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Kupang, West Timor

Written on: Thursday July 24th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

I was absolutely dreading the Pelni ferry trip from Waingapu to Kupang in West Timor. My experience arriving here from Ende was so traumatic that ever since I'd been in Sumba the return trip back to Ende and then on to Kupang had been providing me with more than my fair share of nightmares. I've seen many incredible sights on this journey, from ancient Angkor temples to underwater worlds, from parading penguins to intimidating elephants, but it's the actual travelling itself from one place to another that has provided the most stories, some of the most intense memories and some of the most tortuous times. Hence I didn't want to get back on this bloody ferry. My fears were realised as soon as I got to the harbour. My time in Sumba ended much the same as it had begun. The ojek driver demanded an excessive fee because being the night time he reckoned that fares were more expensive. I couldn't sum up the will to argue so paid and sat in the harbour with throngs of people sitting, chewing, drinking and spitting their betel nut residue on to the concrete all around me. Like in Ende the boat hadn't even arrived in port at its scheduled departure time, and it was three hours later that it actually did. What was keeping me sane was the fact that this time I'd paid a fair bit extra and had secured myself a second class cabin for my 24 hour journey. The people began to push forward toward the small terminal building that served only to squeeze the crowd in to a tight space much like sand fighting to get through an egg timer. The Indonesian mob of young men prepared for battle in motorbike crash-helmets, young women not prepared for battle carrying small babies but equally aggressive if not more so, old men carrying toy bikes and elderly ladies clutching multiple parcels of food, twice as heavy as themselves, edged unyieldingly towards the terminal, using up all the air spaces they possibly could to get deeper in to the crowd. I sat on my bag watching the chaos for a while, but when the boats deafening siren was fired and the crowd became simply too much to continue sitting I had to join the mob and attempt to get on the ship. Never ever ever have I experienced such sheer chaos. Waigapu harbour was simply a free for all. There didn't seem to be anybody official in charge, you just had to get on to the boat by whatever means possible and similarly get off the boat in the same way. There was no way in for those wanting to board the boat with a separate exit for those coming off, and there was nobody there to stop people pushing forward to allow those passengers coming off the boat to get off. Sheer pandemonium ensued, and it got worse the closer I got to the boat. The women were definitely the worse offenders, digging you in the back and attempting to push past you despite there being nowhere at all to go. For several moments the crowd simply didn't move as deadlock occurred with the people trying to get off the boat encountering the brick wall of people trying to get on it. You'd think the porters would try and make matters easier, allowing the women, the elderly and children the space to breath and get on, but they just make it ten times worse, climbing up the side of the stairs to get bags, parcels and gigantic packages on and off the boat. One Indonesian barged past me determined to get on as quick as possible with what looked like an elephant's bladder full of bowling balls slung over his shoulder. I didn't fancy messing with him, but to others I shouted at them in English asking where they thought they were going to get to by pushing me constantly in the back, knowing full well they would have no idea what I was talking about, but hoping from my body language and the way I'd said it they would comprehend. I got on board eventually and to my delight found the second class cabin area, dumped my bags and went up to the 6th floor to look out quite smitten and smug that I was now onboard while thousands more still clambered to get on the boat below. I'm glad I got on when I did as below me now I watched porters carrying fridges, double beds, washing machines and huge bags of rice almost bulldoze past people who were still climbing the stairs trying to run the gauntlet themselves. As manic as this is and as simple a thing to fix and organise as this would be, to just allow those getting off to get off first before those wanting to get on do just that, I truly hope this never changes because as stressful as it is the sense of achievement at actually getting on the boat must be on par to winning an Olympic gold, plus once on you get to watch in bewilderment and snigger at it all still going on below you. The second class compartment I shared with two Indonesian men surpassed all my expectations. A homely little den complete with en-suite toilet facilities and get this, a hot shower!! Since Australia I hadn't stayed anywhere with a hot shower, in fact most of the places didn't even have a shower, just a mandi, but on a boat sailing across the seas to West Timor I get a hot shower. I actually debated sleeping in it such was this luxury. I'd forgotten what it was like to have clean nails. I slept great until my Indonesian room-mates thought it a wondrous idea to wake me for breakfast at the god-awful hour of 6:30am. Falling out of bed I threw on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and followed them out of the door in to the corridor. The chaos that had been outside the boat at the harbour was now all over the boat itself. The boat has a 1,000 person capacity, but talking to one of the crew later I was told there were nearer 3,000 people on board and that the week earlier there were almost 7,000 passengers. Families were laid out everywhere, looking like some sort of massacre had happened through the night. There were children lying in nappies out cold on the corridor floor, mothers supine alongside with newspaper for bedding. Further down there were piles of sick where because for some reason the toilets had been locked, the passengers had simply puked where they lay. In fact I lost count of the piles of sick that I passed on the way to the restaurant room, which thankfully hadn't been used as a refugee camp over night. I had three meals included with my ticket, all of which consisted of rice, some fish and a bit of chicken which kept the energy up that I used to explore the boat later on after we had arrived and departed from Ende once more. I was glad that I'd eaten my last meal when I happened to glance over to the kitchen area and see one of the chefs throwing up in to the sink next to where all th food was being prepared. In Ende even more people boarded the boat and set up camp in whatever space they could find. By early evening passengers exhausted from the travel and sick from the seas were once again flat out all over the deck as if somebody had filled the boat with a poisonous gas instantly knocking everyone out. Some had even climbed in to the lifeboats suspended from the side of the ship in an attempt to secure some space. I'd earlier met a Hungarian couple and an English girl named Penny who had boarded in Ende, but were travelling economy, so after sleeping most of the day I braved the corridors, stairs and sick piles and went to check on how they were. I moved from one end of the boat to the other as if I was attempting to negotiate those electronic beams they have in art galleries and entrances that guard huge bank vaults, tiptoeing between children's heads, ducking under cardboard boxes full of bric-a-brac and cart wheeling over bags of rice. I felt like Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment, just without the black cat-suit and far less supple thighs. Getting off the boat when it docked in Kupang at 12:30am was as tough as getting on it. For an hour, after managing to get off the boat and on to the harbour we didn't move as everyone wanting to get on it had pushed forward meaning there was nowhere for us to go. We couldn't go back or we'd literally fall off the end of the dock in to the sea and the others simply refused to go back. Once again we had chaos. Eventually those getting off managed to escape and breath again, and with Penny in tow we haggled with a couple of teenagers to take us to a guesthouse, not that they any idea where the guesthouses were as we soon realised after 45 minutes of driving round in circles. Welcome to West Timor! West Timor doesn't have a huge amount of natural delights to bring in the crowds and so it wasn't these I'd come for. I was hoping that Kupang might be my chance to find a boat that would be sailing to Darwin. In Waingapu, one afternoon I'd met a Frenchman and an Aussie or were waiting on their sail to be fixed, then coming on to Kupang before setting sail for Australia. I'd spoken to them and they'd agreed to have me on board for no charge whatsoever as long as I helped out on board which I was more than happy to do. The problem was, they weren't going to Darwin, but were instead sailing all the way around the north coast of Australia and down to Townsville, a journey of about 1000km which would take in their estimation two weeks, but upon speaking to others was told that two was extremely optimistic and that I looking at more like four weeks, because the easterly winds were now in full swing and would be pushing us back the whole time. The winds would make it a rough trip the whole way too. With these things in mind I had some serious thinking to do in Kupang, but was also intent on searching for the possibility of another boat that would be going to Darwin. With the Darwin to Kupang yacht race just about to get underway my timing at arriving here was looking good. Adding to my problems though was that I only had 5 days left on my visa, so I either had to go north up to East Timor to renew it and come back, or just overstay if I was sure I would have a spot on a boat leaving here and pay the $20 a day fine. To help me decide I thought I'd visit the island of Rote to the south of West Timor, where I'd been told there was a nice beach and some good surf. The perfect place to make some tough decisions. The day before I left for Rote I met John and Jack Faine, who both hail from Melbourne. John is the anchorman for ABC radio in Australia and has just taken six months off work to drive with his 19 year old son from Melbourne to London. With a slightly larger budget than mine (as in limitless), a pimped out 4x4 Toyota, a couple of satellite phones and because of being close friends with Tony and Maureen Wheeler, the founders of Lonely Planet, a boot full of guidebooks featuring all the countries they would be visiting they were well equipped to succeed. They were kind enough to invite Penny and I out with them for a day trip in their vehicle, where we visited the local market, were entertained with a cock-fight and finished off the day on the deserted Lasiana beach. Not only coincidental was it that I met these two that were doing a similar trip but in reverse to me, but Penny's similarities were even crazier. Another Devonian, hailing from Exeter she had come overland also, taking almost exactly the same route as I had, but leaving two days before Dave and I had.