West Timor

Kupang, West Timor – Indonesia

The Indonesian border is only a couple of hours west of Dili along a typically terrible East Timorese road that hugs the coast.  However, it took me 4 hours to reach it.  This is largely, if not entirely, because I was sent the wrong way by an old man with no teeth.

The old man with no teeth was either having a (very big) laugh, or didn’t understand me when I asked “Indonesia?” (after the obligatory greetings) while pointing one of 2 ways at a T-Junction.  His reply indicated very precisely that Indonesia was over a very large mountain riddled with road works and huge craters that took 1 hour cross.  An hour later, once over the other side of the mountain, I asked someone else who laughed and told me to go back the way I’d come.  Yes, Indonesia may well have been over the mountain somewhere, but the only border crossing was 30 minutes further along the coast from where I had been originally.  Oh well – lesson learnt; from now on I’ll always ask at least 2 different people for directions, and no one over 101 with missing teeth.  But I suppose I should also shoulder some of the blame for not speaking Portuguese and not having a map, or at least looking at one before I went.

Once I’d found the right road the ride was very enjoyable, not just because it passed along scenic mountains, coastline and paddy fields, but also because the road magically transformed into single sheets of tarmac with no potholes or road works as soon as I crossed the border into Indonesia.  This was the biggest difference that was immediately noticeable.

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I must say I didn’t miss these kinds of roads in East Timor (don’t ride them at night!)

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What more could you ask for? Open roads…

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Mountains and coastline…

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… and Paddy Fields

The actual border crossing was very quick and smooth, and I was efficiently shuttled through Customs (who stamped my carnet without even looking at the bike), Immigration and then the Army, who wrote my name in a big black book for some reason.  A nice young man hanging around outside also changed some money for me, surprisingly at the going rate (remember to take plenty of US dollars with you!).

Then it was onto the gorgeously smooth, flat, untarnished bitumen for the final stretch to Kupang, the largest city in Indonesian West Timor and home of the ferry to my next Indonesian Island, Flores.

After having been away from crowded places for a while, it was a bit of a shock when I hit Kupang’s rush hour in the evening, 9 hours after I’d left Dili.  I mistakenly thought Kupang would be as easy to navigate as Dili, but without a map or GPS I soon found myself totally lost in the middle of a crazy busy capital city.  And it was dark.

I was looking for a hotel I had booked online (I find booking.com is good) which was near the airport – a safe bet to find I thought.  However, I hadn’t considered all the road signs might be in Indonesian, which they were, and the sign for the ‘Airport’ I was looking for had actually craftily been labelled ‘Bandara’.

By now, after 10 hours on the bike, I was pretty tired and needed a comfortable bed to crash, so I parked up, bought a drink at a roadside store (or ’Warung’) and asked a young couple sat on a scooter nearby if they knew where the airport was.  Indeed they did, but much better than that, they also knew where my hotel was.  Without hesitation, the man told me to follow him, and off we sped through the traffic and backstreets for around 20 minutes until we magically appeared in front of ‘Hotel La Hasienda’.  That was my first experience of genuine Indonesian hospitality & good-will, and I had much more to come.

I thanked the couple gratefully (and slipped some money into the guy’s hand to buy his girlfriend a romantic meal) and was met by the hotel receptionist named ‘Boy’.

The hotel was like a jewel just outside the congested heart of Kupang, away from the manic town centre and noise.  Its German owner Michael and his Indonesian partner & wife were very hospitable and biker friendly (actually, I have not met anyone so far who hasn’t been biker friendly).  Their mix of German efficiency, good food and a beautiful building in the chaos of Kupang make for a winning combination, and I highly recommend it should you ever find yourself in the area.

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Outside Hotel La Hasienda

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Hotel La Hasienda’s bar stools – I want some!

Having enjoyed a great meal and very relaxing night at the hotel, I set off into town the next morning to investigate ferry time to Flores.  Happening upon a Tourist Information ‘Office’ at Lavalon Bar on the seafront, the guy there told me there was actually a ferry leaving in 2 hours time, at 3pm.  Anxious not to get stuck in Kupang for any longer than necessary, I rushed back to the hotel, packed, and shot off for the ferry port at Bolok Harbour.

I made good time and arrived at 2pm and thought it strange that everyone was frantically waving me through the ferry gates.  Did they think I was someone important?  Then I realised why, as I rode down the jetty to see the ferry ramp being lifted and ropes being cast away.  I was literally 5 minutes too late!

Bolok Harbour is a busy port and they have ferries leaving to different Indonesian Islands all the time.  However, trying to find out the time for the next ferry to Flores was proving more difficult than I imagined, as everyone I asked told me a different answer.  Confused, I went back to Lavalon Tourist Information Office (also a bar) and got yet another answer.

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Kupang’s Beachfront

The only thing I could think of was to have a drink, and on doing so good fortune had me meet two elderly Australian gents who had moved to West Timor a number of years ago to live like kings on their pensions (as a fair few Aussies have done).  Our conversation turned to diving and I asked if they could recommend a dive centre doing trips to Alor, another Indonesian Island 250km away renowned for great diving.  I thought if I was stuck in Kupang for a few days, I might as well try and get some good diving in.  They told me to go and see another Aussie guy called Donovan who ran Dive Alor, and said he was usually playing pool at the Pantai Laut Bar down the road.

Down at the Pantai Laut, a nice bar & restaurant down by the seafront, I found Donovan playing pool with local guy Charles, just as the old guys had said.  Both a very friendly couple of chaps, I was soon involved in a mini pool tournament (betting for 50 cent stakes) and gleaning lots of useful local information, including sights to see around the area.  Unfortunately Donovan’s next dive trip to Alor was full, but he told me the diving in Komodo (on my planned route) was just as awesome, so I felt better.

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Mini Pool Tournament with Donovan and Charles down at the Pantai Laut

A few beers down the line I had somehow enlisted the services of local ‘fixer’ Charles who fixed me up with a local phone, a personal tour to ‘Monkey Forest’ and ‘Crystal Cave’ the next day, and a promise of getting me a cabin on the next ferry to Flores in 2 days.  Not bad for a day’s work!

Having called ahead to re-book my room at Hotel La Hasienda, I was somewhat pleased I was in fact staying one more night to enjoy the steak BBQ Michael said he was going to prepare that evening, and indeed it was delicious.

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Kupang – Out and About – Indonesia

After a fantastic breakfast at Hotel La Hasienda courtesy of Michael’s bacon, fresh French bread and baked beans (I think he bought these especially for his British guests!) I set out to Pantai Laut bar to meet my guide for the day, Charles.

First stop on our Grand Tour of Kupang was Monkey Forest on the coastal road west of Kupang.  When we arrived there was just one man and his family sitting outside a warung (the ‘Monkey Tender’), and as soon as he blew on his Monkey Whistle, monkeys started appearing from the trees and bushes.

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Monkey Forest, Kupang

I bought a bag of peanuts and started handing them out until one cheeky monkey decided he’d take the whole bag from me when I wasn’t paying attention.  Clever these monkeys…

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Clever monkey!

Next stop just passed Bolok harbour was Crystal Cave, an underground freshwater cave system you can swim, snorkel and dive in.  Unfortunately I had no dive gear and so settled for a refreshing swim instead.

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The entrance to Crystal Cave

Entering the cave you are immediately aware of dozens of bats flying around, and a dark, slippery climb (in flip flops) down to the warm, crystal clear water below.  I’m not sure how much this cave system has been explored, but I’d have loved to have had a dive down there.

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Crystal clear water inside Crystal Cave

If you are visiting this cave be aware it is not marked, and nothing or nobody was around, but friendly locals will surely point you in the right direction.  Nearby there is a large Police HQ where I left my bike in safe hands.  One of the policemen was so interested in where we were going that he joined Charles and me on our cave visit.

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Nice Mr Indonesian Policeman

On the way back from the cave we pulled into Bolok Harbour to check the ferry time tomorrow.  The lady in the ticket office said 10am, but I’m going to be there by 8am, just in case!

Then it was lunchtime and Charles took me to a local restaurant famous for its roast pork, and indeed it was mouth-watering!

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Our mouth-watering Roast Pork lunch

After lunch I said my farewells to Charles and arranged to meet him at 7am in the morning to go to the port where he said he was going to sort me out a cabin.  To be honest I would have been happy just getting on the ferry and sleeping on deck, but as the passage was 16 hours, I thought a cabin would be a welcome addition, if on offer.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped by a roadside motorcycle repair shop to see if they could fix one of my broken pannier supports.  One of the bolts holding the support to the frame had sheared off and needed to be drilled out.  Keen to help, one of the lads fetched the generator and hooked up the drill.

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Trying to drill out a broken luggage pannier bolt with a blunt drill-bit…

We were there 30 minutes or so with a blunt drill bit until at last he managed to drill enough of the bolt out to secure another one, although I’m not sure how long it will last.  They did a good job with the tools they had though.

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The A Team!

Ferry from Kupang, West Timor to Aimere, Flores

The next morning I was keen to get my bike on a ferry out of Timor and made sure I was at the port by 8am.  Because I was an ‘Indonesian ferry virgin’, I was happy to sit back and let Charles sort out the tickets and bartering to find me a cabin, which appeared to be a mad bundle to me.  As there were (officially) no passenger cabins on this ferry, it meant that Charles was basically trying to pay one of the crew a ‘gift’ to let me have their cabin.

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Swapping bikes with nice Mr Army man

Anyway, the whole thing turned out alright with me planted in quite a cosy crew cabin enjoying watching the crazy ‘organised chaos’ that ensued as the ferry loaded up and prepared to sail.

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The Tiger squeezed in, somehow

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Hodi’s cabin, which became mine after payment of a small ‘gift’

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Fun & Games – the ‘Organised Chaos’ of loading an Indonesian Ferry

As the ferry finally departed an hour late (how had the other one managed to sail one hour early?!) I breathed a sigh of relief and started to enjoy my ‘celebrity’ status onboard as a strange Brit with a big motorbike sleeping in a crew cabin.

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My Indonesian Ferry Fan Club

As it turned out the crew were exceptionally welcoming and accommodating, particularly the poor old soul whose cabin I’d pinched, Hodi, who’d been relegated to the ship’s office (but was a bit richer, so happy).  They fed me and looked after me as though I was royalty, and the Captain even invited me onto the bridge.

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Few sunsets are better than those at sea

Although erring on the old side, the ferry was actually quite comfortable and surprisingly clean (I’ve been on some filthy ships in my previous life as a sailor/seaman), and the food was also OK.  I knew I’d made ‘honouree crew status’ when I received an invite from the Chief Engineer down to the crew Karaoke Room to belt out some Elvis and Roy Orbison classics.  Walking into that room was like walking into another world – an immaculate VIP lounge clad in white leather in the middle of a greasy rust bucket of an Indonesian ferry; it was clear where their priorities laid!   But as long as the ferry didn’t sink, I didn’t care, and actually enjoyed a good sing-song.

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The VIP Karaoke Room

After a good night’s sleep in Hodi’s bed I woke up to see Flores on the horizon, and was excited to see what wondrous new lands and dragons awaited me.

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Flores – at last!

Note: If anyone else would like help with anything in Kupang, I can recommend Charles – frenkych@yahoo.com mobile: +62 (0)85 337 385 009

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