Boti Village, West Timor – Indonesia
An Unexpected Encounter with Royalty
There’s nothing quite like meeting a king, especially when he happens to be the ruler of a remote tribe which has shunned the conveniences of a modern lifestyle, and whose villagers embrace living in the same ways in which their ancestors have for hundreds of years.
Does that sound intriguing? Boti is a fascinating example of how, even today, people still live contentedly without subscribing to a complicated lifestyle.
West Timor is home to many traditional villages which made our visit to this rarely-explored part of Indonesia one of the highlights of our entire trip. Despite visiting several such villages, none were as fascinating as Boti, where animist beliefs and adat (traditional law) are still maintained, honoured and respected.
The village of Boti lies hidden deep in the mountains of West Timor, a few hours’ drive away from the highland town of Soe, along some very rough terrain. Due to its remote location, the village was largely forgotten and overlooked during West Timor’s conversion to Christianity, and Boti villagers take pride in their adherence to tradition and animism. Men are not allowed to cut their hair as they grow older and it is often worn in a simple bun at the back of their head.
Having listened carefully to our guide Timus as he explained all about the Boti villagers’ technology-free lifestyle, imagine our surprise when we noticed a large three-meter satellite dish standing boldly at the centre of the village as soon as we were led in. Oh, the disappointment! The guide, noticing our facial dismay soon came to clear up our confusion and to explain its origins. The dish was actually an unwanted gift from the local government, and has been fixed to the ground only as a polite gesture but is unconnected. It is treated with certain suspicion by the villagers, who use it mainly as a hanger when drying their clothes in the sun.
Although we had not imagined the King of Boti to be draped in robes and riches, the quiet, simple man with betel-nut stained lips and teeth was quite a surprise. He asked Timus to translate his welcome and as they chatted, he glanced at us with intelligent eyes and it was easy to notice that his soft voice was friendly, though at the same time it commanded a certain degree of confidence.
As we presented him with gifts of betel-nut and lime, he offered us coffee and banana fritters and asked us to sign the village guest book, after which we spent the next hour or so chatting about the differences between our home country and Timor. We got the impression that although the King was very much aware of the matters relating to the rest of Indonesia and the outside world, external affairs were of little concern to him, which feeling was further confirmed by Timus who explained that Boti has been resisting the changes encouraged by the authorities for decades.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Boti is located in a rather remote part of central West Timor. The best way of getting there is by hiring a private car and a driver from the town of Soe. It is important to note that the King of Boti does not appreciate visitors turning up independently, as he expects an introduction from a local person who can speak the dialect (which sounds nothing like Indonesian). Hiring a guide for this trip is highly recommended even if, like us, this is not your usual style of travelling.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Meeting the 300-plus villagers of Boti and observing their simple lifestyle is one of the best experiences to be had in West Timor. The village is home to typical Timorese traditional conical huts, animal quarters and a little garden where medicinal plants are grown and prescribed by the village shaman.
Stay – Accommodation
It is possible to spend a day or two in Boti village for a more enriching experience. An overnight stay in the village costs around 100,000 IDR (that’s about $7.50) including a simple dinner. Guests sleep in a basic structure which houses some beds, whilst an external shared toilet can be found just outside it. Keep in mind that there is no electrical supply in the village.
If on the other hand, you are happy to visit Boti on a day-trip, your best bet is to stay in one of the handful of hotels found in the town of Soe, a few hours away.
Eat – Restaurants
If you’re staying in Boti, you will be served a simple meal of local produce. In Soe, you can expect a better choice of food, but still, there are no western-style restaurants. Warungs (local eateries) serve typical Indonesian dishes like mie goreng (fried noodles), nasi goreng (fried rice), bakso (meatball noodle soup) and soto ayam (chicken soup). If you are lucky, you may also find se’i babi, a speciality smoked pork.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Boti can be visited any time of the year but it is always more convenient to be there during the dry season (May – October) especially if you also intend to spend time on West Timor’s beaches.
Safety – Possible risks
We felt that West Timor was a very safe place to be. Almost everybody was friendly and helpful despite the language barriers. We strongly recommend hiring a guide when visiting the traditional villages of West Timor, particularly Boti. Few people in the traditional village speak Indonesian, let alone English, so difficulty in communication would definitely hinder your experience.
Furthermore, an introduction from a local is highly appreciated by the village elders.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
A room in one of Soe’s hotels costs between 200,000 IDR and 350,000 IDR ($25 – $25) and hiring a guide, car and driver for the day normally cost between 700,000 – 800,000 IDR (around $50 – $58) depending on your negotiating skills. Local food will set you back about 30,000 IDR (about $2).
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Some areas in West Timor are very poorly developed with little concern given to waste management. Do not contribute to Indonesia’s ever-increasing plastic waste problem by littering and, if possible, avoid the use of too many plastic items, many of which are thrown straight into the ocean, or burnt at the side of the road.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Be aware that the volume of foreigners visiting West Timor is low when compared to more popular Indonesian islands, so local people might show surprise at your presence.
People living in traditional villages such as Boti live in very simple and sometimes questionable sanitary conditions (when compared to more developed areas). Although you may not find certain situations appealing, it is important to respect the local way of life.
Cheeky Passports – Tribes and Sacrifices – Exploring West Timor, Indonesia
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