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

Wow...

Wow...

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.

Bugger

Bugger

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.

Probably.

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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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