I usually avoid Western fast food when I’m travelling (at at home, too). But after two weeks of Indonesian style food from roadside cafes, the Burger King in Dili was an overwhelming temptation. Just once … forgive me.
The next contrast between East and West Timor is accommodation: it is inexpensive in West Timor (and most other places in Indonesia), but fiendishly expense in East Timor. Considering that it is a poor country, this makes no sense.
We visited the Museum of East Timorese Resistance in Dili. In the language of a professional travel writer it might be described as “moving”, but I’m going to say it was a full-on Kleenex experience. Australians were largely oblivious to the suffering of our near neighbours, and we were deeply complicit in the Indonesian invasion of 1975.
Since the invasion, our support for the ravaged nation has been so inadequate that they have effectively become another Indonesian province anyway. Indonesian is spoken more widely than English. East Timor had to invoke protection from the United Nations to prevent Australia from encroaching on its borders, a matter related to valuable gas deposits. The experience left me deeply ashamed.
As a traveller I try to support local businesses. In East Timor this means getting away from foreign-owned hotel and businesses. We headed off to Mount Remelau, the highest mountain in East Timor. The ride from Dili to Maubisse took about 8 hours. This was greatly affected by roadworks along the way, with the bike plowing through heavy mud almost up to the footpegs in places. This was the only time the Yamaha Scorpio was really not up to the task: the front guard became clogged with mud and made the front tyre perpetually slick. I was not really able to steer, I could only maintain control by balance.
The riding experience was at times pure white knuckle, passing less than a metre from heavily loaded 10-tonne trucks, and having only limited steering control. One truck in front of me kept losing control up steep inclines and at one stage spun around completely so that it was facing back down the hill. I was afraid to get close enough to pass until it was delayed by other traffic.
Maubisse is about 15 km down a cobble-stone road. Very, very rough. And in the steady rain the stones became slippery, so it wasn’t an enjoyable stage. We were very happy to reach Moubisse late in the evening.
Its’ the usual deal to catch sunrise at Mt Remelau: get up at 3 am and start hiking. It is quite steep. My riding jacket was the only “warm” clothing available so I had to wear that. It soon became too hot, then very inconvenient when I had to carry it. Tip: take a sweater.
We also took a day trip from Dili to Atauro Island. We went on the smaller passenger-only fast ferry, but returned on the larger roll-on / roll-off ferry. Actually the trip takes about two hours either way. I decided not to take the bike because there are hardly any roads. Tip: buy the ferry ticket the day before. Only spruikers have tickets available on the day of travel.
Atauro has snorkelling, all of two minutes boat ride from the resort. The operator, an ecologically-minded expat Australian, said the corals were rated by a German dive magazine as one of the 10 best snorkelling reefs in the world. Do it!
It’s been said in a myriad of other blogs and travel stories but I will say it anyway … there’s no nightlife in Dili. If rockin’ joints or dance clubs are your thing, you will be disappointed. That’s not what East Timor is about.