The next morning I wandered into the ‘restaurant’ to claim my free breakfast and discovered the probable reason for the improbable ‘resort’ sign that I’d seen near the road earlier. There was a beach! Well, a stretch of dirty sand in a cage. It even had some sun lounges and some rubbish littered about, to make it look like people had been there. There was a view of a shipping terminal across the border in Oecusse.
It was the saddest resort I’d ever seen, and I felt terrible for any people who might come there to enjoy its beach attractions. Fortunately, there seemed to be no-one attempting such a foolish thing.
I ate my omlette and drank my sweet Indonesian coffee in total solitude, and it was good. The environs even had a kind of decrepit appeal, sort of like photographs of abandoned theme parks, or Pripyat without the radiation.
The road south would take me straight into the hills that rose precipitously behind the town. It was a nice squiggly line on the map, so I thought I’d try it out. Based on Timorese experience, I considered there was a good chance that the road might turn into an impassable goat track at some stage, but I was keen to head up there and find out.
I just watched this video again, and my favourite part is where I say, “There’s a 50% chance of getting it more right than wrong…” I would like to tell you that this an esoteric allusion to the opening act of Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but it isn’t… Just garden variety mental deficiency! In my defence I was distracted by the views.
Well, the road did not disappoint nor dissolve into goat track. The skinny little strip of bitumen hauled me up into the hills, and down the other side. Through some villages. I made it to the town of Kefamenanu about the middle of the morning, and suddenly there was traffic, and it was stiflingly hot. I fuelled up and should have stoppd for food, but was seemingly overwhelmed by choice: here was a town with scores of places to eat, and I couldn’t seem to settle on one. Every likely looking place I saw just as I was already past it. The next one, I’ll stop at the next one, I thought, and then I was out of town.
I was now on the main road, but it was still beautiful and windy; still hardly any traffic. Just the odd bus and truck, labouring slowly up a steep incline, to duck around.
But it was here, on my first full day in Indonesia, that I learnt an important lesson of Indonesian traffic etiquette. So far, most of it had come to me naturally: basically, anyone might do anything at any time, so ride accordingly. No worries. But there are a few conventions of which one ought to be aware.
I was riding along a lovely straight of two-landed tarmac, and there was nobody there but me and a guy on a scooter heading the opposite direction. As he neared me, he crossed the centre line and began riding straight towards me. What the hell was he doing? I dropped a gear and slowed down, and moved further left. He moved further over as well, so that we were still on a collision course. I dropped another gear, moved further left… and he mirrored me again, still riding directly into my path. What was he doing? Was he going to move back to his side of the road, or go further left? Should I go around him on the left or the right?
Of course if you’ve ever used the roads in Indonesia you’ll know that he was merely turning right like a normal person – i.e. you just wander onto the wrong side of the road and ride straight ahead until you get to the driveway or turn off that you’re looking for. Everyone else knows what you’re doing, and know’s that it’s perfectly safe to move right and pass you on that side. As I crossly swerved right and passed him on the wrong side of the road, he turned into a driveway and the penny dropped. Aha. Lesson learned.
I stopped on top of a mountain where a bamboo shelter clung to the side of the cliff. It was a million degrees in the shade now, and I should have eaten long ago. Instead I ordered sweet black coffee off the old, old woman who squatted in the shade, shelling kidney beans. Afterwards, she charged me 5,000 rupiah for my coffee, standing under the hand-painted sign that said 3,000 rupiah for coffee. Old people these days, I thought grumpily, and stomped off to ride my motorbike in 35 degree heat along gorgeous roads amongst breathtaking scenery… Yes, that’s why I should never skip lunch.
A few hours later the road had become choked with traffic. Still skinny bitumen, only one lane each way, but now there were endless queues of cars and trucks. It was windy enough to make every second overtake a gamble with death.
There was a dusty town at one point, and I stopped, thinking that maybe I should find somewhere to stay and rest up. It was 3pm, I still hadn’t eaten, and thus I was cranky. But the only hotels that I found were either full or too expensive, so I skolled litres of water and kept going. Fuck it, I’d get to Kupang tonight.
There ensued several hours of crazy crazy overtaking. I watched the other scooters and motorbikes, and observed this fine art. I learnt that if you wait for a gap to open up in front of the vehicle you wish to overtake, you will never overtake anything. I learnt that if you don’t overtake that truck spewing black smoke into your face, you will feel very sick. So what you do, is you overtake for as far as you can go until a large oncoming vehicle totally blocks the road (as opposed to small oncoming vehicles, which don’t necessitate moving back to your side of the road); and then small gaps will open up on your left so that you – and all the other riders of scooters suddenly hung out to dry on the wrong side of the road – don’t actually have to die today. It works well.
The sun was low by the time I got into Kupang, and the traffic at a standstill. Now I was learning a new overtaking technique, known as playing chicken. I don’t think I need to describe that one; all I will say is that, again, I should not ride (or indeed, interact with the world at all) whilst hungry.
I was headed to a hostel that had be recommended to me by other overlanders as a good place to stay with secure parking for the bike.
I found it, I pulled in; stiffly, I got off the bike. My face was black and racoon-like from the diesel particulate pollution. Incredibly, I was in one piece; I was unscathed.
That night, I staggered down to the night markets and ate two full meals of fried chicken with rice and vegetables. The vendors thought there was a language problem when I finished the first meal and instead of paying, asked for a second; but I was merely famished.
According to the hostel proprietor, the ferry to Flores would leave tomorrow at 1pm, and I determined to be on it.