Indonesia - West Timor

The southernmost land in Indonesia, located 600 km north of Darwin, Australia, Timor island is politically split into independent East Timor and Indonesian West Timor.
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Kupang, the provincial capital of Indonesian West Timor nearing 300,000, becomes particularly lively in the evening, when colorful street carts line the street curbs with their offerings of fried bananas, skewered meats, local doughnuts and other delicacies. After a few days there, we were quite surprised to be greeted by our names by people we had never been introduced to. We were later told there were hardly more than two dozen Westerners in town at any one time, and most only pass through, hence the special attention we received everywhere.
Indonesian "bemos" are minibuses running as collective taxis. They are operated by 2 guys, the driver and a youngster in charge of collecting the fee from passengers but also of spotting a prospective client standing by the street pavement. Each bemo is proudly named, sometimes with the most outrageous inventions: how would you like to be driven around by Brutallic? Or would you prefer to get on board Erotica as here on the picture on the left? While inside, the fun continues: blasting music, ornate interior design often composed of the gaudiest trinkets and garlands and a driving style that makes you wonder whether bemo drivers are racing one another off the streets...
This monument, located on one of the main roads of Kupang, commemorates the glory of the Sonbai dynasty which reigned over parts of West Timor until 1949. The name of the Sonbai princedom appears in many stories and historical events in particular related to the fierce competition that took place in the 17th century between the Portuguese and the Dutch for the commercial supremacy in the region.
A daily ferry connects Kupang to Rote Island to the southwest, in about 2 hours. Although many Kupang residents have never been on the island, it is a favorite with tourists, attracted there by its beautiful, quiet beach, coral reef, and a great surf spot near Nemberela. The village has a church, a school and a doctor but enjoys the luxury of electricity only from 6 at night till 6 in the morning and part of the day on Sunday.
Just 75 km long and 17 across, Rote Island's country roads are fun to discover with a motorbike or a scooter. Just make sure you fill up your tank whenever the opportunity arises. Don't look for formal gas stations, as you will only find a few plastic fuel containers available for sale here and there on the roadside.
In the eighties, Martina started hosting in Nemberela the first surfers who showed up in the village. Gradually, her home was turned into the first guesthouse in the village, a family business run with a permanent smile serving great meals twice a day to pampered surfers of the hungry kind. Because her guests are mainly Australians, often with not very adventurous taste buds, she adapted her cooking accordingly and reserves dishes such as baby squids to her own family table. You'll have to peek in the courtyard outside kitchen and beg if you want to sample some!
The lontar palm, a tree of the Borassus family also called Palmyra palms, is the most common feature of the Rote Island coastline. It is also a feature of Rotenese lifestyle in many respects: food, construction, crafts and other useful applications. Lontar palm trunks are used for beams and posts, while their branches are turned into walls, fences and leaves into roofing material. Mats, trays, containers, fans and the famous straw hats are also made from lontar palm. Its coconuts are a source of food for humans and pigs but its most precious produce is "nire". Nire is the sap which can be turned into high-energy food as juice, treacle or sugar and even distilled into a 70° moonshine called "sopi". The island's new wealth is agar-agar, an algae used a a thickener by the food and pharmaceutical industries. It is harvested in sea shallow waters and set to dry in the sun on structures made out of lontar palms.
Pigs in a country with the world's largest Muslim population? That's right! This region of Indonesia, Nusa Tengara Timur, is Christian by over 90%. On that particular holiday, many families on the island gathered around a goat or pig roast. And what was the country celebrating? The first day of Ramadan!
Our crossing from Nemberela to Ndao Island took place on one of the crowded fishing boats which every week turn into a supply cum passenger ferry. Not really protected from the blaring sun by a torn tarp, we shared the crowded open deck with a couple of live chickens and a confused rooster and all sorts of equipment ordered by some of the 600 residents on this small island lying on the western tip of Rote. We were told there was only one pickup truck and about a dozen 2-wheel vehicles on the island but more importantly no electricity and only brackish water available.
Upon reaching the coast of Ndao Island, we had to jump out of the boat and wade ashore. On the beach, a human chain was already unloading supplies from another boat. Passengers with a few bundles were patiently waiting for the boat to be ready to set out again, maybe taking with them some of the precious ikat weavings the region is famous for.