A Travellerspoint blog

Dili

Not even Pol Pot succeded in killing proportionately as many Cambodians as the Indonesian dictator Suharto and his fellow generals killed in East Timor. Its 1975 population of 688,000 should have been expected to rise to around a Million by 1993 but it was actually counted to be less at around 650,000. Worse than Ethiopia after the famine of 1984. 200,000 people, a third of the population had died since the Indonesian invasion upon the materialisation of a power vacuum. It all started with the April 1974 "Carnation Revolution" which deposed the Portugese dictator Salazar and promptly left her colonies in a state of flux. Suharto had already killed between 300,000 to a 1 Million of Indonesia's own people in seizing power, all with the backing and assistance of the US. Australian insecurity conspired for them to condone it, declaring ET to be an unviable state, and nobody stopped to ask the local populace their wishes. In an attempt to escape from her racist, isolationist past and fearful of a renewed threat from the "Yellow Peril", East Timor was an inconvenience to be denied by Australia, perhaps even an opportunity to be exploited. Indonesia infiltrated and destabilised ET's burgeoning independence movement, with a coup pushing the Portugese on their way and creating a month long civil war. Despite unprecedented support from the local populace, Fretelin the now de facto government was similarly ignored by the UK and absorption into Indonesia was mooted. With the "Big Wink" from the US coming, a clandestine invasion ensued with a view to provoking incidents which would justify overt Indonesian intervention. Fretelin declared independence on the 28th November 1975 and Indonesia invaded, President Ford having just left Jakarta within hours.

Though the heat of my Indonesian visa pressure was now off, I still unfortunately couldnt adopt the requisite mode of relaxation. With the non-availability of reasonably priced flights and still the awareness of much to fit into my remaining months left, I had had to settle for only a week in East Timor although 3 would have been preferable. After availing myself of a superb and enormous Martabak brekkie at the adjacent "Sun" Indian Restaurant, sat with a trio of armed Australian soldiers and a lone UN policeman from Malaysia, I stumbled out onto Dili's streets thoroughly stuffed.

Posted by andyhay2 17:02 Archived in East Timor Comments (0)

Indonesia to East Timor

It was beautiful. After a few snaps of this most poignant of borders, of plaques ironically of Indonesia boasting of its most contested frontier, I was further thrown into the unknown through the lack of a single fellow itinerant or border tout. Though the traverse of No Mans Land was of unknown distance, the curve of the palm fringed road beckoned me back towards the beauty of the beach, and I turned the corner to see the distant promise of further officialdom acceptably close. Normally border zones were not a place to linger lest if security dictat didnt compromise you then an army of touts would, but here it seemed there was simply no traffic to warrant it and it was as pleasant an amble as I could recall. Consideration of the history deemed it the mother of all ironies how this long anticipated and long contested spot had to be one of the most beautiful and peaceful in the world. The opening scenes of The Thin Red Line came to mind as a disconnected party related how paradise was all fucked up.

Not too much though. Almost in deference to nature, where a fence of razorwire should have straddled it there was only a seemless stretch of beach, and East Timorese officialdom was not the gun wielding backs against the wall prediction but a similar lackadaisical but quietly professional reflection of the other side. In fact it was so deserted and understated that depite questionable photography I didnt recognise the reception counter for what it was, a lone woman ahead of me received friendly attention as did I. My first dealings with this most enigmatic of countries was immediately epitomised in negotiating the entry form, scribed first in Portugese, then in Indonesian, then in English. Knowing from experience that it was prudent to play the dumb tourist and complete it in English, trying to be smart was always just a liability open to questioning, the appreciably ethnically distinct official had to query my deliberate understatement of my nationality. He complimented my succinct UK declaration of state as "Inggriss Raya", (Royal England in Bahasa) but it was still an immediate quandry as to how to discourse with the guy. The lingua franca of East Timor was Tetun, a tongue understood by 80% of the population and yet a largely unwritten language which they had had to admit as being wholly inadequate as an international medium. Debate had raged about which course to adopt in that vain, with Bahasa Indonesia spoken by 60% of the population being a prime candidate. Portugese as the original colonial avenue of communication was another contender, but with East Timor lying so close to Australia, speakers of the worlds language of business and that of the aid effort, that too had had to be considered. And so what did their parliament plump for? Portugese, a language understood by perhaps only 5% of its people, mostly its more senior citizens. Perhaps somewhat understandably in a fit of fearful nationalism they had resolved to resist any further external interference other than far off Lusitania, but it was immediately doomed to be inappropriate in a land where there was barely a teacher qualified to teach it.

The guy swapped my 30 bucks for a surprisingly large full page passport stamp and let me go with what I took to be almost embarassment at the language question, I had been hitherto advised that Bahasa was perfectly acceptable but in deference to their history of defiance it just didnt feel right. That led to another quandry though, was I now supposed to make some pretence at speaking Portugese just like everybody else? I always thought of languages as being a mindset comparable to the gears of a car, and the switch from now ingrained Bahasa to scant Portugese was now like asking me to drive using only 2nd and 5th. I stalled frequently. A cursory disinterested bag search left me free to now break out into this most quirky enigmatic of countries and yet amazingly a trio of minibuses sat parked unattended, there was not a single tout of any persuasion. I congratulated myself once again then that I had done very well to already secure my currency exchange, but for once the odd Ojek or Bemo officionado would have been a blessing. With seemingly no other option then, I elected to just go hardcore and push out heavily laden along the superhot long straight palm bordered avenue eastwards, but the indulgence of the woman I had queued behind at immigration who promptly passed by with not one but a brace of baggage laden Ojeks meant that she probably knew there was nowhere of any importance anywhere soon. For all I knew I might walk all day without encountering a bus to Dili, East Timor's capital 2 hours hence, and so after a sweat saturated mile I took recourse to consult a layabout couple ensconced outside an isolated shack. Their fascination at a lone crazy white man revealed that certainly an Ojek was required, and certainly I was fortunate when promptly they hailed an unexpected motorbike originating from whence I had just slogged.

I had no idea of prices in this country but I knew it to be notoriously expensive, a reflection of its instability and of overpaid expats, there ostensibly tended to be a culture of just asking a Dollar for anything and so when the boy asked for 50 cents I didnt argue. My predictable request for a bus to Dili soon saw me dropped in a sleepy ramshackle junction village which immediately bore a different vibe from Indo, and waiting around for onward transport gave me time to consider the most important time in any country, it was only when you first arrived that you could appreciate the changes, what made a place distinct. There were many. A lone old boy bore perhaps the features of a Portugese/Timorese mix and people were contrastingly reluctant to engage with me. Pursuit of an essential bottle of water revealed a lack of Bahasa and of not knowing what to do, they were simply stunned to be presented with a foreigner. In a border town anywhere on the planet that was most unusual and I had to question whether it was simply that they saw very few or were skeptical of the influence of the sizeable international aid presence in this country. It was a stunning transition, from "Hello Mister" at every hour of the day to not even so much as a simple Hello. For my part I could appreciate the quandry, I simply didnt know which language was acceptable.

Whilst waiting at the junction for a bus to materialise I investigated what was clearly a compound of Portugese colonial extraction, a sturdy whitewashed edifice bearing unsuitably a long thatched roof enclosed by walls which bore hints of gunslit fortification. The corrugated gates which had been hastily scrawled with spray paint grafitti style to say "Immigration" had clearly been an intermediate make-do upon secession from Indonesia, and a small tired looking church was still presented by a sign of clear Indonesian character, usefully revealing the Timorese border village to be named Batugade. When a bus did eventualy materialise I presumed all roads to lead to Dili but the border woman and her wares were headed to unknown Maliana in the other direction, fortunately the semi Portugese old boy was headed to Dili too though and kept me right. What was clear though from its demeanour was a hint of desperation, boys hung off the outside of the bus like flies and cheap clearly meant no comforts and plainly no health and safety either. The crew boys who hung out of the doors now in threes betrayed the poor employment situation here too, with halts to pick up haggling women seemingly revealing up to 10 of them to load up cardboard boxes and sacks of rice. Timor continued much alike with long flat sections interrupted by random climbs, though salt and pepper hills and tremendously wide dry river beds testified that even with the onset of the wet season the east saw little rain at all. The people were uniformly very dark here now with frequent hints of Papuan influence, and the palpable Portugese element in girls wearing miniature black headscarves and contrastingly bright flowery robes had me consider this land to bear a remarkable resemblance perhaps to parts of Africa. Savannah land punctured by sparse flat topped trees meant that I guessed Portugal's other forgotten legacies of Angola or Mozambique might look little different. I looked for hints of a shared ancestry with Australian aboriginals even but that proved not to be the case, it seemed that the Indonesian archipeligo's greater proximity had allowed Mongoloid influence though now much diluted to share the upper hand with Melanesian stock. Poor scraped together fishing villages bordered pristine deserted beaches and fantastic turquoise waters, with the odd ascent allowing an overview of offshore coral beds. It was a shame to see the odd colonial architectural relic lying gutted and abandoned to the elements, but more frequent were what had been more modern structures now variously derelict or wholly destroyed, presumably by military action.

My first appreciation of capital city Dili after 2 hours was sadly not a pleasing one, with the reckless abandon now fully resembling the war zone it had until recently been, and tent encampments and the road diminishing into wasteland came as something of a shock. Ragged youths milling aimlessly about provoked a subtle tinge of fear, and certainly if I had not been so experienced I might have questioned the wisdom of coming here. Another comparison in Haiti came to mind, it was not one to aspire to. Fortunately Dili improved somewhat as we approached its heart but despite the appreciated concerns of one of the crew boys I remained thoroughly disorientated despite my map. In the end I just plumped to alight at the central market which was if nothing else a position fix. A singular lack of roadsigns and street names still made it tricky but my kilometre long trek out to Dili's single backpacker den was at least direct. All along the broad avenue lay compound after headquarters of government agencies, NGO operations and UN bases, the most immediately striking impression that it seemed half the worlds fleet of Toyota Landcruisers had been commandeered to elicit the aid effort. With such a betrayal of sizeable outside influence, gone now completely was the chorus of "Hello misters" and though I guessed they still didnt see too many white boys trekking through the heat heavily laden, there was an evident air of indifference interrupted only by the odd Portugese "Bom Dia". It had been quite a day of trials already and so what I really didnt need was what ensued next, a failure to trace the hostel and consultation with the locals failing to elicit that there had ever been one. Even if it had ceased business there was no suitable building apparent where the guidebook map suggested, but in a remarkable twist of fate I eventually cottoned on to the explanation. Having considered it unlikely that I would be able to pick up a copy of the Lonely Planet East Timor book, a kindly fellow Scotsman I had met in Kota Kinabalu had blessed me with photocopies of the East Timorese section in the more recent South East Asia book. Having fantastically then discovered a lone copy in an exchange book shop in Bali, only the 2nd time I had ever seen it (the 1st was bizzarely at the India-Pakistan border), I had discarded the photocopies but for a sole page, the one which bore a handy pocket copy of the Dili map. Inspired comparison amazingly revealed that the book had incredibly managed to get this most important of details wrong, with the loose map now revealing it to allegedly lie a further 2Ks away. Considering that every single traveller who had ever come here must have endured the same frustration I might have expected to have heard about it but had not. I could not muster the resolve for that degree of punishment and so elected to head for a still distant guesthouse, ostensibly actually cheaper but not affording the same facility. The knife was twisted again however when it was related that they were full, no they werent, oh yes they were, even they could discern the degree of my frustration and afforded me tea free gratis. An unforthcoming white chick here was the first I had seen in an age, but a much greater appeasement here was the discovery of a bundle of excellent professionally produced tourist maps of the country. A superb find. After relating to the friendly owners "Setiap hari, apa apa!" (Every day, problems!) I pursued a freshly refuelled recourse to the now dubious location of Backpackers No.1, the distances again being compounded by no street signage and the lack of Indonesia's handy convention in every business sign relating their address. Unsure as to even which street I was on I noted a 24 hour internet cafe at the point of giving up, only for fates perverse sense of humour to have me look up in despair from it and spy a much more prominent nameplate, "East Timor Backpackers". Amazingly, though they had managed to get not only the map marker but the street name wrong in the guidebook, the door number 231 was correct.

This was it then, a spot further qualified by not 1 but 2 onsite restaurants and a massive bright yellow Castlemaine XXXX sign. That would do nicely, but if the previous guesthouse was full then I had slogged fully loaded knowing full well that they might be too. And so prepared for a final mortal plunge of the knife, what did I find? Not only a fridge bearing the finest selection of drinks I had seen since leaving home, but that bar a guy newly arrived from Bali I was the only custom around. 10 US Dollars a night was a step up in prices I winced at, but a 4 bed dorm to myself with super cool aircon and such rare indulgences as clean quality ablutions and a monster TV were a fantastic relief. You could even iron your clothes here, I hadnt done that once since leaving home. It was another irony to decline the long forgotten concept of a hot shower in the dire need of a cold one, and the aid efforts international bandwagon had also laid on a wide choice of Australian brews and white man's tucker. Sticking to my trusty and now super chilled Bintang, a steak sandwich was the best I could recall, and something of a reward for what had been a tough testing day.

Posted by andyhay2 15:36 Archived in East Timor Comments (0)

Borderline Strategy

Borders had the potential to be convoluted affairs, and this potentially problematic one justified an especially early start to get me on my way by anothet Ojek transfer back to the terminal. I said farewell to the ever friendly locals of whom a bunch of young boys had shown their heart in escorting me through the previous nights darkness in a ridiculous frustrated search for beer, also leaving behind another unexpected inhabitant in a possum which angstly sat cooped up in a bare 1 metre square cage. It displayed predictably disturbed behaviour which left me angry, but served to show that Australia's influence was palpably close now. Boys at the bus terminal betrayed the local glut of missionary workers whose questionable handiwork had been betrayed by Christmas carols and the ridiculously contrasting hue of local Bemos blaring out sickly sweet naive 1950s ilk pop music, it was not the booming sub woofer bass lines of the mobile discos of Kupang. With little action besides the predictable overambitions of the odd moneygrabber I was eventually angrily thrown onto an undefined bus in pursuit of my bag, left wondering if I had just been suckered. Requisite clarification of the price revealed predictable lofty ambitions which my Bahasa succinctly nipped in the bud but I was still left wondering if we were headed straight through to the border or only as far as the town of Atambua 2 hours hence. Timor's dual personality continued unabated in long straight bumpy sections of bitumen bordered by vast open plateaus of rice fields and sporadic bamboo hewn thatched shacks, only to be punctuated by periodic abrupt mountains traversed on super steep switchbacks. More commonly than the particularly rustic looking houses was the regional propensity to erect conical thatched outdoor shelters elevated on stilts, and people habitually lounged about lazily under them doubtless chewing their betel nut and doing not much else. Distant prominent mountains still bore a beautifully virgin green and yet Timor's eastern progression now revealed it to become palpably drier, with sparse transparent trees now including eucalypts complimenting a transition from savannah towards full on desertification. The hint of Australia's imminence was further obviated by my first dramatic encounter with deep red earth, and mottled brown kingfishers bore a resemblance to Kookaburras.

Arrival in Atambua which had received short shrift from the guidebook revealed it though unremarkable to be at least more of a town than heartless Kefa, but it mattered little now since I could have afforded either one of them only a brief pause in the dark. With every last one of my fellow itinerants alighting at Atambua's small grubby terminal I was left further perplexed as I found myself sole passenger for a promised through service to the border village of Motoain, and I had to prompt the bus crew again in fear that I was being set up for an impromptu charter. No nonsense negotiation that I knew the bus fare to Atambua and an onward Bemo transfer forced them to match my price, and so I found myself again on one of those rare occasions in which I was paying peanuts for a 40 minute taxi ride, albeit this time in a bus. It puzzled me how they could justify it but ground rules established I wasnt complaining. They might push for more money upon arrival but they werent going to get any, my Bahasa after 4 months in Indo meant that I was in a position to not pull any punches, and I could only conclude that they were positioning themselves for better business on the return leg. Paining at the impossibility of acceptable photography on our bumpy jaunt, I caught sight of a prominent statue of an Indonesian soldier comandeering a roundabout whilst thrusting his weapon to the sky in an act of defiance, it was a telling legacy of a tragic recent history.

Motoain materialised as a tiny hamlet of likeable character, wholeheartedly qualified by its beachside setting and unusually verdant palm studded pastures, its only services being a couple of Padang cuisine Warungs (poor man's eateries) and a prominent beachside police post where a uniformed gaggle sat habitually idle. A lone moneychanger was not the sizeable reception committee I had expected, and after handily checking his "borderline" exchange rate I attempted to get my bearings by hitting the beach. An endless strip of turquoise fringed sand ran away to the east and my first view of East Timor was naturally little different and very naturally beautiful. In anticipation of an imminent price hike I frequented the less nauseating of the 2 Warungs, and received not just a remarkably good feed but an exchange rate offer clearly open to greater negotiation. Though I considered hanging on to my remaining Rupiah in view of any border eventualities the 100,000 Rupes I had recently withdrawn "just in case" was about all I had left and probably wouldnt have sufficed anyway. Instead I somehow managed to strike a remarkably good deal which meant that according to the official exchange rate the 10 Dollars and food I received essentially deemed the feed to have been free. I might have expected that from ones in search of strong stable Greenbacks as used in ET but not when it was me receiving them. A further ulterior motive in establishing the lie of the land revealed that the border post lay beautifully only 200 metres away and my short stroll was surprisingly only impeded by a couple of "Hello misters". The evidently new immigration offices and adjacent villa HQ sat surprisingly quiet, with a disinterested guard pointing out the unmanned counter. A brace of starchy white officials soon showed up and one more step into the unknown had me tentatively hand over my passport, the difference being that these guys had the authority to block any further steps. They did. Having gone like hell for the last few weeks under pressure of time due to my visa restriction, eventualities had still rendered my arrival knowingly a little late. I hadnt even bothered to count the days since it was inconsequential, but the knowledge that I had entered Indonesia at Tarakan on the 3rd of October meant that my pending departure on the 3rd December surely meant that I had overstayed my 60 days. Guessing at one days excess and hoping that they wouldnt noticed let alone care as had been the case in Bangladesh, I had to wince when I saw them coolly counting days on their calendar and knew then that it wasnt going to be that easy. Beckoned to an internal desk, I strained to understand the complications of the remarkably patient and polite official, but one thing was immediately plain. I had overstayed my 60 day permit by 2 days not 1, and clearly they wrent prepared for the moment at least to just let it go. I understood very well the ramifications. Overstay in Indo and the rule book said they would hit you for 25 Dollars a day, perhaps more tellingly overstay by more than 10 days and they could stick you in gaol for up to 5 years. Months and years of finely honed practice had instinctively seen me set myself up with a contingency for the worst case scenario, but I still found myself having to to think upon my feet at what was clearly going to be a tricky negotiation. With eventual resort to my dictionary I contrived an appeal that it had been due to the earthquake on Sumbawa which had scuppered the ferry sailings, perhaps not a complete untruth, and though the boy listened patiently he related only too discernibly that whatever the reason for my delay might have been it was of no consequence, he had to uphold the letter of immigration policy. Perhaps it was fortunate that my limited Bahasa did not allow me to sufficiently eloquate that if it had delayed me a month, would they have stuck me in gaol for being the victim of a natural disaster? Travel of any worth was a constant challenge and this one out of perverse dognation I was determined to rise to, strategy number 2 came to the fore. My Bahasa failed me in being able to relate directly that it was not my fault, and so I had to put all of my doubts in one basket. I pleaded poverty. Having to be careful of concocting a supportable argument, I presented the 10 Dollars I had received at the border, carefully stashed in a pocket distinct from my further wealth, and pleaded that it was all I had. It was a dangerous play. Though unlikely, I was in danger of provoking a full bag and body search which would reveal the contrary, and perceptibly lying to these guys would surely set me up for getting hit for a lot more than just 50 bucks. Their response that I would have to go back to Atambua to elicit more funds was resisted with the argument that I had no such access, and after drawing it out with head in hands and pleas of "Sabab ada gempa bumi" (Because there was an earthquake) it was with a contorted face that I eventually proferred odds and sods of surplus currency I had been left with. Coolly toting up the value of 11 Malaysian Ringgit and enquiring as to the value of 11 Brunei Dollars, the boy remained implacable in relating that it wasnt enough and recourse to immigration HQ in Atambua would be required. That unpalatability aside, the threat was all the more untenable considering my 8 day dedication to East Timor was already insufficient, I had to continue today and so continued the sham with a plea for time to consider. Perversely they knew that I had to have more money since the visa on arrival at the East Timor border was a flat non-negotiable 30 bucks, and so under pressure to continue the sham I played the best hand that I had. I belatedly presented them with the loose change in Dollars which I actually had, 11 Dollars which raised eyebrows since it was perhaps ostensibly a genuine argument. I appealed that I had to retain this for the East Timorese border fee, the inflated 10 Dollar departure tax from there, and the price of a subsequent Australian visa. Once I was in Australia I would have access to more funds I protested, but for now it was all I had and I needed it or I would just be stuck elsewhere. Perhaps they believed me now, and there was subsequent recourse to a higher official who took the place of the first. It didnt help that Starchy Shirt no.2 was of a more starchy character, but the news remained the same, whatever problems it would present me with subsequently it was not their concern, I would have to stump up or backtrack to Atambua. Down to the bone now, there were no more cards to play. On another day without the continuing pressure of time I might have even adopted extreme hardcore attitude and called their bluff, but the alternative prospect of an Indonesian gaol and subsequent blacklisting was not a prospect to foster and I had no idea of how much time I was looking at. A day or 2 in the clink might have otherwise been a perversely interesting departure even if I might starve, but I had to assume that they would ensure it would hurt, I guessed a months incarceration was more realistic. Whatever the facade might have been, I was in full appreciation that in a land of corruption and poor accountability I was not just refusing to pay my fine but refusing to pay them personally perhaps, and as long as their palms remained ungreased I was onto a loser. I had stopped short of short circuiting the situation by trying to bribe them directly, that was another recourse too fraught with danger to be considered, and so I requested another Time Out to ponder the situation, knowing full well now that I had no choice. In order to retain face I had to continue the sham until the end, but there was nothing else for it now, the possible involvement of the British consular staff was a liability even greater than these guys. After a final sham demonstration of indignance, I layed my single 100 Dollar bill on the desk to more raised eyebrows, enquiring as to whether they had change. It was not beyond the realms of possibility that they would say not and so expect the whole 100 Dollars out of lack of alternatives, but their tremendous professionalism did not allow them that juncture. Even if it was going straight into their back pockets then they had to retain their sham too. I left disappointed but with pride still intact, I reckoned I had played the game as good as was possible and with the quiet satisfaction that finally perhaps they had believed my bullshit. And the reward for all this recourse? An invitation to approach further immigration officials of East Timor, one of the worlds most troubled nations. Fucksake.

Posted by andyhay2 09:27 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Kupang to Kefa

The day started with an enforced return to an internet office where frustratingly I had no joy in researching my impending destination, also learning into the bargain that my recent email home had been received as a blank page. Derision from the recipients revealed that they hadnt a clue as to how the net service here was as ropey as everything else, but I was now out of time to make immediate amends. I negotiated 2 of Kupang's ambiguous Bemo routes to get me back out to the bus terminal, counting out loud for fun the swarm of manic touts who descended upon me. It was pretty crazy behaviour too since there were only 3 primary destinations and all served along the one same road, you simply had to decide how far you wanted to go. As yet undecided, I couldnt make do with the highland market town of Soe just 2 hours distant, though I might have liked to under the promise of its surrounding villages. Atambua 8 hours away would have set me up nicely for departing Indonesia but was reputedly a singularly unappealing town affording little redemption other than its proximity to the border. In the end I elected to simply see which bus budged first and not unhappily it was the moderate distance option to a highland market town named somewhat unpronouncably as Kefamenanu, a 5 and a half hour jaunt which was far enough considering the lunchtime departure.

Timor wasnt as geographcally dramatic as Flores, few lands were, but its one major artery pursued its course over a land of double identity. Long flat straight stretches across broad rice paddy plains and palm dotted savannah were periodically contrasted by extremely steep switchback climbs over perpendicular ridges, revealing a character all of its own. More modern timber fashioned houses retaining a thatched conventional style roof were often seen paired with a traditional Lope house retained in defiance of governmental policy of eradication and a perceptible difference on Timor alone was the great diversity and curiosity of many varied tree species. One very tall and thin species for example unusually bore branches of straight uniform length sprouting out horizontally all the way to the ground, like giant loo brushes bearing large heart shaped leaves. Another was a wash of brilliant red blossom though too large to be a Cherry tree, and the palms here were also of many different persuasions. Where the road allowed it my chauffeur hammered along like a man possessed, managing to cut the unusually bumpy ride down to under 5 hours. The contemplation of breaking my journey at a scattered settlement en route known as Niki Niki perhaps revealed its 2 royal palaces to be pleasing but insufficiently alluring to provoke a pit stop, scuppered in any case by a flash downpour which didnt invite skulking around in the gloom looking for royal tombs. I was thankful that Michael Schumacher up front had availed me of "Kefa" with still a hint of daylight left, immediately warming to the town even at its Ojek infested central bus terminal. Its elevated hence cooler location on top of a low key demeanour invoked relaxation, though I was soon dismayed at finding it disappointingly to be one of so many "nearly" towns. Strung out along the main highway for miles in either direction, a Pocari Sweat sidetrack served to assuage the army of Ojek hopefuls, but in thje absence of a town map and having established they were remarkably cheap, one boy got my custom in pursuit of a recommended hotel. En route I spotted that great rarity a lone white chick, hoping she would be staying at the same spot but confounded when it proved to be full. The only other guidebook suggestion stupidly lay very isolated another Ojek ride away, spying other clearly acceptable and more convenient alternatives on the way. I stuck with the plan however under the promise of tourist information, though in reality I wouldnt have time to benefit from it anyway. A long walk back to the highway traced Kefa's market, dead and little resembling its purported central focus, though a fantastic crimson sunset over a nearby mosque was an excellent consideration. Traipsing the highway revealed a town of no heart with barely even an acceptable restaurant , but discovery of the Telkom office unexpectedly advertising a "Warnet" connection at least availed me of contact with the outside world. Emails were complimented by a consideratioon of the Lonely Planet Thorntree site where for once I had been relegated to consulting the travellers grapevine in a quest for important and pertinent information. Kefa had left me within striking distance of a rare overland departure point from Indonesia, this land of islands, and in actuality there were 2 overland border crossing points to choose from. I was aiming for what people over the past week had commonly referred to as Tim Tim, an abbreviation of Timor Timur, and known to her own populace as La Republica Democratica de Timor Leste. A quirky spot resting at the very death of the trans-Asia route, it was one more enticing complication to now be imminently contemplating the worlds newest country, East Timor.

After half a century of sniffing around, the Portugese eventually effected a colonial toehold on Timor Island as early as 1556, left to the hands of Dominican friars in search of Catholic converts. A century later they established a concerted policy of colonialism in view of pressing Dutch interest and the Sandalwood trade, with both sides exploiting the local tribal rivalry. This distant corner was destined to be largely unexploited however relative to the normal Dutch determination, and so Portugese influence away from Kupang's reach retained for them the eastern half of the island. Finalised as late as 1916, dissection of this island entity crazily cut it not even into 2 halves but 3 distinct sectors, and it was the isolated enclave of Oecussi separate from the main body of the eastern sector I was now contemplating. This had been the site of the original Portugese settlement at Lifau though true to form the Dutch had subsequently encroached to surround it. Oecussi was the kind of bizarre geographical quirk whise existance alone became a drawcard, and though I now sat only 10Ks away in Kefemananu it was a desire complicated by its isolation. Though I could presume there had to be an operational border post straddling the single road connecting its main town Pantemakassar with the Indonesian sector, promises of the enclave's connection to the main body of East Timor could not be taken for granted as I well knew, and it was failure to establish the dubious schedule for the alleged ferry linking it with Dili the capital despite concerted efforts that I had to painfully forego that plan. If the ferry still ran, by no means guaranteed in that troubled impoverished land, I could have alternately availed myself of it by a return trip from Dili, but that would mean 2 excruciating overnight boat trips not 1, and perhaps under my limited timespan the schedule would preclude it. Certainly I could not take the chance of getting stuck there, with ridiculously only 1 week to bless East Timor with I might waste all my time there or even miss my flight out. So that was it then, I was headed for the main border post around 3 hours away from kefa, a town which the guidebook finally served to leave me disappointed in, with an unprecedented number of Ojek transfers revealing closed restaurants, few sights and no heart. Lost in the dark that night though, my isolated hotel's inconvenience at least blessed me with the most fantastic starry night I had seen in a long time.

Posted by andyhay2 17:20 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Kupang

December and still in Asia, I had never even dreamt of it. Though my intention had been to hit the road this day in order to set myself up to within striking distance of my Indonesian egress, inspiration provoked by Kupang's long colonial history had me sidetracked in a determination to trace an unknown but enticing cemetery. Enquiry to the guy at the hotel not only revealed its whereabouts but also that it lay adjacent to an army base, the original site of Fort Concordia which I first learned of only the day before from a sole historical print at the museum. That centuries old painting had even allowed me upon consultation of a city map to guess its whereabouts, and a small sunken river channel running out into the Sawu Sea had appeared appreciably reminiscent. Sure enough, I crossed a bridge spanning it to climb up to the rivermouth promontory the Dutch had selected, and the cemetery was immedaitely discernible as possessing the dozens of ancient looking tombs I had predicted. Already dripping with sweat at this early hour, I braved the full blaze of the sun in pursuing a methodical tour of tellings of sad passings. All of them without exception inscribed in Dutch, it presented a long legacy of tragedy which the museum had singularly ignored and it was once again no surprise to encounter a remarkably high incidence of child graves. One surname Rozet which appeared frequently was ascribed to no less than 4 kids, 3 of them dying within their first year. Let any man who believes in a god walk this field and re-evaluate his convictions. Making a beeline for a concentration of grander though sadly fragmented tomb obelisks, I had hoped that considering Kupang's importance as a prolonged and important outpost, snippets would be betrayed of remarkable histories and forgotten heroes. In the end however there was only one which related anything more than the conventional places and dates. One of the very first tombs I came to out of a hundred or more, it told of the only foreigner to have succumbed on this shore with perhaps the exception of a J.M. Jackstein "born in the Prussian Free State" in February 1829. Mindblowingly, Thomas E. Drysdale a name which I thought I might have previously come across, had been born in "Edinburg, Schotland" on the 17th March 1817. Tam fae Auld Reekie had somehow managed to rise to serve as Chief Consul of Portugal to Kupang. Wow, what a find!

After a contemplation of the small adjacent river mouth which must have entertained Portugese galleons and Dutch schooners over the centuries, and then a nearby independence obelisk, the swelter then left me with no choice but to retrace my hotel for the relief of a Mandi, then a midday beer routine which left me too late and too tired to check out as intended. In so doing I checked out a rare travellers book exchange instead and found fantastic finds which I decided would keep for later. Refreshed, I eventually coaxed myself into a belated day trip out 28Ks east to a small grubby market town called Oesao, the instigation for which had been to reconnoitre an Ozzie war memorial. Friendly locals included the cops I consulted in order to track it down, they proved to be stunned and gleeful to encounter a white man who spoke Bahasa and thankfully were able to relate that the monument excellently lay only a couple of hundred metres away. Thew memorial cairn related the wartime presence of the 2/40th Infantry Regiment known as "Sparrow Force" who presumably were decimated here by the Japs in 1942.

Posted by andyhay2 13:19 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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