Monday, 5 July 2010


Published in Now! Jakarta, August 2010


A toddy (lontar) palm grove west of Kupang.

The last time I was in Kupang, Timor, was in 1983, when there was gang warfare on every corner.

Last month I took an 80 minute Garuda flight from Denpasar to a new Kupang, a Kupang replete with McMansions for Korean industrialists and sportsbar enthusiasts drinking Fanta. The airport is a wonder, the roads are great; only in the hotels does one find remnants of the Soviet era, and in the country side a lot of the workers remain sloshed on sopi (the local palm today. Ed.)

• • •

A Bugis sailor paints his boat on Tenai Beach, Kupang.

Fish for sale at a roadside ‘stall’, Tenai Beach, Kupang.

I stay the first night at the basic Kupang Beach Hotel on magical Tenai Beach on the Western outskirts of the capital. The beach is home to scores of fishing vessels — beautiful Bugis phinisi included — being repaired or rebuilt on the foreshores. The villages of native huts that line the shores are packed with happy people selling fish and playing soccer (not at the same time) – all idyllic and heart-warming. On my first night I discover the Lavalon Bar on the beach in the ‘tourist strip’ near the Eastern end of town: this is ground zero for any visiting anthropologist, trekker, budget traveler or ethnophile, and the world centre of Captain Bligh worship (Bligh having navigated, miraculously, the 4000 nautical miles from Tahiti to Kupang in a long boat with no sail in 1789!!).

The owner of the Lavalon Bar and keeper of the website is a scholarly local of Kisari descent named Edwin Lerrick. His bar serves the best nasi goreng in East Indonesia and makes great drinks. Groovy music plays from speakers placed on the beach, which is a godsend in terminally ‘The Carpenters’ Kupang. Across the road from Lavalon is an excellent eatery called ‘Se’i Babi’ which serves all sorts of pork dishes and an amazing kidney bean soup.

Lithograph of Captain Bligh and his shipmates arriving at Kupang Harbour,
from Tahiti, in 1790 (courtesy of Lavalon Bar, Kupang).

LEFT: Edwin Lerrick proprietor of Lavalon Bar and Cyber Café, Kupang.
RIGHT: A barbequed pork dish at Se’i Babi Café opposite Lavalon Bar, Kupang.

Rhythm and Blues Singer at the Sports Bar, Kupang, the night of the Brazil-Portugal match.

25th June 2010: A trip to the interior

On a three hour drive to So’e, the capital of Central Timor, I see village after village of charming cottages with pretty gardens — the Timorese are very house-proud. I also see gang after gang of young men with extreme hairstyles: Timorese men are nothing if not fashion-conscious.

The So’e Valley on the plateau is to die for: like Happy Valley for Sopi fanatics.

It is raining and cool in So’e. At a shop I hear of a nearby waterfall with local huts, a sopi stall, and a BBQ Park Café nearby. We make the detour.

The seven cascades Oehalla water fall is set in the most romantic setting — with big-leafed, wild foliage and jungle mist — and there is not a soul in sight, save a dirty bemo driver with a drunk school girl in the front seat at the waterfall carpark.

Just near the waterfall I visit one of the famed Timorese traditional circular houses inside which three generations of sopi-soaks inhale smoke under a false ceiling of dried corn.

A neighbour arrives who speaks excellent English: she is just back from four years working as a maid in Malaysia and Singapore. She says that most NTT workers abroad return home and blow their money in a death spiral of excess, but that she had bought two cows and has opened a sopi-stall

LEFT: The exquisite Oehalla cascades, 5 km outside So’e, Central Timor.
RIGHT: Dreamy lopo pavilionscape at the Oehalla cascade recreation grounds simulate
a traditional Eastern Indonesian mountain village.

• • •

Back in town I move to the infinitely more Soviet-era Pantai Timur where the guest rooms don’t even have windows or plugs (I even search behind the wardrobe). After my search I tell the houseman to sweep behind my bedside table as there are old, dry condoms there and he reaches round and squeezes my bottoms and looks deeply into my eyes in an alarming way.

• • •

The only virtue of the Pantai Timur Hotel is that it is only a stone’s throw from the Lavalon from where one can be easily escorted to the downtown, harbourside Sports Bar to watch Brazil play Portugal. As Timor was once a Portuguese stronghold the locals are all rooting for Portugal: many sport the ‘Jabrix’ hair-do popularised by ‘mega-spunk of this millennium’ Christiano Ronaldo.

I have the most delicious grilled fish and enjoy the three-screen World Sport entertainment as a local band belts out international pop songs.

Kupang has become a joyous destination for the world weary.

• • •

(If one wishes to visit ancient villages like Tamkesi in the interior one needs to allow two or three days on the road, to do it comfortably. These villages have accommodation available (not budget) and are most picturesque. Visit

• • •

On the way to the airport I visit the fabulous Kupang Museum, with its well-displayed collection of ceremonial art and textiles and models of the pavilion architecture of East Indonesia.

Later, in the quiet airport lounge (NOW JAKARTA are very generous and fly me Business Class) I sink into my padded armchair, exhausted from the two days of gonzo sight-seeing. As I exhale, a phalanx of local Chinese merchants bursts in and heads straight for the box of free ‘Pop Mie’ cups (‘Pop Mie’ obviously, a local delicacy). The chemical concoction is devour, as if it’s their last meal. There is much shouting and flailing of plastic handbags.

Next, two Carmelite nuns come in and follow suit.

The din is unbearable.

“Don’t you people have food at home,” I quip as I head for my waiting Garuda.

Timorese nun attacks ‘Pop Mie’ in Business Class lounge, Kupang Airport.

4th July 2010: God Bless America

Back in Bali I visit Bali Joe the fabulously happening new gay bar. On separate screens, I watch the Serena Williams at Wimbledon and Argentina play a World Cup quarter final while Prince Alan, the human gyroscope Go-Go Boy, and team writhe in white vinyl harnesses on the bar (in a nice not a nasty way).

“Jai Ho” from Slum Dog Millionaire plays on the gay ghetto blasters. I suffer a bit of culture shock (after a weekend in Kupang) but quickly settle down in jock bar/jockstrap heaven in a sea of lithe revelers making the most “of the last days of the Wayan Republic” as one local pundit put it.

“Jai Ho!”

Komang Alan, star Go-Go Boy at BaliJoe’s, Jalan Dyana Pura (a.k.a. Jalur Gaza, Seminyak, Bali.