Dili to Baucau: attempt 2

More "wow"

More "wow"

Well, I made it this time. The bike I collected from the Tiger garage was a “proper” motorcycle with gears and a clutch and everything. I’ve never ridden one of these before. After a little fun trying to get the thing moving from a standstill, I got the hang of it and rode off east.

It took me a while to figure out that I should be using the clutch to change gears (it was very forgiving – as long as I wasn’t applying any throttle I could shift up or down), but other than that it wasn’t bad. Far comfier than the scooter from the other day, although numb-bum did set in before I reached Baucau.

The road, as detailed two days ago, is gorgeous. After the point where I had my blow-out on Tuesday it turns further inland and you don’t see the coastline again until you reach Baucau itself. The terrain changes frequently from dusty plains to lush vegetation which often canopies overhead.  There are a lot of twists and turns so good use should be made of the horn to ensure nobody’s taking up the entire road round the next blind corner.

Long, empty beach

Long, empty beach

Overall the road surface is good. Certainly there are B-roads back in the UK which have as many dips and potholes in them. As a hint. watch traffic ahead of you and if it seems to be slowing down then be prepared to do the same.

I’d also recommend long sleeves or good sunblock. Neither of which I had. Yes, I’m red again. I’d not mind if it was all of me, but I’m now so patchy I could pass for a giraffe in poor light.

As I got around 30km from Baucau, I passed through a series of villages. Lots of children were walking along the road, I assume on lunch break from school. The looks I got were hilarious. A glance – it’s a man on a bike. Then a double-take – it’s a white man on a bike!

A common game was to stick their hands out and wait for me to slap them as I rode past. This is pretty painful at 50km/h, just so you know. Especially when they swing at you at the same time. Also note that it works best if they’re on your left as you need your right hand for the throttle. It gets to be a challenge when you’ve lost so much velocity slapping hands that you have to drop three gears and throttle up with one hand.

More East Timorese prettiness

More East Timorese prettiness

Baucau itself isn’t much to write home about, though it does have some lovely views of the ocean. I admit, I didn’t explore for long just driving round the one-way system for a while then settling down for lunch at a place which did Portuguese food. I opted for a “green soup” and barbecued chicken with rice with a banana juice. It came to $8 which is the dearest meal I’ve had here, but after driving for three hours to get there I felt it was worth it.

After an hour to gather myself, I set off on the return trip. I felt a lot more comfortable on the bike by now and was hitting 80 km/h on the straights. The other traffic is generally rather forgiving (except some numpties in UN 4x4s) and I was still raising smiles by being a bit of a curiosity.

Amazingly it started to rain when I was about 30km away from Dili, but thankfully only a little. At 80km/h the raindrops sting a little when they hit bare skin! In all, I made good time on the return trip and got back shortly after 5pm. And half an hour before the rain really began to came down. Apparently it’s dry season – someone ought to tell the rain gods.

Not all trips end so well

Not all trips end so well

Definitely a drive I was happy to make and one I’d recommend. The roads are lovely, the scenery fantastic, the other traffic quite light, the people friendly and the food at the other end worth it. Plus it was a good learning curve for me with the clutch and all. 15o miles for my first motorcycle “lesson”. A shame, as I mentioned yesterday, that I’m not here longer to jump in the ute with the other group. Five days travelling these roads would be a great adventure.

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Final dives in Dili

Due to Andy’s work schedule he won’t be able to take us diving until Friday – and both Katherine and I are effectively out of Dili by then. So it looks like today’s two dives with the Australian family will be my last in East Timor. Unless I change my plans.

At least they were good ones with all three definitely improving with each descent. All the skills tests are passed and they only have their final exam tomorrow. We managed to spot a scorpion fish, the usual crowd of lion fish, a huge box fish and two trigger fish – amongst all the thousands of other more numerous species.

Once I have Andy’s email address I’ll give him a plug on here. He’s by far and away the cheapest dive option in Dili, but to offset this his schedule is based around his work hours so you’ll have to be prepared to be fluid. Also, as he’s a one-man act (although his wife is also an Instructor) it does limit the size of the groups he can take out.

I have decided to take the bike out tomorrow as Katherine’s now joining another group and renting a 4×4 from Friday onwards. They’re off to circle the island for 4-5 days and I wish they’d come up with this sooner so I could join them! Instead, I’ll try the Baucau run again (second time lucky), and hopefully join Andy and the Australian family again on Friday for two dives at K-41.

As an aside (and I’ll update the earlier post to reflect this) it is possible to get a 60-day visa from the Indonesian embassy for the $45 charge. Simply shout loudly enough and make a fuss. It worked for a Hungarian guy who just moved into our dorm and for two of his friends. Check the Indonesian Visa From Dili post for details.

In other major news, the water is back on at the hostel so the damaged pipe must be fixed. My first shower in three days!

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Bikes and birthdays



Andy did get back to us last night and unfortunately diving wasn’t an option due to his work commitments. We’ve pencilled in Thursday as an alternative. Instead, after a quick breakfast (tea and toast – $1) I walked to the Tiger garage along the street and rented an automatic bike for $20. My plan was to bike to Baucau, have lunch, and come back – a round trip of maybe 7-8 hours.

Riding a moped is like riding a bike. OK, that’s a fairly obvious analogy, but an accurate one. After two minutes of checking the controls, letting the garage photocopy the photocopy of my passport that I had in my bag (glad I kept a spare after handing the documents into the embassy) I was on my way.

The obvious route was to head east along the coast as a road runs all the way along there to Baucau and beyond.

Well. It did. Around three miles outside of Dili the road has collapsed into the ocean. Around 200 yards distant you can see where it continues, but it’s completely impassable except perhaps with rock climbing equipment or a boat.

A shame. Up till now, the scenery had been mindblowing. Gorgeous beaches just begging to have tourists turning red on them, blue sea undoubtedly ideal for snorkelling. Instead, I spent ten minutes clambering over the rocks and getting sea spray on me as I talked to a German guy who was staying in the hostel. He’d cycled the same route and arrived at the same time as me. I’d actually overtaken him earlier – revving past him beeping the rhythm to “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball” at 40km/h was rather amusing in a childish way – but he’d caught up as I stopped to take photos.

We both opted to turn back and I followed the road until the next junction, which was marked with a UN guard post. I had to show some ID (again, thankfully I had that extra passport photocopy) and they told me that this road would, indeed, get me to Baucau. Aces.

I set off on the upward path into the mountains. Every UN car that passed by got me a cheery wave. I guess they don’t get too many tourists making their own way east.

Jesus needs support

Jesus needs support

It is a fairly quiet road so you can spend five or ten minutes feeling as if it’s all yours. Fortunately, there is enough traffic that should you encounter a problem, aid shouldn’t be too long in coming.

Soon the road runs round the mountains so that once again the coastline is in view and at this point words began to fail me.

If you’ve seen the Top Gear special from last Christmas where the crew took motorbikes up Vietnam, hark back to the evening scene where Clarkson stopped and stared for ages at one of the most beautiful views he’d ever seen. Now, getting Jeremy Clarkson to go goggle-eyed and speechless at something not made of nuts, bolts and sheets of carbon fibre is impressive.

These views, I assure you, would have had that effect.

Pristine beaches with golden sand. Water of many hues of blue. Coral rings visible beneath the surface. Tropical vegetation surrounding it. And behind you, orange/red rock clawing its way up into the sky.

I passed through villages and past schools where I was waved at by children and adults alike. Unfortunately, around 100m just past a small “village” (a line of shacks along the road), I felt the back wheel bumping somewhat. Then more. I stopped and checked… and my back tyre was deflating.

More wow...

More wow...

I U-turned and sought help. Pointing at the wheel was as good as I could do and everyone gestured in the direction I was heading. Fortunately, they weren’t saying “Dili” as that would have been a hell of a way to push a bike. By now it was so flat I couldn’t ride it, and it was obvious that I didn’t have a simple puncture. The valve had detached from the inner tube. No amount of airhose would fix this.

With an amazing turn of luck, on the other side of the village I had passed an IMO check point. They were still there when I pushed my way back and the chap in charge told me to wait there. There was a military camp about 30 minutes’ walk the way I wanted to go who MAY fix the tyre. If they had the parts and felt like it.

Or the IMO would be leaving sometime that afternoon back to Dili. I could put my bike in the back of a truck and get a free lift. He checked and were due to be returning in an hour or so.

Does it get better? Oh yes. The reason they were waiting an hour was that lunch was on the way. And they had spare. Admittedly it was just rice and some kind of meat that was somewhat hairy (I think diced pig – I’d not go so far as to use the word “pork”) but it was edible, filling and free.

By early afternoon I was back in Dili, my plans for the day in tatters, but I’d had a good time nonetheless. True to their word, my bike was delivered right to the garage I’d rented it from (the Tiger one next to the hostel) and I left it there to be fixed while I did an email check.

Half an hour later, I picked it. Fixed and – get this – no fee. Anyone else here ever rented a vehicle in Europe and got a flat? Unless you take out insurance they charge you for the tyre. South East Asia scores another point against the “civilised” west.



Well, there was more I could use the bike for. While checking my email I got the quote from the Merpati office I’d been to. It turns out this was another travel agent, not an actual office, and the quote was madness – double the actual price of the flight. Fortunately, I bumped into Kathryn in the hostel and she told me the REAL office was about 1.5km west of time in a “mall”. I headed there.

Within three minutes, my flight from Kupang to Denpasar on sunday was booked at the price quoted on the website. I hadn’t handed over a penny. I simply show my receipt when I get to Kupang Airport and hand over the Rupiah cost there and then, and board the plane. Awesome!

I also took a quick walk round the “mall” (actually a supermarket) and picked up a few beers. It was only XXXX Gold, but it was cheap. You can tell I’m desperate when I start buying mass-produced Oz crap.

By coincidence, Katherine was also at the Murpati office and I gave her a lift back. The first ever back seat passenger I’ve had on a motorbike! Thankfully, she’s fairly experienced as a back-seater so the journey to the hostel was easy enough. We ditched some kit, she grabbed a helmet and we headed back to the broken road I’d visited earlier in the day.

Katherine hadn’t actually driven a motorbike before so I gave her a quick shot on the empty road. I think she plans to ride a lot in Vietnam so it’s good to at least get a feel for it. On the way back, we did a little sightseeing. There’s a graveyard where many people were shot and killed by Indonesian troops – with no memorial, strangely enough.

We also found a Tae Kwon Do class going on outside, and I located the bakery I’d been to on Sunday. Next up was the Timor Tours office where I bought my bus ticket to Kupang for Saturday.

Then back to the hostel where we found out it was Rita’s (the owner’s) birthday and she’d be having a party around 8:30! More free food!

It was a great night, everyone really got into the swing of it. If there was a night to get drunk in Dili then this was it. I have to thank Rita and her friends and family for sharing this with us. Katherine even tried to teach some people to salsa. Not me. If someone mentions salsa, I think of Mexican food not dance steps.

So a bittersweet day, but you know… the burst tyre really doesn’t bother me. I’ll try again on Friday.

What will bother me is the sunburn on my arms and neck. Owie.

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The rest of the day in Dili

East of Dili at sunset

East of Dili at sunset

After sorting out the visa palaver, I legged it back to the hostel but had already missed Andy. I’d promised I’d help with three first-time divers and wasn’t going to let him down. Fortunately, I knew where the dive was to be so I jumped in a taxi and $3 later I was back at Bali Rock outside the city.

Andy was just giving the dive briefing when I got there so there was no problem with my tardiness. Our group was a dad and his son and daughter who were all fresh from the classroom and doing their skills in a pool – this was their first time diving in open water. Mum had decided to stick to important tasks like providing water and sandwiches.

The first dive was predominantly an orientation. Buddy check, swimming technique, how to sink, basic buoyancy underwater, a chance to feel the need for equalising pressures and so on. On the whole, they did quite well. The kids definitely picked things up faster than their father but that’s really not unusual – try and get a 40 year-old to learn to ride a bike. An 8 year-old will take to it far faster.

We saw some good stuff and the son was definitely in his element, really getting excited about seeing so many things.

After a quick break for water and pressure group relief, we took to the water again and practised again. This time, some basic exercises were completed at 6m – mask removal, regulator recovery and so forth. Back on the surface, weight belts and BCDs were removed and replaced.

A short dive, but more time in the water and a great bit of experience for me. Andy, as I’ve mentioned before, is a good instructor. Very patient, but firm, and knowledgeable. I’ve already told him I’ll help out on Wednesday as well when they do their third and fourth dives.

Now I know I’ll have my passport back on Wednesday, I can get the bus out on Thursday or later. I’ve already checked flight prices and Merpati (the easiest to book within East Timor) are cheapest by far on Sunday.

Outside a park in Dili

Outside a park in Dili

The Merpati office I was told about is inside “Hotel Timor”, the posh place along the main road where the UN staff stay. Enter the main doors, bear left towards the bar, but take a right just before it. It’s down that corridor. [NOTE: this is not the actual Merpati office. See tomorrow’s post for details]

The chap there said he’d check the prices for Saturday and Sunday. Whichever was cheapest, he’d reserve at that price, and send us an email (by “us” I mean myself and the German girl, Kathryn, I was walking around with). He’d be able to hold the price until tomorrow.

My likely plans are diving tomorrow, helping Andy on Wednesday, motorbiking Thursday, bus to Kupang on Friday, whole day in Kupang on Saturday, and fly to Bali on Sunday. I’ll have three days before Leah arrives to perhaps do some more divemastering – and then I’m going to try and get her on a discovery dive or maybe even a full Open Water course.

After the flight check, we walked through a few shops and found a refugee village south of (I think) the Portuguese UN Mission. Basically a lot of houses and a lot of stalls, Kathryn stopped at almost every one to buy part of her shopping – dinner for her and the two guys she’s travelling with. Sweet potatoes here, chillis there, a 1 litre $3 bottle of whisky from somewhere else…

What a smile!

What a smile!

Every time we stopped, we drew a small crowd of local children who all smiled and looked cute. There’s a photo up here of a little girl carrying water bottles who just broke my heart. Absolutely gorgeous and with the most amazing smile. Everyone was ridiculously friendly and helpful, partly I’m sure because Kathryn knows how to ask for prices in the local lingo.

And thence back to the hostel where I went for a shower… then gave up when I found there was no water. Grr. By the time the tanks refill it’ll be night-time and the water will be cold!

Matt (@Vanalli from Twitter) popped over for the beer I owed him. Always good – as ever – to put a face to an email address, or a Twitter account.

There’s a good group here now and I think we’ll be sharing that whisky around after dinner. Andy’s due some time to sort out arrangements for tomorrow and I will try to wash at some point.


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Tip: Applying for an Indonesian Visa in Dili, East Timor

The procedure for getting an Indonesian visa in Dili has sped up somewhat, but is still an administrative ballache. Before I came here I was told that I could expect to wait 7-10 days unless I “knew someone” who could speed up the process. As such, I was looking at flying out directly to Bali and using the Visa on Arrival system at the airport – $25 and an hour in a bloody queue if the last trip was anything to go by. The main reason for not doing this is the standard flight price of around $240.

Getting a bus back to Kupang ($20), staying one night ($3) and flying from there ($40-$60) is much cheaper, even given the $20 additional rip-off fee for the visa.

The embassy hours for visa-related goings-on are officially 9am (but see below) till midday for handing your paperwork in, then 2pm to 4pm for retrieval of your passport.

Prior to heading to the embassy, I made sure I had everything I was told to bring:

  • $45 (and you only get the 30-day visa for that, not 60 as you used to [but see below***])
  • One passport photo with a RED background, just to be awkward. You can get these in town. Expect to pay $2 to $4 depending on what mood the store clerk is in. Theoretically it’s $4 same day and $2 next day. However I got mine on a Saturday and was told $4 same day or Monday – $2 for Tuesday
  • Printout of departing flight details from Indonesia
  • Photocopy of your passport
  • Black pen (fill the form in in any other colour and they’re throw it back at you)
  • Letter detailing why you want to go to Indonesia. Apparently ticking a box marked “Tourism” isn’t enough

Although they have a price up for transit visas ($20), it’s nigh on impossible to get one. If you want one, they say, fly into Bali from Denpasar. Basically what they’re saying is you can only get a transit visa if you fly into Indonesia. Whether one is available at other land borders or embassies, I don’t know.

Get there early. They start dealing with the applications at 8:30am (mornings only – collections in the afternoon), but the doors are open for you to put your name down on the list from very early on. Make sure your name goes into the book. We got there around 7:30 and were numbers 9 and 10 on the list. At this point they also hand you the application form though you can pick one up in advance. Note that you cannot get one form and photocopy it for your mates. Each one has a unique serial code at the top.

At 8:30 they start calling out names. A clerk checks your paperwork, staples your photo to the application form and hands you a plastic card with a number on. Despite being 9th and 10th in the book, we got numbers 2 and 3 so were seen pretty quickly.

Despite all the form-filling and the brief letter telling them my plans for the 16 days I have in Bali, and the flight confirmation of my departure I was still asked roughly what I was doing and when I expected to leave. Just be polite – as with any border guard or embassy staffer, it doesn’t pay to piss them off. Remember, they’re the ones with your travel plans in their hands.

Next step is to hand over the cash. When I handed my documents over, they pushed the dollars back at me. I assume therefore that if you fail the check at this point, at least you get to keep your $45. However, as they seemed satisfied that I wasn’t going to marry the first native I found and set up home on the island, they happily swapped my passport and money for a small sheet of paper and instructions to return on Wednesday afternoon.

On collection day,

Overall, apart from the ridiculous requirements, a pretty smooth application process.

***UPDATE: I have come across two people in the last day or so who got 60-day visas. One guy from Hungary (and two of his friends he told me about) and a German guy. Basically, be persuasive. If you can, make sure your letter (above) is typed, and includes some kind of itinerary which details roughly what your plans are that require a 60-day stay. Emphasise the inconvenience of doing a visa run and the fact you’ll be chucking a ton of money into their tourist industry. And make sure you have proof that you will be heading elsewhere withing the 60-day limit.

There is no extra charge for the 60-day visa. In fact, for $45 you should get it by default as the 30-day one has an official cost of $25.

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