Aimless wandering in Dili

Dili Police Memorial

Dili Police Memorial

Dinner last night was at an indiginous burger restaurant called Brothers Hamburgers. It was pretty decent, actually, and not too expensive. $3.50 is still cheaper than home for a regular meal and the chicken and beef burgers were decent. I went with Catherine (again, apologies for being crap with names etc), the American girl I’m sharing a dorm with.

She’s actually diving with Andrew this morning after my recommending him and we may both see if we can convince him to take a morning off work later in the week and go to one of the other sites for a dive or two. It would be nice to see somewhere a little different to Dili Rock, though I’m still looking forward to helping with the instruction tomorrow.

Back at the hostel I gave her the gift of movies. She’s been carrying her laptop around, but it’s a compact one with no DVD drive. The hostel loaned her an old one… but the drive only reads CDs so it’s no use with the (scratched) collection of discs we have lying around anyway. I’ve got a handful of films on my laptop for bus journeys so I copied them over for her. As a result I ended up spending the late evening finally watching Goal 3 while Catherine went for In Bruges. Judging from the occassional snorts of laughter from her side of the dorm I may be watching that one next.

Timorese children

Timorese children

I had a slight lie in (until just after 9) and opted to leave the motorcycling for another day. A German guy has just checked in and given me some ideas that perhaps heading inland would be more enjoyable than trailing along the coast. After all, I’m already on the coast – why not go and see mountains instead?

Besides, I had to sort out a printout of my Air Asia booking from Bali to Bangkok to appease the Powers That Be in the Indonesian Embassy. Disregarding the map that the hostel provided (it just doesn’t seem to work), I walked in more or less concentric circles and followed the directions a nice chap gave me on a blog comment yesterday. I found the Global Talk place and 25c later had my flight itinerary in my hand.

Of course, you can guarantee they’ll never check it and I could easily fake one in ten minutes with Paint, but hey ho.

I stopped into another bakery for brunch (a chicken sausage roll of some kind for only 80c and a somewhat more expensive orange juice). It was a lovely place, with table service and an incredibly polite Chinese owner who even insisted on opening the door for me when I left. I’ll have to find it again before I leave.

Dili Stadium

Dili Stadium

By now I realised exactly why I hated Crocs so much. After your feet start to get sweaty (which is very soon) you end up walking on a slippery layer of mud inside the shoe. Get a stone inside and it’s a pain to get the thing to go back out. And walking downhill in them once you’ve got a sweat on is dangerous. I really need to look for another decent pair of sandals and burn these plastic monstrosities.

Halfway back to the hostel I was waving away a guy selling phone credit vouchers when he asked my name and we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes. Then his friend joined us. We just stood there and had a brief conversation about nothing inparticular so they could practise their English. Glad to help!

Walking back along the “promenade” for want of a better name, I waved to kids yelling “Hey mister!” and trying not to drown as they waved back. Generally, people here have a smile for anyone who cares to give them a nod and smile first. As with other countries I’ve been in with a recently troubled past, it’s heartening to see how people still survive, adapt and deal with their situation. With people like these, if East Timor can keep the peace then it certainly has a future as a touristy place.

View to the north

View to the north

The afternoon was a chill-out watching some episodes of Reaper and reading. I then went out to dinner with Catherine and two other girls who’d just arrived at the hostel. Mariella is Spanish and motorcycling her way home from Oz, while the other girl (apologies – the bad memory for names strikes again!) is originally from Singapore but settled in Oz. We chose a Thai restaurant out to the east called Little Pattaya and I can heartily recommend it.

The menu seems very slightly expensive for some dishes, but the size of the portions justifies the price tag. I settled on a falafel wrap (they also do other food!), Catherine went for fish & chips (I had most of her chips), while our Australian friend left half of her pad thai for Mariella to eat. We were also joined by Tim, another Aussie working for the Red Cross.

Vrrrmmm

Vrrrmmm

It was almost 10pm by the time we left. The roads were very dark and there wasn’t a taxi to be seen. Fortunately after only a few minutes, a UN 4×4 pulled over and the Uraguyan driver very kindly drove us all the way to the hostel.

Mariella filled us in on some more information we’d require for our visa applications tomorrow (making it even more of a ball-ache) and I’ll detail the entire process once I have all the paperwork in.

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First dives in East Timor

Everyone's a critic

Everyone's a critic

I found a local bakery doing brightly-coloured cakes and picked up a couple for breakfast. Maybe not healthy, but I’m on holiday so I don’t care. Andrew was waiting for me when I got back and we had a short chat then jumped into the car with Krystal and Catherine (I think – apologies as ever for my pathetic memory for names), two sisters from Brisbane.

They’re here doing voluntary work up in the hills and usually only make it down at the weekends. They’ve been taking their Open Water with Andrew and the group seemed to get along well. Andy’s an easy chap to talk to with a wealth of experience. Hailing from South Africa, he’s doing contract work out here and diving around it predominantly on the weekends.

As I was partly assisting, I didn’t get to spend as much time looking at the scenery as I’d normally hope. However, I worked my way up to Divemaster for a few reasons and one of them was so I could help out with things like this and I really enjoyed it. The girls have much better eyesight than Andy or I, so in between practise exercises and working on buoyancy they spotted some excellent examples of aquatic life.

Lionfish

Lionfish

Pick of the bunch was probably the school of lion fish. Usually you see one or two of these at most. If  you’re lucky. We found a group of five. Also in the area are scorpion fish, stone fish and many other types that don’t actually hurt if you touch them. Krystal also spotted a ray buried under the sand.

Including a surface break for refreshments and de-toxing, we were out until early afternoon. The girls were very receptive to criticism and pointers and had visibly improved from the first dive to the second. As with many starting divers, their main issue was one of buoyancy. Hopefully the advice I gave will help them and they’ll keep the hobby up. Living in Brisbane, they’re only a short hop away from some excellent sites back home.

On the way back, Andy mentioned he had a group on Monday – a father and two 15-year old boys – and would I like to help out? No charge, obviously. Pope. Poop. Woods. This is why I did the Divemaster course! So that’s Monday morning sorted.

Stone fish

Stone fish

The girls were supposed to reappear to collect some of the photos, but I’ve been sat here for two hours now so I guess they changed their minds. No worries – ladies, you have my email. Drop me a line and I’ll post the pics somewhere you can get the full-resolution versions from! [Update – they passed by quickly on their way to Mass – hope you weren’t too late!]

My plan currently is to spend Sunday around the surrounding area on a motorbike ($25 including fuel from the hostel). Monday for the dives and in the afternoon I’ll pop my passport in for a new Indonesian visa. I’ve calculated it’s far cheaper to do the reverse trip than to fly directly back to Bali. It’s more of a pain to sort, but it’ll save me around $150. It’s not like I don’t have the time!

Scorpion fish

Scorpion fish

I may head off into the countryside on Tuesday and Wednesday, just for the change. With luck, my visa should be collectable by Wednesday or Thursday and then I can sort out my return bus and a flight from Kupang to Bali.

All I need now is a non-ANZ ATM so I don’t get screwed for $2 with every withdrawal. ANZ – you’re evil. If I ever move to Oz, rest assured I’m not banking with you. Oh, and a cybercafe with a working printer. I have to have a printout of my flight tickets for my visa application. More details on the visa farce shortly. Seriously, they make it like drawing teeth.

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Kupang to Dili

Re"cycle"d chairs

Re"cycle"d chairs

I ended up getting out of bed at 1am to put earplugs in as the dogs over the road decided to have a conversation with everyone on the damn island. Other than that, I slept fine and was stood by the gate for my pickup. They took me to the Timor Tour and Travel office where I handed over my IDR185000 for a one-way, bottom-numbing, 13-hour ride.

The buses are fine – 12-seater minibuses with aircon, although the aircon is never switched on! The stereo is and I was regaled by everything from Indonesian classics to Bon Jovi at a vaguely tolerable level for most of the journey.

For those who get travel-sick it’s worth popping a couple of pills. The roads vary a lot on the journey from pretty decent to “why am I not in a Landrover?”. This is the case on both sides of the border.

We had a couple of rest stops, but I ate nothing at all as seems to be “normal” for me when I’m on long journeys. The final pause within Indonesia was in Atambua, the last town before the border. There, our immigration cards for East Timor were filled out for us by staff in the shop. I spotted a nice church down the road so went for a wander and took some photos.

Out of place, but rather quaint

Out of place, but rather quaint

The longest break is the journey was, not surprisingly, the border. Exiting Indonesia was fine and I even had two soldiers offering me a seat as they checked my passport. Huge smiles and handshakes – I guess they don’t see too many foreigners making the land crossing.

Checking into East Timor was pretty easy also. There are five classes of visa and I ended up with a “Class II” at $30. Given I may only be in the country for a week I could possibly have managed on a “Class I” as I think that may be the transit visa ($20). However, I wasn’t taking the risk. A quick luggage check by the security guys and we re-loaded and continued on our bumpy way.

I’d slept on and off for the ride, but my bottom was genuinely going numb by the time we arrived in Dili. I was also the last person to be dropped off so managed to experience some of the hairiest minibus driving ever. Some of the roads weren’t much better than the ones I went up in the Cameron Highlands and I was in a huge 4×4 on that trip.

Exit Indonesia...

Exit Indonesia...

The Dili Backpackers welcomed me in. After a quick luggage dump, the first thing I did was book some dives for the next day. Randomly I picked a guy called Andrew who was advertising on a new poster. $30 is the best rate I’d heard of here and being a 1-man operation, it was more likely to be a small group. As it happened, I was going to be diving with two Australian girls on their 3rd and 4th dives as they went through their Open Water with him.

A meal was called for as I hadn’t eaten in almost a day. I picked an Indian over the road and enjoyed a very decent chicken madras. With a naan and a drink, it came to an even $5. Very nice and just the right sized portion for my shrunken stomach.

...enter East Timor

...enter East Timor

Dili – in fact East Timor on the whole – is fairly pricey. Bars charge around $5 upwards for a beer (though you can get an ice cold tinnie from the street vendors for $1.50) and for $10 in Bali I’d be living in a flat of my own. It’s affordable, but more than you’d expect for a fledgling country. MInd, they’re trying to make all they can off the “visiting” UN staff who are on seemingly endless budgets so who can blame them.

A stroll east took me to a park which was lit up and from where I could hear live music. I had to pop in and look, and watched a few local performers playing covers and their own tracks. A young guy called Nevis struck up a conversation with me and we whiled away half an hour or so talking about Timor-Leste, politics, the UN, music and football. Nice guy.

Flying the flag

Flying the flag

On the way back to the hostel I did a quick email check at the “slow” place ($2 per hour and plenty fast enough for everything I needed to do). I then got back “home” to find it all locked up… Nobody told me about that! I managed to get one of the chaps from the attached restaurant to open a door for me, had a chinwag with my two roomies (Jean from Portugal and Christine from the States) and then nodded off around midnight.

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I hate airlines

I’m trying to fill the gaps in for my schedule in July. Thanks to Matt, I have some info regarding flights from Bali to East Timor and this is causing me some bellyache.

I just booked Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar at a time that won’t suit Leah. Thing is, while I was waiting for her to get back to me I was watching the Air Asia flight prices rise before my eyes. So I just went for it. This means I’m leaving KL about 5-6 hours before her, but it’s still half the price of flying the next day. Then take into account accommodation and the loss of an entire day until the next flight and I didn’t have a choice.

The problem is that I land in Denpasar at 22:00. I don’t expect the Merpati or Garuda ticket offices to be open at the airport at that time. From what I gather, Merpati have a flight out at breakfast time to Dili, which I’d be interested in… but does their ticket office open early enough to book a seat on that flight in the morning? I can’t book online as their web site is still under construction.

Garuda’s page is more functional and tells me I can get a flight to Kupang from where I know I can get a bus to Dili. The downsides: the flight’s in the afternoon so I’d likely have to stay in Kupang for a night and get the bus the next day (it’s a 12-hour journey)… and you can only book online with Garuda if your credit card was issued in Indonesia. Therefore by the time I get to Indonesia where I can book over the counter with them, all of the cheaper seats (and they are cheap) will almost certainly have gone.

Earlier in the trip I have a flight landing at Ko Samui airport at 10:45 in the morning. Ideally I want to get a ferry from Samui to Ko Tao. There are two companies (Lomprayah and Seatran Discovery) with boats at suitable times and both around 550 Baht each way for a 1½ hour journey. Lomprayah offer a free bus transfer from the airport, but this bus leaves at 11:00. Do I have time to get off the flight, grab my luggage and be on that bus? I don’t know, so I emailed them a day ago to ask… and haven’t had a reply yet.

Alternatively, Seatran’s boat leaves a couple of hours later but I’d have to make my own way down to the port… and I can’t find out which one of the several ports I’d need to get to!

You know, I much prefered traveling when I just turned up in places and winged it. I hate being on a schedule.

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