Today is sadly our last day in Ubud. I have gotten comfortable again in our not so clean but big with kitchen room, if only I could have the one without the rooster. On the agenda today is errands. We have a few things to pick up, a trip to the post office, pack….ugh! I hate errands.
After I popped out for a few last minute things we set about packing some stuff up to be shipped. I had picked up two kites for Z&L and the time and effort James put into first putting them together to make sure they were all there to the making a box to fit and protect….I’m not sure it was worth the measly bit I paid. Lol but they are cute.
Then we walked down to the post office. “sigh” About an hour later we walked back, all three boxes in our hands. The kites were going to cost $40, the box of miscellaneous crap (beer bottles, Bali recycled glass beads, James’ dress shirt-i.e. non-t-shirt- he hasn’t worn…) was going to cost $65 and a tiny envelope with a hair stick - $25! After ranting for a bit we got our miscellaneous crap box down to a smaller size (I had to give up a silly wicker basket) but the kites and hair stick would have to wait. We thought we might try the airport for those. We looked up the prices online and they were clearly out of whack. James went back with our one box we had re-sized and asked them to weigh it again, then asked for a breakdown in price. Once the packing and wrapping fee was bartered to a better number it was at least affordable. About $35. The rest I guess we can deal with later.
Then it was a packing, sorting yucky afternoon followed by dinner out. We crawled into bed early and wondered what tomorrow and East Timor would bring. There is so little out there on what to do and see and what to expect (which is what attracted me to it in the first place) and we were excited.
I almost peed my pants reading the "rules"
Our airport pickup was a few minutes late and James was already asking “So, how long do we give him?”. We are so used to these things being late and someday, we figure, just not showing that we agree ahead on the time we frantically wait. We finally heard a guy call us and we were waved into an alley a few feet away. He loaded us in and, rather quickly, on a crazy nicotine (my first guess was acid) withdrawal twitchy as hell drive got us the airport in record time, I’m sure. We checked our flight, it was a bit early, but still allowed us (James) enough time to go look for the post office that was supposed to be here. I sat and had a scorched coffee. James returned, box in hand and a little grumpy, saying a great big “I told you so”. So I, not one to be discouraged, tucked my box of kites under my arm and said I’d ship it from East Timor. James scowled even more fiercely, although I didn’t think it was possible.
Our flight didn’t end up being early, a few minutes late actually, but we got a snack (of breaded shrimp – almost all Asian airlines do fish or seafood in their meals/snacks, sorry James) and free drinks.
Snapshops of main street Dili
We landed at 1:30 and were greeted by UN workers and a wall of heat. It felt, and looked, a bit Caribbean. We grabbed our bags, after we had a confusing time at immigration (I had to pee and they let me go through and come back and the box of kites raised questions) and then a cab without any trouble. The airport is very close to the city centre, where we were headed, and within a few minutes we were getting our first glimpse of Dili, East Timor’s capital city.
The first thing I noticed was the dust. Other than the main road we were on, almost all roads, driveways and parking lots were dirt. The buildings were one or two story and a mix of deserted and half falling down and all a little rough; mostly made out of concrete blocks, corrugated tin and wooden panels. As usual in this part of the world, there were goats, pigs, chickens and kids running everywhere.
We checked into our hostel, the one and only true hostel in East Timor, and were a little less than impressed. It was a run down, dirty house full of add ons and hall ways that lead nowhere. There was a court yard out back with a bar, which was nice. We unfortunately reserved late for their busiest weekend, ever I think, and got stuck in the very full dorm, a jammed backed room where you couldn’t walk straight between the beds. East Timor is a bit expensive so we’d suck it up. Side note: What makes it so expensive is the presence of so many highly paid UN and NGO workers and I suspect in the next few years as the first wave of tourists come, likely backpackers, this will change and prices will come down and value for money will go up.
Once checked in we went off for a bit of exploring and to get some information on bikes for rent and diving. We started at the dive shop, Timore Lorosae, and were very impressed with Marianne. She was friendly, provided more than enough information on the diving, Dili and East Timor in general that we ended up having lunch in the dive shop restaurant and booking 5 nights at the end of our time in East Timor when we would be diving, they also offer dive instructors a free day of diving, very nice! It will be a nice treat to look forward to: they have hot water, a clean kitchen we can use and I think I saw duvets on the beds. OMG a duvet! We then priced motor bikes and headed back to the hostel to read their newest addition of East Timor Lonely planet and plan our time here.
After a quick breakfast we headed out for our walk of Dili. It was a very interesting walk. Dili is a busy town filled with UN, NGO and charity workers and locals still pretty much doing things they’ve always done; sell fish and hang out by the water front. The presence of UN workers is hard to miss; it’s something like 5000 in a population of 1 million. At one point I saw five UN trucks parked in a row. It was conflicting images to say the least. Dili also has some great international restaurants and the grocery stores have a good stock of international goods – thanks to all the expats I guess.
After visiting a craft shop/charity for local women we went to Chega Exhibition. It’s housed in a former Portuguese, Fretilin and Indonesian prison where countless human rights violations occurred and hundreds of resistance figures were interned by the Indonesian military. Chega is Portuguese for “no more, stop, enough” and the expedition is set in the buildings and cells of the prison and gives visitors a glimpse of the realities of the struggles the Timorese have had in the last 40 or so years. It was sad and humbling but amazed me how for generation after generation the East Timor fought for their freedom. No matter how hard it got, no matter who was invading…..they kept holding out for freedom. Quite remarkable.
It all started around the 16th century when the Portuguese landed, looking to plunder the island of its sandalwood. From that time on East Timor’s history had been turbulent and tragic. The Portuguese battled with the Dutch for control of the island, then the Japanese occupied the island during WWII only to be then invaded by the Indonesian; which at one point consisted of more than 20,000 troops and was the start of a 24-year struggle that cost the lives of more than 100,000 Timorese. On August 30, 1999 an overwhelming 78% of Timorese vote in favor of independence, despite an Indonesian-backed bloody campaign of intimidation, and the Indonesians went on a rampage. UN troops were evacuated and Indonesia destroyed building, bridges, homes…pretty much all infrastructure in East Timor. The country was left crippled, without a proper government or homes, roads, food. The East Timor achieved their independence at a very high price. Mark, the dive shop owner who came here just after Indonesia left, said that everything was on fire or burning, there was nothing, absolutely nothing left. He was here as a surveyor going around mapping out roads and he shocked us with the stories.
Kids fishing off the main street
Microlet, local bus
After the long and often bloody struggle East Timor finally achieved independence on May 20, 2002, but the first decade of independence has been far from smooth. In December 2002 riots erupted in Dili out of frustration at the unyielding economic hardship and the slow pace of reform. Demonstrators saw few, if any, opportunities for advancement or unemployment in an economy without a functioning private sector and almost entirely dependent on foreign aid. The fighting, east-versus-west, peaked in 2006 when violent rioting drove thousands of Timorese from their destroyed homes. Peacekeeping forces finally return and with yet another change in government leadership, to Jose Ramos-Horta, things started to calm down. 2008 saw more tragedy when Jose Ramos-Horta, seen by many as a hero, was shot. He luckily survived, and peace was kept by the arrival of more UN and Australian forces. Things seem to have stayed calm since, although the guy who shot Jose Ramos-Horta in 2006 was apparently tried and given a full pardon. It was explained to us vaguely as not wanting to hold grudges and that there aren’t enough lawyers/litigators to process all the crime in East Timor and they aren’t categorized in any way so the theft of a purse would be tried the same as shooting the president, in the order they happen. So there is still a little room for improvement. One thing the Indonesian’s also left behind was a lack of trust in law enforcers. So much destruction, corruption and all out nastiness was done by the Indonesian law enforcers and military that the Timorese are leery to trust them now, I don’t blame them – it was these people in charge that were the ones the Timorese watched destroy their country as they left.
Today I feel lucky to be part of a unique and historical time in East Timor. I get to experience a country that is stepping into a peaceful and democratic reality and witness its first few steps into tourism.