It’s 5:56am. Kupang, Indonesia. I have been tossing and turning for the last hour so I stopped fighting it and wandered out to the foyer of this clean little hotel we are staying at. Funny how when you are travelling through Asia those descriptors become meaningful. A “clean” hotel. You expect that as an absolute baseline in Australia but when you step across the trench and immerse yourself back into this amazing SE Asian world it all shifts. A fellow traveller recommends a certain hotel because it is “clean” and you find yourself driving for miles out of your way through sweaty, dusty city streets just to get to it. Gotta have a clean hotel.
But we are getting used to the opposite. Dirty. Good old Indonesian bathrooms with hand flushed toilets – just one small tiled room, cold water, cracking tiles, palm frond roof. The open sewers of Dili, the waterways that are groaning under refuse and everywhere this strange mentality that rubbish will just mysteriously disappear when you throw it on the ground. You watch as plastic lunch containers are cast overboard from the ferry into pristine blue tropical waters and you just struggle with it all. It must go somewhere. The earth doesn’t just swallow it all up and clean it for us. It’s like these places are a microcosm of the larger environmental problems. You drive through a village and they are busily hacking down a beautiful tree that adorns their front yard giving shade and shelter. You wonder WHY on earth….but then realise that when the decision is between shade and cooking a meal or selling the wood to buy food then its pretty straight forward. In the organised abundance of the Western world we never have to make that decision. It’s never either / or – it’s both. I want shade AND my firewood – so get it for me. So we cut someone else’s tree down. I often wonder how we would all go when the resources we use had to come from our own backyard and the rubbish we produce had to go back into our own backyards.
Anyway – it’s too early for environmental studies 101.
So we are back in Kupang, West Timor. How casual that sounds just “back in Kupang”. Like we have been casually cruising the Indonesian Archipelago jumping from island to island like little salty sea dogs. But we left the strange, chaotic, emerging city of Dili with it’s disorder and two tier economy fueled by NGOs and aid agencies. Its amazing coffee, gaping wealth disparity and its’ “I’m not a tourist/cooler than thou” expat Australian aid workers who never say hello to you.
The girls gained their Asian travelling stripes on the 14 hour bus trip from Dili to Kupang. Cramped. hot, sweaty, dusty and windy. The eternal bone jarring bus trip through torturous mountain roads that drop off into nothingness to your right. The Indonesian border where you have to walk across no mans land to the new bus carrying packs and surfboards and food and drinks. All the while hoping that the girls are holding into my belt or backpack or SOMETHING because I have no hands free. Aggressive Indonesian hawkers and porters who shattered the relative peace of Timor Leste and reminded me of how this place works. But we made it. The last 2 hours I spent with my head out the window deep breathing to keep lunch down. Dark windy roads that never seemed to end. I have never been so grateful to see the lights of Kupang appear on the horizon and I have never been so proud of my daughters for just putting up with it all.
Then two days later we are sitting under coconut trees, drinking Bintangs at sunset as we watch world class surf peel slowly down a reef. Surrounded by the usual Indonesian surf camp array of Australians, Pommies, Americans and the odd Brazilian. A week of that surreal island time where you are up at 6am, surf for three hours, then eat, then sit, then surf, then eat then watch the sunset. Every single day. Mel already has an idea of a blog post where I describe the last week from a surfers point of view and then she describes it from a non-surfers point of view. I am sure I will learn something new about her.
Today we fly to Flores – the launch off point to Komodo Island so the girls can say they have seen a real live dragon. We are not sure about how we will get across to Bali then onto Java where the roads are better and there are trains. Beautiful, smooth, air-conditioned trains. I MUST be getting old because I have lost a little of my capacity for rough Asian travel. I can put up with cold water bucket showers and I love eating the local food….but something about that 14 hour Dili-Kupang bus trip has settled into my consciousness. And for once, without any hint of sadness, nostalgia or defeat I am looking at the 24 hour bus trip from Flores to Lombok and I saying loud and proud: “I’m too old for this…..”
So I am looking up how we can fly.