Everybody Needs Some Time Alone
Trip Start Mar 17, 2010
22Trip End Mar 17, 2011
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Where I stayed
I have followed the wisdom of Neil Patrick Harris, and gone where God has taken me.
And God has taken me to Timor.
Yesterday, I realized that Maumere was the end of the road for me; I had hit the boundary of civilization and savagery. The islands to the east were populated by whale hunters and culturally rationalized serial killers, and I had a choice to make; continue to the east, leaving all infrastructure behind, or return to the west, where the possibilities for cheeseburgers and affordable massage by talented professionals abound.
It was a rough decision, and I found myself unable to make the choice; who could? I mean, how can you be sure you made the right choice when the options are wholesale slaughter or margaritas? So after much agonizing, I left it in the hands of God and Merpati, Southeast Asia's infamous budget airline, which is how I ended up in West Timor.
With the course of my journey (if not my life) in the balance, I signed up for standby at the airport. After an hour or two of observing the banana-republic chaos of the airport for an hour or two, I was informed that my relaxing flight to The People's Republic Of Margaritaville (Denpasar) just wasn't happening. Personally, I suspect it had more to do with the three thousand kilos of tuna that was loaded onto the plane at the last minute, but I'm not one to complain. My options reduced to one, I spoke a single phrase to the steward, and my fate was sealed:
"Take me to Kupang, or lose me forever!".
And here I am. In Kupang, the city that makes spellchecker throw fits!
Kupang is a sprawling, coastal city on the western tip of Timor. Following the there since I left Lombok, Kupang is a post-apocalyptic city; shattered concrete and sheet metal wrestle for control of the streets. Some buildings are obviously inhabited, some not, and it is impossible to tell which is which. Much livelier than Maumere, Kupang's streets are filled with tricked-out bemos illuminated from within with black lights and the glow of neon shining sickly from their undercarriages. They hunt the city streets for excitement, their uniformly underage drivers blasting sickly-sweet techno from monster sound systems.
I arrived just after dark, which is always an awkward time to arrive in a new city, and caught one of these beasts after a one-kilometer hike from the airport. It was full of local bravos and catholic school girls, and I made the classic mistake of not establishing a price beforehand. Half an hour later, I was dropped outside of a decayed beach resort named the Crystal Hotel, and charged an exorbitant amount while giggling school girls pointed and laughed. This was not to be my last mistake in Kupang.
It took me approximately three seconds to determine that The Crystal was well outside my budget preference, and with a Timorese soldier's help, I mapped out my route to the less expensive harbor hotels. Two more kilometers of walking later, I trawled the beachfront hotels until I found one recommended by Lonely-Planet-Damn-Their-Souls-To-Hell. Possessed by some hideous demon of optimism, I paid two days in advance after a quick walk through of the room. Do not do this. Paying in advance is a mistake, that bules do under the false impression that it will save hassle later, or engender goodwill with your hotel manager. Your hotel manager does not give a shit. And it will not save hassles later. If for some perverse reason you were to attempt to creep out of your hotel at four o'clock in the morning without paying after a week-long stay, your hotel manager would be there with your breakfast, a big smile, and a pair of Indonesian cops.
Paying in advance only CAUSES problems.
Upon returning to my room, I threw open the bathroom door to take a luxurious cold-water shower, only to discover my new problems. A blush of mold-flavored air knocked me backwards, almost causing me to retch. After recovering, I pinched my nose and entered my suite's private biosphere. A carpet of moss spread out from the toilet area, and an army of mold spread outwards, away from a mysterious 'dead zone' emanating from the Indonesian bathroom-well. Screamweeping quietly to myself, I searched in vain for the shower, which turned out to simply not exist. At this point I simply fled, slamming the door behind me. I would not open it again.
Exhausted after the day, I forced myself to rally, and left the hotel room. This is inevitably the best decision you can ever make while traveling; if you're in a bad mood, a sad mood, or a lonely mood, all you want to do is putter around your nest. Do not do this. Leaving your hotel room is inevitably the best choice you can possibly make. So I packed my satchel, and took to the Timor night.
And that was when I started to fall in love with this city, when I discovered my favorite part of Kupang… it's night warungs.
Arbitrarily selecting a local watering hole named Teddy's as my destination, I walked along the city's shattered beachfront, past shadowy clutches of locals whispering and laughing in the shadows. Multistory concrete buildings rose from the darkness, empty widows staring out into the night; structures more suited to Lebanon than Indonesia. As I came around a corner, a pair of hobo fires burning in empty oil barrels marked the entrance to Night's Kitchen. Hundreds of ramshackle carts lined the boulevard, lit by halogen fairy lights, like a scene out of Blade Runner. Goering, Gado Gado, and satay being sold as quickly as the chickens could be killed, assuming you had ordered satay ayam; a slip of the tongue could just as easily end with a skewer of satay rw in your hand, giving new meaning to the phrase Puppy Chow.
The smoke of a hundred fires wafts through the market, and the bright lights shine unforgivingly on the cheap plastic toys being hawked to the children whose shill cries do nothing to diminish the surreality of the moment.
At ten past midnight, beneath the unseeing eyes of the apocalyptic shells of department stores, I stood in the street, playing air guitar with a group of scooter boys, as the final guitar solo of "Novermber Rain" blew out through blown out speakers.
And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain
I know that you can love me
When there's no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We still can find a way
'Cause nothin' lasts forever
Even cold November rain