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During World War II, the city of Kupang , formerly known as Koepang, on the island of Timor, was the hub for refueling and landing for long-haul flights from Europe to Australia. The historical El Tari airstrip that was first landed by an American pilot, Lamij Johnson, in 1928 holds many stories, more than being a mere transit lounge and fuel depot for the few fliersback then. Today, when visitors step on to the moderinising city, one can still find traces of Dutch occupation as well as a Portuguese inherited aura. For since long before Indonesia’s Independence, Timor’s western part had been colonized by the Dutch while the island’s eastern part by the Portuguese. This division orginated from the time when these two powers fought for hegemony in the lucrative spice trade
Today, Kupang is the capital city of the province of East Nusatenggara , perched in the southwestern part of Timor Island. As one of the three largest islands in East Nusatenggara, (comprising Sumba, Flores and Timor), Timor island is now shared by two independent countries. The island’s eastern part being the newly independent East Timor – or Timor Leste, while the island’s western part is Indonesian territory. Its favorable position in the south-eastern most part of Indonesia, has made the city of Kupang into the first port of entry in Indonesian waters from Australia, if not yet as a tourst destination in its own right.
The Nusatenggara is a string of islands to the east of Bali, while Timor is its easternmost island in that string. Topographically, Timor differs from the rest of the East Nusatenggara islands. For the line of volcanoes that runs from Sumatra, Java, and on to other Nusatenggara islands, skips Timor and continues north to Maluku or the Moluccas. The cause of this is that unlike other Nusatenggara islands, Timor is in fact geologically related to Australia, and therefore has no volcanoes.While Its geographical location and long history and tradition make it culturally Indonesian.
Being closest than any Indonesian cities to the marinas of Australian yachts in Darwin, the lighthouse at the seaport of Kupang stands as the first milepost for participating yachtsmen in the annual Sail Indonesia event . Each year, hundreds of yachts cross the open seas from Darwin, Australia sailing to Kupang, and from here to visit many known as well as remote Indonesian islands, to finally dock in Singapore. The annual Sail Indonesia has brought the name of Koepang to the fore, recalling its fame in the early twentieth century.
People in Timor are friendly. They love to laugh as do most Indonesians on the whole. Traditionally, people in Kupang and West Timor were distinguished by their social positions. The nobility here used to be called Amaf, the rulers Atupas, the commons Too, and slaves Ata. Today, ata no longer exist. Each of the social class had its own role to play in society. Yet, these classes share a mutual sentiment when it comes to tradition. The root of its heritage is so deep, making it difficult to trace. These deep rooted traditions even persisted through centuries of teachings of newer religions that were brought by traders or colonial rulers.
Look at the motives and patterns of their woven cloths called tenun ikat, and one can sense its age old heritage. Tenun ikat is the local craftsmanship in producing beautifully and sometimes mysteriously formed patterns on traditionally woven fabrics. Not only are the people proud of these cloths, but all Indonesians share the pride that these cloths are one of Indonesia’s most precious tangible national heritage.
Kupang has a type of local transport bearing a unique naming, called “Diskotik Berjalan”, or mobile discotheque. It is in fact another type of public minibus, elsewhere in Indonesia known as bemo, the moniker from becak motor. The minibus is heavily decorated to attract passersby and potential passengers. Not only is it visually ‘loud’, but it is also audibly deafening in a safe and entertaining way.
Do not be alarmed when you find another type of local transport in smaller cities especially in rural area like those on Savu, as bemo turns out to be a truck with two long benches in it where you can sit with no roofs whatsoever. Adventure comes with travel.
Kupang is accessible by plane or ferries. Its historical airport, El Tari was formerly known as Penfui airstrip, having first served an American pilot, Lamij Johnson, in 1928. Penfui literally means ‘bush of cornfields’, since the airstrip’s surroundings were heavily covered with cornfields.
El Tari connects western Timor Island with other large cities in Indonesia, which include:
Surabaya, East Java
Makassar, South Sulawesi
Maumere, East Nusatenggara
Waingapu, East Nusatenggara
Labuan Bajo, West Nusatenggara
Dili, East Timor
Airlines serving the city of Kupang are:
The Airport: Angkasa Pura I, El Tari Airport
Phone: +62 380 881 668 or 883 031, 882 032, 881 121, 881 395
Fax: +62 380 881 263
Source: Sekapur Sirih Bandar Udara El Tari, Kupang NTT, 2009.
An International seaport is found only in Kupang, called the Tenau Seaport. There are several ferries from PELNI (a national commercial shipping company). They are the KM Bukit Siguntang, KM Kelimutu, KM Sirimau, and KM Awu. Please refer to the website of PT PELNI for detailed schedules.