I’d become accustomed to the pace of road travel in Timor Leste – say, a hundred kilometres every three hours – so Indonesia’s decent roads caught me unawares. I’d only been riding for an hour when I nearly rode straight back into Timor Leste.
Before you start to get really concerned about my famous sense of direction, I’m talking about Oecusse – the tiny Special Administrative District of Timor Leste that clings to the north-west coast, surrounded by Indonesian West Timor. When East Timor people go to Oecusse, they normally take a boat along the coast instead of crossing into Indonesia for the 60km drive. I was kind of curious about Oecusse – I wondered how its physical and political isolation was working out, given that life wasn’t particularly easy even in Timor Leste proper. Were the people benefiting from proximity to the relatively wealthier settlements of West Timor, or was political antagonism between the world’s newest nation-state and its former occupier working to make the little territory more isolated that ever?
It’s a question I can’t answer; in a rare moment of organisation, I’d obtained a 60 day renewable social visa for Indonesia before leaving Australia, but it was single-entry only. I decided not to sacrifice it for one day in Oecusse; but it was a decision made with a pang of regret.
* * *
One of my friends in Marobo was originally from Oeccusse. Some of the local people in Marobo didn’t know her name, but they knew where she was from. When we walked through the village they would call out to her, ‘Hey, Oecusse!’ Isa didn’t mind at all. ‘They don’t know my name,’ she said, ‘But they remember me.’
* * *
The Indonesian town just before the border with Oecusse is called Wini, and there’s not much there. A post office, some cash machines, some warung, some roadworks. As I peered about in the gathering dusk, the only accommodation that I could find in was a cluster of reasonably solid-looking buildings, alternately describing itself as a ‘homestay’ and a ‘resort’.
I considered camping somewhere near the beach, but here, tonight, my gut feeling was against it. There were too many people around, and it just didn’t feel right. So I coughed up some money for a room.
The room was unnecessarily large, and had air conditioning, but not much else going for it; it was typically decrepit and the bed was covered in ants. I looked up the Indonesian word for ants so that I could complain about that – it’s ‘semut’, by the way – but then I ran out of energy. Besides, what did I think the owner was going to do about it right now? I just brushed the ants off – one, twice, three times – and hoped they’d get bored of coming back. The cold bucket shower was pure delight after a day of sweat and dust.
I then discovered that Indonesian power points are exquisitely ill-suited to allowing heavy plugs and adaptors to remain plugged into the wall: the prongs are round, and slim, and usually the electrical socket is sort of falling out of the wall anyway. So I embarked upon what is sure be a long and illustrious career of taping electrical adaptors to walls.
All good. Now for dinner. I trundled down to a cheap looking warung on the main street, and that was when my love affair with Indonesia really began.
I peered at the food display and started ordering with gay abandon – please give me rice, give me chicken, give me beef rendang, give me some chili eggs and some vegetables, actually just give me all the things, thanks very much. I was hungry enough to eat any number of slow-moving animals.
So I sat down and waited for my meal to appear, patiently expecting the tiny portions that had been leaving me feeling lean and mean for weeks. I was totally unprepared for the nutritional bonanza that came.
Oh my, oh my. I could barely finish it. So much food! So rich! So much good fat, protein, vegetables! It was like Christmas, it was like Lebaran, I ate until I was in a satiated stupor.
The way to a girl’s heart is through her stomach, after all. Indonesia, we’re going to get along fine.
I paid my 15,000 rupiah and rolled back to the room where I managed to haul Beastie up onto the porch and almost in the door. The ants had politely departed so that I could go to bed.
What more could you want.