Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Timor Leste Life - Part 2

.. and we're back.

So I was saying, we were on a bus to Baucau, the second city, or more like town, of East Timor. The bus was a brightly painted and colourful variety with some great reclining seats. Comfort. Luckily I didn't have to stand in the door like a guy near me did. The whole way the door was open and a few guys were hanging out it. Even after we had off loaded a couple of people they still insisted on standing. The trip was for 3 hours.

We were dropped off in the new town of the city and we wanted to get to the old town, so we hailed a passing Microlet (minivan). There was no grabbing at bags anymore and everyone was happy to help point us in the right direction. In fact even when they were bag grabbing back in Dili they were doing it with smiles. I was just too shitty to notice.

Baucau it seems has seen better days. Like most of the country it was ransacked in 99 by the Indonesians. They were a bit pissed off at the time at being told they were not wanted by the East Timorese, so they went on a rampage and destroyed three quarters of the buildings and a fair chunk of the infrastructure as well. Oh and then there was the mass slaughter they carried out on the locals as well. So the scars are well and truly evident. In Baucau this was seen in the old Portuguese Mercado or main market. The thing is slowly crumbling while kids climb on the roof for fun.

Baucau Mercado
Baucau Mercado

Two nights in the town were enough, possibly even too long, before we had dried up on things to see, so we braved another bus experience to keep going east. We had been told about a magical fishing village called Com, with beautiful beaches at the farthest the road goes, so we were determined to get there. Maybe a little too determined to get there in the end.

The bus we were on went to another town, Los Palos. Com was on a turn off about 20km before Los Palos. We asked others on the bus if we could get off at the turnoff and catch a microlet to Com. They all said yes. So we jumped off at Lautem, the point where the road splits. At a small market nearby we asked the same question regarding the microlet and got a laugh. It seems they only run early in the morning if at all. So we decided to just walk up the road to Com and hail a passing car, after all the village was only 20km away and we had all afternoon to get there. We could always walk the whole way.

Which is what we did. There was absolutely no cars for the entire 20km passing in our direction. We hiked in the middle of the road and only saw a couple of motorbikes for 5 hours. It wasn't all bad we did get to walk past small villages, and smile and say "boatardi" (afternoon) numerous times to greet everyone we saw. And this was returned with a "boatardi" and a big smile back. We also passed, wallowing buffaloes, countless goats, long stretches of beaches and a small green snake according to R. Then there were the pied piper moments when about 20 kids followed us as they headed off to collect water from a water tank. I am sure we were the most interesting thing, with our packs and sweaty look, they had seen all year.

Com was worth it. A guesthouse on the beach, with an attendant who almost became too overbearing and we recovered from our large hike over two nights. Swims at the beach and a few cold beers at the nearby "resort" (a village style one at least) to make us feel relaxed. The food was also some of best I have eaten, especially in E Timor, fantastic fish and nasi goreng. We also determined that we could get a microlet out of town, so we organised it. It just happened to run at 6 in the morning.

So we were off again after the recovery and headed to Los Palos in the hope we could bus from there straight back to Dili. This proved impossible as we just happened to pick the countries Independence Day. Major events were in the works. We were stuck in Los Palos. Wandering through town and looking at some of the average guesthouses, and we stumbled upon a couple of Australians. Volunteers no less. Saviours. We quickly established that volunteer secret code, special handshake and all that, and we were taken under their wings. We were also invited to witness an independence day flag raising ceremony.

Village Food Stop
Bus lunch stop

Off we went. To sit in the VIP tent. Me scruffy looking. 10 day old beard growth, sandals, dirty T-shirt. It was a laugh. So was the scene performed. A stilted march past with the flag accompanied by some music that seemed ominous and Stanley Kubrik like to being with and then became almost Benny Hill-ish. It was hard not to laugh. I whipped out the big camera and looked like a foreign journalist and got some extra kudos.

Next day we back off to Dili. This time a 5 hour bus ride and another pre-dawn rise. The journey was ordinary apart from some incidents near Dili that caused some alarm. A few rocks thrown on the roof, a guy lying face-down in the road. Later this could have meant an ambush and robbery could have occurred. Not so much unlike PNG after all.

One last night in Dili and then it was off to the airport. We weren't going through the UN check through but instead to the Merpati, counter to check-in for the Bali flight. Which is where I currently am. And what a contrast to East Timor this is. But that is another tale.

p.s. It seems we left just in time. A few problems have now re-erupted over there.

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