Kupang is the transport hub for West Timor and is basically a good place to spend a couple of days knocking off a good book while you wait for a ferry to turn up.
Accommodation in Kupang is reasonably expensive by Indonesian standards, considering what you get. By repute (from locals, expats and several travellers) the best value place to stay is the Hotel Maliana (Jl. Sumatera Phone 8218879, Rooms from 70,000RP). We did have a reservation there but by the time we arrive from Dili at 8pm they had given our room to someone else.
Next door is the rather decrepit Hotel Susi. They have double superior rooms (although superior to what I'm not exactly sure) for 55,000RP per night. The room comes with a small fan on a stand and a bathroom a la hepatitis. The most redeeming feature of the place is the view from the large balcony overlooking the bay. The room rate includes a small breakfast and tea / coffee.
After one night at Hotel Susi we escaped to the Hotel Pantai Timor (Jl. Sumatera, Phone 831651) a large Chinese-owned place on the shoreline catering to government and business travellers. The standard rooms start at 90,000RP and the superior rooms at 140,000RP. The rooms are large and airy, the superior rooms have air-con and large clean bathrooms with showers and flush toilets. We reasoned that as there isn't terribly much to spend your money on in Kupang you might as well stay somewhere nice.
There is a large mall (by Timorese standards) in town. Take a bemo from the bemo station at Jl. Ikan Tongkol for 2000RP each way. Ask the Hotel staff for the best bemo to get there.
There is a good Toko (Toko Sinar Baru) to stock up on supplies for the ferry trip just off Jl. Ikan Tongkol to Teddy's beachfront bar. Gunung Intan Bakery (Jl. Pahlawan) does excellent pastries and breads.
There are several banks with ATM's along Jl. Sumatera. At the time of writing none of the banks were able to cash travellers cheques due to their 'system being down'. Exchanging USD is also somewhat problematic as the banks will not take any notes smaller than $50. They will also not take any notes older than 2000 series. For some reason you also require your passport to exchange USD into Rupiah.
There is a good internet place on Jl. Urip Sumohardjo with quick access for 10,000RP/hr.
The main post office is located on the corner of Jl. Palapa and Jl. Lalamentik. Postcards are cheap to send at 5,000RP each (to New Zealand). Packages are very expensive. Postage on 1.8kg to New Zealand costs 185,000RP and takes two weeks to deliver.
We didn't find any standout eating in Kupang over and above the standard warung fare. The restaurant at Hotel Pantai Timor has a pleasant seaside setting despite its sterile tile decor and has a pretty good menu selection. On the downside the staff speak no English whatsoever and have an annoying habit of deciding to round up your bill to the nearest 10,000RP by pocketing your change even after adding the government taxes, etc.
The one highlight we found is omitted from the guide books and is called the Crystal Cave. The Crystal Cave is (none too surprisingly) a large-ish cave in some ratty farmland about 10 minutes around the coast from the smaller port at Bolok.
The mouth of the cave slopes steeply (about 35 degrees) downwards. Climb down the large boulders about 50m where the cave flattens out. Here at the bottom of the cave is a large pool of refreshingly cool crystal clear water. This is an excellent place to spend a couple of hours swimming or snorkeling. Happily there are no bats or spiders but there are a few blind cave fish cruising about the place. Apparently (if you have the gear and the skill) the cave diving here is good and you can navigate the underwater passages out to the ocean.
The road out there isn't signposted and you have to turn off an obscure dirt track and then walk across a couple of fields, so a guide is the best way of getting there. Go and speak to the guys that spend their time lounging around in front of the Hotel Maliana when they are taking a break from selling carvings and sarongs. They will probably ask for 150,000RP for a guide and a driver, but as it's only about a 20 minute drive get a guide who actually has a car (or access to one). 70,000 - 80,000RP is a fair price for this trip as you probably will only be away 3 - 4 hours.
There are two ports close to Kupang. The largest one is Tenau Harbour which is where the Pelni ships leave from. The second is Bolok which is where the smaller ferry companies operate from. There is a road toll to take a moto or bemo into both ports, so if you are on a budget get off before you get to the toll and walk through.
Pelni has an office in town where you can buy tickets in advance and there are a couple of ticket booking places as well (which will cost you a bit more). You get tickets for the smaller Bolok ferries at the port before you board the boat, although it is a good idea to get there well in advance to avoid the crowds.
The Pelni office is a large stand alone building on the left hand side of Jl. Pahlawan, up the hill past the Concordia Barracks as you drive out of town towards the ports. The Kupang map in the latest Lonely Planet book has it a block back into town before the barracks, but this is incorrect.
The ferry that you take to Flores is most likely to be determined by what day of the week you arrive in Kupang. It is nearly impossible to get a ferry timetable without going to the ferry offices, and don't take any notice of the hotel staff when discussing ferry schedules.
If you are in a hurry to get to Flores then get up early with your gear ready to go in the hotel and take a moto down to the Pelni dock at Tenau Harbour at about 7am. If there is a boat going you will have time to get a ticket and return to your hotel to retrieve your stuff. Either way it is a good idea to find out the ferry schedule as soon as possible once you hit town.
It appears that ferry schedules are reasonably fluid depending on ships docking for maintenance (or the Indonesian version thereof which I'm pretty sure involves doing a bit of sweeping and then heading off for lunch and a cigarette) and the tide / current conditions.
Apparently the activities of the smaller ferries are severely restricted due to rough seas and strong currents during the rainy season and it may be a good idea to stick to the large Pelni boats which are solid German-built ships (although, as one expat pointed out "German built, but Indonesian maintained!").
We took a Pelni Ship to Larantuka (at the eastern tip of Flores ), via Kalabahi in Alore. The ferry takes 10 hours to reach Kalabahi then another 8 to reach Larantuka. Add in your inevitable late departure, loading and unloading in Kalabahi and you are looking at a 20-hour ferry trip, minimum.
This Pelni ferry are generally scheduled to leave port at 8.30am . There are three fare classes;
1st Class : 297,000RP per person
2nd Class : 234,000RP per person
Economy Class : 97,000RP per person.
1st Class gets you a clean(ish) cabin with a not so cleanish bathroom. No one could tell me the difference between 1st and 2nd Class.
Economy Class enters you in the race to find a sleeping space in the open plan economy class holds.
There are two economy class holds. They are split into forward and aft compartments with raised sleeping bunks and overhead luggage racks. If at all possible try to get a sleeping space in a corner in the forward compartment away from the walkway. The top forward compartment usually has a gated doorway that lets a cool breeze into the compartment.
There will be lots of touts and snack sellers wandering about the place so keep a close eye on your baggage. Once the ferry is underway go down to the lower economy deck and hire a foam sleeping mat with a built in pillow for 2,500RP.
In our experience the people on the boat (and in the rest of this part of the country) aren't overly used to tourists and will probably think you are mad for going economy class. You pretty much get stared at for the entire trip (one count had more people watching me eat peanuts than watching TV). That said everyone we met was very friendly and we didn't get used for free English practice too often.
A really good idea is to get adopted by the family that beds down next to you by offering them a biscuit or two or some cigarettes when you are indulging. Not only will this most likely result in you being offered a share of the seemingly endless supply of snacks these guys seem to pull from nowhere, but you will also have people to watch your bags when you take a stroll up on deck to the canteen. The luggage racks are a good place to lock your bags to.
There is a canteen on the top deck with a covered seating area serving cooked noodles, rice and chicken. It also sells a selection of snacks, drinks and cigarettes. The canteen, which is open from 6am to 10pm is a really good place to read a book or watch the endless trail of styrofoam dinner containers that are continually dumped over the back of the boat drift off into the sunset.
The toilets are the major downside to travelling economy, although they are easy enough to locate. We found them to be stinking and awash with a mixture of mandi and toilet overflow. Basically they resemble the toilet scene from the film Desperado. Baby wipes are a very very good idea here, sandals (i.e. Teva type things) are not. You will want to get a sleeping berth as far away from one of these puppies as possible.
Another really good idea is to bring some earplugs on this trip. Each compartment has a TV (set to maximum volume) continually playing the latest Javanese schoolgirl soap opera or hero v's magic witch drama. Additionally the muezzin's cheery 5am call to prayer is conveniently piped throughout the ship on (very) loudspeakers. If that doesn't wake you up then the 4am salvo from one of the dozen or so 'roosters in a box' scattered about the compartment sure as hell will.
The ferry should arrive at Larantuka at about 8.30am . Larantuka is a small, pretty seaside village at the base of a large hill. Larantuka was also the last redoubt of the Portuguese colonialists before the Dutch sent them packing back to Timor.
There is accommodation available in Larantuka but you are probably better to keep going to Maumere which is a couple of hours drive up the road.
Once you have dodged the porters who scrum onto the ship as soon as the gangplank is lowered and survived the surge of the disembarking crowd, make your way out of the ferry compound to the road where the bemos and travel cars wait.
Ignore the touts and hawkers and deal directly with the drivers unless you like paying a commission for something that you are quite capable of doing yourself.
A bemo to Maumere costs 25,000RP per person and takes about 4 hours. A seat in a travel car which is usually a Toyota Kijang (think SUV / 4WD) is 50,000RP per person and takes two hours.
For my mind, air-con, a quiet stereo, some leg room and two hours less driving / messing around are well worth an extra 25,000RP. Try and get the front seat if you can. The drive to Maumere is quite scenic and the driver may stop and let you grab some photos if you ask.
The road to Maumere is mostly pretty good, if not a little narrow in places. This is apparently due to the fact that the road was the first example of 'well organised graft' on Flores .
The story goes that the government in Java decided to give a whole lot of cash to each of the district heads to build a proper road down the length of the island.
Apparently, in order to facilitate extracting as much cash as possible from the project all of the district heads and village chiefs got together and decided that they would make the road half a meter narrower and quite a bit thinner than on the plans, pocket most of the savings and use the rest to pay off the government surveyors and inspectors.
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