Sunday, August 03, 2008

August 2, 2008 - Soe Province, West Timor, Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

At 7am this morning we joined approximately 200 other cruisers for a tour of central West Timor. Together with along with 36 tour guides, 18 bemo drivers and 18 bemo conductors, we piled into 18 bemos and, with horns blaring, followed our police escort and its wailing siren up into the mountains. As we drove out of Kupang, modern cement homes gave way to more traditional dwellings.
Beehive huts - the doorway is only 3 feet tall
Our first stop was the village of None (no-nay). At the outskirts of the village, we were greeted with a welcome dance and ceremony. Then the villagers led us into the heart of the village, where we witnessed a war dance, complete with swords, and several other traditional dances.
The villagers are wearing Ikat, a colorful cloth that is locally woven.
With a tour guide translating for us, we bought an Ikat similar to the shawl on the flamingo dancer's shoulder in the photo above. We found one that was well used, and a bit dirty. But it was woven by hand from handmade cotton thread, which was naturally dyed with indigo. It is really beautiful, in a rustic-must-wash-immediately kind of way. Bargaining opened at 1,000,000 Rupiah, but at the end we got down to 1,250,000 (approximately $13). We would have paid more, but that's all we had in our pockets. Afterwards I asked a guide if we overpaid. After some cajoling we got him to admit that we had, "maybe a little bit." When we arrived back at the bemos, the drivers came over to check out our purchase. They felt the knobby, natural threads and gave us the thumbs up.
Ikat being woven by hand
At the next village, Boti, which is only 50 kilometers from the border from East Timor, we witnessed a hair cutting ceremony. A pig was slaughtered and its blood was used to bathe the scalp two year old child who then received his first hair cut, by means of a razor blade being scraped over his blood-coated scalp. After the ceremony we had a delicious lunch, prepared by the villagers. As far as we could tell, pork wasn't on the menu.
In both of the villages we visited today, many of the older men and women were wearing beautiful heavy silver bracelets. And many of the men were wearing sashes decorated with very old silver coins. Everywhere we went men and women were chewing betel nut. It stains their lips, teeth and gums red and gives them a nicotine-like buzz. They mix the nut of a palm with the leaf of vine, which belongs to the same family as kava, and lime powder. The combination creates a mild buzz when chewed. The lime causes their mouths to flood with saliva, which they then spit on the ground, leaving read stains everywhere. Other than stains on your carpet, the more significant long term effects of betel nut chewing include mouth and stomach cancer.
A brand new loo in Boti. This was one of the nicest johns we saw all day. Soap and toilet paper are definitely not standard issue in Indonesian bathrooms.

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