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Published: June 11th 2009
the Hotel Elvin
not my usual standard of accommodation!
Between the Merpati and Transnusa airline companies, planes leave Waingapu (Sumba) for Kupang (West Timor) every day of the week. But as I found out, they're all fully-booked days in advance which was a bit of a surprise. I went on the waiting list for the next day but there wasn't much hope of getting to Kupang before the end of the week. I had inadvertently found myself staying at the Hotel Elvin which was 275,000 rupiah per night (the cheaper fan rooms all being already occupied) so I was going to have to move to a much much cheaper place if I was in Waingapu for more than one night. However there was a surprise cancellation about quarter of an hour after going on the Transnusa waiting list and by a fluke I got on it, possibly at the expense of the locals who'd already been on the list before me. I had no time to go in search of the endemic Sumba buttonquail, so I really do need to come back to Sumba one day to see the birds I missed -- before they all become extinct -- but I doubt I'll ever be able to do so.
Because the Hotel Elvin is an expensive upmarket-type place -- marble floors, chandeliers, toilets -- they give you a free breakfast consisting of coffee, two pieces of toast and a boiled egg. And here's where I came across the most bizarre thing yet. When you travel in a foreign country you are constantly seeing things strange and new every day, but truly the wierdest thing so far was the green toast. Not green with mould, just entirely lime green, like white bread with food colouring added. Never before have I seen such a thing.
Regarding the buttonquail though, as I was preparing to leave the hotel James from BirdToursAsia walks into the lobby with his group heading to Lewa (Conny and Ingo are a few days ahead of me, but I'm a few days ahead of James). From what he tells me its very difficult to see the quail if you're on your own. If in a group, when you flush a quail you all surround it to get a look, but if you're alone you never get more than a quick glimpse of it as it disappears into the grass, so as I had already half-suspected I would
have probably been wasting my time going looking for it anyway.
Check-in for the Kupang flight was at 11.30, but at that time the airport was literally deserted. There wasn't a single other person there except for me. At 11.45 some security turned up to turn on the lights and X-ray machines and so on. That's Indonesia for you. The check-in formalities seemed to be just that -- formalities -- because nobody paid any attention to the beeping as I went through the metal detector. They did strictly enforce the 5kg carry-on rule though, which left me desperately trying to get my bag down in weight, something I only just managed to do and still keep my essential breakable items (binoculars, cameras, etc).
Waingapu, as the major city of Sumba, was full of dogs and goats. Kupang is full of bemos, which are mini-vans painted all the colours of the rainbow and emblazoned with baffling slogans such as "Weekend", "Rambo", "Only One Hit", "Fist Me Good" and "Black Woman Ride Cowboy". They are everywhere acting as taxis because the town is so spread-out. The streets are completely insane.
On my first full day in West Timor I caught the bus eastwards to a little town called Camplong which has a bit of the last remaining lowland forest beside it. The bus on the way there cost me 20,000 rupiah, the one on the way back 5000. Figure that one out. On arrival I had a bit of trouble with three guys who took it upon themselves to act as guides for me -- and by acting as guides I mean one walked in front of me pointing at the all-too-obvious trail and the other two walked behind me, all of them talking loudly to each other and basially doing everything they could that could be guaranteed to scare any nearby birds away. Then after a few minutes they demanded 50,000 rupiah each for their unwanted 'services". There was a big argument and I ended up telling them less-than-politely to go away and leave me alone. Once free of them I started seeing some nice birds in the forest, most of them species I hadn't seen before (several of them being endemic to Timor). So it was a good first day. Tomorrow I'm planning on going to Gunung Mutis, a forest-covered mountain about four hours or more from Kupang, where I shall stay for a couple of days if I can.
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