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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Vietnam and East Timor take shape

I have to throw a couple of “thanks” out here. First of all to Thao in Ho Chi Minh City who’s helping me plan what promises to be an awesome week or so motorcycling around the south of Vietnam. I’ve been wanting to ride round the whole country since well before that Top Gear episode, but time is short. However, covering around a quarter of the place and seeing many towns and roads I’ve not encountered before promises to be amazing!

I think the plan right now is to circle round from HCM to Da Lat, then Nah Trang, Mui Ne Beach and back to the city again. If there’s time I’d love to get as far up as the DMZ near Da Nang, but that might be pushing it.

Next up, TravelFish on Twitter put me in touch with Matt who’s been able to provide me with some very useful information regarding flights to and from East Timor. I was about to give up on this adventure (mainly due to time constraints), but now it looks like it could be both affordable and enjoyable. I may try and make part of the journey there by land, but fly back out to Denpasar. He’s done this journey before and knowing this gives me a quite a bit of comfort.

I’ll likely be flying with Mupati. Unfortunately, their web page is still at the “under construction” phase so I wasn’t able to check times and prices on there. The only other alternatives were from Singapore (far too expensive) and Darwin (stupid long route round and as a result, very expensive as well). Flying from Bali is still not cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper.

Any other time I’d have just turned up and winged up, but two to three years ago I wasn’t on any real schedule. I also had a hell of a lot more money!

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