Chess and Corn

24 Hours in West Timor

We woke on the stunning beach of Tanjung Bastian. A perfect morning. During the night we were both woken by the fact that, even though we were only five meters from the ocean, we couldn’t even hear it lapping. It was that still. Perfectly quiet except for the sound of rolling thunder in the distance. And now the sun had risen on a lovely warm morning.

We packed and headed off, planning to aim for Kolbano Beach; apparently another stunning spot. Unfortunately, we chose to ask Google for directions. She picked the shortest route but that turned out not to be an actual road. We drove for about two hours down an increasingly treacherous track, with bigger and bigger holes for the car to fall into. We passed through three separate homemade gates, the third one had a large log bedded vertically into the earth. We should have taken that as a sign but decided to excavate the log so we could continue. Shortly after this, we came to a dead end where the road entered someone’s yard. We accidently flattened a swath of an old man’s corn and pumpkin plants. I jumped out and gave him some cash for reimbursement, which must have been plenty and he happily waved us to continue squashing more. We gently backed our car out, trying to do as little damage as possible.

But we were in luck, I could see on google that there was a tourist attraction nearby, a waterfall; Air Terjun Oehala. So we backtracked and aimed for that. We arrived at a small gate and paid $5 entry to the old man wearing a cowboy hat and asked if we could camp there. He was very excited about this. We headed down the road and were a bit concerned as there was nowhere for us to set up; it was just a car park. But cowboy hat was happy for us to sleep there. So we set up our awning and tent. Around 15 people stood and watched, and gasped as each new part was set up. There were small stalls around the edges of the parking lot, selling warm soft drinks, bottled water, and limes. We grabbed our towels and headed down to the waterfall.

What a beautiful, secluded spot with sparkling, icy cold water splashing down. It had a bit of a man-made feel, but it was lovely. Little pools all the way down for Baz to splash in.

Back up at camp I met Addy and her daughter Nella, who was infatuated with Baz and spent the whole evening leading him up and down the stairs. I chatted to Addy. She knew a considerable number of English words, but struggled to string them into sentences. She was so excited to tell me all the words she knew; things like dog, walk, son, sibling, ball, chicken. She told me that someone had left some books here, and she had learnt all the words in them. She then begged me to come and see her house, just next to the car park; she wanted to make us corn from her garden for dinner. Her house had rough brick walls and a dirt floor, a tin roof perched on top and from the inside you could see the light outside through the open eaves. Curtains separated the two rooms. I told her repeatedly that her house was very good (Bagus) and she glowed with delight.  Later that night she produced a whole plate of corn, steaming and delicious.

After dark, Addy’s husband, and a couple of other men set up a chess board on the bitumen just a metre from our tent. They chewed betel nut and chatted quietly as they played. We were a bit perplexed as to why they wanted to be so close, when it would have been much more comfortable sitting in one of the timber shop huts. But when I walked around and looked back at Addy’s house I knew why. The light of a lone candle flickered from the open window holes in the little house. Glancing back at our camping set up, brightly illuminated by the lights installed around the outside of our car, it was obvious. Without any power, the local boys would never be able to stay up late on a Friday night and play chess. This was an exciting novelty for them. Addy bought the kids up to say goodnight. So proud of their little world and so excited by their novel guests. By the standards of this area, these people are lucky with what they have. Some little store fronts at a tourist attraction, as well as collecting the fees for the parking lot, they would be doing quite well for themselves. But by Australian standards; no power, no floor in their house, and corn for dinner, that is considered very poor. But they are happy, and warm and kind, and not burdened with the busy emotionless world we live in. Full of shopping malls, air-conditioning, six figure salaries and convenience at every turn. We have seen this everywhere we have gone for the past few months. Kind, good hearted people, who live in what the western world would consider poverty. While we now own every little, our whole house is our car, we are constantly embarrassed by the monstrosity and comfort of our lives compared to those around us. It is all so far removed from life at home.

This is just one of the crazy days spent in Indonesia; every day brings new sights and new enlightenment. There is no doubt that every minute is changing us, and our view of the world.


Leave a reply