Wednesday 18 December – We knew from information we got in Kupang that the road from the border onwards was a minefield of potholes. It was, on steep slopes. Paul took it slow to try and make the spruce up wash we’d had the day before worth it. He simply had no chance once we hit a partially built road and shortly after the rain came down. The road was not actually built at one point, and the attempts they were making to build it were simply being washed away. It rains every day. Must be a bugger knowing that the hard labour for the past 5 hours is all going to be washed away. A quite scary road, with just some tape as a barrier.
Gone are all the road side advertisements that appear so frequently in Indonesia [except Bali] and gone is the traffic except for the white 4x4s all with different aid agency’s logos on the side. First impressions of East Timor is that its poor, very poor. Houses were little more than bamboo huts with thatched roofs. All the kids, and most of the adults, were barefoot. Even though West Timor is only very sparsely developed, the sudden change is apparent from the minute you leave the border post. We were back to a place where every single person waved and cheered as we passed, they didn’t tend to wave as much in West Timor.
East Timor is the poorest country in South-East Asia with a lot of the nation living on $1 a day the poverty is mainly due to the fact it has been a war torn country for quite a while. This is an attempt at the history. After the Portuguese basically abandoned the country the East Timorese were left to fight a brutal and bloody war with Indonesia who were supported by Western Governments. After mass killings, the UN stepped in with Australia also providing war fare needed. After a referendum where the East Timorese population voted for independence the Indonesians gave in and a peace offering of a Jesus statue was built in the capital Dili. Cheekily however it is said to purposely face towards Jakarta. Only recently have the UN stopped policing the country [one year ago] but there’s already new tension – with Australia. The Timorese people claim they are stealing their oil as depicted on the walls of the Australia Embassy in Dili – Kangroos with buckets of Oil hanging from their mouths. There was a disturbance the day before we left outside the embassy. On a more positive note they have become the largest supplier of coffee beans to Starbucks. It’s a country which could see a huge Tourism boom I think. There is endless undeveloped coastal roads with beaches completely untouched except for maybe a little beach shack house here and there. I really hope the locals don’t get fleeced like they do almost every other country.
Halfway to Dili we pulled into a little bamboo house for a drink. The little naked kids washing in the well, were splashing away and excited to see us. They quickly got out and surrounded us. As always they were very sweet. A strange passing little pinkish white pig, we’ve not seen pink pigs for a long while they are normally black] snorted but it sounded more like a dog barking. Very odd.
The road that followed was very slow going and far from good condition. Most of the time it was lucky if the road was wide enough for 2 cars. Then torrential downpours turned the road into a river. The water from the mountains gushing down rapidly. Usually in Indonesia everyone hides, but not in East Timor. They come out and play in the water – no matter the age. They made gauging the depth a little easier though as they pointed the best place for Paul to pass through.
We arrived into capital Dili after a monstrous 10 hour drive. The place has got a weird feeling about it. Paul thinking it’s probably a bit like an African city, looks a little bit worse for wear. Lots of shipping containers being used as actual buildings, barbed wire scaling most fences and dusty roads making it feel a bit of shanty town. The whole of Dili still feels like a place slightly under siege. It’s in need of some development after many years of trouble. Compared to Indonesians, the Dili based Timorese look a little bit more rough and ready. Lots of tattoos and bling earings being paraded. The women are no-where near as conservative in the dressing style, bare shoulders on display. Even on the Christian islands of Indonesia the clothing was still quite conservative as a whole
We headed in the direction of East Timor Backpackers which seems to be infamous amongst bikers doing this route, almost everyone stays there. We had a lovely welcome from Rita. She and her English husband, Dan from Manchester run the place. She even knew our hometown Crewe! Yes dad it appears you’re correct the little chaps you see on Nantwich road are from East Timor; Rita informed me a lot of Timorese move to Crewe and Oxford for work.
Once unloaded we lay comatose in the bunkbeds, not speaking to each other. The aftermath of a 10 hour drive and only two stops for a drink. The reason we’re in Dili is to ship the bike to Darwin. As I’ve mentioned the bike needs to be cleaned so it looks like its just rolled out of the factory. Australian quarantine are looking for specs of dust and dirt. If the bike fails, it can cost a hell a lot of money for them to clean the offending areas or even worse they can send it back with penalties to be paid.
A visit to Toll [the shipping agent] was first on the agenda. We had our fingers and toes crossed that there was an earlier ferry than the 10th January. There wasn’t and the worrying thing is the amount of times they repeat that the shipping dates are likely to change without notice. In all correspondence this is repeated. The chances of the bike sailing on the 10th January are very unlikely. It was a swift process in the office, we couldn’t get a final cost as the Dili office needed to see the original costs we’d been quoted but we were promptly told to get the Carnet stamped and return on Monday for loading, in the meantime we would be sent the cost.
The cost never materialised so we hadn’t a clue of the cost until we got to the office on the Monday ready to load. We had three and half days before we would be loading it into a container. We’d heard of guy who could help clean but we couldn’t locate him so it was down to us. A local snow wash got rid of the surface dirt then it was down to us to dismantle and arm ourselves with toothbrushes. With limited tools, it really took half a day to just remove parts. Wonderful Rita lent us her toolbox in the end and we enlisted some of her brothers who hang around all day, to help when a bolt was completely rounded. They got hold of a drill for us.
At the beginning we had no idea how exhausting this cleaning was going to be. Just after the first half day we were absolutely knackered, barely able to speak and lights out by 10. Dili is hot all year round plus add in the constant mosquitoes and you don’t have a fun situation especially as the real cleaning hadn’t even commenced.
The next day was the first proper cleaning day. The task ahead was really daunting Paul to an extent he just kept looking at the dirt saying it’s not possible. On first appearance it looks quite clean, but then you cop a feel of the underneath or around the back of pipe and our hands would come out black. I know Paul’s level of patience with boring tasks like this, Zero. Whenever I asked him to clean the bathroom at home, he’d become so backwards asking how it’s done to a point it’s so frustrating I would just do it myself. This is how he swindles his way out doing most the chores. This is exactly how it went with cleaning. ‘what’s the best way to clean behind here’. He tasked himself with cleaning the parts we’d removed – the easy bits.
Paul’s optimism did return though, I think it had something to do with the very generous gift of the new Arsenal shirt from Australian backpacker we met the night before. He left that morning, but left the shirt for Paul with a note. Paul’s remark? ‘This is better than any gift you have ever given me’ pfffft. From the boy who brought a girl alloy wheels for her 18th Birthday.
It went on like that for two days. Paul busying himself with the easy bits, then claiming he pulled his back out bringing a bucket of water over. I am being a little cruel, he did manage some of the tough bits.
Our new best friend became the ‘Black Magic tyre polish’ it’s a gloss that saved us. We glossed all the plastic black with it, not just the tyres, it did look very sparkly. Only we had to get it to the Toll offices, a 10 minute ride away. Dili is a dirty and dusty city. When we got there we were finally given the price – US$520 but there’s still fees to pay in Australia. An expensive little bit of sea, the flights are also expensive. We’re flying on Christmas day for that very reason – they are at their cheapest. We gave the bike a good clean and glossed it once again outside the container, then rolled it in.
We strapped the bike down with the ratchets we’d found in Dili (the shits will charge you $150 if you don’t bring your own and do it yourself) we even wiped the finger prints off. So our bike is now in the container for what we think will be the next three weeks. It better be good enough Australia!
The world really went by whilst we were in our cleaning oblivion, though we did get to spend the nights drinking with a good group of backpackers. One lady was travelling to every country in the world and only had 6 remaining after East Timor which is the second newest in the world.
The one thing everyone was agreeing on is that Dili is quite expensive compared to neighbouring West Timor. This is 100% blamed on the UN, NGO aid staff and fancy embassy white folk dining out on meals more expensive than most people’s monthly salary. It’s hard to comprehend the prices, when you can see kids no older than 6 selling whatever they can and street sellers operating from carts that double as their beds. The currency is US Dollars so they can preserve limited stability but they do have their own coins. On the first night we went for a bottle of water from the local garage and Paul picked up an Ice Cream which he had to swiftly return when the till said $5 for the ice cream alone. It’s a good preparation for Australia for us though, plus our nightly Indian still only came to £5 for both of us. We did exactly nothing but recover in Dili for the remaining day and a half. We didn’t even make it to the Jesus statue, we did however go into the ‘City Centre’ marked by a huge open drain next to the roundabout on Christmas Eve. More backpackers arrived on Christmas Eve so it turned into a bit of a drunken celebration, all be it not a very festive one. Not even a muted whisper of Wham! On the way back from the bar we did pass thousands of people in their Sunday best fresh from Christmas Mass, each one wanting to shake hands and wish us a Happy Christmas
During the night out we learnt about strikes at the airport but we were lucky as our plane was the only one that was still going. Or so we thought.
We got a taxi to the airport early the next morning, it actually looks more like a bus station. We were greeted by a chap in a fake Man United top who informed us that they were deciding whether to open the airport today and that we should sit and wait. We seemed to be the only passengers there as all the other people were sat around arguing, only the security staff wore uniforms the others just seem to wear their comfy clothes. I sat there watching them argue for a couple of hours as Paul who was hungover tried to sleep it off, until one of the security guys approached us and said there will be no flight. Great, Christmas in East Timor. There was no one to even talk to about rearranging flights, but as we were considering what to do we noticed a small man in sarong arrive and start causing some grief, he looked as if he was dishing out some bollockings and there was even a bit of movement and doors opening. The little guy seemed to do the trick, 10 minutes later we were being ushered towards the check in desk – the flight was back on.
From there the airport process was pure comedy. First check-in; one of the men who had been arguing earlier in the waiting area donned an orange vest pulled out a small netbook laptop and proceeded to check us in, it looked as if he was writing our details into Microsoft Word. He then gave us our boarding passes and dumped our luggage through the hole in the wall. Next was security; there was a bag scanner and a metal detector but it seemed that once again the plain clothed operator couldn’t be bothered to switch it on and so instead asked what we had in our hand luggage and ushered us through to the departure lounge. From here we were joined by 5 other passengers and only had to wait a short time before boarding the small aircraft. The guy that had originally greeted us in the Man U top was now preparing the flight plan with the captain and taking the opportunity to rob a mini coke from the catering trolley. Anyway after all the commotion it had only taken around half an hour for the staff to do all they needed to and we were off to Australia, all be it with Paul still heavily hungover and requiring the use of both sick bags. Great Christmas day so far!