July 25 – August 1, 2007
We made landfall in Indonesia at Kupang on the island of Timor. Timor is a divided island with East Timor being an independent nation since 2002. West Timor remains part of Indonesia.
West Timor is mountainous and dry, and it looks more like Australia than a tropical island. It is considered a somewhat wild and idiosyncratic area with only marginal Indonesian identity. Most of the West Timorese have strong animist beliefs, and they do not strongly identify with the Indonesian culture. In many areas, Bahasa Indonesia – the official national language – is not known.
Kupang is near the western end of West Timor. Kupang, with a population of more than 200,000, is the largest city in West Timor. It is also the capital of Nusa Tenggara Timur province.
In years past, Kupang had a small amount of tourism; however, that disappeared following local violence related to East Timor’s prolonged struggle for independence. Three UN workers were killed in the nearby town of Atambua in 1999, and riots erupted there as recently as 2005. Many West Timorese harbor particular resentment toward Australians for their support of the East Timorese in their independence efforts, and the Australian government issued a warning against travel to Indonesia for Australians just days before we sailed. We were acutely aware that we had just come from Australia, and nearly one third of the rally fleet was Australian. We did not know what to expect, but we knew that we could sail elsewhere if problems erupted after getting checked in to the country. Getting checked in was our primary task.
As we approached Kupang, we saw more than 100 sailboat masts in the anchorage, and the VHF radio was abuzz. There were welcome banners and flags flying along the waterfront welcoming the Sail Indonesia 2007 participants. We anchored off Teddy’s Bar – rally headquarters in Kupang – checked in with the rally organizers via radio, and waited for the officials to check us in to Indonesia. Needless to say, we were tired, and the boat was in minor disarray, so we tidied up a bit and went to sleep thinking that the officials likely would not get to us until the following morning. Within an hour, nine of them arrived and climbed aboard Passage.
It was more comical than annoying. Some were particularly officious. Others were only interested in giving us their names with hopes that we would call on them for tour guide services. Others were there to shake us down and get whatever they could from us. In the end, it took only about half an hour, and we were shaken down for two bottles of wine and a package of cookies – more than some, less than others. They did take our passports for about 24 hours, but after retrieving them, we were free to stay or leave Kupang as we wished.
We checked in with the rally organizers on shore, and we were surprised at all the ‘events’ that they had scheduled over the next three months in Indonesia. Just while in Kupang, they scheduled a dinner with the governor of the province, two tours, and a dinner with the mayor of Kupang. We were free to attend as many or as few events as we wanted.
We spent one day roaming the streets of Kupang, and we thoroughly enjoyed the town and its people. We found that about every third business on the main street is a fabric store – Nita was in heaven! We did the usual ‘just arrived’ chores – bank, e-mail, shopping for fresh fruit, etc. We took a local bus/taxi – called a bemo – and found it an experience in itself. These are Subaru minibuses with a bench seat running fore-and-aft on both sides, and the space under the benches is filled with speakers. The noise can be deafening and the vibration a bit overwhelming. Every bemo we saw (hundreds) also had a Mercedes emblem attached to the front of it. We had lunch with friends at a waterfront restaurant, and our bill was the equivalent of $4.50USD. We returned to Passage for a good night’s sleep.
The next afternoon, as we were getting ready to go to the governor’s dinner, our winds shifted out of the northeast (which created a lee shore), and the anchorage became very rough. It was concerning enough that we decided to stay onboard, and we did not attend the dinner. We learned that these changing conditions are common in that anchorage, so we knew that our time there would be limited.
We didn’t go on the two tours, but we were told they were very good. We did go to the mayor’s dinner, and it was a good time even if unusual for us..
Our time in Kupang allowed us to figure out how we want to participate in the rally. It is a lot of shared fun with other cruisers, but it is also a bit overwhelming for those of us that enjoy quiet isolation. We decided that we will probably move in and out of rally events – participate in some but not all. We really want to get out to some of the areas with relatively isolated anchorages and reportedly excellent diving. Then we might rejoin the rally group occasionally for more raucous amusement. So as most of the rally fleet sailed east headed for Alor, we sailed west to Roti.
What we will remember about Kupang are the people there. We were consistently impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the people we encountered, and we never felt threatened or in danger at all. Although little English is spoken, as we were sailing away, a lone fisherman in his boat called out to us, “Good bye. We love you.” If one is going to learn only a few words in English, those seemed a rather good choice.