Welcome to Kupang
Of course, my first flight in 3 months departed more than an hour later than it was supposed to leave, but luckily my good friend Jeff, who I hadn’t seen in at least 12 years, was still willing to pick me up from the airport! The airport was tiny, so it took less than 5 minutes for me to step off the plane, clear customs and meet Jeff. Thankfully he recognised me straight away, possibly because I was the only redhead in the place! He whisked me away to a waiting car for the 10 minute journey to his business, which is located conveniently across the road from his flat.
Jeff and I settled in for a chat and he informed me that some of his friends would be coming around too. His friends arrived shortly after with some food and drinks for me. It turns out Jeff had figured that I might be hungry after the long trip and told them to bring some food for me. What a sweety! Everyone was super friendly and very interested in my travels, especially my African travels. While we were talking, Jeff’s friends constantly checked if I needed more food, or drink, or anything within their power to provide at that late hour. One could get used to this Timor hospitality!
When the morning came, I walked across the road to Jeff’s place and had a bit of a catch-up session with him and his partner. I had met them both many moons ago when we all worked in a small remote town in Central Australia. Right next to the world’s second largest monolith, Uluru. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? After reminiscing for a bit, the boys gave me some really useful information about places to see and things to do in the area in the coming days. So with that, I was off exploring.
Normally the first thing I notice when I’m in a new place is the height of the buildings. From the air and the ground, I could not see any buildings that we more than 4 storeys tall in Kupang. I think this is great, as it creates more of a homely, country kinda feel to it. What’s even nicer is that there seems to be a lot of greenery around and unlike other cities in the world, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of construction going on. They do seem to like putting structures on roundabouts though, including crocodiles and concrete trees!
Another thing that makes Timor different to other places, is that tourism isn’t a huge industry, so there are almost no tourists on the island. This means that locals are often caught off guard when there’s a foreigner in their vicinity. I definitely got the feeling that I was a bit of an oddity as I was walked along. There were of course, a lot of innocuous stares and exclamations of ‘hello’ as I walked around. Then there were the not so comfortable local versions of a wolf whistle, which was men calling out, “Woo woo”, or “Woah”. As if that wasn’t fun enough, guys on bikes would stop in front of me, or slow down and ride beside me, to try to get me on their bikes.
I must admit that this all seemed a bit creepy at first, but I soon realised that these reactions came from a genuine fascination with seeing a non-local walking around. There were no ulterior motives, as there often is when men act this way in other regions. It’s also possible that the lack of tourism in the area means that locals really have no idea how to conduct themselves around foreigners and therefore don’t realise how their actions could be construed by people from other cultures. Aside from this, I would say that locals are extremely friendly and helpful.
As Timor is located in the tropical equatorial region, it has 2 distinct seasons; the wet season runs from December to April and the dry season runs from May to November. I, of course, had found myself here during the wet season, which meant I got to see rain every day! Somedays there would just be a small shower, that did a great job of cooling things down, then the skies would clear by the afternoon. Some times there would be heavy overnight rains that caused low-level flooding.
I got the impression that locals tend to alter their plans according to the rain, as the only time it was hard to get transport was when it was raining! The amount of traffic on roads decreased dramatically during a shower. Often, important works would be delayed if the rain was deemed to be too much of a nuisance. Locals are pretty laid back and don’t seem to worry too much about projects running over time.
For getting around town, most locals use mopeds or motorbikes as their main form of transport and sometimes their main form of income. That means there’s never a shortage of transport when you need it, although given the relatively small size of Kupang, it’s actually quite easy to walk around.
There are also local numbered bus services that take various routes around the town. These are known as Disco Buses due to their loud music and often flashing lights. But just in case you don’t hear them coming, the ticket boy hanging out the door will call out the destination several times as the vehicle approaches.
There are also slightly bigger buses, that run on intercity routes. If booked in advance, these buses will actually offer a door to door service!
Laid Back Locals and Cheap Food
When I got back from one of my walks, my friends were busy installing a window in one of the flats in their complex. Someone else had originally been tasked with installing the window and a door, but once they installed the door, decided to leave without installing the window. This left my friends with a situation where they had to install the window as someone was ready to move into the flat the next day. Apparently this kind of situation isn’t all that uncommon in Indonesia, as people sometimes become disinterested in doing the work they’ve promised to do. Perhaps they’re a little bit too laid back!
After they were done, my friend took me for a ride around on his bike to show me a bit of the town, get some food for dinner and satiate his craving for cheese and crackers. That led us to one of the 2 malls in the area, Lippo Plaza. It qualifies as a mall in Timor because it has a huge supermarket inside that stocks a lot of imported food. I was amazed at how cheap most things were, when compared with prices back home. It’s easy to see how Indonesians that work for a few years in other nearby countries, come back home with enough money to start businesses and build apartment blocks.
It’s also surprising how cheap it can be to eat at fancy hotel restaurants. I generally stay away from hotels when I travel, but you can get a buffet brunch, with amazing views, for just 80,000IDR at various hotels in the city. That’s under US$6! They also don’t seem to have many patrons at any given time, so it’s almost like your own private dining experience.
A Sign of the Season
Being in a predominantly Christian country around Christmas meant that there weren’t many options for things to do, so while my friend went to spend time with his family, I ended up at the only place that was open; the mall. While having tea in a cafe there, I saw a disco train, with a very disinterested driver, taking kids, and some parents, around the centre.
Outside the mall there were 3 Christmas trees, all made of different materials. In fact, on my many walks around the area, I saw Christmas trees made from whatever materials were available, like wire, plastic water bottles, paper, chairs, pipes and firewood. What a great way of personalising Christmas traditions. It certainly beats the idea of cutting down actual trees or using ugly fake trees.
Another interesting thing I spotted while walking around, was that many men had a thick strip of the hair on top of their head dyed a bright colour like red, green or yellow. I had originally thought that this was just a fashion trend, but my friend informed me that it only happened around Christmas time. I guess that explains why they all seemed to be festive kind of colours.
Locals in Kupang aren’t afraid to add a splash of colour to their dwellings. In fact, many bright or pastel coloured houses and roofs can be spotted from both the air and the ground. Blue and green seem to be firm favourites, although there are also a lot of pinks and whites as well, with some red and yellow also thrown in for good measure.
Besides colourful homes, Kupang had its fair share of colourful animals wandering around. From possibly stray cats and dogs that seemed to spend a lot of time hanging around the rubbish collection areas, probably looking for food. To random hens walking around with young chicks following close behind them, to the occasional goat and the odd pig here and there.
Shelters for the Departed
There seems to be an abundance of cemeteries in Kupang and most seem to occupy prime positions on the waterfront. Many of the graves are very colourful and ornate. Almost all of them have an image of Jesus somewhere near the front of the grave and look like they would have cost a fortune to build. There was one cemetery where a cluster of graves had added features that piqued my interest. They had their own shelters! Not the makeshift, tin shed type, but nice shelters that could shield you from one of the city’s numerous downpours. I’m not sure why long dead people would need shelters, nor what they would need sheltering from. Unless they don’t like the rain. It does rain a lot in Kupang.
Sights in the City
As I mentioned earlier, tourism isn’t really much of a thing in Timor, which means that the idea of charging entry fees to special areas just doesn’t exist. This is great if you really like to see different things but don’t like paying to see them! Most of the tourist attractions in Timor are outside of the capital, but there are still some areas of interest within the town.
The waterfront near the town centre contains a bustling market area, with some open-air eateries. While there, I found my way to an open-air ‘Bar and Resto’ with river views, where I settled in for a late lunch. I must admit, this was not the nicest river I’d ever seen, but I did notice some caves on the opposite bank, that had revealed themselves at low tide. Who doesn’t love hidden caves revealing themselves?
While I was there, my lovely friend Jeff had managed to borrow a car and came to pick me up for a late afternoon, early evening cruise around town. We headed down to the cafe strip, which is an area on the beach where makeshift cafes are set up. I guess they’re makeshift due to the sometimes unpredictable weather of the monsoon season. The area looked very vibrant and some stalls even had garden swings for customer use. Doesn’t a gentle swing while sipping on coffee or tea sound divine? My friend informed me that it was the place to be on New Years Eve, but unfortunately, I was leaving on New Years Eve morning, so I wouldn’t get to witness the spectacle.