East Timor

East Timor

View of Dili

The first stop on our 10 day trip was East Timor. There are not that many flight options to East Timor. The only international flights into Dili are from Singapore, Bali or Darwin. The easiest way to get there from Hong Kong is to fly via Singapore, but it requires an overnight stop-over in Singapore. I left Hong Kong on a late evening flight on Jetstar, which got me into Singapore at around 1 am, and I stayed over in the Ambassador Airport hotel, which is basic but nice. The hotel is inside the terminal, so you don't go through immigration. The only weird thing about this is, that if you are on a budget airline, and cannot check baggage through, you cannot pick up your luggage. Instead I was told to just leave it on the conveyor belt and rely on being able to pick it up the next morning at the Lost and Found counter. I was a bit nervous whether that you would really work, but it turned out to be no problem at all. My bag was waiting for me outside the Lost of Found counter in the morning.

The Air Timor flight from Singapore to Dili, which is operated by Silk Air, leaves Singapore early morning and it's a 5 hour flight to Dili. The weather was very clear and I got some great views of Timor Island, which is quite mountainous and very green and lush. The first thing I noticed as we got off the plane is how hot it is here, it must have been at least 35 degrees. The immigration formalities at the very small Dili airport were very quick and uncomplicated. Citizens of most western countries can get a tourist visa on arrival, which costs US $30. (The US Dollar is the official currency of East Timor.)

East Timor (or Timor-Leste to go by its Portuguese name) has been a sovereign country only since 2002. The population of just over 1 million  is predominantly Catholic. The country occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor. (West Timor is part of Indonesia.) East Timor was first reached by Europeans in the early 16th century and was a Portuguese colony until 1975. Soon after gaining independence in 1975 however, the country was invaded by the Indonesian army. Indonesia declared East Timor as an Indonesian province and continued to occupy the country while brutally repressing any movement towards independence until 1999. In 1999 East Timor became a UN protectorate for three years until full independence in 2002. Officially East Timor now has one of the fastest growing  economies in terms of GDP growth in the world, but this is entirely driven by offshore oil and gas exploration. And there is very little evidence that the general population, the majority of which still lives in extreme poverty, is benefiting at all from the country's oil wealth, which instead seems to fuel widespread corruption.

Jen went ahead a couple of days before me to visit her friend, who has 3 year old daughter and has been living in East Timor for many years.They all picked me up from the airport. We were staying in the Discovery Inn hotel right in the center off town. The room was fairly basic, but nice and clean. And to my surprise it even had Wifi in the room. It was a bit slow but useable.

We went on a little walk around the city in the afternoon. The streets were quite busy with cars and lots of motor bikes. There isn't a whole lot to see in Dili itself. The parliament is quite an impressive large white building. Dili is right on the coast and walking along the waterfront we had some very nice views across the Banda Sea to Atauro Island.

In the evening we drove a few kilometers along the coast to the East of Dili to a very nice restaurant right on the beach, which served a fusion of Cape Verdean, Portuguese and Timorese food.

Sunday, March 24th:
The next morning we got up early and after breakfast on the very nice roof top of our hotel, Sophia picked us up and we drive out along the Coast to the East again for our hike up to the large Jesus statue, which can be seen from Dili on the top of the small mountain peninsula. We parked near a very nice beach and went on an hour long hike along the coast and up the stairs, which goes pass several niches with sculptures representing the stages of the cross. The Jesus statue on top is 27m high and stands on top of a globe.

The views from up here were amazing. On one side we could see Dili across the bay, and on the other side there was the mountainous coast with beautiful and totally empty beaches.

We walked back to the beach where we parked and had breakfast right on the beach. This seemed to be the main Sunday morning hang-out of the expats living in Dili. The beach was full of Western families with lots of children, and they all seemed to know each other.

In the afternoon we first drove up into the mountains behind Dili, where we stopped at the War Memorial, which is quite interesting. We watched a short video about Australian soldiers who together with East Timorese volunteers fought a guerrilla style war in the mountains against the Japanese, who occupied Dili during World War II. Afterwards, we walked up the road for short while where we had absolutely amazing views over all of Dili, which looked a lot more beautiful from up here than it did close up.

Later in the afternoon we drove further along the coast to the West of Dili. We stopped at the ruins of an old colonial prison, then drove for another 2 hours along the not very good road. At some places the road was completely swept away, and we had to navigate around car sized holes in the road. Our destination was a large colonial fort in Maubara. Unfortunately we got there a little late, and they closed the doors of the fort just in front of us. But the walls and gates were quite impressive from the outside as well.

Our drive back to Dili was a little more eventful than we had hoped for, as first Jen and then her Sophia's daughter got very sick. We did briefly stop and have some food on a beach near Dili. There were huge numbers of people on the beach and lots of BBQ stands, where you pick out your meat and fish on a stick and then they grill it for you and bring it to you on the beach.

We didn't stay very long as Jen was really not feeling well at all. And since Sophia's daughter got sick in the car, I also got the experience of driving through Dili myself as Sophia needed to sit in the back her. I managed to get us safely through Dili traffic, which was made even more exciting by the fact that it was during one of Dili's very frequent black-outs and the streets were completely dark except for the car lights. Despite that unfortunate end to it, we had a fabulous day in East Timor.

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