Sunday 15 December – We left for the port at 06.30am assuming if the boat sailed at 08.00am then it would be there by 07.00am. The bay was insight but there was no ferry, our hearts sank a little. However, I could see a truck and a few silhouettes – more activity than there had ever been on the previous days.
We pulled into the port and there was actually quite alot of people and the sellers had set up, the ferry was going. Only it was arriving at 08.00am, we could get on at 09.00am and sailing at 12.00pm. Right on schedule the ship pulled in at exactly 08.00am. Things were on the up.
It looked nothing like the rackety ship I was expecting and actually was in really good condition. We drove onto an empty ship that was practically brand new.
We even bagged a whole table section to ourselves. There was a massive dorm adjacent, with beds still in the plastic wrapper, the toilets were very clean, even had warm water. It was a dream boat. Not the overcrowded, hot, stuffy, animal filled, rat infested vessel we’d read so many others had endured on this leg of the trip. Infact the Indonesian ferries on the whole have been excellent.
The fun had to stop somewhere. The boat hadn’t even left the dock when the loud Indo-pop collection was put on. They did thankfully change it to movies but then put it practically on silent. We sat on the boat in the dock for 5 hours, it was nowhere near full when we left. There was enough room below deck for another 100 of our bike.
The journey was uneventful, the Chief Engineer came to speak with us, he was some kind of spiritualist so filled us in on the belief about the queen of Indonesia rising from the sea. He lost me from there on in. That’s as exciting as it got.
Unfortunately morning in Indonesia starts at 03.00am and so does the Indo-pop music on the loudspeakers. 03.00am!!. Christmas Carols in Indonesian at 04.30am. Just as I was losing the will, we pulled into the port 18 hours after we left Nga Keo but 26 hours since we set off for the ferry.
Having kept in contact with Bruce he raved about a certain hotel called ‘La Hacienda’ in Kupang, billing it as the best in Indonesia (for our budget range obviously). We were really looking forward to a decent hotel, you don’t realise what a difference small things like a clean room, shower, air conditioning and internet can have on your mood when travelling for so long each day.
The hotel was a Mexican themed villa in West Timor run by a German man. The lack of sleep meant we just wanted to get there. Not go nearly 20 miles out of our way – 40 mile round trip detour. Paul blamed me, it was entirely his fault but I’ll spare you the details.
The owner, Michael greeted us straight away. We hadn’t made a reservation or even been in contact, just hoped he had a room. He did, we were in luck as it was a really busy time for him. After that boat ride this place was a true oasis. Michael was so accommodating and so helpful, the room beautifully clean, the nice smell somehow even managed to overpower the stench of our stuff. Our clothes have been wet since we left Labuan Bajo, 7 days ago so it they have been festering.
Even with the detour we were at La Hacieneda early. After downing some coffee we made our way to the East Timor consulate. We needed an authorization letter as we’re crossing by land, this allows us to obtain a visa at the border. Michael had warned us not too push to get our visas too quickly as the processing time is three days, but we didn’t even have to ask, we were just told to return at 2pm the next day.
We spent the day larking around in Kupang whilst we waited for the Timor Leste letter. Being Christmas and all we thought we’d make a card for family at home. The locals loved us posing infront of a Christmas tree in the shopping centre wearing Santa hats. We also got the bike power washed in preparation for the mammoth clean that it needs in Dili in order to pass Australian quarantine.
We left Kupang early for Atambua, the border town for East Timor. It was pretty scenic passing over some mountain passes and lots and lots of bends. For the most part it was clear of traffic too, mainly because of the time I imagine. Once over the mountains the scenery kept alternating between lush jungle and dry arid, more desert like land with the odd tree. Even spotted some red sands, so I guess it’s a little like Australia.
The road was lined with little communities living in very traditional looking thatch/bamboo huts. I read a description of these that said they look like cousin “it” from the The Adams Family, which is a completely accurate and a funny description.
We arrived in Atambua by lunch time, 6 hours after we left. Customs and immigration on the Indonesian side was a piece of cake…the army/immigration officer had trouble understanding where we were from, so the other officer recited English football teams “Manchester United, Manchester city, Chealsea, Liverpool, England, they are English” Paul added ‘Arsenal’ to list he looked at him blankly so he repeated ‘Arsenal’ still blank. Clearly Paul’s beloved arsenal were not favourites here. The officer then went on to say ‘I like David Beckham’ well, Sunny Jim it would just so happen we had some postcards made up in England for this very scenario, complete with a picture of us, our route, London Bridge and yes, David Beckham. I for once had them stuffed in my jacket, rather than at the bottom of the pannier to hand out. He was very pleased and exclaimed ‘for me, to keep.’ I’d forgot that I spent some quiet time writing our blog address on the back and the guy sat next to him had WiFi connection. Of all places, he can get it out in the sticks of a border post, but getting it in town is a tall order. Anyway, within seconds he was on our blog and all the officers were taking a nosey as they pointed us off to customs.
Leaving Indonesia is filled with a few lasts of the trip…our last land border crossing, the last time we can afford to eat at a restaurant, the last time we’re millionaires when we go to the cash machine, the last time we have to pretend we’re married, the last time rice is served for breakfast…it feels like the trip is coming to end. Although we haven’t been to Australia before, we’re expecting it to be much more familiar, like not as many crazy things going on. No mothers breast feeding their babies on the back of a scooter, no kids carrying knifes, no goats in houses, no driving down the wrong side of the road; that kind of thing.
Paul went to customs to get the Carnet stamped on his own, after he waded through the many offers to exchange US dollars which is the national currency of East Timor. 10 minutes later he was back, all done. Off to the next country.
There was bit of a photo shoot going on as we crossed the no-mans land between borders so we stopped to get one too. The men then wanted their picture with us. This is probably another last, no more celebrity status. I doubt anyone will care in Australia. East Timor side was super easy too…we handed over our authorization letters and $30 in exchange for a stamp to an immigration officer who was a bit grumpy and sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger, he had a similar jaw line too.
He pointed us on to the next guy, who scanned the passports then we had to pass through airport style security check. Only the guy couldn’t be bothered turning the x-ray machine on so he just got us to walk through the metal detector which was almost definitely turned off too. Funny. He helped us out by showing us to the Carnet stamping man. He was very obliging and did all the stamping, dating and signatures we instructed him to do. Not sure he’d done it too many times before. Apparently it’s not needed in East Timor but Toll [the shipping company to Australia] request it. It took only 30 minutes to clear all border formalities on both sides, very quick, maybe even a record.