We left Dili around 09:30am, reasonably assured that we could get to the Timor-Leste --> Indonesian border crossing at Batugade/Atambua before lunchtime, with some time to spare. The twisty broken coastal road, however, slowed our progress considerably; instead of the anticipated two hours, the journey to the border took more than three. BUT there was a bonus .. as Indo time runs an hour behind TL time, so we arrived there to discover that the time was not at 12:30pm but 11:30am. Result! All clocks and watches, computers & mobile-cell phones required the usual attention. We’re now just seven hours ahead of London time.
Here’s how the border crossing works:-
On the Timor-Leste side:
- 1. First stop – go the frontier booth, fill-out a departure form and persuade the officer to accept it and stamp your passport, if you can wake him up.
- 2. Then backtrack slightly to get the Carnet (bike passport) stamped out of the country by TL Customs.
- 3. Have a brief interview with the frontier guards – that consists of a gang of three outwardly friendly blokes who seem a bit bored with their lot in life. A smile and an exchange of two or three jokes seemed warm things up and do the ‘let me pass through’ trick.
- 4. Get the Carnet stamped into Indonesia by Indo Customs.
- 5. Complete an entry form and have passport stamped in. We already had 60-day visas – arranged with the London Indonesian Embassy back in July – so the admission process was straightforward and a formality for us.
- 6. Get interviewed by the Indo Army. Not sure why?
- 7. Get interviewed again, this time by the Indo Police. Not sure what this was all about either?
The whole process, from start to finish, takes just over an hour – no doubt a bit longer, if you have to queue at any stage, which we didn’t.
So we were on our way again and heading in a general south-westerly direction by around 1:30pm. We were in a hurry to get to Kupang City; thinking at this stage that we had a fairly good chance of reaching our destination before dark.
Well, it took another seven hours, over and around some of the twistiest mountain roads you can imagine. The last 2½ hours of which, from Soe to Kupang, was ridden in total darkness. Feeling weary, with no street lighting whatsoever anywhere along the way; harassed by frantic, impatient road users – equals Not Good! But arriving in Kupang by around 8:30pm, we somehow managed to find our hotel, located deep into the city, without the benefit of a fully functioning SatNav-GPS unit on the very first attempt, perhaps more by luck than my good judgement.
First Impressions of Indonesia? Nearly everyone’s a millionaire in this country. The currency exchange rate beggars belief. 10,000 Rupiah is worth [ahem] .. about 75p! My first ATM withdrawal was for Rp ONE MILLION, or 75 quids’ worth (c. US$121). As a result, I’m an instant millionaire on my first day in this brand new (to me) country .. eat your heart out Del-Boy!
Nearly all goods and services are priced around 25%-30%, tops, of aussie costs. Gasoline /petrol is about Rp 5,000 per litre; that’s 0.38p /l (AU$0.58), which can’t be all bad. What a welcome change. Looks like I just might have some money left over when I get back to England by around the middle of next month – that’s mid-October 2011.
[The Currency Exchange Calculator on the right-hand column of this page is proving useful.]
Very noticeably bank notes are kept in circulation for far too long though .. and get real scruffy [filthy], as a result. Yuk in your wallet.
Sunday, September 11th
The 10th anniversary of 9/11, not that anyone around here seemed to give a toss. This is another place – a world far removed from my normal world in ‘The West’. People just want to grind on with their daily lives here in Indonesia. “Fcuk the West” (in a totally non-belligerent way, of course.)
Down at Kupang’s ferry port, otherwise known as ‘Bolok’ – I kid you not.
Crowds soon gather around the bike, like bees around the proverbial honeypot. See, BIG bikes are an unusual sight in SE Asia. Motorcycle engines here rarely have a displacement exceeding 250cc. Not that my trusty Transalp is a big bike; at 650cc it’s more of a ‘mid-ranger’ by western standards.
Nevertheless they were fascinated. Moreover, a brave few seemed very keen to practice their schoolboy English .. and spoke-up, “How big is engine Meestir?” – “How many speeds it has?” – “Where you come from?” – “Ooph! New Zealand is plenty far-away place” – “What bike cost, eh?” [answer = I dunno for sure, and can’t be bothered to work it out mate – shed loads of Rupiah millions, no doubt] – “All way to England you say?” – “Ha Ha .. you mad Meestir!” – etceteras, etc. You get the general drift.
Which reminded me: Timor-Leste courtesy flag .. now exchanged for an Indo one.
Even the hall porter, back at the hotel before checking out, pestered me to take his picture sat on said Alp. When I agreed to his request he instantly took-on the persona of a gleeful young child .. Bless him. The Man from England called ‘Meestir’, he say “YES” …
Inside the not-swept-this-century ferry terminal's waiting room ..
One last piece of decent nosh before embarkation – of an especially tasty and juicy corn on the cob. Why so? Well, because they cook corn here with the outer leaves still wrapped on, which means all the taste and goodness stays inside the natural green package throughout the cooking process.
Normally I smother my corn in melted butter, salt and loads of pepper, just to add some flavour. All of these additives, however, are entirely unnecessary when the cobs are cooked ‘au natural avec les feuilles’. And that’s the way it’s gonna always be done for me from now on – BBQ’d cobs excepted.
Our rat and cockroach infested rust-bucket of a ferry, the not-so-good ship Kendaraan Gol II, pulls alongside the jetty by about 11:30am .. and
.. by 12:30pm and we’re all aboard.The Alp looks comparatively huge down on the vehicle deck alongside the other Indo bikes that are also ferrying up north to the eastern end of Flores Island.
[I’ll explain why we’re in such a rush to get to Flores later.]
Then shortly thereafter, said ferry starts to really fill-up. What a circus.
GAWD! This voyage could be interesting, methought
Baby chick hatchlings, no more than a day or two old, are carted-on all boxed-up in the thousands .. cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep. [Friggin’ little bustards better not keep me awake during the night!]
JEEZ! Ponies too. Not in a horse box, but just led on by the nose. Shit?! .. I thought, for more than one reason!
Mayhem ensued. Folk were even pitching camp for the night down on the vehicle deck. Right around .. and even ON-TOP of the defenceless Alp.
Then out comes the grub .. consisting of mainly rice as usual. The pannier lids obviously make an ideal work top, so I was later informed!
This is better entertainment than watching the weekend ominibus edition of Coronation Street.
Walking upstairs I turn around and snap a pic of this Muslim woman.
Up inside the main communal cabin deck, it’s Carnival Time too. Here are some more pics of the cast:
Ellen takes a shine to a particularly handsome young Indo man.
Oh-so cool – Hunk du Jour - who loves the camera.
I did make he laugh though! .. :-)
By five o’clock we had been at sea, making our way north, for well over 1½ hours. Even in ‘Klas-1’, where we had reserved our padded seats, folk are already starting to claim their sleeping pitch for the night.
Dusk falls quickly here, from around 6:00pm. By 6:30pm it’s completely dark. I’m thinking at this stage that it could be a long night.
Eventually all the young’uns ..
.. the old’uns settle down ..
.. including this poor ol’ fella.
Monday, September 12th
05:45am, Mon-12th – Landfall Flores ..
.. and the rising sun paints the sky and lingering clouds, along with the low-lying mountains to our east in gold, orange, mauve and dark blue. We distribute a handful of freshly plucked Baby Wipes to our immediate waking neighbours, which are gratefully received.
Met and greeted by Mans and Theresa, of whom I say more later, at Lanrantuka’s quayside .. we disembark the mayhem and make our way eastwards along the town’s solitary main road to our pre-booked hotel, the Fortuna. Our local hosts and guides for the next few days, Mans & Theresa, thoughtfully and gracefully then leave us alone, simply to gather our thoughts and general orientation. We were tired, and they could clearly see it. After the last 36 hours, we had accumulated a sleep debt that needed paying back. Horizontal peace and quiet .. and a Fortuna soft pillow, would be the best remedy.
Tuesday, September 13th
Allow me to introduce to you three fine people:
Firstly ‘Mans’ – short for Mansetus – the Managing Director of Motorcycle Outreach.
Secondly, ‘Threes’ – short for Theresa – a recently retired local English teacher, and our interpreter for the rest of the week, and
finally, ‘Eman’ – short for Emmanuel – the Finance Manager of Motorcycle Outreach.
And this is the reason why we busted a gut to get down to Kupang City by Saturday night: we really wanted to catch the Kupang/Bolok --> to Larantuka, Flores-bound ferry the following day, Sunday-11th. You see, the ferry crossing occurs just twice a week – and with this in mind, had we missed the Sun-11 ferry, then the next opportunity to get up to Larantuka would have been Thursday-15th, arriving Fri-16, which would have been just a tad on the late’ish side for our planned itinerary* going forward.
[* @ Theresa, for your info – according to the Lonely Planet two-way dictionary, the equivalent Indonesian wording is: ‘rencana perjalanan’]
What is Motorcycle Outreach (MoR) all about? Well, it’s a registered UK Charity that we got to know more about earlier in the year. I guess you could say that we volunteered ourselves to act as ‘envoys’ for the Charity, particularly as we had always planned to pass through Larantuka, Flores, in the Nusa Tenggara Timur territory – a beautiful, region of Indonesia – which is where MoR operates from.
The kindness of our hosts has been second to none. Mans, Threes and Eman have taken us under their wings and shown us their facilities ..
.. including MoR's ageing fleet of motorcycles.
Presented us with traditional Flores ‘ikat’ sashes, which is a hand-woven tie-dye material made from locally grown cotton. We shall treasure these.
We have ridden with them to places where only a few westerners have visited, over miles and miles of unclassified roads (in other words dusty bumpy tracks). As an example of the many kms over which we've travelled, take a look at this video:
In the Tracks of Motorcycle Outreach
Where we met some of the local medical staff ..
.. who selflessly, and with a smile, provide hugely valuable healthcare to Flores' remoter village communities.
Refreshments flow throughout.
On Tuesday we were invited to share a Flores-type lunch in a MoR supporter's home, out in 'the sticks'. Dani and Sisilia Kerans offered us typical Indonesian fare, which comprises of boiled (sometime fried) rice, fish and veges .. plus homemade hot chilli paste, IF your palate can cope with the fiercesome heat.
Cashew nuts grow out in their back yard, which they harvest, dry, and then sell-on to the Sub-Continent (mainly India)
[Ahhh .. so that's how Cashews grow!]
Along with various types of Chilli.
No running water or other utilities is/are available.
Fresh water is hauled out of each home-owner's privately-owned well. Example above - six metres to the water supply. [Ellen looking down same .. and seeing her reflection on the well water's surface.]
We visit a small local cottage factory, that manufacture the ikat cloth I mentioned earlier ..
.. and see how it's made. From beginning to end, the process of piecing together a medium-sized woman's shawl takes a whole month.
As dusk approached we were invited to attend a pre-wedding ceremony. Here's the happy groom-to-be, who's carting an ivory tusk over his shoulder, which is his symbolic gift to the bride's family.
Such a lovely, happy ambience going on. What a rare privilege indeed for a couple of stray westerners, like us, to witness.
More (practical) gifts follow. Here's a small truckload of stuff, including rice, fruit & veg, firewood .. and there's even a live pig down there in the bottom righ-hand corner of the butt.
The kids are having a great time too.
To try and pick-up on the atmosphere I took some video footage:
And now for something completely different. Let's talk ablutions, because I bet you've often wondered how it all works out here; I'll admit that I have. Well now you're about to find out:
This is our bathroom at the Hotel Fortuna. There's no constant running water throughout the day; instead you have to fill-up your own private store of cold water when the supply is turned on, only for a brief period, usually during the very early part of the morning. Heated water is a rare luxury, so a cold shower is only possible during mornings' supplied periods. Miss the said period, and it's simply a question of scooping-up some water in your own 'mandi' - the green plastic pan you see - and throwing it over your body. The first mandi-full is the worst, and quite a shock; after that you really do get used to the uncustomary temperature.
There's no flushing loo neither. Ya just do your business .. after which you throw down a few mandi-fulls of water into the bowl on 'completion'. We're lucky, I guess, to have a western-style toilet bowl in our en-suite room. And no toilet paper. Use the side sprinkle hand-shower (running water time only); or use the bleedin' mandi .. again?!
Teeth are brushed with aid of a scoop of mandi water too; or alternatively, a plastic beaker.
♫ "I've got a crush on you, mandi - I hope you feel the way that I do." ♫
'Crush' by Mandy Moore - Released: August 28, 2001
[PS - Okay, so now you know the colour of my knickers!]
Similar - but somewhat different - here's the inside of a typical outlying village home's bathroom. A dirt floor, and no western-style loo. And they've never heard of Andrex!
So as you can imagine, we're very pleased to be stopping at the Hotel Ventura, in downtown Larantuka. Pure bloody luxury mate!
Wednesday, September 14th
Another day, another excursion - this time to a smaller outlying island called Solor. As my 'BIG' bike is large and heavy to man-handle onto the ferry, I am riding one of MoR's machines.
I get some practise in before we embark upon the ferry.
Like nothing works on the darn thing, except the engine and brakes (thank gawd!) There's no properly functioning clutch mechanism; no lights, no instrumentation that work, no horn, no indicators .. and WTF's a rear brake light?
On the ferry ride, about an hour in duration, we meet:
A Muslim woman selling her wares to the passengers
A young mother, another English teacher ..
.. and her sleepy child.
Disembarking the ferry at the island's jetty.
We rode along rough and broken unkempt tracks for almost an hour before arriving at the Hospital and Health Care Community Centre where medical treatments, including minor operations, are carried out.
Here's the Director of the Centre
.. and we held a long conversation with the local doctor; the charming and very witty Dr Ronny Hadyento, a young 27 year old from Java on a six month secondment. He advised us of the importance of the work undertaken on Solor, the medical care covering many thousand souls from babes to the elderly. He also treats Leprosy patients.
We met our host and chieftain of the Kaha tribe - Nicholas Oran Kaha ..
.. and his lovely wife.
One of the local hospital helpers.
After another fine lunch it was time to hand-out smiley stickers and a couple more inflatable globes to the local children. The kids are shy, but soon warmed-up and seemed fascinated by our fair skin and grey hair.
We receive the usual "Thank you Meestir"
It's five o'clock before we get back to mainland Flores.
'Tis been another grand day out.
Today is Friday-16th, and we've caught up on all our outstanding chores, including updates to our journals and this blog. Tonight we shall have a farewell dinner with Mans, Threes and Eman. Good people.
Tomorrow, Saturday-17th, we'll be outta Larantuka for sure .. and head for the middle of Flores, to the Lakes of Kelimutu in particular, a huge volcano containing the famous three coloured lakes.
Can't wait to get back on the road.
Having seen first hand the lack of transport and the conditions that the village people live in, we felt that our financial support is vital to the well being of these folk, and to the maintenance of Motorcycle Outreach's targets.
With this in mind we hope to carry out some fund raising activities with the aim of replacing MoR's fast deteriorating stock of well worked motorbikes, the cost will be in the region of GB£1,600.00 per bike. Our target therefore is approximately GB£20,000.00, should we exceed this, our next project would be to build them their own office with a supply water and electricity.
We both felt humbled. We in the west have more than enough - and they have, by comparison, so little.
From Ellen's journal: click on this link → Onwards to Indonesia and Reminiscences