Leaving Manufi, clinging to the back of a motorbike, the crumbling road winds through the backyards of quaint unnamed villages. Children play on the roadside, their slingshots close by, the animals not. Scattered beehive huts are always preceded by the newly enforced ’modern houses’. Fire hazards are at the apex of the Timor Governments concern. We are deep in the north of West Timor attempting to explore the quirky tribal village of Temkessi which has been untamed by time and social evolution. The road suddenly narrows beneath us and the houses vanish as we exit from the dense scrub onto an open ridge. Our dirt track now snakes its curves across the plains, climbing anything in its path. Beside us, the neat green pastures, dotted with farmyard animals fall away into deep valleys before rising again close to the horizon into steep arid peaks. The pale blue sky settles softly upon these burnt mountain tops seemingly cooling them down to allow lush vegetation to propagate around the rims. Without a brick, a person or a vehicle in sight I feel as though i’m riding high upon the edge of the world. It’s a remarkable view that brings with it an overwhelming sense of freedom.
Finishing the journey beneath a forest canopy, we walk the final craggy rise and emerge within Temkessi. The twelve rustic beehive shaped huts share the split level valley between two cliff faces. Desolate and seemingly empty our guide takes us immediately to the head of the village who accepts our small payment and gift of beetle nut. We are free to walk around and take photos as we please. The cliffs we stand beneath are enthralling because you are told that once, young boys would have to free-climb it with a goat on their shoulders. On the top they would have to slaughter and devour the entire beast before returning and being recognised as a man. As was the areas where animal scarifies took place but i couldn’t help feel as though I was walking around an ageing museum. I felt no energy in the village. We are told by our guide that twelve tribesman still live in Temkessi but that the rest have set up a new village on the outer boundaries. This is obviously example where the young generations are embracing the slow progression of national development and who can blame them.
If you are looking for a cultural experience in which you can submerse yourself within tribal life I would highly recommend the villages of None and Boti. It is more likely that you would come to Temkessi for the scenery which surpassed everything else we saw in Timor.
From Kefamenu bus station take a guide and board a public bemo to Manufui (approx 15,000 rupiah p/p) The journey should take around 1hour.
From Manufui corner store take an ojek from a local man hanging around to Temkessi. The price should be no more than 50,000 rupiah p/p for a return journey all the way back to the main road (only 30,000 rupiah p/p back to the corner store – no bemos come down here though). The 20km journey should take around 1/2 an hour. The entrance fee is 20,000 rupiah p/p plus the gift of a bag of betel nut.