02.12.2007 - 02.12.2007
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.