After roasting away in Rote for a few peaceful and relaxing days we decided it was time to get off the beaten track in West Timor. We got in touch with one of a few local guides in the region to take us on an adventure through rural life in West Timor. What we then Discovered was 3 days of eye opening education in the traditional way of Timorese life that hasn't changed for decades.
This was far from a tourist tour, we caught public transport everywhere, from the back of pick up trucks to the mandatory Ojek, minibus esque Bemos, to cramped long distance public buses. Far from glamourous yet everywhere we went we were treated as celebrities. Whether it be the constant call of 'hello mistaaahhhh' as we walked through rural towns, or the look of pure bemusement on the faces of locals as we whizzed through rural villages, it was clear that West Timor does not have many tourists passing through its beautiful landscape.
Day One- Aka picked us up from our hotel in Kupang and swiftly set the tone for the next three days by haggling with a pick up driver across the road to drive us around the outskirts of Kupang in order to learn how the people of Timor make a living. We stopped firstly to see the production of Palm sugar and tasted the treacly result, listened and admired the traditional Sasando Musical instrument that graces Indonesian 5,000rp notes, saw the WWII memorial to fallen Australian and Indonesian soldiers in Oesaso and even learned how local families produce salt from soil in a tiny smokey bamboo shack.
All this before we'd even had lunch, we ended our action packed morning at the beautiful Oehala waterfall where we ate our tasty 'bungus Padang' (take away local food) after bartering the price for a Bemo to take us there. Delay in out journey due to the erection of new electricity pilots:no trucks to help here!
With a full stomach it was time for us to journey on first by Ojek ( back of a local blokes motorbike) then by public bus (limited knee room) to Niki-niki where we would start our ascent to the traditional isolated village of Boti. The road to Boti is not frequented by any public transport, and as we were informed it is a 'difficult road' is only reachable by 4x4 or motorbike. In the interest of saving precious rupiah we went for the latter. Aka rented a bike which Josie rode on the back of and I put my life in to the hands of a friendly man with a good bike, by motorbike we're really talking 125cc peds, and as we were soon to find out the 'difficult road' meant hardly even a road at all. The ascent to Boti was one of the scariest, most exhilarating and jaw droppingly beautiful things I think either of us have ever experienced.
Sheer drops to either side and only a rutted rocky dirt track (maybe it was road 20 years ago) to manoeuvre, we saw locals sliding and falling off their bikes and on a couple of occasions had to walk to steepest inclines, the hour journey to traverse just 14km. (In a few days when I can finally access my GoPro photos the shots and videos from the bikes are incredible).
On arrival we were greeted by the king of the Boti people and his family, they served us a delicious dinner and chewed some Betel nut with the king we brought as a mandatory offering. Everyone in West Timor chews Betel Nut, it tastes kind of bitter and dry, you mix it with lime powder and pepper, making the red colour and it makes you feel flushed, a little dizzy and disorientated. You basically know your under the influence of something and the locals chew it while they go about their daily lives for a number of reasons, including the fact it's addictive.
Day two- after a nights sleep in the blissfully quiet Boti hills, we took a stroll through the village to see how the Boti live. We were greeted by the traditional thatched roof dome shaped huts called Ubu.
The family life is based around farming cattle, boar and chickens, weaving by traditional method (it can take up to a year to complete some pieces) . The belief system in Boti has also managed to remain intact mainly due to it not being discovered by the Dutch colonialists. The people believe in two gods one above and one below, the father and the mother respectively, also hair is of great importance and the king will never cut his hair. Meeting the Boti people was eye opening and it's the first time in either of our lives we've really come in to contact with a way of life so detached from modernity.
After traversing the treaturous road back, small detour around the police checkpoint due to a lack of helmet and 'legally' rented motorbike, we arrived at the hectic Niki Niki market. Full of people selling everything from stinky fish, to fresh tobacco, betel nut and all the usual useless tat markets sell. It was an assault on the senses and yet again we were the only tourists to be seen, everyone obviously wanted to say hello.
In the afternoon we proceeded to a small village called None (non-ay) a village famous for its headhunting. The none fortress perched on a sheer cliff face overlooking a huge landscape is no nothing more than a few piles of bricks and small thatched houses but the rich history as explained by our fantastic guide Aka was much more sensational. From only 2 generations before this was home to a tribe of head hunters who had never been defeated. Their strategy informed by superstition, a special banyan tree and expert tactics meant that many villages and people sought to fight the None people yet as the tale goes none succeeded. We also met two lovely little local kids who followed us around and posed for photos, these children's great grandfathers were warriors, pretty cool family heritage.
A twisting bus ride through the hills later and we had arrived in our guide Aka's hometown Kefamenanu. We strolled through Kefa meeting friendly locals along our route, a local motocross legend, a large group of children who followed us for a few hundred metres and our guides lovely family at his home. On the way we also saw one of the principle trades in Kefa: brick making. The clay rich soil is mixed with water and set in to brick shapes before being heated in a little brick house for 3 days to produce building bricks which are then sold. This isn't mass production, it's people using the fruits of the soil in their back gardens.
We had a delicious dinner at Aka's house and headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest.
Day three- we started the day by visiting another local market in Maubesi, a much more picturesque market.
We then hopped back on our Ojek to make the ascent along a more secure but equally precarious dirt trail to the isolated and remote village of Temkessi.
Yet again another village and peoples steeped in tradition, whilst the Temkessi now go to school and many live outside of the village the stories and history lives on. A huge rock towering over the village is sacred and when a decision is made in the village 3 warriors must climb to the top with a red goat strapped to their back to consult the gods. Furthermore if you fall over or drop something in the village you can't pick it up without cursing yourself with bad luck. Considering it then started to hammer it down with rain and we had to traverse some steep and slippery stone steps, it seems as though the gods wanted us to have to pay the price of falling down.
Considering we visited Indonesia in rainy season this was really the first time we came face to face with the notorious downpours, unfortunately on this occasion we were in the middle of nowhere and needed to ride on the back of a moped down a dirt track now thick with mud and puddles to get back for lunch. We got drenched and filthy, then had to change in to our last dry clothes in the back of a tiny food joint, in a bathroom that was also soaking wet. At least lunch cheered us up and the sensational view.
We were also greeted with the great friendliness we have come to know and love of the local people after being invited in to a local bank to try some local cassava plant chips ( delicious basically the same as chips) simply so 2 of the staff could practice their English, delightful.
Our journey back lead us through further education in how the natural dye is made that colours the famous ikat fabrics and weaving of the region by using indigo flower, and then learned of and tasted the fermented palm wine that passes through these awesome looking tubes over several days to create a powerful alcohol that tastes something like neat martini mixed with vodka. I'm sure it's the serum to fuel many a wild Timorese night.
Our day ended on a long public bus journey back to Kupang, but it was comfortable enough, over quick enough and our memories of a fantastic 3 days with our awesome guide Aka fresh in our mind.
If you happen to be reading this looking for a guide in West Timor get in touch with Aka. He's friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, drop him a text or call +6285253463194 or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.