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Thread: 11.2009 East-Timor

  1. #1
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    Sep 2004

    11.2009 East-Timor

    Sorry for the update delay guys, we've been doing some serious travelling.

    After having completed our journey in Australia we chilled out at Mick's place in Darwin for a while, waiting for our bike to be shipped to Asia. Don't get us wrong though, the only chill we got was from beer and the large pool, since during daytime, more than 35 degrees Celsius was a norm. All the sweating put aside, it was great time - relaxing before the next leg, and listening to Mick's stories about his life and work as a customs officer at the Darwin airport. Who would have thought customs officers could be nice people, but as it comes out, some of them are!

    East-Timor was our next destination.

    It is:
    • The newest country in Asia (independence in 1999)
    • Only 15 000 sq kilometers
    • 1,1M people (hundred or more of thousand killed in the indepencence war)
    • Indonesian troops killed all the infrastructure of East-Timor as a country before UN forced them to leave East-Timor.
    • Only around 1500 tourists per year visit this country!

    Which means: it's UNTOUCHED and a superb place to ride your big trailie bike (and to kill your motorbike's suspension :lol3 )!

    The beauty of the country had already started revealing itself before we even touched the ground. Entering East-Timor air space, the sun had just risen, and below us the green mountains were still asleep under the cool morning mist. The small air strip of Dili sits just by the sea and is fringed with palm trees. What a better introduction to the next leg of our journey after weeks of dry, endlessly flat ground of Australia!

    When we arrived in Dili, first it was weekend, and after that it was a public holiday before we could pick our bike up, so we had plenty of time to look around and get acquainted with the local flavour.

    It is a fragile nation, they say, and in order to protect it and to help it build the infrastructure, the UN is all-present. Already at the airport there were numerous UN-marked aircrafts, let alone the streets of Dili which are infested with UN-cars. So, if you see a foreign person on the street, most likely it is not a tourist, but some military or aid worker implementing some important cooperation or project.

    Due to somewhat disturbingly high numbers of these foreign nationals in East-Timor, the accomodation prices are, in Asian standards, outrageously high, and the food is not the cheapest either. But the UN pays, and so do the others.

    After some days in Dili we could conclude that the foreigners enjoy better the company of people like themselves (so there are many bars where no locals go), and you do not meet them on the beach, socialising with the local crowd. When we went to the town's beach to watch the sun set over the bay, we were the only white people, and to be honest, it felt just nice.

    (Click to enlarge the panorama)

    We do not speak the local language, Tetun, though, and most of our knowledge about Portuguese (the colonial language) has vanished since we left Brazil, so we only can communicate with our face and body. But the local folk don't really care, our smiles are rewarded with their sincere smiles.

    The most smiling are, of course, children. One night we just sat down by some improvised football field by the beach and watched the children play, and others do some work like selling eggs or nuts.

    There is no industry in East-Timor, so most people earn their living through either fishing or agriculture. Be it early morning or late afternoon, you see fishermen come and go with their boats.

    The UN or who ever better do something quick with the local sewage system (currently everything just seems to flow into the sea) - here you see a narrow canal passing by the rear of our hotel and emptying right onto the beach, so we ourselves were part of the army of pollutants!

    After a couple of days we were ready to admit that Dili is not one of Asia's great capitals. It is a small place, and you can see all places there are to see in a day or two. But we had more time, so we did plenty of beach walking, watching the people and watching the waves come and go.

    And cocks, trained for fighting and gambling between village men:

    And although we are not big fans of climbing somewhere in the heat, we still undertook the tourist trail to the statue of Jesus up on a hill just outside of town. It was quiet there (with only UN-guys doing their morning run on the newish looking stairs to keep themselves fit), but looking at the construction activity below (which includes a huge parking lot), it seems like some serious develpoment is under way.

    After we had endured all the public holidays and tourist activities, the bike was finally there, and I could push it out of the container. We were ready to hit the notorious roads!

    What came next was probably one of the most scenic and memorable rides ever. The some 200 kilometers along the north coast to the fishing village of Com were quite good, with some potholes here and there. The main thing is to remain focussed on the road.

    Sometimes the signs were pretty good, too:

    But as the first part of it winded through the mountains bordering the coast, it had lots of curves, and the steep edges of the road very often did not have any railings. For our sadness, we found a memorial to a crashed motorcyclist alongside the road, with a helmet broken into pieces.

    It is a grim truth that motorcyclists are more vulnerable in the traffic, but here, they don't pay too much attention to the safety - often they ride without a helmet at all, let alone other safety equipment. I doubt many of the sons and daughters of this poor country even dream of the fancy gear we're using, with BMW logos and all. We are being stared at where ever we pass, but mostly it is because of our huge bike. Here, a 250 cc seems to be a maximum.

    But there are some amusing things related to driving and traffic here, too. Outside the biggest towns, the fuel seems to be "growing" on trees, i.e. you can buy fuel by the bottle. Just in case, we never tried it though - would not like to have a broken bike here, in East-Timor.

    Another fun thing is that in addition to cramped minivans (which are dirt cheap but always packed) they transport people on trucks. Which does not necessarily mean that it is a safe way to go from one place to another.

    It was interesting to see the remnants of colonial times tucked in the lush tropical vegetation. The old Portuguese buidings are majestic, and look a bit out of the context now that they are not taken care of anymore. In fact, we saw many great buidings that have been abandoned. One of the most striking examples is the former mercado municipal in Baucau.

    The colonisers went, but their faith, Catholicism stayed, and thus the churches and also cemeteries have had more luck.

    As we stopped by one small church in a roadside fishing village, we were immediately surrounded by some twenty children. So what do you do, if you have a bunch of kids looking at you as if you were an alien from a crashed flying saucer, but you do not speak a word of their language? The solution came from the kids themselves, and was so simple and almost obvious, that we felt a bit stupid. They asked us in Portuguese what were our names (sure we could understand that as that is the first question you learn in a language class), and we asked the same question from them. It made them a lot of fun and saved us from the unfomfortable silence that we would otherwise have been bound to. Must remember this simple trick for the future!

    There was also a plenty of buildings the function of which is unknown. Most of them probably date back to the Indonesian times.

    The people live a simple everyday life in simple huts very often made of natural materials.

    (click to enlarge pics and panoramas)

    All the human aspects set aside, the landscapes - ranging from mountain ranges to shady palm groves and atmospheric beaches - are just stunning, rolling out in front of your eyes like candies on a conveyor belt. Or more like artisan chocolates.

    Click to enlarge panoramas:

    But even sweeter treats were to come after Com. From there, a road that was in much worse condition went down south to Iliomar. The more south we got, the less traffic there was. And the reason for that was obvious - the more south we got, the less the road reminded a road. Instead, kilometer by kilometer, it started to look more like a track. And a rocky track, that is.

    It was difficult to steer the heavy bike that was bumbing down the uneven surface, and there probably was not a minute where I did not sorry our poor suspension - it was doing the toughest job since Bolivia, that's for sure! But as always, difficult conditions come with a reward. We rode through pristine jungle and remote villages where there is so little traffic that people would stop what they were doing and look towards the road if they heard a vehicle coming. The kids would all wave to us, and so would many people surprised to see us there. If we stopped, men would come and look and touch our bike, amazed. People seem to be very open here, and very spontaneous.

    Click to enlarge panoramas:


    From Iliomar we headed west, and the track became so bad that we wondered if we even were on the right track. At one point the road just ended and there was a wide river in front of us. We used our satelline phone to call the UN number for road conditions, and although they said the road was difficult, it should have been doable. So what we had to do was to find a bridge that would get us across the river. After some riding around some smaller tracks we were finally on the bridge, and our journey continued.

    We saw the beautiful, deserted south coast of East-Timor, and some local fauna - a huge, black bee.

    Soon (well, not so soon actually, as we were moving pretty slow, some 10-20 km/h) we found ourselves somewhere around Viqueque. The track improved and suddenly we were in a more developed area, with electric lines and wide fields.

    From Viqueque we had no choice but to head back north - our plan to make a circle around East-Timor had failed due to the information given by the UN that there was a bridge missing on the way further west. And our bike had already seen enough tough roads. What we had seen so far had been just mind blowing, and that was what we were taking with us.

    The road north went through mountaneous region, and there were some decent views.

    After reaching the north coast again, we briefly stopped in Dili and headed west, to Indonesia, minds still on this tourist-free wonderland.

    Today there is basically no tourist infrastructure in East-Timor, so if you do go to some vaguely remote area, be sure to follow the guidebooks' advice and take food with you. Roadside stalls will sell refreshments, but more serious food options are hard to find, as are accomodation options (provincial centres only, where there is electricity for couple of hours at night).

    Stay tuned for Indonesia!


  2. #2

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    ever had the feeling you've been cheated
    Fantastic K&M

  4. #4
    Subscriber Click here to find out how to Subscribe
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    Dec 2004
    Northumberland, England
    Great stuff
    We should learn from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism. [/I]

  5. #5
    Next the Tay and elsewhere.... Click here to find out how to Subscribe
    Join Date
    Sep 2001
    Next the river...for now ...
    Great read as always, thanks.....
    And the Planet keeps spinning...

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Csongrad, Hungary. Central Europe
    Awesome, thank you.

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