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Published: June 14th 2009
Gunung Mutis is FANTASTIC!!! Getting there was a bit of a laugh though. First was a three hour bus trip from Kupang to Soe which wasn't bad because the bus was only half-full (the buses aren't really buses either, they're like bigger versions of mini-vans). Then a quick motorbike ride to where the bemos to Kapan leave from. I had been given to understand that I had to take a bemo half-an-hour to Kapan and then another bemo another half-an-hour to Fatumenasi where I would be trying to track down what was described on the internet as a "basic losmen" owned by Mateos Anin (yes the same internet source that called the delightful Mamariwu House a basic losmen too, so I wasn't worried). A bemo is a small mini-van in which instead of having rows of seats there are two benches along either side, while the aisle in the middle is used for cargo, in the case of the Kapan bemo the cargo being sacks of rice and flour, boxes and baskets of indeterminate goods, a puppy, several chickens and a stereo system. The major drawback of bemos is that they are small. Really really small. The floor to ceiling height
can't be more than four feet. The Indonesians slip in and out of them with graceful ease whereas I have to almost bend double just to get through the door, and then when I'm sitting on the bench I have to scrunch right down forwards to fit under the roof. I must look absolutely ridiculous in them amongst the Indonesians, like a gorilla sitting in a row of gibbons. The bemos aren't the only area where I am too large. Many of the doorways in hotels and houses are little more than five-and-a-half feet high so I always have to watch my head, and going on the backs of motorbikes is always a trial because I weigh probably twice as much as their usual passengers. I'm always worried they're going to lose control going round corners, and any time the bike is going up-hill you can tell its struggling with me on the back. In fact during my time at Gunung Mutis one of the bikes actually did stall on a particularly steep stretch and I had to jump off and run up the hill on foot.
Anyway, the bemo pulled into Kapan and I hopped out and asked
where I could get a bemo to Fatumenasi. This bemo does continue on to Fatumenasi I'm told. Excellent. I hop back in again and wait for it to load up with more passengers. The entire town, it seems, appears and crowds round the vehicle, peering in all the windows to see the oddity of a white man here in the middle of their town. After ten minutes or so of saying hello and telling people where I'm from and where I'm going, etc etc etc, a man comes wandering past dressed in full hill-tribe gear -- robes, sashes, head-gear, gold bracelets and necklaces, ornamentations galore, big old knife stuck through the belt, all-in-all looking extremely resplendant, and at the same time curiously out of place amongst his own countrymen in their T-shirts and trousers. He comes over to the bemo and puts his hand through the window to shake my hand. The conversation then went something like this (except partly in Indonesian and partly in English):
"Hello, where are you from?"
"Ah, New Zealand. And where are you going to?"
"Ah, where will you be staying in Fatumenasi?"
"With Mateos Anin" (I say hoping I can
find him when I get there)
"My name is Mateos!"
"Your name is Mateos too?"
"Oh that's nice"
"You come on ojek to Fatumenasi" (an ojek being a motorbike)
"No, no, I go in this bemo"
"No, no, come on ojek. My son he take you"
"No, I don't like ojek, I go in bemo"
"Ah..." he disappears for a minute then comes back and says "This bemo doesn't go to Fatumenasi. It goes to another village"
"This bemo not go to Fatumenasi?" I say to the guy who had told me that it did. He asks the driver who says that no the bemo does not go to Fatumenasi.
"You come on ojek. We go to my house," says the man.
Realisation suddenly dawned on me like a hand slapping me across the back of my head. This man WAS Mateos Anin. How random is that? The very person I would be looking for just happens to come up to the bemo I was in in entirely another town to the one in which he lived!! That evening Mateos recounted the entire episode to his whole extended family, taking particular delight in miming the way I was
hunched up to fit inside the bemo and the way I said in utter surprise "Oh, YOU'RE Mateos Anin!!??". In Kapan Mateos got his friend Yanto to take me to Fatumenasi on his motorbike while he himself was driven by his son. Yanto had a hole in the back of his head from the Bali bombing which probably explained his irregularities. He didn't really want to take me on his bike because I was too heavy, but he also housed grave suspicions as to my military affiliations. I had come across this a little in Thailand and Cambodia, where people somehow thought I was in the army, but in Fatumenasi it was extreme. I had originally put it down to me wearing jungle boots, cargo pants and a khaki shirt instead of regular tourist gear, but apparently here it was because of my build. With me being much more muscular than most tourists Yanto was convinced I was there for covert military reasons (because of course I blended in so well!) and by the end of my stay half the men in the village were looking sideways at me, everyone seemed to think I was in the army, and there were even whispers of "CIA" and "FBI". It may have been my overactive imagination but the atmosphere was getting a bit tense and I was half expecting to wake up with a gun to my head. It might just be a Timor thing because of the conflict in the east, but at the same time I'm thinking my apparent army look may make things very interesting in Sulawesi!
Mateos' homestay is in a traditional hill village, and rustic would be a real-estate's way of describing it. I slept in the same room as the extended family, which given they were all couples was, well, a bit uncomfortable for me. The floors in the houses were simple packed earth. Didn't want some item of food? Throw it on the floor for the dogs and chickens that roamed in and out constantly. Needed somewhere to throw your cigarette butts? On the floor. Needed to spit out your betel-nut juice? That's right, on the floor!
The evening meal on that first night was rice and fried dog meat.
When we first arrived at Mateos' homestay we went to the round smoke-filled building that would be called a lounge in a Western house. We sat in there for quite a while, not really doing anything and me feeling a bit wierd because I didn't know if there was some sort of traditional thing I should be doing. Then he says "now we go to my office", which I assumed meant to fill out a check-in form or something. Instead we went to the village office where a lot of people sat at desks, wrote on hand-made charts on the wall, stuck signs onto polystyrene backings, and other things like that. It looked remarkably similar to one of the military HQ scenes in a 1970s Dr Who programme. I had absolutely no clue what was going on, but I ended up spending most of the rest of the afternoon in there, and then an hour or so watching the village kids playing volleyball. It was all very confusing and I really just wanted to head off to the forest to look for birds, but at the same time this did appear to be some sort of admitting-the-guest-to-the-village-type thing.
It got very cold in the Timorese mountains at night. I was sleeping in a T-shirt, sweatshirt and gloves and was wrapped in two blankets and was still shivering. In the winter it is apparently REALLY cold!
The next day I spent from dawn to dusk on Gunung Mutis, the highest mountain in Timor at 2427 metres. Mateos' son dropped me off at the start of the track, after a horrendous 9km motorbike ride over a roller-coaster road composed almost solely of rocks. The forest here is made up of an endemic species of Eucalyptus, and the scene is very reminiscent of an Australian forest, complete with screeching flocks of lorikeets. Here they are the endemic olive-headed lorikeets. They are everywhere, can't possibly miss them if you go there. After only a few minutes I also found the iris lorikeet which was one of the birds I most wanted to see in Timor. After an hour's walk I came out of the forest to a stretch of hills covered in grass grazed ultra-short by roving groups of domestic banteng and horses. Mateos had drawn me a rough map of the route to the top of Gunung Mutis. There was supposed to be an obvious track over the grassy hills and then a track through more forest, then more grassland and then more forest all the way to the top. Only problem was, there was no track across the grasslands. I scouted around, following what could possibly have been a faint trail over the hills and eventually found another obvious trail through another patch of forest. I was a bit unclear if this was in fact the right trail, given that it was heading downhill and in the wrong direction but I perservered for a while in case it doubled back on itself, but it didn't, so I returned to the start of the grass. Gunung Mutis rose into the sky off to the left, so I decided to just walk towards it. Sure enough, once I hit the forest again I found the right track and started pulling birds out of the trees, figuratively speaking. Timor imperial pigeons, Timor leaf-warblers, Timor crimson-wing parrots, Timor friarbirds -- all endemics in case their common names didn't give the game away -- as well as the awesomely-cute yellow-breasted warbler which is like a tiny bright yellow golf ball with an orange head. Rather to my surprise I pretty much found all the birds I was expecting to find there, including all the higher-altitude endemics, on that single day. So the next day I returned to Kupang to see about finding some more of the lower-altitude ones. Absolutely loved Gunung Mutis, military suspicions not-withstanding. It was my favourite day of the trip so far.
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