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.
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.
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.
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.
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.