And so the traveller moves on, through new lands and to a very new country. I have just spent the last eight days in Timor Leste, also known as East Timor .. the newest country on the planet. And it was a trip that was well .. to steal a tour company's name (and one that we also kept bumping into) .. was intrepid .. but also really great. I like the place. It has potential with a capital P. It just needs to get back on the path.
The trip was also one that had a few anxious moments. Not least before I had even stepped into the country. There was a heightened level of tension that was around in the weeks before going. Images of riots in the capital Dili, were splashed across media sources. The family was worried. I was .. to be honest .. a tad nervous. The unexpected always does that. Government travel advisories were telling people they should reconsider their travel. I reconsidered for a moment before committing myself. It can't be that bad, can it. After all I lived in a land of inherent violence for 2 years. Let's see how this compares.
Also I had an ace up my sleeve. The volunteer network. There are more AVIs in East Timor than PNG I was to find out. And luckily I was in contact with them. Things it seemed were not so bad on the ground as what some news grabs can make out. Isn't it always the case.
So I met up with my travel mate, R, in Darwin, and we got up ridiculously early to get out to the airport for our flight. Check-in, wait around, spy on the other passengers (gun runner, CIA, journalist, NGO officer?) and then out onto the tarmac for the safety demonstration by the pilot and into his little plane, bend over at right angles to get to the seat, and we were off. Nearly two hours later the twin prop thing touched down in Dili and we were walking to the terminal.
First step was to get our visa. This was a site shed. Inside a counter and a couple of officers. US$30 was handed over with the passport and a visa was issued, no photos or forms, just a big rubber stamp into a page. One of the easiest visas I have ever got. Next step was to meet up with some of the volunteers I had been contact with. A taxi into town, through dusty streets and past motorcycles and ramshackle and sometimes burnt out buildings (legacy from the Indonesian rampage back in '99) and to a beachside hotel for breakfast. Rhoslyn was the main point of contact I had and she turned out to be an organisational queen. Over breakfast she gave me a SIM card for my phone, a map, marking out places of interest, other hints, and organised a cheap room and even hailed us a taxi to get there. This travel thing couldn't have been more easier.
First impressions are always weird. For Dili, after walking around the first afternoon, they sort of go like this. A goat tied up underneath the peace park sign, a dog carcass completely mummified on the street (why hadn't it been removed?), lovely white vehicles with big UN letters on the side, taxis roaming past honking to see if you want to hire it (no I am happy walking thanks), a giant Jesus at one end on the harbour and beautiful beach side cafes catering for UN staff. And above all it was safe. You could roam around quite happily and there was no razor wire or worries. I wanted to volunteer here. Not a bad gig at all. And there was a selection of beer from all over.
We spent two nights in the capital before we decided to head east on a bus. This is where the travel turned intrepid and adventurous. So far it was easy. We got up early to get a taxi on the road out of town to the bus terminal. And when we got there the fun started.
Kids swamped the taxi, all of them from different buses. Doors were flung open. The boot popped and my pack taken out. My day pack grabbed at. And this is all before we had paid the driver. The driver asked for $5, way too expensive, but I just gave him a note and jumped out. My bag had disappeared and I was pissed. The bag in R's arms was being grabbed and tugged at her by a bunch of kids. I yelled "hey, hey, hey" loudly and they all stopped. Then I shouted "where is my bag", any thought of using Tetun, the national language, was forgotten. Some of the kids knew what I meant and pointed to the nearest bus. Inside the empty thing I found my bag perched proudly up on a seat. I boarded grabbed it and we stormed up to the front of the bus queue, where there was an almost full bus, ignoring the pleas of the kids to jump on theirs. Not long later our chosen bus started and we were off to Baucau, sharing the ride with prize cock-fighting roosters.
To be continued ..