Belu Regency

Markets:
Monday: Nurobo/Betun
Tuesday: Weibriamata
Wednesday: Alas
Thursday: Bolan
Friday: Uabo
Saturday: Lamaksanulu/Besikama
Sunday: Weluli/Laharus

Belu Regency is the eastern´most extent of the Old Dutch area of Timor and abuts the long East Timor border. The people here however speak a different Bahasa Daerah (district language) then the rest of West Timor, the majority of the population being of the Tetum group. This is a sort of ‘buffer-zone’ between the two halves of Timor, which is politically west, linguistically east and traditionally part of Central Wai-Wehale kingdom. If you find this confusing, imagine how the locals felt when their home land was cut into two by an arbitrary decision between the Dutch and Portuguese in 1859.

The police at the TTU/Belu border might pull you up but mainly for a chat as no passport check is required here these days. Closed to travelers during the Intergrassi struggle, the Indonesian government acknowledged a truth not recognised by either of the colonial powers – that the Belu people have more kinship, cultural and linguistic ties to the Tetum of East Timor than to the Atoni Meto of the West.

Re-opened to tourism at the same time as East Timor, it is difficult to find evidence of any fighting in the province. Forced under military rule because of the troubles of their eastern cousins, there was some resentment by the locals but the social and cultural ties still remain strong.

Very few tourists here as most people only use the capital Atambua as an overnight stop before heading on up to Dili and don’t explore far. Which is a shame as this district offers plenty for anyone into pre-history, archaeology, bush walking, isolated cultures, cave diving or just plain adventuring. With ‘lost’ cities, kilometre long cave networks, exotic flora and fauna, rich artifacts, strong tribal groups, exotic beaches and reasonable amenities, Belu deserves a closer look.

Although not hard to get around, a basic knowledge of Indonesian or an interpreter is an advantage. Roads are mostly good in the dry but during the wet months between January and March some of the more isolated villages will be hard to get to and require a bit more planning.

ATAMBUA (290km): This is the capital city of Belu, a large bustling town with plenty of accommodation and eating houses and two big everyday markets – it almost seems to have a better range of goods than Kupang! If planning to stay in the area for a while, this is a good place to top up on supplies but be warned: no official money changer as yet. Everything seems a bit more modern here, the people appear better fed, several colleges and Catholic seminaries supply a high educational standard and locals tend to ignore traditional dress.

In local legend, the name means ‘Witch-slave’ – coming from its founder, as escaped slave from the then big blackbird port of Atapupu. Originally a Portuguese area, the local agama (religion) is mostly Catholic, the architecture is a mixture of Portu-Dutch-Indonesian styles, the population is very Asian cosmopolitan and there is even pretensions to a pseudo-night life. But like Kupang, the heavy use of concrete and a large population density have given the town a slightly drab and dusty look. A good place to rest up and gather information but most of the really interesting things are out of town.

Losmen Merdeka, Wisma Sahabat, Losmen Nusentara, Losmen Luirai and Losmen ABC are all within a kilometre of each other around Jl.Merdeka, the Kantor Bupati (Religion Government Office) and the central business district. Ranging in facilities and price from the budget-wise Liurai at around rp4 000 to the popular Nusentara at rp10-12 000 a night but no real outstanding bargains or favourites. Ask your bus driver to drop you at the door.

Lots of restaurants and if you like the fiery Masakan Padang, this town will become a heaven as over ten Padang eateries are just up, down or across the road from most of the hotels. This type of restaurant can be expensive for Indonesia, especially if the waiters raise prices and double count servings. Often worth asking the prices of the dishes beforehand – even traveling Indonesian do this and it saves an argument or embarrassment at the end. The RM Sinar Kasih gets good ratings in other guidebooks as a good place to eat non-Padang food but I have never actually met anyone who has sampled the fare and the one time I tried to eat there, the restaurant appeared completely deserted – even by the staff!

Some good warung malam (night stall) on Jl.Merdeka, selling the usual range of Indonesian fast foods – bakso, sate, gulai, fried rice/noodles, etc. The RM Surabaya on the main road, across from the RM Minang Padang restaurant, sells good sate and other Javanese foods and there are some early opening warung in the Pasar Baru (New Market), just below the Losmen Nusantara.

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Atambua Market Woman

No antique or craft shops here yet but at either the Pasar Baru or at the Pasar Lama (old Market) behind the Kantor Bupati, ask for barang antik (antique ‘things’) to find anything from old cloth to Chinese porcelain. Be careful of anything too unusual or old as there has been a bit of a crack down on Timorese antiques leaving the island for some time. By law both airport and naval customs can demand you show a certificate from the Indonesian Education and Culture Office before allowing you to export heirlooms.

As this law has been open to revenue collecting by unscrupulous officials in the past, the relevant authorities recently sent five Timorese customs handlers back to school – to learn the art of antique dating! Be interesting to see what happens but in the meantime don’t buy anything too massive or old.

All this aside, the Pasar Baru is a large bustling everyday market with many permanent shops that sell mostly manufactured and imported goods and the town’s only half-camera camera and electronic store, the Roda Baru on Jl.Pramuka. For hardware goods, try the shops in the central business area around Jl.Merdeka and for motor spares see the CV Tanjung shops near the Losmen Merdeka. Not far away is the Pasar Lama, an early morning meat and local produce market at the start of the road towards Wedomo – you might startle the locals but plenty of good photographic opportunities.

If you are heading up to the Wedomo area, go to the Kantor Bupati beforehand and ask for the Kantor Bagian Kesra – a sort of social welfare department. A Surat Ijin, a letter of intent, from this office will make your trip a lot less confusing and frustrating – explain the reasons behind the trip, give a projected itinerary and try to have an interpreter to pass on any advice this office has. For maps or further advice, see the very helpful Kantor Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan (Office of Culture and Education) on Jl.Soekarno. Generally you won’t need bemo to get around town as most of the travelers’ facilities are all in the central area.

SESEKOE (4km): A relatively accessible and interesting collection of Tetum ruins just outside of town, Seskoe (pronounced Sesi´Kwoy) is in a lightly populated are on top a mountainous outcrop overlooking Atambua. Head north along the good asphalt road to Atapupu about 3km and ask for Desa Fatuketi.

The Kepala Desa, Pak BG Seran, should be able to arrange some sort of guide for you from here as nobody actually lives at Seskoe. From Desa Fatuketi to the sites is at least a kilometre of fairly strenuous hill´climbing, scrambling over rocks and through thick brackets of lantana. Ro’okfau is the site of an old ruined town large enough to be the original Atambua, its ruined walls now covered by thick regrowth and inhabited mainly by large monkeys. Ask to see the old grave (kuburan tua) close by, a complete megalithic tomb in traditional Timorese rock pile style.

Not far from Ro’okfau, the extensive cave system of Fatukakoe is farmed in season for the tiny swallow nests that are the main ingredient in the famous Chinese ‘birds nest’ delicacy. There are several openings at the top of the hill, some with vertical falls of 50m just inside the mouth. Supposedly, in the dry season, some of these passages can be negotiated all the way to Atambua itself – but only for those with proper caving equipment and/or good caving skills.

At the bottom of the hill towards the left is the very traditional village of Dusun Lama, with almost everything made of wood, stone or thatch and a small animist shrine, several stone graves (kuburan batu) and a pleasant fresh water stream nearby. A nice place to relax after the trip up the hill.

A fantastic variety of flowers and fruits and tubers around here – stage horn, wild anggrek (orchid), lots of palms, strange fungi and tubers – all fairly well known by the locals and the dangers and uses of each can be pointed out. Some big monkeys about plus wild deer and pig and, again, beware of the Timor snakes, wear decent footwear and leg coverings. Even though it gets hot, try to keep your shirt on as not only is it polite Asian manners but snake bites on the torso are astronomically more dangerous than those on limbs. There are Bemos from Atambua.

KOLAM SUSUK (18km): Many Timorese might mention this place as a good spot to visit but perhaps you will only see how recreation expectations differ between locals and foreigners. Turn off the main Atambua-Atapupu road at the sign posted turn off to Manunggal and continue 3km down a dirt road until you find this small amusement park. Man-made, muddy pools of fresh water with miniature Lopo-like shade seats around the compacted earth banks, small boats for hire and a lot of albino water buffalo wandering around. Possibly a little too kitsch for foreigners but very popular with Atambua/Atapupu Sunday crowds.

About 1km further past Kolam Susuk, hedged in by huge mangrove forests punctuated by scattered patches of clean white sand, is the sea. A good place to sunbake but watch out for mosquitoes at dusk. Atambua buses heading north can drop you at the turn off.

ATAPUPU (25km): A town first noted by Europeans over four hundred years ago, Atapupu is a large port but smallish town exporting much produce and cattle, once also including sandalwood and slaves – the name Atapupu supposedly means ‘to tie up a slave’. A number of old ceramic urns and ‘dragon jars’ have been found around here, remnants of the old Chinese connection and further evidence of Atapupu’s long trading history. Originally a Portuguese domination (Silabau, the first true Portu-Timorese town, is just a few km west from here, it was merchant Chinese opposition to Lisbon’s attempt to levy customs duties here that eventually led to the Dutch takeover in 1818.

Today the town is a sleepy, picturesque port where time seems to slow down and everyday is a Sunday. A couple of very basic warung here and possible cargo boats to Kupang, Dili etc leave 3-4 times a week. Another 5km further east towards the border is Pantai Pasir Putih (White Sands Beach), a seaside rest area of miniature Lopo shade houses and some toilet facilities for a rp100 cover charge. Bus or bemo from Atambua.

EAST

Warning: Heading directly east from Atambua you quickly enter the mountainous border areas of Tasifeto Timur, Lamaknen and the homelands of the Bunak people. Isolated by geography and wars, this area is very ancient and very tribal, with a veritable smorgasbord of old native fortifications, ceremonial grounds, monolith sites, ruined towns and old graves. The Bunak themselves are strong, independent people, friendly and very hospitable but a Surat Ijin must be shown before you will be allowed to visit some of the sites. You can get these from the Kantor Camat at either Tasifeto Timur (Wedomo) or Lamaknen (Weluli) – if the Pak Camat is in and if you can find his office!

Bunak Grave
Traditional Bunak Grave

A surer, easier way is to see the Kantor Bagain Kesra in Atambua first and ask for the necessary papers there. The reason behind this hassle is to make sure study or certain important sites is completed before they are overtly disturbed. Because many of these sites have yet to be thoroughly documented and explored, local interest groups are putting pressures on the government to make sure this rare historical wealth of Timor is not lost before it can be studied. You can, of course, go to most places without the ‘letter of intent’ but it is a shame to be restricted in such a scenic area.

TAKIRIN (18km): About 15km east along asphalt road (excepting the unbridged river crossing outside Atambua, soon to be remedied) is the Ibu Kota Kecamatan Tasifeto Timur, the capital center of East Tasifeto district, Wedomo. The journey here is through rolling hills sparsely wooded with huge white eucalyptus that are more than faintly reminiscent of the southern Australian Alps country. Around Wedomo are large groves of imported teak and cashew trees, another example of the attempts to find export crops of Timor, but the town itself has few services and is reasonably boring. A couple of large schools here and there office of the Camat, Pak Longginus Cuki, is some distance from the main road to Lamaknen – if you haven’t got a Surat Ijin, you will have to come here to get one.

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Takirin Altar

About 3km from Wedomo is the mostly Tetum village of Desa Takirin. If you have your paper, try to find the Kepala Desa or the Tuan Tanah (lord of the land) to report in and arrange a guide/guard – expect to pay about rp1000 – to take you to Sadan Takirin, the mostly intact remnants of a large Tetum fortified village estimated to date back to the 18th century.

Very spectacular constructions of stone form the walls and the main ‘rajahs circle’ – a central ring of stone walled seats where the King and the chiefs of allied tribes sat to discuss council or to officiate over war victories and other celebrations.

The small stone in the centre was for the highest ranked enemy head while the less ornate stone ring some distance below the King’s throne served for adversaries. Directly behind the ‘throne’, a large sacrificial altar of two rounded slaughtering of pigs. Beneath the altar are two kuburan pahlawan, hero graves.

A little way past the ‘King’s circle’ is another sacrificial altar, again with male-female stones and presumably the ‘peoples altar’. Local legend has it that if a pig was not available then a black buffalo (kerbau hitam) would suffice instead. If no buffalo were found, then a human sacrifice could take its place. Back up the hill and a short distance into the scrub directly behind the King’s throne are 5 or 6 kuburan Rajah or King Graves, obviously quite old and apparently still very much revered.

Some views of the surrounding countryside, lots of local flora and still the occasional festival held up here – though no head chopping is allowed these days. Supposedly a large cave complex about 1km away was used to store the heads and relics of their enemies after the celebrations but no road there currently exists and since some artifacts still remain, they aren’t quite ready to let tourists get that far. If you have you Surat, there are one or two direct buses to Takirin daily, ask at the bus terminal in Atambua.

Otherwise catch a bus to Weluli or Laharus and get off at Wedomo if you want to see the Camat. Several kilometres further along at Desa Basho, which is only a brisk 11km walk from Takirin. Few inter-local bemo and watch out on the return journeys on market days – the buses from Weluli could be full and won’t stop. Possible to stay in the villages if you have your paper.

WELULI (37km): Continuing on up the asphalt road you soon enter the Bunak enclave of Lamaknen, a panoramic mountain area with strong traditions and some spectacularly unique attractions. The Camat office is close to the bus stop so report there to show your Surat or to get one. While here, try to get someone to introduce you to Pak AA Beretallo.

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AA Beratallo of Weluli

Now an elderly retired man, he is one of the last living Timor Kings that actually held the title when the Indonesian government outlawed its use in the 1960’s. He then served 6 years as an MP in Jakarta and was the first Bupati of Belu. A very erudite and well´spoken man and, if you can persuade him to spare the time, a great authority on the local sights, customs and people.

Weluli is the main administration centre, not originally a seat of power, so most of the sights and traditions are out of town. A nice area and well serviced by daily buses from Atambua, there are a couple of small grocery store but no losmen or warung.

DIRUN (41km): A small village just above present day Weluli, Desa Dirun was the capital of the original La’ma’knen (Bunak) Kingdom and still has a couple of large traditional houses and a lord of the Land (Tuan Tanah). Another 2km past and above Dirun is Fort Ma’kes or Ranu’wa, a large Bunak fortified town with seven concentric walls. Containing several old graves, a large sacred Kings’ circle and many tall sacrificial altars, everything is covered in a thin green layer of moss and surrounded by stunning vistas.

Although uninhabited, this ‘fort’ is still very much intact and must be one of the best native forts in all of Indonesia so don’t make too much of a fuss if it requires payment to get someone to take you there. Try to spend something in villages like this, both to support the local economy and so that they don’t get sick of miserly foreigners wasting peoples’ time playing around in holy places – try to show a little hormat (respect) for the high regard the locals hold this place in. Walk from Weluli.

Patong Batu 1024
Patong Batu

KEWAR(45km): Heading east from Weluli about 8kms and almost right on top of the East/West border is this relatively well´touristed (6-8 people in a good month) collection of four villages and about 1,500 people. A terrible jalan batu but somewhat mitigated by spectacular scenery all the way, this town was the home of the last Bunak Rajah, Pak AA Bene Tallo, and the massive Kings’ house, Deu’hoto in Bunak Language , is preserved intact. Entering town, you are confronted by a small stone statue (patong batu) set on a stone-pile circle surrounding the base of a spreading fig tree (pohon beringin). This simple human representation is similar to a much larger statue at distant and equally isolated Bada, in central Sulawesi – be interesting to find any other connection between the two places.

Looking somewhat similar to Insana designs, people here still weave traditional cloth but don’t wear it as an everyday item – the results shown mainly at festivals. Very little kapas hand spun these days and wide spread use store´bought aniline dyes is the norm. Almost everyone wears Javanese batik sarongs and even bamboo betel–nut containers, still well used by the Atoni Meto are hard to find.

The Deu’hoto, the King’s House, is a little way above the main square and is truly massive, perhaps 10m high and at least that again in radius. You are welcome to enter (some sirii and Pinang come in handy here), climbing the auditorium size stairs to reach the inner living quarters, raised 2m from the ground. Two families presently share the huge Bulat´type building, its large carved corn-shrine and the central kitchen enclosure.

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Deu’hoto

Made from local hardwood, the walls are carved with Bunak geometric designs for both aesthetic and religious reasons as festivals regularly occur here during the months of September/October. A special celebration takes place every 3–4 years when the grass thatch roof is replaced – the next projected re´thatch being planned for 1995.

In front of the building are three wide stone´pile rings. The first circle closet to the house has a few old graves and serves religious purposes. The second ring is reserved for community use during festivals – the guests place food on the central altar/platform and, after everyone arrives, take a share. The massed circular stones near the tree are for sacrificing pigs, chickens and goats at ceremonies, one representing female forces (the stone with the scooped out centre) and the other male.

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A Traditional Bunak Deu’Hoto

The third ring is the dancing circle and the seats for the Rajah and his various officers – the Rajah reserving the larger, higher platform at the house end and the chiefs designated places on either side. Successful war parties brought back enemy heads and placed them on the central mound/altar for the 3–4 day duration of victory celebrations, burying the heads afterwards in some distant field.

Easy to find home stay accommodation in the village as they are fairly familiar with tourists but bargain the prices as you go (make sure it includes food as there are no warung here). Very scenic, friendly and tranquil spot and a good place to base yourself for local forays such as Nualaen, a few km away, which has some traditional houses and a local market on Tuesdays. Some trucks to Kewar from Weluli occasionally and possibility of charter.

SOUTH

BETUN (64km): The turn´off for this small southern centre is 21km back towards Kefa at the large statue of an Indonesian soldier with a gun raised. Turn left (right if you are coming from Kefa) and follow the good, all-weather road south through the very Tetum area around Halilulik and onto the pretty, pastoral perimeters of Desa Boas, with its weekly Saturday market. Past Boas, the road starts winding down to the coast and the vegetation grows lush, with old teak forests, lots of bamboo, massive palm and patched of tropical rainforest – at times it is hard to believe you are still in Timor.

This town was the centre of the old Wai-Waihale Empire but there are no old ruins. It is also one of the richest areas in West Timor but there are very few private motor vehicles. Very traditional in buildings and daily life (you will see many bare´breasted grandmothers here) but very little weaving or art remains. Coastal, with sandy roads and a salt´tang to the air, but nowhere is the beach easily accessible and nobody seems to use the sea. Very flat with quite a few good roads but everywhere lined with coconut and lontar palms and it is easy to get lost. Obviously an area of many contradictions, so it is fortunate the local Tetum people are friendly and there is plenty to see.

Three losmen in town with the Adi Indah being the cheapest (rp3´4000) but also a little grubby and be prepared for mobs of local kids who want to talk with you. The Cinta Damai, also in the town center and opposite the Adi Indah is a cleaner, quieter and more expensive alternative that has a reasonable restaurant on the premises. The Ramayana, about 200m along the Besikama road, is very quiet, clean and comfortable for about the same price as the Cinta Damai and run by fount of local information and a nice chap to boot. For bemo, motorbike or pushbike (very popular in this very flat district) hire, try your hotel. Two warung in town, the largest being the R.M. Bodisentosa at the southern end of town beside the local bus/truck stop.

Some mechanical parts at the big store next door to the Adi Indah and at the small bekel across the road petrol, carted in by 200litre steel drums, are rp100 more expensive than Atambua. Bank Raykar Indonesia (BRI) has a branch here – they won’t change foreign currency but are handy for changing large notes before forays into villages. Also a good Post Office (Kantor Pos) a little way out of town centre and across the football field. Good bus connections to Atambua and quite a lot of English spoken locally.

HAITIMUK (70km): Very conveniently located for travellers is this large, sprawling very traditional Tetum village of over 400 families, just 6km from Betun on the asphalt road to Besikama and over the new bridge spanning Sungai Benain (Benain River). This river flows all year around and is the lifeblood of Wai-Wehale but is also a good place for a swim – if you don’t mind being joined by the areas entire population of teens.

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Hatimuk River Crowd

Although the original Wailhale kerajaan (kingdom) seat of power was in or near present´day Betun, it was at the village of Haitimuk, on the banks of the Benain, that the ruling lineage came from. If you are very lucky, you might get to meet the very ancient, wizened Queen of Wailhale, the 97 year old Bano Nanak Maroe Rai, in the confines of her very plain ‘palace’. Local belief has it that the Queen cannot leave her lodgings except for ceremonial and festive occasions and has not done so for the odd 80 years of her rule! If you do get to see her, remember her age and the extremely high regard she is held in by much of Timor; be polite, bring an interpreter and present the traditional welcoming gifts of Pinang, sirii and chewing tobacco – fish, fresh meat or cash also accepted.

Traditional Tetum houses (called Makbalin Nain) have a raised veranda and living/cooking area under an oblong mop of alang-alang thatch. Usual decorations are pieces of woven lontar mats hung at the side and front that serve as seating on the dusty veranda – easily reached and detached when visitors arrive!

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Kwaur Nain

Very little cloth weaving or wood carving practiced here nowadays but there is still a sacred rumah suku called a Kwaur Nain or As Nain locally and which contains the paraphernalia for magic workings and ceremonies of state. From the outside, this building looks unprepossessing and rather bland but inside contains all the necessary alat-alat adat (cultural implements) to ensure the continuing welfare of the village. You cannot enter this building – tradition permits only the Queen and her Tuan Tanah (Lord of the Land) inside and then only for special propitiation ceremonies concerning natural disasters and the yearly harvest festival.

The ‘Festa Panin’ usually occurs around April, after harvest of the corn and rice crop and the completion of a census of the population. If you are in town at the right time, visitors are most welcome. Lots of buses and bemo pass here one the Besikama´Betun trip, just ask to be dropped off. No warung or losmen and only a very small kios.

BESIKAMA (81KM): It is a frustrating/funny experience: just trying to find Besikama can drive the well´intentioned visitor to distraction. A small village called Besikama exists, supposedly still ruled by its own queen, but what locals generally refer to as Besikama is actually a circular string of at least 8 villages, none seemingly larger than any other and all joined by an asphalt ring road.

According to local belief, the town of Umaloor was the centre of the old powerful Timorese Wai´Waihale empire. The present day Ama Nai Ulu Umaloor, or King of Umaloor, is Pak G.J.K.T. Nenometa. A friendly, Indo´speaking, western dressed man, his empire nowadays is a collection of iron and cement buildings interspersed with the occasional wood and thatch dwellings on the side of a main road.

A bit of weaving still goes on here (expensive) but not a lot of other evidence of the areas’ illustrious past. Pak Nenometa says there is little rock around Besikama and the old wooden palaces and edifices have long since fallen into decay but is known that when the Portuguese over threw Wai´Waihale in 1642, they laid waste to the local area, trying to stop Dutch intrusion in sandalwood trade.

Reportedly, people throughout Timor still know of both Umaloor and Waiwiku as the King here once provided a balance of power (and sex – everything in animist belief must balance) with the Queen of Wail hale and founded the greatest known Timorese empire, Wai´Waihale. There is now a large hospital and church built in the Dutch manner not far from Umaloor, three or four grocery shops on the main ‘ring road’ and a typically difficult to reach pantai laut (sea beach) nearby. Regular buses and bemo from Betun service this area but no warung or losmen here.

WE’OE (82km): A short distance beyond Haitimuk and about 8km from Betun is a turning on you right that heads west towards the TTS border via a mostly asphalt road. This large dusty village has lots of traditional buildings, a large Indo-built cathedral, a small hospital complex, several schools and a 5 000+ population but very few services and only one shop. A couple of kilometres before Wo’oe is the turn off to Weibriamata where a large market is held although many locals from Wo’oe prefer to travel the 20km to Boking in TTS for its weekly Saturday market.

The Belu/TTS border is just on the western edge of town, where a very tough jalan batu climbs the 40kms to Ayotupas – the first village across the border is Desa Bokon and you will know by the Bulat and Lopo that you are back in Atoni Meto country. Not a good road to travel alone at anytime but especially at night, this is one of those ‘be careful’ areas so make sure you carry plenty of spares, etc and try not to linger too long in villages along the way. Buses regularly travel to Wo‘oe from Betun and Atambua but not much other transport, other than periodic trucks, anywhere else.

TAEBERAEK (87km): A right hand turning just after Wo’oe and just before the TTS border takes you down a jalan tanah (dirt road) about 8km to the coastal Belu/TTS border area around Boking. Approximately 4km past Wo’oe is a small dirt road on you left, sign posted ‘Ke Daerah Wisata Taeberaek’, which leads a further 1km along an overgrown two-wheel track through spectacular stands of rainforest and finally arrives at a long, white sand, almost deserted, beach.

There is a couple of huts built in Tetum style for use by overnight trippers and by locals during the festivals in August´October each year when large numbers of ikan terbang (flying fish) abound just off shore. No village at the beach but usually some kids minding the family’s cows nearby. Lots of snakes in the rainforest, so be prudent. All up, a very pretty, tranquil spot that is difficult to get to in the dry and all but impossible in the wet. No services what so ever but you can use the huts for overnight stays.

ALKANI (91KM): A further 4kms past the Taeberaek turn off, along a tortuous dirt and rock road lined on both sides by banana, coconut and acacia trees, is the small border town of Alkani. Actually there are two towns here, one being in Belu and Tetum, the other (Desa Skinu) in TTS and Atoni Meto. The largish port town of Boking, with its larger Saturday market, is about 12km further on – quite safe around here and it is possible to return to Kupang by way of the coast road.

There are plans in the wind for road improvement as Boking is a possible site of the Aust-Indo Oil projects and Taeberaek is rightly seen in this whole area. Trucks from We’oe on Fridays and Saturdays.

FAHILUKA (72km): A little way north of Betun is a road to your right that leads to the seaside town of Fahiluka, by way of Kletek village. The road should be asphalt by the time you are reading this and winds through flat sandy coastal plains edged in palms and mangroves. Kletek, 3km from Betun, is a small settlement on the western side of a mangrove choked bay and is the best place to charter a boat to take you to see huge swarm of fruit bats (kelalawar) that nest across the bay. Make sure you ask for Dusun Kletek as the administration unit of Desa Kletek comprises many villages, some quite distant from the water.

Best times for this trip are early morning or late afternoon when the bats start or return from their food hunting forays and fill the sky – quite a sight! About 5km on is the small town of Fahiluka but the sea is still a couple of kilometres away along a track that is accessible most of the way by bemo (you will have to charter – might be just as easy to walk ). At the coast a couple of small fishing villages nestle among saltbush on a long white sand beach that reportedly gets surfable waves in April/May. Watch out for jellyfish in August/September when strong winds from nearby northern Australia blow them on shore.

Supposed to be able to see the light of Oz fishing boats form here are 4-5 in the morning and it is possible to stay in the villages. When asking directions to the coast, make sure you ask for the laut (sea) and not the Pantai (beach) – the locals around here don’t seem to have much interest in beaches but might know where the sea is! A few bemo/buses do the Betun–Fahiluka–Bolan trip, ask around in Betun. The occasional road side kios but no warung or losmen in this area.

MASILULIK(85km): About 2km north of Betun, past the turn off to Fahiluka is Kampong Webua and an asphalt road to the village of Wemasa, about 16km further along. A small sleepy town with a Thursday weekly market, the main reason to visit here are the nearby ‘diapirs’ or mud volcanoes (Gunung lumpur) at Masilulik about 5km towards the coast along a rough, sandy track.

A bit hard to find the start of the track, so you will need a local guide of sorts – in other words, pay someone to show you the way! Quite negotiable by motorbike and locals say 4WDS’s have been here but no buses or bemo and quite a long walk.

Wemasa Mud Volcano Belu
Wemasa Mud Volcano

The first couple of kilometres wander through large lontar plantings but the next three are all mangrove swamp. The last km is the worse and if you intend driving all the way carry a machete (in case the mangroves have overgrown) and a spade ( the swamp doesn’t encroach the road but crabs do, digging up the sandy surface to make their holes and leaving quite large piles of sandy debris in their wake). But whatever else you carry, don’t forget some sort of insect repellent or screen as the insects are many and varied – the main reason why there are no villages around here.

Breaking through the swamp, you suddenly are confronted by a 20m volcanic-like stark white cone, bare of vegetation for some distance around, very surreal and moon like with a thick resounding ‘glugg’ every minute or so. Caused by the underground pressure of the Australian and Indonesian continental plates meeting, a mud/oil mixture rises to the surface and slowly builds the cones as each layer of overspill dries.

Wemasa Mud Volcano Belu
Wemasa Mud Volcano

There are three more ‘volcanoes’ about 500m away through a thick bracket of trees where it might be advisable to have someone who knows where they are. From these three, larger cones you can see part of a saltwater inlet but the rest is swamp for as almost far as you can see. Here at the volcanoes, you won’t have to worry about insects as they avoid the place – a fact the

local fishermen have taken advantage of by sleeping near the bottom of the cones if caught at night in the swamp. Buses to Wemasa from Betun are fairly frequent but very little local transport. No warung or losmen here.