I had heard a few horror stories about overland border crossings with your own vehicle so I approached the East Timor/ Indonesian border with a little trepidation. I had organised my Indonesian visa at their embassy in Dili so my main concern was the motorcycle paper work. To my surprise it all went quite smoothly, I had to give customs a bit of a hand filling out my Carnet but we got there in the end, I can only speak a few words of the local languages so I just went through grinning at everyone, maybe they just felt sorry for me thinking I was a simple, smiling fool on a big bike. The guys at Indonesian customs welcomed me into their office, they were really interested in the bike and my travels, the process would of taken 10 minutes but I asked the customs guys for a photo in front of the bike and all of a sudden they all grabbed their sunglasses and cameras and we spent the next 20 minutes posing for photos with the Beemer, plenty of laughs all round. I was soon on my way again, with the customs lads telling me if I had any hassles at all to pass on their details and they’d make sure they would sort it out.
There were some noticeable differences once I had crossed the border, the first of which was the excellent condition of the roads and the signage that made navigation much easier. Although village life seemed very similar in both countries the villages were much more closely interspersed in West Timor, one village would end and another would start without me even realising. The cities and major towns had a much livelier feel to them, they were certainly more densely populated than Dili and seemed to be much more colourful and vibrant.
The first major town I came across was Atambua, needless to say I got lost almost immediately, after riding aimlessly through the town and passing the same group of police hanging out at the side of a roundabout 3 times I thought it might be wise to ask for directions. The cops were another shining example of Indonesian hospitality, once they found out I was heading to Kefamenanu they soon assigned 2 cadets on motorcycle to escort me to the right road and once I convinced the officer in charge that him taking my bike for a spin was a bad idea I was off with my police escort. I needed petrol so we took a detour to a service station where we jumped a queue of about 30 vehicles, I was pretty embarrassed but nobody seemed to mind, they just ushered me through and checked out the bike, VIP treatment at its finest. We reached the road to “Kefa” and with many thanks on my behalf I bid my escort goodbye.
I stayed in a hotel in the town of Soe, very happy about the much more affordable cost of travelling and accommodation in Indonesia compared to Timor Leste. The East half of West Timor seems to have an eclectic mix of languages and I was quite surprised that the hotel clerk couldn’t speak Bahassa Indonesian, this certainly was no help in my continuous struggle of communication. The Road from Soe to Kupang was fantastic, the road wound its way from village to village with street vendors lining the roads, I stopped along the way to sample some of the local street food, which was delicious, unfortunately the 110 km stretch to Kupang finished all too soon.
I had planned to stay in Kupang for just one day and was in luck because the ferry for Larantuka, Flores left the next morning, I went to check out Crystal Cave, a local underground swimming hole and bumped into some locals who spoke English, as always in Indo the bike was a great conversation starter and I was soon invited home for a meal by a guy called Umbu. Once again the hospitality blew me away, I was soon drinking Aruk (palm wine) and chewing on Betel nut with Umbu’s dad who helped me learn a few simple phrases in Bahassa. It goes to show that it is often the people you meet that make the place what it is, I decided to postpone the Ferry trip to Flores and spend an extra 3 days in Kupang. As with most Indonesian guys, Umbu had a keen interest in bikes so he kindly acted as a bit of a tour guide for me for the next few days, which meant that I got to experience some really interesting local places, people and food. My bike was covered in mud so he took me to a local bike wash and set some kids to work cleaning the big girl, once they got over the shock of the job at hand they had a ball, jostling for position to get a chance to do a little cleaning. At one stage there were seven of them washing the bike at once, they were having a ball and although I had to rely on Umbu to translate I had an entertaining time watching them. They certainly took pride in their work, when they were done it was the cleanest the bike had been for a long time, I paid triple the usual price and it was still dirt cheap. The local kids in Kupang are absolutely hilarious, I’d pass them riding or bump into groups of them when I visited the local waterfalls and caves, it was always guaranteed that I would be followed by yells of “Mister, Mister, Mister”. They were a mischievous bunch and were pretty happy with the fact that a westerner was doing the rock jumps into the water with them, they were easily encouraged to do crazier stunts, especially when I brought the camera or go pro out.
The longer I stayed in Kupang the more I was enjoying it, the city seemed to come to life at night with people and vehicles filling the streets, busy night markets offering freshly cooked street food, neon everywhere and of course the local minibuses decorated in bright colours, loudly playing bass thumping music. I asked Umbu about a guy that rode through a red light and he replied with “Ray, its Sunday man, the police don’t book you on Sunday, that’s why nobody is wearing a helmet”. This was like music to my ears, for the rest of the day the helmet was left at home and I was cruising around in just shorts, thongs and singlet, I passed the local police headquarters and zoomed by an officer on his motorbike, the only response I received was a friendly wave, I was loving it. I’d end up at Umbu’s place at some point every afternoon to chat with his family and friends, on my final evening in Kupang I was even invited to a large family gathering for a visiting relative from the Philippines. I was in a house full of people and only 2 of them could speak English, it didn’t matter though, there was plenty of laughing and I was fed until I couldn’t eat anymore. I spent much of the night chatting to Umbu’s Aunt Teresa in very broken English, this seemed to entertain most of the people at the party with many of them laughing until tears streamed down there cheeks at her attempts at conversation in English. To my surprise Umbu’s mother gave me a locally made scarf as a gift when I left that evening, there were plenty of warm goodbyes and of course a few photos taken on the Beemer.
I left for the ferry terminal the next morning to leave for Larantuka on the island of Flores. Umba hung around for the 3 hour wait and managed to get me a local price for my ferry ticket, he also translated all the announcements that came over the loudspeaker, this made life much easier for me. I was eventually directed on to the ferry and with only an hour delay to the departure time I was on my way to Flores.