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
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.
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.