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Borders #45-46 Oecussi – Indonesia – Timor-Leste: By motorbike and truck across borders

75 kilometres separate the Oecussi exclave from mainland Timor-Leste. There is no public transport – but where else can you cross Indonesia on the backseat of a motorbike?
Border #45
Coming from: Sacato, Oecussi-Ambeno District, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Going to: Wini, Nusa Tenggara Timor, Indonesia
Waiting time: 20 min (Timor-Leste), 10 min (Indonesia)
Distance from Kupang: 290 km
Border #46
Coming from: Mota’ain, Nusa Tenggara Timor, Indonesia
Going to: Batugade, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Waiting time: 1 min (Indonesia), 1 min (Timor-Leste)
Distance from Kupang: 365 km

Documents required: Passport – both countries have recently adapted a visa-free policy for Europeans, which makes trips across Timor much easier.
Rating: 7/10
Border tourism on Timor was not easy: Guidebooks and online resources gave no clear indication on border crossings. The very few tourists apparently just fly in and out. And if they do cross the border, then on the direct Dili-Kupang bus, connecting the two capitals. I wondered if I could make it in one day from Oecussi-Ambeno exclave into Timor-Leste’s mainland. Backtracking the way I had come, I would already lose four hours for making it to Kefa. The onward journey to Timor-Leste’s capital Dili would take another seven or eight hours. I was travelling on a Sunday. That meant even less public transport, and an arrival after dark – the exact thing I wanted to avoid in Dili.

Discovering Wini border

Talking to the hotel owner in Pante Macassar revealed a much simpler solution: There was another border called Wini, along the coast – just half an hour away from Pante Macassar! Crossing there would shorten my way to Dili significantly. Furthermore, I learnt that the Bobometo border towards Kefa was closed on Sundays.

P1150726 Deserted in the early morning hours: Timor-Leste’s Sacato border post

So shortly after 8 o’clock, I set off to my (almost certainly) last land border adventure of this Passport Party trip. An ojek (motorbike taxi) brought me in half an hour to Sacato, on Timor-Leste’s side of the border. It was a pleasant ride in the early Sunday morning, with cool wind and the sun already up, gleaming at the palms at the beach and the pale, beige mountains. We passed by large groups of Timorese on their way to Church – 98% of them are Catholics.

The border checkpoint was still closed when I arrived there. It looked deserted. A group of gasoline trucks drivers was waiting for the border to open. They offered me a lift, as they were on their way to Dili as well. Once the border opened at 9 a.m. (allegedly, the Indonesians still had been to church), I got my exit stamp in no time.

Wini

Bombastic Indonesian terminal

I had to wait again a couple of minutes until the Indonesians opened their side. Compared to the improvised look of the Napan/Bobometa checkpoint, this terminal was impressive. All new and in pure white, with about seven lanes for cars in each direction, it looked prepared for the masses. These had not come yet, and I felt lost, alone in the big hall. At least, the immigration officer was as confused and incompetent as his counterpart in Napan: He flipped through the pages of my passport repeatedly, trying to call some colleagues on two different mobile phones. Apparently, he was unsure whether I could enter Indonesia visa-free, even though he had clearly found the two Indonesian “Visa Exemption” stamps that were already in my passport. After some phone calls, he asked me whether Switzerland was part of the European Union. I did not make the same mistake twice (see border #44) and confirmed. When he finally stamped me in, the truck drivers had already disappeared.

P1150733A bit over the top: Huge terminal for very few travellers

By motorbike through Indonesia

In front of the terminal, I was approached by several ojek drivers, this time – as opposed to Kefa – in a friendly way. One of them offered to take me to the next border in Mota’ain for 200.000 Rupiah (about 15 USD). That seemed a fair price for the 75 kilometres, and there was no other option anyway, so I went with him. Also this motorbike trip was an amazing experience, the landscape as impressive as nowhere since Qinghai in China. I was truly happy having come to Timor! We rode for almost two hours and I was surprised that ojeks were used for such long distances.

P1150740 My view from the motorbike

Crossing back into Timor-Leste was easy and unadventurous. The border checkpoints were modern and efficient. The Timorese officer again asked me if Switzerland was part of Europe, and I confirmed again. Luckily he did not consult the list of the member states of the European Union – there was a Wikipedia printout on display behind of him, with Switzerland obviously not mentioned. I did not cheat: The visa-free travel agreement with Timor-Leste applies for all Schengen states, not just the EU members. But I did not feel like explaining bureaucratic fine print.

Batugade

On a gas truck to the capital

I met the truck drivers again, and one of them agreed to take me to Dili for 10 USD. This time, I was happy not to sit on the backseat of a motorbike: Immediately after the border, the road became extremely rough and even a challenge for the truck. I didn’t see any buses on that stretch, just a couple of trucks which transported passengers. After two and a half hours of bumping along the coast, I was very happy to finally arrive to Dili. It was four o’clock – much earlier than expected.

P1150786 On that truck I managed East Timor’s deplorable roads

Practical Information:
Transport: Minibuses travel between Atambua and Mota’ain (at the Timor-Leste mainland border) as well as between Batugade (the other side of that border) and Dili. The latter travels not very frequently and takes four hours. Furthermore, there are daily direct buses from Dili to Kupang and vice versa by Timor Tour and Travel and Paradise Tour and Travel, which stop in Atambua and Kefa. For the rest of the distance, there is no public transport, but at the border posts it is easy to hire an ojek (motorbike-taxi) to get to the nearest town or border. Pante Macassar to Sacato took 30 min by ojek (5 USD), from Wini border to Mota’ain border in Indonesia was about 1h 45 min (200’000 IDR). Both border posts are also good places to ask passing cars and trucks for a ride, but expect to pay a bit for it.
Accommodation/food: There is no accommodation and no restaurant in the immediate surroundings of both borders, but several towns close to them. Atambua certainly has a range of both. Travelling through from Pante Macassar to Dili, I did not check, though.
Money exchange: No options at the Sacato/Wini border. There is an exchange booth on the Indonesian side of the Mota’ain/Batugade border, which was closed when I passed (on a Sunday). In Timor-Leste, banks and exchange offices will not change Indonesian money. If you need to get rid of Rupiahs, find the Mandiri bank in Dili’s city centre: A couple of men hang out in front of its doors, they informally change Rupiah into US Dollars and Timor-Leste Centavos.
Opening hours: The border posts work daily, but open just at 9 a.m. (Dili time) / 8 a.m. (Kupang time) on Sundays.

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