Holding Pattern

Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Maya Beach Hotel Kupang
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Timor - the last island on our journey along the Indonesian Archipelago. A long cigar-shaped island, it is divided in two, the western half belonging to Indonesia, the east a separate, independent country, Timor Leste (East Timor). The word Timor  (Timur) itself is Malay for 'east', recognising the geographical location of the place in relation to the rest of Indonesia. The capital of Timor, and of the province of East Nusa Tengarra is the city of Kupang (Pop: 300,000), which is where we now find ourselves.

For us, West Timor is the place where we will organise our exit from Indonesia. We don't want to sightsee anymore - we've seen enough villages, markets and temples on this trip. We could take a few days and go to Roti Island off the west coast for a bit more surf, but to be honest, we are travelled out, and staying put in Kupang for a few days while we take care of business is all we plan to do

The business is pretty straightforward - secure visas for Timor Leste and organise transport to the border. Timor Leste is not the easiest country to enter, especially by overland routes. It was once on the visa-run route for people wishing to renew Indo permits, but this has been made more difficult over the years, mostly due to civil war, and political unrest. To gain overland entry to Timor Leste we must visit the Embassy in Kupang, fill out the appropriate form and wait to receive a letter of permission which will then translate into a visa when we cross the border. The process is easy enough except that there is an election in Timor Leste the day after we apply and so volatile is the political climate there, anything might happen. Nevertheless we submit our complicated form on Thursday and are told to come back on Monday to collect the letters.

With fingers crossed that we will be accepted, we then go to Timor Travel, the islands biggest provider of transport, and buy two one way bus tickets to Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, for Tuesday morning. With the business done we retreat to the only place in Kupang for worn out western travellers to hang out;  Edwin Lerrick's Lavalon Bar.

The Lavalon is well rated in the Lonely Planet as the best place to chill and use the internet. We are a bit surprised to see that it is a very simple establishment, an open-sided building perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. The wifi is certainly good and the beer is cold. So too is the wind that blows down the straits between Timor and the Alor islands of Indonesia to the north. The wind is so cool that I have to buy a warm jacket from the market, a good investment I think, as soon we will be heading into an Australian winter.

The Lavalon Bar is run by Edwin, a man of mixed Timorese and Dutch descent, and a famous font of knowledge for travellers. Edwin is also an ex-actor and an advocate for Indonesian tourism as an economic booster. We get to know him a bit during our stay in Kupang and he even goes so far as to borrow the link to this blog site to show the authorities the kind of travellers that come this way, and to persuade the government to offer longer tourist visas. At present Indonesia only gives a one month visa on arrival, and two months if you apply in advance (and they like your face). We were able to extend our two month in advance visa by a month (in Maumere, Flores) but many younger backpackers often get caught out with their one month entry permits and have to pay fines for overstaying. Edwin is all about helping people like us and we applaud him for his efforts.

Kupang serves what could arguably be described as the best seafood in Asia. The Night Market is open every night on the main street in the city which is closed to traffic. Dozens of stall holders serve fish, prawns and squid, fresh caught that day and grilled to perfection over open braziers. You can also get the usual Indo classics such as nasi goreng, fried chicken and gado gado, but it is the mouthwatering ikan,(fish) that will stay in our minds. We eat here every night and never pay more than $7 for as much as we both can eat.

Kupang has almost no infrastructure for foreign tourists that we can see, which is fine as we are used to living and travelling as the locals do. In the end it all comes back to the Lavalon Bar where most westerners in town hang out. There are quite a few ex-pats here, mostly Aussies married to Timorese girls, and a steady trickle of others who are looking for the next destination. Some come here on their way to the surf on Roti, others are here to try and renew their visas and a couple, like us, are just passing through. We meet a surprising concentration of Americans. One couple have sailed here all the way from Maine in their yacht, We also meet a couple of younger Yanks who work for NGOs in Java and a lone traveller named Colin who is hanging out until he starts work as an English teacher in September. These intrepid Americans are not the usual negative stereotypes either, and we enjoy some good conversation and camaraderie with them.

It seems a shame that we can't see more of West Timor, having come so far to get here, but like I said, we are worn out with travelling and find ourselves thinking more and more about "what happens next." And so, on Monday morning we catch ojeks up to the Timor leste Embassy and are pleasantly surprised to be handed our Letters of Entry by the gateman - it is that easy. So with tickets and letters in hand we have one last feast of fish at the Night market, pack our bags and prepare for a 5am pick-up and a 12 hour bus ride to our final foreign country - Timor Leste. The Endgame begins.
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