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.
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.
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.
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.
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.