West Timor is generally off the tourists’ radar when in Indonesia. Other islands such as Java, Bali, Lombok, and Sumatra are thousands of times more likely to be visited to Timor. That was part of my draw to this area, as I was looking to get off the tourist trail. It’s difficult to do this completely on your own due to language and transportation difficulties so the best way to do this is on a West Timor tour…
Upon arrival in Kupang, the most populated city at about 500,000 people, I caught a taxi to my hostel for 70,000 IDR. The driver, who spoke a little English, was excited I was American and he put a thumb drive in his stereo system to play country western music. So we were belting out Alan Jackson’s “Living on Love” as we drove to the Lavalon Hostel.
The Lavalon Hostel is run by a former Indonesian actor. He has screen shots from his films, including a love scene, on the walls of the small hostel. There are only 3 rooms – two private rooms and a dorm consisting of 4 beds. Much smaller than I had expected given its write-up in the lonely planet. There were a total of 3 other guests when I arrived – a retired Australian surfer and a couple from the Bay Area that had just finished a private 5 day tour of West Timor. They talked up how great their tour with the guide Aka, that when he put together a 3-day itinerary that would see the main sights of the area, I agreed at a price around $115 per day once accommodation and meals were added.
What we did on my West Timor Tour:
Getting my Timor Leste Visa
My plan to cross to the country of Timor Leste (aka East Timor) requires that Americans have a visa. The visa is available at the border, but I must first have a letter of invitation from the Timor Consulate in Kupang, Indonesia. I headed off to the Consulate with passport and photo in hand only to learn there was no photocopier, nor photocopy shop nearby. So I had to give a guy 20,000 IDK, enough for him to make copies (my passport, bank statement (latest ATM receipt), and flight ticket out of Timor Leste), a motorbike ride, and a few cigarettes as a reward. Once all the necessary papers were in order, I just handed them over, hoping that my letter will be ready in 3 business days.
Waiting to get the car fixed
Aka and I went back to the hostel to get the jeep but it was still being repaired. I was debating to start my tour the next day so I could get 3 full days of tour, but Edwin and Aka convinced me I would have enough time to see the beach and get to Boti by 6pm if we left by noon. It was approximately noon by the time we left Kupang city.
Three hours later, we arrived at Kolbano Beach on the south coast of West Timor. Kolbano is a totally deserted beach. It was me and some locals collecting red and white rocks to sell. At the far west of the beach is a shipwreck. We stopped at some very photogenic rocks and I had a walk around. I wish that I had the time to explore, but a large raincloud was forming and we wanted to get to Boti before it was too dark. So I had a quick, late lunch at a small diner across from the beach as the rain poured down. When I mentioned I wanted a seat with a view, the café workers moved a table outside for me!
We had some very torturous roads to get from Kolbano to Boti, and at moments there was a few yards of visibility. Not something you want when at any curve you could drive off the edge of a cliff. With the roads wet from the rain, there was also a slim chance of landslide. We arrived to Boti to discover there was a mother and daughter from England – the first tourists I had seen this day. We checked into our very basic guesthouse and had dinner with traditional Boti foods – rice, corn, tomato sauce, chicken, cooked green papaya. The meal was not the tastiest, but considering they grow and cook everything without equipment or electricity they do what they can. We were supposed to have dinner with the king but he was at a school event. We did get a chance to have breakfast with him the next morning. The king of this village is in his 50’s and never has been married or has kids. He works all day in the fields next to the rest of the villagers.
Boti is the most interesting village in Timor because it was so hidden from Portuguese missionaries, it never converted to Christianity like the other villages. The 312 villagers from Boti are less likely to leave their village than others, and are very self-sufficient. They make money from the several hundred visitors per year – charging 100,000 IDK visitor fee plus 100,000 to stay the night and have breakfast and dinner. They also sell handicrafts, like their traditional ikat – hand woven sarongs and belts. Some are made from cotton they grow and spin themselves.
Before dinner, I got to chew betel nut. Most of the locals in the country chew this. They put a nut, a bit of stick, and limestone powder and chew it to make them get a little bit of a high feeling. The combination turns red and they spit out any liquid – that’s why you see red spit all over the road. The older people seem to have permanently stained mouths and teeth, if they have any teeth at all. It didn’t really make me feel high, just made my mouth feel a little numb.
There were some crazy mountain roads – hills and drop offs. This was why we needed a 4×4 for this journey. And the car was always overheating so Aka was daily working with the engine, much to the amusement of the locals.
I got to visit a primary school, much to the delight of the children and headmasters.
This is the largest market in West Timor and only held on Tuesdays. They sell everything from chickens, goats, pigs, to vegetables and fabric and batteries.
Villages around Kefamenanu
It was raining at the Temkessi village so we stayed near to Kefa. You can visit some salt and brick production facilities – it is amazing the amount of hard work that goes into making something like salt or bricks, which will be sold for a very small amount of money. There are many poor people in West Timor.
Convent & School
My guide went to spend the night with his family so I was alone for dinner so I went up to the main road for a small bite for dinner (ate something bad the day before so couldn’t stomach much). I ran into a couple nuns and one of them spoke great English and invited me to their convent. The next morning, I visited the convent and school. The high schoolers were so excited and said I was the first visitor they had seen.
Niki Niki Market
This is a large market held every Wednesday and I liked it even more than the Oenlesi market. There was a whole building where Ikat weavings are sold.
None (pronounced No-Nay)
This village is known to have the fiercest warriors in Timor. They only stopped headhunting in the 1940’s. The head hunting involved chopping off the head of an enemy, having a ceremony with the head for 4 days, and then presenting to the king. The rocks surrounding this village is very clearly coral even though we are in the mountains. Unlike Flores that is volcanic, Timor Island was created from pushing land up from the sea.
It’s a short walk down the steps to see this 7-level waterfall. One of the drops has a nice pool for swimming.
There is a shop that makes a 24-string instrument from bamboo, native to Rote Island off the southwest coast of West Timor. The shop has several players who have played in the US and Europe. I got my own private concert that ranged from Indonesian songs, to “What a Wonderful World” to modern hits. Really beautiful music that sounds like a harp.
If interested in a freelance guide for West Timor, contact Aka here.
In my 3 day jeep tour of West Timor, I only met 4 other tourists – the mother & daughter from England and a couple in a self-sufficient 4×4 camper along the main road. At the hostel in Kupang, I only met 5 other people in the 3 nights I stayed there. I don’t know if I’ve ever visited a place with so few tourists.
My thoughts on West Timor:
- The standard of living is so low here. You can see this with all the heavily manual work to produce such little goods.
- But the children are so happy. They literally play with sticks…a stick and a motorbike wheel rolled down the road, a stick with a palm leaf pinwheel, a game where the kids shoot rubber bands at a stick.
- Water is precious. In many cases, the well is far from the village so they need to transport by buckets and bamboo water carriers. Even the hostel I stayed at requires water to be shipped in from the countryside.
- I felt like a celebrity. Everyone wants to shake my hand, and if they have a cell phone camera, to get a photo with me.
- The smiles are precious. A wave and a smile goes a long way.
Where I stayed:
- Kupang: Lavalon Hostel. Small place but best place to meet other travelers. Clean and in a good location on the sea and near the night fish market. 70,000 IDR for a dorm bed, includes breakfast. Great sunrise and sunsets. He can also arrange a West Timor Tour.
- Boti: Boti village guesthouse. 120,000 IDR per night, includes dinner and breakfast. Very basic.
- Kefamenanu: Hotel Ariesta. 180,000 IDR per night for private room with fan, Indonesian TV, western toilet, and mandi shower (a tank of water and a small handled bucket), includes breakfast. Hotel was quiet because it was off of the main road.
I highly recommend this guidebook. There’s an ample chapter on West Timor: