All’s swell on the is­land of Rote

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - MICHAEL BEN­NET

I’m in a vil­lage on the In­done­sian is­land of Rote watch­ing a lo­cal named Milky roast a pig on a spit be­side a shack he shares with his wife and three chil­dren. A few me­tres from the hut, a cou­ple of live pigs drink from a makeshift trough, pre­sum­ably where that pig was feed­ing just a few hours ear­lier.

Milky ex­cit­edly of­fers arak, a liquor that di­vides even the hard­est drinkers. I’m un­sure, eye­ing the pres­ence of some sort of sea crea­ture stuffed in­side the arak bot­tle. But Milky’s hospi­tal­ity at his home, less than 10 min­utes by scooter in­land from our beach re­sort, speaks vol­umes of the lo­cal peo­ple. One of Milky’s fel­low staff mem­bers, the bar­man Ruben, also doesn’t mind go­ing out of his way. To cel­e­brate the pig feast, Ruben agrees to make a trip into Baa to pick up some fire­works.

As we leave, the owner of the surf re­sort where we are stay­ing, also named Ruben and Milky’s boss, ar­rives to in­spect the roast­ing an­i­mal. Later, when we dine on the pig we dis­cover it sadly failed to make the grade, lack­ing the tan­ta­lis­ing com­bi­na­tion of crack­ling and moist flesh found in babi gul­ing dishes served up in Bali.

To get to ru­ral Rote, off the coast of West Ti­mor and al­most di­rectly north of Broome, re­quires two (at times nerve-rack­ing) flights from Den­pasar, in­clud­ing a 40minute ser­vice from Ku­pang to Rote (on our re­turn, a pas­sen­ger checks in a hand­gun at Ku­pang).

Aside from Baa, the cap­i­tal, Rote is rel­a­tively un­de­vel- oped. Around our surf re­sort, T-Land on Nem­ber­ala Beach, there’s lit­tle com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity. We find one restau­rant and a con­ve­nience store that a rab­ble of older Aus­tralian surfers use as a makeshift lo­cal tav­ern each after­noon. On the way to a right-hand surf break known as Boa, about 15 min­utes by scooter from Nem­ber­ala, we come across a ba­sic school and church. Kids play on the side of the road out­side fam­ily huts, some putting out their hands for money. There’s lit­tle sign of mod­erni­sa­tion in the vil­lages apart from, oddly, satel­lite dishes.

Un­like Bali, a scooter ride in Rote is a rel­a­tively re­lax­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, with pot­holes a big­ger headache than traf­fic. This transport also opens up surf op­tions rather than re­ly­ing on a boat, pro­vid­ing land ac­cess not only to

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