As it was New Year’s Eve, this leg of the trip started with a lovely serenade of Auld Lang Sine by airport staff, just before the gate was open for boarding.
In order to get back home in time for the first work day of the year, I had to opt for a one night stop over in Jakarta. Knowing this, I had gotten in contact with some locals beforehand and one of them had generously volunteered to pick me up from the airport and show me around.
Jakarta was certainly a lot different to the cruisy little Indonesian island I’d just left. For a start, the roads were much bigger and had a lot more traffic on them! I guess that makes sense when you realise that Indonesia’s capital city has a population that is more than 5 times bigger than the population of the whole of West Timor. The traffic seemed to get more intense the closer we got to the city. When I commented about this, my friend advised that it wasn’t normally that bad at that time of night. Apparently, everyone comes out of hiding on New Year’s Eve!
That, of course, meant that the place was bustling. Every time we stopped at a set of traffic lights, someone would walk in between the lines of stopped cars trying to sell all kinds of things, from fireworks, to hats and scarves, to glow in the dark stuff and newspapers. Again my friend assured me that this was just a sign of the season and not an indication of how things normally are in Jakarta.
The festive mood also meant that copious amounts of food stalls, that would normally close earlier, were still super crowded, even at 1am! These roadside food stalls were quite simple. Many had only been constructed with tarpaulins, ropes and metal poles. I guess that means they can move to an area with more people if business is slow. They also only offered a small variety of foods, but still proved to be a blessing for all the hungry people roaming around before, and after, celebrating the start of the new year.
Party Like It’ll Be 2019! Eventually, after an epic mission to find parking, we found our way to a rooftop party at a hotel in central Jakarta.
I spent the last few hours of the year talking to many interesting strangers from around the world while watching drunk people dance hilariously. Seeing as it was the middle of the wet season, there was also a bit of rain lurking. At the beginning of the night, every shower sent people scattering inside, or to the limited amount of shelter outside. As the night went on, however, people seemed to have given up on trying to dodge the rain and just kept doing what they were doing.
Things went on like this until just before midnight, when everyone realised that it was almost time for the countdown to the new year. Things went silent for a short while, until everyone started shouting excitedly. Despite the shouting and general mayhem, the sound of fireworks exploding all over the city could be heard. It seems that many people, including some of the attendees of our party, had bought fireworks from a set of traffic lights. So as you can imagine, it got loud!
Happy New Year!
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Exploring the Natural Wonders of West Timor – Mount Fatuleu/Gunung Fatuleu
It wasn’t long before I realised that West Timor had a lot of natural beauty. I then made it my mission to explore the natural wonders of West Timor. As the public transport timetable was quite restrictive, my friend Jeff was kind enough to let me borrow his bike to get myself up to Gunung Fatuleu, or Mount Fatuleu. It is situated in Oelbiteno, about 50km northeast of Kupang. The roads were good most of the way up, except for a 100m stretch. There it looked like the road had been attacked with jackhammers, leaving it in a very rocky and uneven state.
What Road Rules?
Even with the mostly decent state of the roads, riding up there was indeed an adventure. It took every ounce of concentration I had to keep out of the way of cars, trucks, mopeds and dirt bikes driving on the wrong side of the road while overtaking. It seems that even solid lane markings are only suggestions that are to be ignored when you want to pass someone.
The constant cat and mouse game was very tiring, which made it all the more lovely when I found myself on a deserted mountain road. Thankfully, that would be the road I’d be on for what was left of the journey to Mount Fatuleu. Even though I was following a map, the entrance to the mountain trail was not easy to find. I initially rode straight past it!
Natural Wonders of West Timor – Finding Mount Fatuleu
Luckily I realised quickly that I’d overshot the target and eventually found the entry. I should mention at this point that it had been misty for the entire trip up. I had been hoping that it would clear by the time I got to my destination. It was not my lucky day. I had stopped a few times enroute, when the mist had moved enough to see the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the mist managed to return to its perch on the mountain top before I could get a picture of it. You’ll just have to imagine that it was there!
Getting My Bearings
After a quick stop at the park map, I found my way to the start of the trail up the hill. My map was telling me that it was only 400m to the peak. I must admit, I was a little disappointed, as I was dressed for a proper hike, not a stroll! At the beginning, the trail seemed to consist of your average run-of-the-mill stairs, but that escalated quickly into a chunky uneven concrete nightmare, that had me wondering what the workers who constructed it were drinking when they did it. At least I was getting a workout!
It seems the workers gave up when they hit a rock outcrop a little further up the trail and figured that if people made it that far, they were on their own for the last 200m. That left me literally in the middle of the mist with no trail to follow. You’d think I’d turn back at that point, right? Not a chance! I found my own way through the rocky forest! By the time I made it to what my map told me was the top, I was completely engulfed by the mist. I was quite glad when I’d made it back to the crosses at the rock outcrop, which indicated that the stairs were nearby and I’d be out of the mist momentarily.
Natural Wonders of West Timor – Goa Kristal/Crystal Cave
So onto another day and another adventure! My friend had generously allowed me to use his bike again. This time to head to Goa Kristal, or Crystal Cave in Bolok, 20km west of Kupang. On the way there, I ended up on a 4 lane highway that had a strip of land running through the middle of it, separating it into two 2 lane roads. I had figured that this was done to give both directions of traffic their own road. I found out I was wrong when the occasional truck going in the opposite direction ended up on the same road as me. So it’s really just another Indonesian ‘drive where you want’ deal.
Natural Wonders of West Timor – Turn Left at the Coast
At the end of the highway, I found myself on a road that followed the coast for a while, before making its way into the town of Bolok. I had to ride through the town for a bit to reach the dirt road that led to the cave. I was lucky enough to see some local cows just hanging out, eating grass. The town also seemed very proud to be Christian. There were crosses on the side of the road throughout the town.
Cows and crosses
After a short drive down the dirt road, my map was indicating that I was right near the cave, but I couldn’t see any signs to indicate exactly where it was. I did see a small trail that seemed to be going in the general direction I needed, so I followed it for a few minutes to a fence with a small gate that was locked from the other side. I was hoping that I hadn’t gone all that way to be stopped by a fence! While I was there, contemplating my next move, a young man appeared from nowhere inside the fenced area and began running toward the gate. My welcome wagon had arrived!
Getting to the Cave
The young man, who introduced himself as Bo, enthusiastically welcomed me and beckoned for me to come in. Upon walking through the gate, I could see a cute handmade wooden sign, but still no cave. Thankfully Bo knew exactly where it was and had me at the cave entrance almost instantly. The opening was so small that it would definitely be difficult to find unless you knew exactly where it was.
The cave entrance from both the outside and the inside
Bo then asked myself and a family, that had gotten there just before I did, if we wanted to go inside. You can imagine what my response was, but only one of the people from the family was eager to have a look. I almost had a bat fly into my face on the way in, then heard some squeals behind me as the younger members of the family caught a glimpse of the bat.
Where’s the Lake?
After giving my eyes a second to adjust to the darkness, I realised that the lake was still a considerable distance below me and the ‘path’ down was full of slippery rocks. It was totally worth it to see the lake close up and dip my hand in though!
Not long after I’d made it to the lake at the bottom of the cave and was letting the serenity of the place wash over me. Then I heard a huge splash. Bo had jumped in for a swim! As I hadn’t realised that swimming was allowed, I’d not brought a change of clothes. So sadly, I had to decline Bo’s invitation for a swim. At least he looked like he was enjoying himself though!
Natural Wonders of West Timor – Air Terjun Oenesu/Oenesu Waterfalls
Anyone that knows me is aware of the fact that I’m in love with waterfalls. I try to find them in each new place that I go to. It was rather convenient that there was a small set of falls in Oenesu, about 20km southeast of Goa Kristal. Again, the road was good for most of the journey. Until I had to turn onto a bumpy dirt road about 5km before the falls.
My map was trying to guide me to an area that didn’t look very accessible. I decided to just keep following the road and eventually found myself in an empty parking area. I swear there was no one around when I entered the area. As I got off the bike, there was all of a sudden a young man behind me asking for money to see the waterfall. I was a bit taken aback as all sources had told me that there was no entry fee. It was at that moment that another young local appeared from nowhere and told the first guy not to charge me.
Natural Wonders of West Timor – Rocky Road to the Falls
My new friend, Raymond, decided that he would guide me to the falls and show me the secret viewing places. This involved a bit of rock climbing, but I’m always up for a bit of an adventure!
The real fun started after seeing the falls. I saw a trail to the side of the falls and asked where it went. Raymond advised that it went around the back of the falls and indicated that we should take it.
A Slight Detour to more Natural Wonders of West Timor
While we were on that trail, I noticed some fallen coconuts and may have professed my love for them. That caused him to say, “I can get you coconut. Would you like?”. So he took me to his house, which was nestled in the middle of a forest, where he proudly introduced me to his family. It was only a short stop so he could pick up his coconut carving knife.
From there we took a short walk through the forest. As we walked along Raymond would point out things and tell me the Indonesian words for them. After just a few minutes, he had spotted the tree he was looking for. He wasted no time in climbing to the top to ‘shake down’ a coconut for me.
Shaking the Coconut Down
I had noticed that most of the coconut trees in the area had foot and hand holds carved into them at intervals. That’s what the locals used to climb up and down the trees and make it look like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Once back on the ground, Raymond used his knife to open the humongous coconut for me.
As he handed me the freshly opened coconut, Raymond said, “Kelapu Oenesu”, which means Oenesu Coconut. After drinking the water from it, the coconut was chopped in half so that I could enjoy the delicious flesh inside.
Natural Wonders of West Timor – Sunset Over Sea
How do you end a wonderful day? With dinner and sunset at a highly recommended cafe down the road from the falls! I’d actually planned to go to Cafe Tebing for lunch. I was disappointed to find it closed at 1pm. It didn’t open until 4pm, just in time for dinner. Indonesians are so easy going that they don’t even open their businesses at normal hours!
As with many places in Timor, this cafe is open-air, with a super relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps a little bit too relaxed when it comes to bringing out food in a timely fashion, but who’s going to complain when you get this view while waiting?
To say the sunset was stunning would be an understatement. I’d dare say this is possibly the best view in town. From almost anywhere in the cafe you have a panoramic view from port to coast.
All Good Things..
Unfortunately, my time in Timor had to end. On the day I left, Jeff cooked up a local delicacy, Pisang Goreng, or fried banana for breakfast. And it was AMAZING!
I wasn’t the only one delighted with the meal! Apparently Matt also loves this dish. But Jeff only cooks it when people are visiting from overseas. I’d say it’s worth a trip to Kupang just to try it.
After an obligatory picture, to remind us just how happy Jeff’s food had made us, I headed off to the airport.
Of course, my first flight in three months departed more than an hour later than it was supposed to leave! 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. Probably 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 joining us 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. e 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. 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! Some days 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. 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. 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.