Timor Leste - for us not really the best



Overall, we spend exactly 3 weeks in this country and somehow we don't really manage to achieve a really positive view on it ..

For the first 4 days we are frantically dismantling our outfit, as we meet Frank here a German photojournalist who just scrubbed his motorcycle and has rented a container with Toll to transport his Rosinante - also a BMW R 100 GS - across the water to Australia.

The freight company has been taken over by another Australian sea freight company and according to the latest regulations it is no longer possible to ship your vehicle as a part load in a container which means you have to pay for a full container. On the one hand it is now for all of us a stroke of luck that we meet here and can this way share the container, but on the other hand, we now have the problem that we have only 2 ½ days available to spruce up our Liza for the Australian hygiene inspection and that with it being the end of dry season in this country there is very little water available and organizing even sponges and cleaning materials is a major undertaking. Kevin at first takes off all the boxes and panels and I wash sleeping bags, dry bags and bike clothes in a tub and scrub helmets that were clearly not designed with the thought that someone may be in a position at some point, to have to get into all the crannies and clean out every scrap of dust. Luckily, Frank has finished with his bike and then there is also Jonas - another German. He has lived and worked in Australia for a year and now wants to ride his Suzuki DR home - his bike comes with the ship that will take ours .... The four of us now concentrate on getting our outfit as clean as we possibly can and because we are not able to find anything else to scour the engine block, exhaust and oil pan protector we are forced to pollute the environment with kerosene.

In between the mad cleaning frenzy I'm trying desperately to apply online for our visas for Australia, but the internet is so slow, the pages keep crashing again and again - I'm getting rather stressed out here and in the end I take a taxi to get to a bar with free (and faster) wifi to try and tackle this task. I'm almost ready for taking on a management job in the Australian immigrations department by the time I find out how to do this because the process of applying for a visa is so confusing and difficult - in the end (after 5 hours in which I now and then get tempted to bite into my computer), I get there: I manage to apply for two 3 month visas which are free of charge (everything else requires a health check, which you can only get in hospitals certified by the Australian government and none of them is here in Timor Leste) and now we hope that this visa can be extended once we are in the country.

It's a relief to finally return back to proper hands on scrubbing on the bike. We clean, wash and polish right up to the last minute and then hastily screw everything back together and pack what we deem to be clean enough back into the crates ... and then of course the bike won't start! We rip the tank off again and check all the cables and of course in the hustle and bustle of 4 people sticking stuff back on the outfit at all angles one wire got trapped and torn. A quick bodge job achieves that she starts up again - that will do and then we only need whip the bikes across to the port to have the carnets stamped out.

From here she won't start ... again so we just give her a push start as we have no more time to be farting about and then race to Toll, where they are already impatiently waiting for us with open container doors. As we tear onto the premises of the company our license plate and half of the rear mudguard promptly drops off - obviously the screws never got tightened properly - the bike goes out ... .. and does not start again and on top of everything we have left the straps for tying her down in the container behind at the hostel and the bikes are of course full of dust again.

 With a hose, that has about as much water pressure as a hundred year old Grandpa with prostate problems, we try to wash off the worst while Kevin races back to the hostel to fetch the straps (with an expensive taxi). We have no time to find out what is wrong with the bike now because the boat has to be loaded so we just wheel her into the container and tie both vehicles down as best we can - and then that's it! - we are all convinced that our bikes will fail the Australian hygiene inspection anyway but what can we do - it's all in the hands of fate now so we watch the doors  being closed and decide to just wait and see.....

When we finally leave the premises of shipping agency it is as if an avalanche rolls off our shoulders - we see a mini shop with two wooden benches in front by the roadside and decide that it's time to celebrate ... They have a strong beer in cans and because we all have not eaten anything thanks to the mad rush - we are all in proper party mood after the first can of the nice cold alcoholic beverage - we have another one and feel even more like celebrating so we buy another one and another one ....well we end up quite “pished” and in high spirits when we decide to wobble back to our digs so we look for a taxi (one and a half kilometer seems very long when you are in this state) – but as it is already dark, this is not so easy – they stop  work after dark and I think this is because they have to -  so if you get one, it is expensive and we must now pay $ 10 for one and a half kilometers which have cost us $ 3 in the morning and then we finally also eat something - in the Indian restaurant on the opposite side of the road, where there is a waitress who walks at a pace that you  can sole her shoes while she  serves everybody and those who manage to get her to smile wins a hundred thousand dollars reward.

The Timorese we meet here in Dili are often quite strange indeed  - a few of them are really friendly and helpful, but there are many more people who stare at us with a stone-faced expression when we greet and then just walk away. It's really hard to get a positive attitude towards the country and people even if we constantly remind ourselves that they have to cope with a horrific past. Timor Leste was a Portuguese colony until 1975 but then the colonial power had to solve problems in their own country and withdrew  almost from one day to the next without further worrying about the consequences. Indonesia and Australia had already sat down at the green table and split the allocation of rights to the local gas and oil reserves and the USA, which feared that the ideological nemesis with the name Communism could get the better of this guaranteed Indonesia (at the time Muslims were not regarded as part of the axis of evil ), signaled their consent to quickly incorporate this country and so they all looked on while the dictator Suharto had his troops march in and nearly 30 years of bloody civil war were triggered.

Funnily enough the Timorese had different ideas about their future - they are staunch  catholic and did not want to be part of the Muslim Indonesia - rather they strived for autonomy. In the many years of increasingly resurgent struggle for freedom and their own nation a quarter of the population were killed - either by the occupiers or by hunger ... .. only the Catholic Church, and finally also the former colonial masters from Portugal showed any interest after footage filmed by Australian reporters showing the bloody repression was presented in the United Nations.

The end result of a 30 year struggle is a country with absolutely no experience in anything governmental. UN Blue Helmets were sent in to ensure that calm returned and they were the first foreigners responsible for the picture painted of westerners as having dollar notes growing out of their ears.

There was no functioning legal system, no infrastructure and very little idea of how to move on from here.

Then all the NGO’s with their big all-wheel-drive vehicles and employees who needn’t worry about everyday living costs flooded in to show the Timorese how to build roads, stomp a democracy out of the ground, build a health and education system... .. etc.

But this is a hot country where everything runs according to its own rules and things move  very slow.

People here have a different concept of time and who managed to get a job with the NGO’s was firstly  trying to feather their own nest……everything here as a consequence is difficult.  Interference from outside  - well there was already more than enough so quite a few people reject it. Others again seem to have the approach to sit back and say, well go on then. And so it comes then quickly to frustration on all sides at least this is how it looks to us – but then again and quite honestly – who are we to judge after 3 weeks in one place….only visiting a few museums and reading snippets of a countries history, being hot and bothered with our minds already on their way to the next continent.   So - even if we can muster quite some understanding, we are here and actually trying  just to get away again as fast as possible. I suppose the true picture of this country lies somewhere in-between the blurry eyed description of the lonely planet and our come down feeling from a wonderful time in Indonesia.

Our own transport is on a ship and we do not have enough money to pay the outrageous taxi fares. A bus service is available but mostly only theoretically and we have no desire to fight our way to the islands, which are supposed to indeed be extremely scenic, but just do not have any kind of infrastructure.  Two backpackers, we meet tell us all about their odyssey through the country where the people still go hungry and a whole family has to live on a dollar a day, but a flea ridden hotel bed costs $ 20 for the night or will just stay empty and the bemo system (mini buses) is rather infrequent and sometimes only takes you this far and you are left to find the rest of your way on foot!

Dili itself in the friendliest light is to be described as boring - the only thing I really enjoy is the fact that here at Timor Backpackers I finally have a chance to cook for us again and it is - due to the horrendous restaurant prices - also cheaper than going out.

Here I should perhaps insert a brief description of our stay: the Timor Backpackers is by far the cheapest place to live in Dilli. You pay $ 12 for a bed in the dorm (the beds have probably come from UN aid stocks with metal frame and mattresses which are beyond threadbare), free wifi (pixel by pixel best kwality), coffee powder and sugar as much as you want, cold communal showers, free toilet paper and use of kitchen.  There is a bar here, but the prices are quite astronomical (a large beer costs $ 4.50 and Rita - the boss is thinking of making it even more expensive as the petrol station next door sells their beer for $ 5 a bottle) - so we get our beer by the pallet in the little Chinese supermarket down the road (that way we get a special price – 1.10 $ a can) we cool it in the communal fridge and share the box while Rita gives us some sour looks. Dan - her husband is English and a little strange - he mostly shines by his absence, but sometimes he has fits of customer care and then his interest seems a little forced but as he shows willingness we play with it.  One does not  show the cold shoulder when one is really trying….

 Rita herself is plagued by mood swings and apparently of the opinion that included in the price of our lodgings we practically also have a right to share all her problems ... .. but there is a lovely secluded courtyard where you always find a shady spot and a plug for the computer and if you need information they really try to help ….. so you can probably say that we could definitely have landed in  worse places.

In the mad rush of getting our bike ready for shipment we got left behind with quite a lot of our luggage not in the bike but still here with us - some because we did not have time to get everything clean and secondly, because we just simply forgot to put it all back in the boxes so it remained behind in the chaos (another reason why we are afraid of wasting time by exploring some of the countryside – we need to spring clean everything and store it in our room which we now have to ourselves).

Frank leaves pretty soon towards Australia, where he is planning to spend the waiting time by having a little look around with a friend and a campervan - not feasible for us - and as for Jonas … not even 100 horses could hold him back anymore once he finally has his bike back and he disappears in a cloud of dust towards Indonesia – the lucky boy.

Otherwise, there is a great deal of coming and going - most people wait for their Indo visa and then quickly rush off again towards friendlier regions and apart from us there are only 2 more people staying here for a longer period of time: there is Peter a surfer dude a bit past his use-by date - who has flown over from Australia for the wedding of his friend and instead of living at this friends house as promised he ends up waiting for the arrival of the guy most of the time. So with not much left to do he just cheers himself and mostly all others too  with his cheeky humor, making offers to the young backpacker girls claiming to have fallen in love with a new one every day. We have more than just one good laugh with him but in the end he starts having quite some health problems and  more or less just hangs in here waiting for his flight to Bali and then back home, which is already booked and paid for, and then there's Stacey: an American who is traveling alone and had the huge misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She came across the border and there she was offered to share a taxi to Dili - for $ 10. She grabbed the opportunity as it can be quite tricky to find transport here. The nice Indonesian who has made her the offer (for whatever reason - there is room for a thousand fantasies) asks the taxi driver to stop at a DHL (postage) place and collects a package there and then the vehicle is stopped by the police. It turns out that the package contains 1.594 g of crystal meth - allegedly the police responded to a tip from Jakarta. Stacey was arrested and spent 5 days in detention. The police can’t find any evidence to connect her with the crime but still retains her passport and now she desperately tries to get help from somewhere. Her own embassy does not want to get involved, local attorneys often speak little English and often they do not know their own law and they give her to understand that the whole process can take up to one year, until either the charge of complicity in drug trafficking against her  is dropped or she will indeed be charged. Needless to point out that neither Peter nor Stacey are the funniest companions, even  though Peter really is quite a refreshing character.

We spend our time here trying to sort paperwork and other little problems (it takes me 3 days to finally book a grossly overpriced flight to Darwin. After running around to travel agents and to the airport we end up having to book it online but for this we need our visa card and after numerous unsuccessful tries I end up skyping with our bank to find out that with all the payments so far we have reached our self imposed limit on the card – I could not check this because I have changed my pin  on the advice of the bank. That was a few months ago - and  I have forgotten all about it so now I have entered by mistake the old pin and then two times the new one but wrong and now our online account is blocked: K + K chaos Team -. I only say!  The internet is so slow, I cannot get in contact with the bank through the security server, in the end I buy an expensive sim card for my UMTS stick and after a few attempts using Skype I finally get through and after some back and forth, and another 3 days our visa limit is finally increased and we can finally book our flights…

The problem is that there are only a limited number of seats in every price range and if you don’t book fast enough, only the expensive seats are left. In the end we do have a little bit of luck and manage to sort everything plus book "cheap" tickets (USD 249 per person for a flight that is just 1 ½ hours long; but for the Timor to Darwin route there is only one airline and they have stitched it up nicely).

My attempts to find a couch surfers place in Darwin are indeed numerous, but not successful ... probably the young Aussie boys are horrified when they see our age to the profile.

Otherwise, we spend most of our time trying to wash our stuff and I have devoted myself to the blog, both of us, however, get held up in our chores by chatting with other travelers, the slow internet and mundane things like hunger.

From time to time we make efforts to see a little bit more of Dili and visit the Museo de Resistenzio (or something like that) or just wander around the city, the harbor / beach but mostly we get back very foot lame  because it is ridiculously hot and dusty and the bimo system (local minibuses) remains a riddle wrapped up in an enigma to us.

I manage to actually get our Malaysia blog completed with translation and photos and after I once again invest $ 20 on the sim card  I even manage to upload the whole thing on our website. I get quite cheesed off though because this has used up all our internet credits already and I decide I will not spend more money with the Timorese telecom …. life here is really expensive enough.

 It's quite funny, with the incoming and departing tourists or long-term travelers we make friends quite quickly and again and again the newcomers soon find out  that I do like to cook and don’t mind doing it for all and so I spend most afternoons in the kitchen - even once for 9 people and everyone just pays his share of the ingredients and I don’t need to wash up ... .. well one hand washes the other and each has made a good deal.

I even manage to write the blog about Sumatra and have it largely completed, when I lend my laptop to Fabrizio (an Italian who needs to skype with MAMA, because she is sick and wants her son to come home – no problem but I forget to tell him to plug in the charger and in the end the battery is empty, the computer crashes and all my scribblings (13 pages each in English and German) are gone!!!

I'm devastated and everyone tries to help and retrieve the lost pages nothing however proves successful the work remains lost.

 I have no more time to rewrite everything, because the two weeks vanished as if by magic, and we still do not have everything clean, sorted and repackaged and there is, as usual, a last minute project: we have to bring a package to the post office as we need to send home a few of our things which we want to keep  but won’t be able to take to Australia - posting the package is easier than we thought but it is a bit of a mission to find the post office ... ..which in Portuguese has a name not even remotely to do with mail and so we err somewhat aimlessly and several times pass the relevant building until we finally find it.

In the evening we have a farewell dinner for those who are still here and after a few beers we decide that we can pack in the morning- it’s not that much – is it?!?!

Well that proves to be the wrong decision – in the morning we are faced with a huge problem: we are allowed to take only 4 bags and the ones we have are simply not large enough to accommodate all of our stuff (the little BIT we have !!)  We pack, unpack, arrange, rearrange and in the end Rita, the boss comes into our room – surprising us with a parting gift and when she sees the desperation in our faces because of this misery she even gives us a travel bag as another present and now I'm really blown away and also ready to actually change my mind about her. (This also makes me wonder if the whole place just comes across wrong because of different cultures…)

Finally, we have everything stacked in the yard and wait for the taxi while we carry on with all our farewell photos. At some point I ask what time it actually is, because we were supposed to be at the airport at quarter to nine – and it is 20 past!! BLAST where is our taxi? Frantically we run out and onto the road and where normally one taxi follows the next one touting for business there is not one to be seen now and those who are passing are taken.

Now my usual stage fright that I always have when facing new countries hits me with full force. It seems like a half-day until we are finally in a taxi with our entire luggage and on the way but it really only takes 10 minutes in all …. but I’m already close to cracking up.

All is well in the end – I manage to charm our luggage onto the plane without having to pay for excess weight and we are even allowed to take the huge bag as hand luggage - Ha - the last day of Timor Leste brings to a somewhat good end what has been a messed up relationship.

I manage to completely confuse everyone plus myself all the way from the passport control to the waiting room and there we end up finally - happy and safe in the departure lounge - eagerly awaiting a new continent.