Even in Indonesia, a country known for its eclectic mix of cultures, religions and natural attributes, West Timor stands out as different. The physical difference is immediately apparent. Located in a transitional zone between Australia and Asia, West Timor’s landscape is hot and arid with only a few wide shallow rivers that become unreliable towards the end of the dry season. Instead of the lush jungle foliage most people associated with SE Asia, savannah woodlands, craggy uplands interspersed with grassy highland meadows, scrubby coastal plains and cultivated coconut palms are the norm.
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The arid environment has shaped the Timorese culture. The indigenous tribes learned long ago to use the land wisely and sparingly, cultivating carbohydrate rich crops like maize, tubers, legumes and tree crops such as peanuts and cashews that provide valuable nutrition, timber and shade. Understandably, traditional religions were and still remain, intrinsically linked to the land and a symbiotic relationship of nurturing the land that in turn nurtures its inhabitants.
Even today among the predominantly Christian population, a legacy of Portuguese and Dutch missionaries, many communities still practice ancient animist beliefs alongside their Christian faith and continue to live in ume kbuubu and lopo, traditional conical houses. The hilly interior of West Timor is dotted with such traditional villages. The hard part for tourists is deciding which ones to visit.
Around the coast the predicament is much the same, with one deserted beach after another to choose from. Within Kupang Harbour, Semau and Kera Islands abound with swimming and snorkeling opportunities. Those looking for some chilled out island time, world class surf, diving or fishing should head for Rote Island or the remote Savu Islands, a few hours ferry ride from Kupang.
Whether you’re into history, culture, island time or raw natural beauty, West Timor delivers on all fronts. But don’t go expecting a cushy, neatly packaged holiday experience. This is a destination for intrepid travelers, those who don’t mind bumping over a rough mountain trail on the back of an ojek or greeting the day with a cold water shower. Because in West Timor, it’s an adventure just being there.
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