An early morning flight is definitely not my cup of tea, especially when I have to deal with Terminal 1 at Soekarno-Hatta airport. This “vintage” airport shows its worst face in the morning. On that particular morning when I had to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Kupang was even worse, because there was an electricity failure. A frustratingly long line to the check-in foyer and more chaos at the check-in counter only made me more determined to escape this city. But, at least this situation saved me from missing my flight. All flights were delayed, but sadly not my connecting ferry from Kupang to Rote, which I was due to catch at 9:30 a.m.
This situation forced us to stay one night in Kupang. With four other friends, I found a decent hotel on Jl. Kelimutu, near the famous Nelayan seafood restaurant, where we had our first lunch of the trip. The treat was amazingly pleasant. The delicious steamed grouper, giant squid and prawns with Ria Beach as a setting were enough to cheer us up again.
So, we decided to make the most of this so-called wasted day. We hired an angkot (public minivan), or as the locals call it, an oto, with a big sound system playing never-ending 1990s house music. We headed for the Oenesu waterfall, 12 kilometers from the city. The green forest near the waterfall was quite a contrast with the dry land surrounding it. The waterfall looked like an oasis after the agonizing trip we had taken in the loud and hot oto.
We dived into the fresh water, which was surprisingly cold. After a long refreshing swim we head up to Lasiana Beach to catch the sunset. It was quite possibly the best sunset I have ever seen in my life, with the sun sinking slowly on the horizon without any cloud or mist barring its sight.
We still had one night before leaving for Rote the next day, so we headed out to Kampung Solor, a busy night market that reminds me of Djemma El Fna in Marrakech, only smaller. The market sells many kinds of food, mostly seafood, and everything is grilled. The best part was they only sold gigantic fish, so expect an extreme portion of the freshest seafood in the country.
We took the fast ferry at 9 a.m. from Tenau to Ba’a harbor on Rote Island. It was a 20-minute drive from the city to the harbor and I was stunned with the breathtaking landscape along the way. The Australasian vegetation, dry land, clear blue ocean, wild monkeys and traditional houses were not everyday views.
There were not many tourists on the express Bahari ferry; in fact, only the five of us were tourists, the rest were locals. We were asked many times what business we had on the island, as it seemed unusual for non-surfers to visit Rote for a vacation. I guess the locals do not appreciate the magical potential the island has for tourists. For me, that was awesome. Let’s leave it that way, and keep the island unspoiled.
We had our names and seat numbers on our tickets, plus bread, chocolate and mineral water. The air-conditioner was freezing,and the television played a non-stop religious karaoke music video with ear-drum tingling volume. But then the video was changed for a Chinese vampire movie. Maybe they did in on purpose to distract our minds from crossing one of the deadliest channels in Asia. The Pukuafu channel is known for its strong currents that have killed hundreds of people. It is the meeting point of the Timor Sea and the Indonesian Ocean, and there are certain points where it is very dangerous to cross.
We arrived two-and-a-half hours later in Ba’a harbor, Rote Ndao. The fresh wind welcomed us along with the ojek (motorcycle taxi) and oto drivers. After some quick bargaining, we chose a white oto decorated with stickers: A picture of Jesus on its rear window and “Dolarosa” in large letters written along its side.
“Good choice, we’re on the right path,” giggled my friend. Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus trod while carrying the cross was painful, just as painful as this oto. They closed all the colorfully stickered windows, which were hung with baroque-style curtains, leaving a narrow view to the front window and, of course, the obligatory, incredibly loud, non-stop disco remix.
A Paradise Called Nemberala
I would call it a long winding journey with spectacular views. The 48-kilometer drive from Ba’a to Nemberala was definitely not easy. Thanks to the dry land, the country road was easier to travel. We stopped off at the King’s House, although the king no longer lives there. This is the house of the last Thie king, Jeremias Arnoldus Messakh, who now lives in Ba’a. It was a typical Rote house but larger, somewhat humid with one big bedroom and a few beds on its mezzanine. It had a nice garden as well. Hunger, however, forced us to continue our trip almost immediately. As we did not see any restaurants along the way, we decided to head directly for Nemberala in search of something to eat.
Nemberala is a fishing village on the south west coast of Rote Island. Everything is very laid back here and the living is easy, especially in the afternoon. We stopped by a restaurant called Tessa Lifu, the only restaurant that had an “open” sign out front. The owner was a forty-something woman with a constant smile on her face. Besides housing the restaurant, Tessa Lifu also had a beauty salon with lots of piglets running in its front yard.
They only had fried chicken and eggs that day, which needed to be bought first in a mini-market next door. When I say that life there is pretty laid back, that applies to all sectors including the restaurant. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry, which left us waiting for our food for more than an hour.
One interesting thing about Rote, and this village in particular, is that you see more pigs than dogs. They are everywhere, they even hang out around the beach looking for food. As we finished our late lunch, we looked for available accommodation. We were lucky to get rooms at the Anugerah Homestay by the beach, next to the exclusive Nemberala Beach Resort. So, basically, we shared the same view but with fewer amenities.
Nemberala Beach is a surfer's paradise. The white sandy beach and clear water was breathtaking. At first, I was not sure if this was the famous surfing beach because there were no big waves at all. In fact, the sea was pretty calm. But then we saw a group of surfers jumping on a boat, some of them paddling, heading out to sea where the waves were.
The surfers we met at the homestay said Nemberala had these legendary waves, which were considered the second-best in the world after Hawaii. That explains why our remote homestay was fully packed with surfers from Australia, the US and even South America.
Bo’a hosted the Billabong Surfing International Rote Open in 2009, where world-class surfers like Marlon Gerber from Switzerland and Made Widhiarta from Bali battled it out in the final.
After we had checked in, we headed down to Bo’a Beach. This pristine white sandy beach is only 10 minutes from Nemberala. It was a picture-postcard beach with a long golden sandy beach and palm trees, surrounded by golden cliffs. There was practically no one around, which made it even better. The sensation of having our own private beach was priceless.
We returned to the Nemberala Beach Resort several hours later, just in time to catch Nemberala's legendary sunset, which was amazing.
The full Nemberala experience would be incomplete without getting to know the local people and the area. So, the next day we took ojek to visit some rural villages near Nemberala, and also the weekly open-air market. It was Sunday, and this is the day when all the local farmers and merchants come to town to sell their products. The sounds and smells of local essence filled the air. In the afternoon, we went to the neighboring island of N’doa on a rented fishing boat. The villagers on N’doa are well-known for making jewelry by melting down old Dutch coins that can still be found in the area.
We spent the remainder of our trip on the island enjoying our dolce far niente moment in a village where the living is easy.