairly peaceful which is unusual for an Indonesian city, but we soon learn the accommodation options are not great. This is probably due to West Timor not registering on most people’s holiday plans, due to its proximity with East Timor and irregular transport links, although this is slowly improving, increasing the numbers of visitors.
Taking a wrong turn, we end up in the middle of the market where the road would only allow for one car at a time. Inevitably, we get stuck behind a van unloading hundreds of coconuts for about 20minutes, mum dad and the kids all helping, before we are able to move on 10 metres! However, it seems the road is a dead end!! Follow on more antics trying to reverse the car around without running over anyone’s fruit and vegetables!
After trying several hotels we eventually settle for one in the higher price bracket within the new commercial centre just to ensure we get a decent night’s sleep; there are no cockroaches in sight at this one!
14 different languages are spoken in Timor, and when trying to communicate with hotel staff in Bahasa Indonesian, they don’t understand… So, English is tried next which has slightly more success.
Having had hardly any sleep on the ferry, we fall asleep easily waking up a few hours later. We head to the local mall for a bite to eat and some more supplies, passing scores of bemos, noisy base heavy mini-vans packed with students. The mall is busy and ear-deafeningly loud, so we run in and virtually straight back out again.
On the way out I spot Martin speaking to a kid, the boy is deaf and mute, however manages to communicate very well, telling him about his family, what he studies, and where he lives etc. We give the boy a couple of Beng Bengs (a mix between a kit kat and a lion bar) which he quite quickly scoffs and a bottle of coke and fries which he seems overjoyed with.
28th August Nome
We leave Kupang and head inland towards Nome; the roads wind and wind into the mountains.
The last slice of Indonesia before hitting Timor Leste, we are eager to find some of the much talked about intriguing traditional beehive-shaped hut villages and set out to explore. Deciding to drive to Soe, around 40 miles away, we head to Nome, located 17km east of Soe, which is home to one of the last traditional head-hunting villages and the local Dawan people. Driving the relatively quiet roads in the blazing sunshine, we find it amazing (or crazy) how people have no problem with sitting on the edge of narrow tarmac road, with traffic passing their backs barely a foot away!
With no signs telling us where the tiny village is, we see a track leading down through the forest and drive the wrong way down the rutted dirt trail, getting completely lost. We find ourselves driving down a very steep track down the edge of a cliff face, the track seeming to meander all the way through to the middle of nowhere, or at least an isolated village just visible through the trees.
Eventually we come to a couple of small huts, and a family ventures out, baby in hands. They look a little shocked that we are there, but after a few smiles they walk closer to get a better look at us. The lady kind of understands we’re looking for Nome and points back up the hill. On our way up the young boy from the hut runs along the side of the car, seeming to escort us to the village! As we pick up a little speed we see him in the mirrors running even faster to catch us up.
As we approach the site, the whole village turns out to greet us, following the car as we slowly make our way down the track all the way to the entrance. Although most people come here with a guide, we are welcomed by the villagers and allowed to walk around freely, a large group of children closely following our heels!
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The village is protected by a low rock fort and has a couple of traditional huts within its walls. The villagers sit around the meeting place hut, women in traditional ikat dress chatter among themselves and a couple of elder village men who may have seen a head hunt or two in their lifetime look idly on (although it had been banned by 1942). A man dressed in a sarong type cloth brings out the visitor book which we sign and then make a donation to the village. He has a bright red stain around his mouth and on his teeth, indicative of betel-nut chewing, a commonplace tradition which provides a mild stimulant effect. Martin asks him if he is the chief of the village, to which he shakes his head fervently!
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The children in the village are very cute and friendly, some look like they have been playing in the mud, their clothes are covered in dirt.
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We walk around the village, small beehive shaped huts, known as ume kebubu which have tiny doorways and are dark and cramped. They are also very smoky from the fire in the middle of the huts, which helps to keep out mosquitoes. The time-honoured tradition of burying the placenta of a newly born in the centre of the hut is still carried out to this day.
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Handing out sweets to the kids gets lots of smiles, some run after the car as we leave. Many more small huts line the track back to the main road, people waving to us all the way back up the dirt track as we head towards Kefamenanu.
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Arriving in town we check out the only two hotels in town, one overpriced, the other absurdly overpriced and also run-down, so we go to the newer Hotel Livero, where we spend the night before crossing the border tomorrow.
It is another 40 miles to the border along quiet and narrow roads, our route taking us through the town of Atambua, where many rebels and militia had settled after the war/occupation of Timor Leste. The LP states that locals would rather that foreigners would not pass through this town, but it doesn’t make much sense as it is the quickest route to the border. As we reach the main junction, the local police seem quite friendly and wave us through.
It seems we are on the scenic route through to the border on a dirt track through the forest. Arriving at the Indonesian border, we firstly have to check in with the police, followed by immigration a couple of windows down and then customs on the other side of the road. The Indonesians are organised and quick and it takes less than 20 minutes to leave the country. We reach the East Timor checkpoint, a brand new building stands empty to our left. It seems that the immigration staff have gone to lunch (there’s a one hour time difference between the two)……
We finally leave Indonesia after 5 months, having enjoyed nearly every moment of the adventure.
Out of all the SE Asian countries we have been too, Indonesia’s archipelago of diverse islands has offered us the most, everything from coral reefs to dense jungle, golden sands to active volcanoes and not to mention the huge variety of wildlife. In every way is has been our favourite country so far on our adventure…
We would especially like to thank GT Radial for sponsoring our trip and providing us with much need tyres.
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Martin & Nicole