We stepped out of our Bombardier CRJ-1000ER, realizing we were the only passenger airline at the airport. After taking the first arid breath and peeking towards the “Bob Ross”-style bushes and clouds bordering the runway and the generously spaced houses, we realized this island is unlike the rest of the Indonesian archipelago. Exiting the airport, we were surprised there was no stress-inducing crowd of taxi drivers yelling at us. Instead, there was an organized counter to queue for a driver. This was very new to us, as was the lack of traffic jams on the drive to our accommodation, a small seaside hostel owned by an Ex-Movie Star, called Edwin. We were thoroughly grateful for the much-needed flood of travel advice incoming by said owner. Planning a trip to West Timor can be a bit challenging, as many things can’t be researched online beforehand, but we were looking forward to embracing this aspect of an adventure. There’s virtually no scooter rental on the island, so we felt lucky, that we were able to rent the owner’s 115cc semi-automatic (mileage 71444km!) scooter. Before turning the key in that scooter, it already seemed like the mechanical equivalent of an abused racehorse. Maybe that’s exaggerating, but from past experiences, I learned that the smaller and older the scooter, the more enlightening the adventure ahead.
Edwin gave us directions to get us to the nearest beach for an overdue sunset and swiftly reminded us half-jokingly to watch out for saltwater crocodiles veiling beneath the crashing uprush. Ironically, Timor’s topography resembles the shape of a semi-submerged crocodile. Navigating towards the beach, we felt, as lost as orphaned ducklings crossing a boulevard. In reality, the streets became increasingly narrow, as did the stares from the people around us. It felt like accidentally walking into a courtroom hearing during judgment, an initial feeling of alienation coupled with silence. The locals’ curious stares were overshadowed by an equally sympathetic and genuine smile. A literally bloody smile. Later in our journey, we would find out that this was not a smile tainted with blood but caused by a combination of plants and minerals used as both a drug and social currency. After feeling significantly embarrassed for asking directions to the beach literally 50m away from docked fishing vessels, we were rewarded with a with a rustic sunset above nonchalantly retreating waters.
We looked out into the blue to neon-orange tainted, horizon and noticed everything, including the colors of the progressively blushing sun, seemed different here. This would be the kind of culture shock, I sought to embrace. I felt as peaceful as a plushy bear cub awakening from hibernation. After turning 180 degrees, the fragile looking homes supported by washed out concrete wasn’t an uplifting sight by itself; however the addition of euphoria and thrill in the eyes of those kids playing soccer stole the spotlight. This country seemed different, yet so relatable.
After being entrapped by a poorly signposted one-way road and being caught off guard by a couple of passive aggressive potholes. We found the supposed entrance to the so-called “Crystal Cave.” Before becoming too skeptical about the authenticity of the location data on our offline Google maps, we were warmly greeted by three juvenile boys. They didn’t introduce themselves, but their wide smile coupled with a welcoming, relaxing attitude was enough to gain sympathy points in our eyes. After asking them about their names in a cheap, mildly dehydrated version of Bahasa Indonesia, we learned that Gino, Egar and (Third kid name) would become our guides for the better half of this morning. And great guides they were. Their natural talent as guides became clear, as they offered help with every slippery step down into the dark abyss while managing to mount our camera to immortalize our lacking coordination for future generations to belittle.
The true meaning of the eponym crystal cave became crystal clear, as we approached the basin. The angled beacon of pre-noon sunlight illuminated the pitch black waters of this impressive cave. The resulting color can best be described as the lovechild between sapphire blue and the turquoise of Mediterranean lagoons.
To be continued.