You might get robbed while coming out of the Dili Airport”, a friend of mine in U.K. cautioned me over the phone when I told him that I am going to East Timor for a backpacking trip. I was a bit worried but not particularly alarmed when I landed at the Dili Airport. With no apparent hassles I hired a ramshackle taxi with a cheerful driver. I was delighted to meet people on the streets, in the restaurants, near the harbor, at the shops, in the offices and youngsters coming out of schools and colleges. They were all friendly. I could enter the Prime Minister’s and the President’s Office without any security check or ID Identification which is not possible in many countries including mine. Why should I go by what is written about East Timor on the internet and in the books when I find their writings contradictory. I went by my own philosophy that this world is beautiful and so are the people living in it, provided we look at them with an open heart, mind, without any prejudice and with the same affection as one looks at their own family members. People are nice all over the world. Why to have preconceived notions about anybody on the basis of their geographical locations. After all they all are humans at heart.
Day 1: 3rd March, 2013
Singapore – Denpasar – Dili (4th March)
|At Dili Airport, East Timor|
03.35 p.m.: I am sitting at Gate C-24 of Changi Airport, Singapore, waiting for flight (Air Asia) to Denpasar. The plane has just arrived and in about 25 minutes it will fly from here. I boarded M.R.T train from Orchard State at Orchard Street, the most famous shopping area of Singapore. Today is Sunday and this place is too crowded. Lots of Philippine women, working in Singapore, collect here on Sunday to chat or to do some shopping or sending hard earned money to their respective homes. I have all praise for them as they are honest, hardworking and bold women who work in shops or at home. Underground train came out to open line after 3-4 stations and then there were high rise buildings consisting of hundreds of flats.
6.55 p.m.: We have landed at Denpasar, Bali airport.
|At Bali Airport, Indonesia|
There are lots of high rise buildings consisting of small and large size apartments. These are owned by (the) Government Authority and have been given on rent. I got down at 9th Station of Tanah-Merah and on the other side of the platform was the train for the Airport with one Stop at Expo site. People in the Metro were quiet and well disciplined even if it was crowded at the time. Singapore is a neat and clean city and so are the train compartments. At the Airport, it was fairly early to follow the sign and go to terminal 1 with the sky train. I checked in at Counter C-24 in a minute and I told the girl at the Counter how quick it was. She replied jovially that some people don’t like such quick service.
I was feeling hungry and so went up to the small food court and enjoyed Texas Chicken wrap with fruits with a glass of sprite for 5.85 $.
Air Asia flight arrived at the gate 24 and within 30 minutes boarding was complete and the plane took off in time at 4.30 p.m. for Denpasar. The plane was Air Bus 320 but seats were comfortable. As usual, I slept most of the time or read the airline magazine which was also interesting. It was cloudy below, so no clear view. The plane landed at 6.55 p.m. Singapore and Bali timings are same.
One has to buy a coupon of $ 25 for arrival Visa at the Bank Counter (there are 3 counters) and then stand in the queue for immigration. There is no separate form and the arrival/departure form given in the plane is enough. No further questions are asked and the passport is stamped for 30 days stay in Indonesia.
I came out and found rows of money changers. The rates were same. 9300 Indonesian Rupiah for US $ and 7500 for Singapore $. I exchanged 200 Singapore $. Outside Taxi drivers came and I told them where to go. One asked for 20$ and I negotiated for 5 $ as the place was nearby.
I reached Surya Inn within minutes. It is inside a row of houses, hotels and guest houses. It is also a guest house. The young man there, showed me a room No.205 on the 1st floor. The room is neat and tidy with A/C and T.V., good bathroom with hot and cold water. He asked 25 $ for a night and I said 20 $. Actually on the internet it was 34 $. After sometime a man in his early thirties, brought a hot cup of Balanese coffee which was strong and tasty. After taking some rest and watching T.V. which was showing same dances, puppet show, Balanese culture show etc. I came down and asked for direction from another young person. He gave me good directions for small restaurants and I walked out to the main road. One has to be careful as there were many pits and footpath was uneven. I walked on the right side and entered a 24 hrs small Store. There were a couple of young persons who were watching T.V. I talked to them for a while and enjoyed it.
|A Balinese Family|
They were cheerful and one of them has Hindu grandmother and Muslim father. He told me they celebrate Ramadan and also Hindu festivals and gave a big laugh. Chatting with local persons gives a good insight to the people’s mind set and also I could get a good feedback of culture and cuisine.
I then walked on the other side and there were many small eating places. I surveyed many and then decided to sit in one which was relatively neat and clean. One could ask for any dish with rice. There was a girl from Java who was speaking good English. She gave me plate of rice with a piece of chicken, two pieces of eggs fried in corn flour, two vegetables and a glass of hot (warm) black tea. Later she brought a bowl of curry with a big piece of toffee. All for 1500 R (1 ½ $) or 2 $. It is a Muslim hotel and Risa, the Javanese girl is also Muslim. But she was wearing a short top like any other girl. There was no sigh on the women working. It is a good, neat and clean house. I chose to sit down on the synthetic carpet and eat on the low table like Indonesians and ate with hands. It was a tasty food. I paid 15000 R and came out. In the end they gave me a bowl of water to wash my hands.
I came to another super store and bought biscuits and salted peas for next few days. It was past 10.30 p.m. when I came to the room and slept immediately.
Day 2: 04.03.2013
8.00 a.m.: I forgot to mention, this is my 3rd visit to Bali. Last one was in 1996. After that was a Bomb blast in a club which ruined Bali’s tourism. But now it is again flourishing. A great number of tourists flock here, particularly from Australia(as it is near to them).
I just finished my complimentary breakfast which was good and enough. A glass of orange juice, a plate of sweet melon, two bread slices with one fried egg and a cup of Balinese coffee. It is a bright day with some clouds floating in the sky. I am sitting in the sitting area, similar to a balcony on the 1st floor which is full of greenery around. This is also a populated residential area also. Putta Luna is young like a school girl, who looks after the breakfast service.
I had 15 minutes quick nap and then came down to check out. I paid 20,000 R (20 US $) for the stay. The elder brother took out his car and we drove to the airport which hardly took 5 minutes.
|Bali Airport View, Indonesia|
Denpasar at Bali Airport is built completely new with world class facilities. I was just chatting with young boys and girls, knowing about them and their life etc. I like to enjoy this way. Check in was quick after a long walk to International Departure. The counter girl asked me if it was very first time to Dili, while the other girl was going through my passport noticing at every visa.
Then I came up to the departure area and paid 15000 Rupiah (15$) as the departure fee and then I had to go through the immigration process. It was again a long walk to gate No.9 which was at the end of the airport. In between there were many shops selling duty free stuff. I took some pictures of a temple built outside. This is a great architecture of Balinese Style. At Gate No.9, I found an Indian sitting there. He is from IT and came to work at Dili in 2007 with his family. He was originally working in Sydney. He had a good opinion about Timor. He said it would become a developed country by 2020. I went through the security and then I am sitting in the lounge waiting to board. It is very cold due to heavy cooling by big air conditioners.
13.05 p.m.:Denpasar time
14.05 p.m.:Dili Time (time in Dili is one hour ahead)
We are landing now. The flight time is 1 hr 40 minutes from the Denpasar. The plane is good and seats are comfortable. Lunch was served to us and it was good. After many months, I got a flight in which lunch has been served. It was boiled beans, potatoes, steamed fish, bun and butter, a chocolate and sweet dish. Beer or juice was also served. I enjoyed the lunch. There are many foreigners. I found two more Indians on the flight. It is difficult to distinguish between people from Indonesia and East Timor. They look same.
8.10 p.m.: As I said the flight was comfortable. We landed at Dili airport at 14.05. We walked to the arrival point have which is like small and made no impression. Airport and Railway Station speak a lot about the city and country. I did not have to check in my baggage but it still took a long time. I bought visa on arrival ticket for 30 $. There were four other Indians in a group who were Auditors coming all the way from India. They were coming for the last 3 years. But their passports were sent to the immigration officer. I also went to him. He asked me a few questions and then gave 4 days visa. He told me that some Indians create problem and so they are more careful. Later I came to know that Sri Lankans and Bangladeshi do overstay or don’t leave the country. They are all called Indians.
I came out and hired a taxi for 10 $ for Backpacker hostel. There was a straight Road and I got down at the gate. I met Rita who is an East Timorean lady who called Dan. He is an Englishman running this backpacker hostel.
|The Backpacker Hostel, Dili, East Timor|
|Furniture Shop, Dili Market, East Timor|
There was an Indian restaurant next to the Petrol pump. It was nice, neat and clean and prices were not high of all the items but some were 3-5 $. Ahmed is the owner. He is from Chennai. I ordered egg paratha for 1.5 $ and ginger tea for 1 $. Paratha was quite large and filling. There is another Indian restaurant further down the road. I came out and walked down towards the sea front. I met many people and chatted with them. They spoke English. Some of them spoke quite well. I walked towards the sea. In between I kept on chatting, smiling and saying hello to anyone when I met.
|Beach Walk at Dili, East Timor|
I decided to take a taxi and not walk for such a long distance. Taxi charged another one dollar and I reached the hostel. It was 8.50 p.m. in my watch and I thought I would go for dinner after some time. Rita, the Timorean Receptionist told me that the gate will be closed at 10 p.m. and when I checked time again with another worker it was 9.50 p.m. already. Then I realized that I forgot to change time in my watch which was 1 hr ahead of Bali time. I rushed to the Indian restaurant and ordered same egg Paratha.
|Sharing moments with fellow Travellers|
Day 3: 5th March, 2013
8.00 a.m.:I had a good sleep. Early morning, it rained like cats and dogs. It was pouring and pondering the tin roof of the entire building. Almondo, the young man who is a student of architecture and staying in background Hostel and I think is Staff’s son, needs money and I talked to him yesterday and agreed to take me on his motorcycle today to Cristo Rei, the large Statue of Christ on the top of the hill in the extreme corner of Dilli.
It should be 7 km or so from the place of my stay. He goes up now. I was ready with a shower and changing of clothes at 9 a.m. and I decided to have breakfast. Today, I went to a Bangladeshi restaurant. The owner was there and I chatted with him. He told me that he came to this place in 2001 and remained here in turmoil also. Many people from India and other country tried to send people here to Dilli in a hope to send them to Australia but this does not really happen. So they had no money to go back. Sometimes local Indians raise money to send them back. That is why immigration here is worry of Indians coming here.
I had breakfast of egg, chocolate and parantha for 2 dollars. Almondo was waiting for me. We started about 9.15 a.m. He gave me one helmet and we drove to Cristo. I did not have any idea that we will have to climb the stairs.
|Off to Cristo Rei, Dili, East Timor|
We port through the same harbor where I came yesterday by the side of the sea, then Governor’s Place, Govt. Buildings, then a Vegetable Market, Restaurants which was not real restaurant but shacks, fishing hotels. These were all colourless, dried wooden shacks. The road was narrow and sometimes full of last night rainy water. He was driving carefully. Then all the shacks had gone and there were green hills. The right side was full of lush green small trees or grass. Sea was on left side. This is called as Timor Sea.
|Timor Sea, Dili, East Timor|
Everything was empty in the road, nobody in the restaurants. Everybody must be sleeping or cleaning. I also noticed shacks of dead corals kept near the road probably to sell. We reached the end of coastal road. Then we came further and there was a water log which made the road slippery and thankfully Almondo was driving very carefully. I was admiring the hills. We crossed this portion. Last bit of the portion was abandoned, there was nobody, there were no shacks. There were lush green hills on right side and left side was ocean. There was a big park where we parked the motorcycle. There was one woman whom Almondo told to look after the Motorcycle. Then I realized that we have to climb.
|En Route to Cristo Rei, Dili, East Timor|
We started climbing the stairs. There were almost 350 steps. There was exact calculation of each segment of stairs. There was no problem in coming up. While coming up, weather was cool and greenery made it easier. Then after some time, there was a small area where we could rest and between the area, there were toilets, sitting area on the right side and there were various statues of Christ different rather browse painting which were showing statues of Christ classification. After I think 45 minutes we reached to a place where this climbing task got over. There was a large sitting area where we could rest. Stairs were narrow, hinges on climb. There was railing on one side. While coming up, we saw a couple was going down and they were probably tourist who went early in the morning. We came up and saw such a beautiful statue of Cristo on Globe, all around water bodies. Somebody actually thought to build up this enormous statue at such a height. Truly a great imagination had gone into it. There is globe on which the statue is sitting.
|The Cristo Rei, Dili, East Timor|
|At Cristo Rei, Dili, East Timor|
We returned back and just after a few minutes, it started to rain. We stopped at one place which was an abandoned building for shelter but were completely drenched.
It was 12.15 p.m. when we reached back to the hostel. I took some rest and made a cup of tea. I paid 10 $ to Almondo but he requested for more. Rita, also said that as a student he needs money. I gave 5 $ more to him and he got really delighted.
I changed the clothes and lied down for some time. It was 3 p.m. when I went for lunch at an Indian Restaurant. I had two chapattis and mixed vegetables. It cost about 4 $. There were three more Indians probably businessmen people. They also told me the same story how India does not have influence here. With no Ambassador or Counselor Services, it is very difficult for Indians. He told me that there are about 150 of them who stay here.
I came back and chatted with Dan, the owner of the backpacker hostel. There was somebody else who started it 6 years back and Dan came in 3 years ago. He is engaged to Rita, who is having one daughter from previous marriage. The day gradually got clear. No clouds and no rain.There is no point in going to another island. I shall be exploring Dilli only. Tomorrow I will go to the Newspaper Officer and also to the Govt. Offices.
7.15 p.m.: I prepared a good cup of Timorese coffee and drank it while writing. I have changed my clothes again.
9.50 p.m.: I came out of the Hostel and walked left side. After a short distance, I found a Motel (Dilli) on the other side of the Road. I crossed the road carefully and entered the reception. There was no one. I walked inside and then came out where some lady saw me and sent a worker to meet me. Then one woman came out. Their minimum price for a day is 45 US $ and 450 $ for a month. It was quite expensive so I thanked her and came out on the road. There was Japanese and Indonesian food restaurant on one side and little ahead on the opposite side was Mamo Reso, an Indonesian restaurant. I sat there for sometime and then went for food which is displayed in a glass covered board. Rice plate is complimentary and then one can ask for any other dish and price is charged accordingly. I asked for Baked fish which was costly, vegetables & egg curry and a can of Tiger Beer. It was for about 6.5 $. Not bad.
I enjoyed the dinner and came out at 9.30 p.m. and walked to the hostel which was not too far. I also found another fish restaurant which was closed.
Day 4: 6th March, 2013
|Street View, Dili, East Timor|
11.45 a.m.: Alwest met me here.
I am sitting in front of Palace-De-Geverno, the Seat of Parliament. I walked out of the hostel and then walked left side. I crossed the Indonesian Restaurant where I had my dinner yesterday and found another good restaurant. It was a neat and clean place selling burgers like Mcdonalds. Its name was Brothers’ Burger. I asked for 4$ chicken Burger after scanning the printed menu for some time. It came with French fries and a can of coca cola. I took my medicine and then ate the burger. I was full. I came out and walked ahead. I found some shops and asked for direction to Portugal Embassy. I found a nice park although it was not well maintained. It contained a Statue of a freedom fighter and a broken chair is depicted with the person there. I asked a girl who was going to office to take my picture.
|Sitting in the park with young students|
In front was the Govt. building which was Palace-De-Geverno. There was no security and I could move freely inside the building. I asked a security guard to direct me to the Prime Minister Office. I gave my card there. Surprisingly, the woman there knew no English but Portuguese only. Someone took my card inside and then came back.
The P.M. was not in the office and he is going to Australia tomorrow. I asked for the President. I was told that he sits towards airport side and I can ask a taxi to go there. I met an educated woman near the gate. She has just come out of her office. She is the Petroleum Secretary. I chatted with her. There is a good possibility of gas and oil exploration in East Timor. I told her, in that case the life here will change drastically and she also hoped so. Her husband is working in the President’s Office. I did not ask his name and hailed a taxi to the President’s Office.
|Prime Minister's Office, Dili, East Timor|
It was a bit far away. I paid 2 $ and came to the gate. I was told to go to another gate on the cover side. Here, the security is good. Many guards are there. I asked for the President’s Secretary. He has gone for lunch (12.45 p.m.) and will come back at 2.00 p.m. I had to wait in open in the sunshine. So I did. Many University/school students passed through me and wished me hello in local Tetum language.
It is 1.10 p.m. only. I began to feel thirsty. But I kept sitting in the shade. At 1.30 p.m., the guard came to me with another guard who was speaking English. The other guard told me that I need to wear trousers and not shorts for entering the President’s Office. I understood that and took a taxi for the backpacker hostel which was nearby, changed into trousers and in the same taxi returned to the gate. Now I was escorted to the Office. After walking a bit, we came to a big area where some sitting area was there. Two dinosaurs’ skeletons are kept there.
|Premises, President's Office, East Timor|
|Guards, President's Office, East Timor|
Outside four guards wearing traditional dresses were standing with Barachha. They were like our Nagaland people and similar dress. As I was coming out, I saw 4-5 big SUVs 4x4 coming. One of them was the Prime Minister. I moved out of the gate. The backpacker hostel was at walking distance.
I came back to the hostel and took rest for a couple of hours.
There is a pack of 5-6 hostellers now. All are young. At least one was of my age. He was an Italian, another one along with him was from Birmingham, U.K. There was a young person from Peru working in Australia and some Australians. Macus from Peru was very jolly. He was offering drinks to everyone including me. I went for dinner to Bangladesh restaurant to eat Tandori Naan and Bhindi Sabzi. It was costly 7 $. Those Indians from Audit party were there. I chatted with them.
I came back and looked at facebook. Sometime later, I don’t know at what time I found Macus fully drunk and helped by his drinking partners to his bed. He was already asleep. I also went to sound sleep. Charles from U.K. was organizing a trip to Mountains and fixed a taxi for 90 US $ to return to same day. He asked me if I will join him and share the cost. I agreed. We have decided to leave at 9.00 a.m.
Day 05: 7th March, 2013
I got up early and was ready by 9.30 a.m. after taking a quick shower. By this time, I had my morning tea also. Rita was preparing breakfast and I also asked for it, although it was costly i.e. $ 4 for omelets and two toasts. Macus also got up and joined in. Now he was fine. He gave me two sachets of cheese. I thanked him.
|Shack Houses near Dili Border|
|A Beautiful Flower, Dili, East Timor|
|With Young Students|
|Teis-Dili Market, East Timor|
10.30 p.m.: I came back and now I felt a bit tired. I think I should lay myself to sleep and write the rest tomorrow morning.
Day 6:8th March, 2013
Today I got up leisurely at 8.30 a.m. It was 9.30 a.m. by the time I got ready after shower. I drank a cup of tea before that. The Rucksack was packed. Today is a sunny day. No clouds and no rains.
|Teis being sold at Dilli Market, East Timor|
I asked Almondo, the young person who drove to me an 2nd day to go to Teis market.
|Market, Dili, East Timor|
1.20 p.m.: We did some survey and I bought the teis one for 22 $ and other for 28 $. Both are really good. We returned back and I went to Bangladesh Restaurant for some breakfast. Egg Parantha with chutney was good value for 2 $. This restaurant has slight edge over Indian Tandoori Restaurant run by a South Indian.
|Teis being sold at Dilli Market, East Timor|
I am sitting in the boarding lounge of the Dilli Airport. I asked someone to take a couple of pictures of mine at the airport. Here English is spoken or understood well. This is small airport not well organized but no problem. I checked in at 1300 hrs. In fact there are two flights within a gap of 1 hr 25 minutes. Mine is later.
I bought 10$ airport taxi ticket and passed through immigration and security within 10 minutes. The sitting hall is also enough for one flight. There are fans and ACs with good cooling system. I met Charles who was going by the earlier flight. Now I am resting and waiting for boarding. Flight has not come yet.
2.30 p.m.: It is delayed. My wafer chocolate saved from last flight meal came handy now when I am feeling hungry.
This airport is by the side of the sea like airport at Denpasar and Changi, Singapore. Let me sum up my visit to Timor Laste. Most of the stuff written on internet sites about the country is old and needs update.
For Example: There is no security problem if there are a tourist walking in the street or taking taxi in Dilli.
It is true that Dilli airport is small and disorganized in comparison to International airports but not a disaster as described in the site. It is like many Asian airports which date back to 25-30 years ago. Accommodation is at reasonable cost of 25 $. Only backpacker has low standards but the services are good. Food is costly in dollars and so is the shopping. Taxis are expensive but not too expensive.
No good public transport system although microlet (small bus) is used but it is always crowded. Long distance places can be reached by hiring expensive taxis on 4 x 4. Roads are really bad. It requires guts to drive. Although people may be poor but they are dressed properly and are welcoming.
The flight has come at 2.55 p.m.