in IndonesiaComments Off on Kupang


In order to ease entry formalities to Indonesia and in the hope of ‘safety in numbers’, we joined the annual Darwin to Kupang Yacht ‘Race’….
Departure was on 23 July, a windless day in Darwin and about 70 yachts motored across the line, pretending to be sailing.

We motored almost continuously for 48 hours before a good breeze filled in for the final day’s sailing to West Timor, we were among the first to arrive, the remaining boats trickling in over the next 4 days. As we were early, our entry formalities were completed quickly, 8 men came aboard from a dinghy alongside, it was a bureaucratic ambush! The paperwork was easy and performed by just 2 or 3, and as the rest ‘searched’ the boat with an eye to personal gain; the requests for alcohol, cigarettes and light-fingers were more difficult to manage than the formalities…

Kupang is the major town of West Timor, a part of Nusa Tengara, the eastern province of Indonesia.
It is a city of some 300,000 people, sprawling up the hillside from the waterfront where the yachts were anchored.
Where we were, the small boats come and go, it was busy with locals out fishing, travelling to villages on outer islands, or just curious, but we were welcomed enthusiastically by them all.

This was our introduction to Indonesia.
Even from the distance of the yacht, the daytime noise from the town was loud and continuous, car horns and hooters. We were wakened well before daybreak with the 5am call to prayer, the wailings of a thousand tortured cats from the mosques, distorted by bad amplification systems. The day ends with the same at dusk, but the night’s are surprisingly quiet.

Our access to shore was by dinghy onto a rough little beach adjacent to ‘Teddy’s Waterfront Bar’.

It’s probably the smartest such place in the whole town, it looks out over the water and the wide steps down onto the beach.
It’s alone in its grandure, the buildings around are of the usual dilapidated and dirty standard, around a very muddy, rubbish filled stream.

The bar is the centre of the waterfront nightlife and for the duration of the rally it was taken over by foreign yachties as their land base. As well as the normal bar and restaurant services, the management arranged special entertainment, organised local tours, laundry and refueling services. All prices were raised exorbitantly in our honour.
Likewise taking the opportunity of making big money, the local craft hawkers were out in force selling their wares. Among other things there was an array of ikats for sale, the handwoven, tie-dyed (before weaving) fabrics from all around eastern Indonesia.

We had a welcoming dinner, many speeches by dignitaries and followed by a cultural show

Beyond the immediate locality of Teddy’s Bar on the waterfront and the high prices associated with it, the town was a different place.
It is a short walk on paved footpaths (albeit with many deep holes) up the hill to the main town centre, where there are the bigger shops and the business area.
The streets are busy, the traffic is continuous and noisy, it’s a steady stream of bemos (minibuses) and ojeks (motorcycles) and crossing even on lines seems a gamble, but the drivers are all surprisingly well behaved.
White faces are a rarity in the town and few others of the visiting yachties made the effort to walk there, a trip to the main town market for us was always on our own and as if we were a royal tour!
This was the first time for us in ‘non-tourist Indonesia’, the friendliness of the people was overwhelming. They were all so pleased to see us, all so happy, they haven’t got much, but they love life.

(We have found this throughout Indonesia, invariably during our 3 months here our reception has been the same. Not only have we been well treated ourselves, we have not seen a fight or even witnessed a single argument or cross word between the local people! We have never felt at risk.)
Walking the streets is always an entertainment with the accompaning chorus of ‘hello mister’ s and from those better English speakers a ‘how are you?’. Rarely does the vocabulary extend further than those few words, but they all know them and enjoy using what little they’ve got. They’re also invariably amused by our reply, -English or Indonesian!
We enjoyed the change of culture and looking at the ‘Asian-ness’, the quirkiness, the like of plastic palm trees decorating many traffic roundabouts;

they light up at night;

and the building in concrete, but first you must start with many trees…

Kupang has a good range of shops, but like any town in Indonesia, whatever you need will be there, it is just a matter of knowing where to look.
There are no department stores or large supermarkets, shopping is usually with the help of an assistant over both the counter and the language barrier, it makes for an amusing and interesting time, best not rushed!
There are many street vendors and open cafes (warungs) with all the smells of beautiful spicy food and deep fried delicacies for sampling. They’re all quite safe when they are well-done and freshly cooked.
The Indonesians love their sweets however too

there are bakeries with many forms of cakes, sweetbreads and chocolate treats.
The cost of everything is a fraction of that which we had become accustomed to paying in Australia, although the price might be several thousand rupiah, at 7000 to the NZ dollar it was still usually only a few cents. A good sized lunch of rice, noodles or a gado-gado with a drink need cost no more than $1!
Prices are down because wages are so low, but poor as they may be, people stay proud of their personal appearance and that of their vehicles, most of which they admit to being on the ‘never never’ payment scheme.
They keep themselves and their clothes well washed, the motorcycles are kept clean and polished with full accessories

and many of the busy ‘bemos’ are a work of art!

So adorned with stick-on graphics are some that the driver’s visibility must be seriously impaired!

In most towns, for us the centre of interest is the town market. Being naturally interested in food and what other people eat, the market is the best place to see it in all its forms and to experience the smells, although in the 30-40 degree heat and the outdoor sunshine, the fish marketers are some to avoid…

There seems an oversupply of food, far more than available buyers, but the sellers are all cheerful, pleased to see a white face, invariably keen to be photographed and never unhappy if it doesn’t result in a sale. They show no signs of rivalry over neighbouring stall holders selling the same products and they all join in to share the amusement when we clumsily negotiate a deal.

The market is a bustling and colourful place in any Indonesian town; in Kupang there are several.

The city is built of a grand scale, but there’s little evidence of a grand plan. Among the narrow alleys there are large, 4 lane carriagewaysand even tree-lined boulevards.

Government buildings are also on a grand scale

but some only partially occuppied.
There are plenty of monuments and edifices to various events

but as with all the public buildings and roads, capital has been found for construction, however, funds for maintenance are a different matter.

On the road along the foreshore there is an area of town where furniture is made,

the most rudimentary of factories, fabricating top quality joinery,

including coffins.

and further along the same street are the people who make these striking funerary decorations.

West Timor is predominantly Christian, but the Muslims have a major presence, audibly if not so much visibly,

the twice daily call to prayer from the many mosques being an inescapable reminder.

The main port for the island is a few kilometres out of town,

it has the local ferry terminal, fuel and a container facilities.
But even along that busy road out of town the dwellings become rudimentary and the standard of living subsistent

this family proudly showing me their home and the ‘hay’ they have been cutting.

I was unsure whether it was for animal feed or to be used for weaving.

Nearby is a monkey park where for a small fee it is possible to feed corn to these macaques.

They’re natural inhabitants of the island, but here have been enclosed on a rocky outcrop as a small, local attraction.

We spent an enjoyable 10 days in Kupang, acclimatising to the sights, sounds, smells and especially the food, of Indonesia before starting the trek to the west, wondering if the whole country was to be so good, would we want to leave?

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