Jun 10, 2015

Indonesia ho!

Our first land border! Our first home stay in Indonesia! Our first time having the police called on us! It was an... exciting day.

Border selfie!


We crossed into Indonesia on the 7th. A bus service exists between Dili, Timor-Leste and Kupang, Indonesia which makes this our first land crossing! Getting into Indonesia may be our easiest border of the whole trip, but the country itself is over 17,000 islands, about 1,000 of which are permanently inhabited, so... it's not going to be all busses up to Singapore.

Land Border!! Crossing with our kind host, Marthen.

The bus was luxurious! It picked us up at our hostel around 9 AM, took us to the border, and another bus picked us up on the Indonesian side about an hour later to take us to the western end of the island. It would drop us off at our hostel in Kupang. First class service. There was even a little breakfast box on our seat when we got on.

At our first pee break a couple hours in, a gentleman named Marthen with very good English began chatting with Nick and before I had even returned to the bus, we had an offer to stay in his home instead of at the hostel. We gratefully accepted. Our first home stay offer in Indonesia and we weren't even in Indonesia yet!

Great views along the many hour drive.

The bus that picked us up on the Indonesian side after the immigration and customs was outwardly identical, down to the color and company logo, but had a decidedly harder time with hills. We were driving through mountains. I honestly expected to just struggle on like this the whole way, but a short time in the driver must have decided this was above and beyond the usual level of struggling. We switched buses at our lunch stop and continued on. Ironically it was this replacement bus that broke down on us a couple hours later. Sitting by the side of the road with the other passengers, we got more of an opportunity to chat with Marthen, who was so excited that we had agreed to stay with him.

He told us that his brother and sister-in-law were in Papua an a mission, so we would be staying in their room, next to his mother and father. Marthen, it turned out, lives 10 minutes away, but he will drop us off and introduce us to his parents before driving home to his wife and daughter, who we would meet the next day.

Broken down bus...

By the time the bus was fixed, we had driven the rest of the way to Kupang, gotten some rice and meat take-out, and gotten to his parents place, Nick and I were exhausted. It was about 9:30. We had barely enough energy to eat our dinner and set up our mosquito net before collapsing gratefully into bed. It had been a long day.

"But wait, Elizabeth, your teaser included something about policemen? Did you forget that part?"

No, no I did not.

We were in bed asleep when I heard a knock at the door. A voice said "good night," and I assumed it was Marthen come back to make sure that we had settled in well. I just called back "good night" and turned over to return to sleep. The knock came again, this time at the window next to the door, and I distinctly heard the word "police." Dressing hurredly, I opened the door to a uniformed policeman and a crowd of about 20-30 people. I asked him if there was a problem. He did not speak any English. He said some things to be in Indonesian, but I could not understand. From the crowd the call went up, "English, English!" A shy looking girl who looked about 16 or 17 stepped forward and approached.

I addressed her timidly, "is there a problem?"

"They need your passports."

With our passports in his hands, and shining gold letters declaring "United States of America" accross the front of each, he asked "where are you from?"

"USA, America"

He handed the passports to two gentlemen near him who began rifling through them and writing things down. Was the one jotting my details down writing on a napkin? I think that's a napkin!
(Neither gentleman was wearing a uniform.)

"Why are you not staying at a hotel?"

"We got invited to stay here by the gentleman whose parents live here." Marthen was not there, living 10 minutes away as we had discovered earlier. His parents were, but spoke no English.

"I see, just for tonight?"

"Yes." Well, we were intending to stay longer, but that doesn't appear to be an option anymore.

My eyes kept flicking to the men with our passports. They were still flipping through them and occasionally jotting down a note.

"You did not inform the police that you would be staying here tonight. When you stay in this area you need to inform the police. When you stay at a hotel this is not a problem."

"We didn't know this, we were just invited to stay."

"We have been having trouble with illegal immigration in this area. It is no problem now for you because you have passports with valid Indonesian visas."

Ok, so the guys did successfully find the pages with our Indonesian visas and could see that they're valid. WHY ARE THEY STILL FLIPPING THROUGH THEM MAKING NOTES? Maybe it's not a napkin, now it looks more like tissue paper. Still...

We stood there awkwardly while the whole group chatted away. The girl did not volunteer translations, the policeman was not speaking.

Occasionally the policeman would reiterate the fact that we should have warned the police but that it's ok because we have passports, so we're not illegal. He did not, however, make any motion to retrieve our passports and allow us to go back to bed.

At one point the man with mine walked away toward the edge of the crowd to take a call. Still holding my passport. Nick started visibly and we both made semi-incoherent noises at the poor impromptu interpreter involving the word, "passport."

She assured us that we would get them back and a couple of minutes of anxiously craning to keep him in sight, he walked back. At this point the policeman collected our passports back, but made no move to return them to us. He himself began idly flipping through them. He made untranslated comments, and judging by the words "Darwin, Australia" he was just treating the crowd to some samples of where we'd been.

At this point we were brought chairs and finally told why we weren't getting our passports back yet. We were waiting on someone from immigration to come. This man, when he arrived, spoke English and was very quick and businesslike.

While taking pictures of our passports and visas: "I see you just arrived today, everything is valid, some people in the community were worried because you arrived in the middle of the night and it seemed someone might be trying to hide you."

"Our bus broke down, so we arrived much later than scheduled."

He did not care at all, he was already handing us back our passports and shaking our hands goodnight.

We were finally back to bed. It was now 12:15.


  1. Wow, that is some story! Somewhat disconcerting.

  2. It was a bit disconcerting, but by the next morning it was funny.

  3. This is great story of the international travel experience when away from the tourist tracks. Sounds like the grand adventure you were hoping for!


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