Tuesday, October 23, 2012

And You Thought You Had Problems

I went to see my boat contact on Monday morning. The boat had already come and gone ... though only to the south coast of the island, and would be back on Friday. This has left me with a dilemma: do I stay for a further four days in the hope that I will be taken when they return, or do I give up now and jump on the next plane out of town. I've already invested a good deal of time into getting this ride that it would seem a shame to surrender so close to a possible victory. Yet I'm also feeling restless as there is only so much that East Timor has to offer. Plus I would be mortified to overstay my welcome with Caroline (and her long-suffering housemate Gabe) and become an irksome burden for her, who has shown me so much kindness and hospitality - far more than I could have asked for. So whilst I ponder my next steps (the pessimist in me having already decided that no matter what my decision it will surely be the wrong one) I have decided to write about East Timor and its current situation, as it is not only a country that garners little attention in the international consciousness due to its (let's face it) insignificance, but also because its problems are unlike those of other Asian countries and are more akin to those of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Indonesian-era integrasi monument, depicting a personification of East Timor breaking free of its colonial chains (although it fails to show the new, almost identical, Indonesian chains being added soon after). It strikes me as strange that such a monument is still standing in downtown Dili (and similar, less grandiose, versions throughout the country).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

When My Ship Comes In

Before leaving Dili for my little tour of the country I had spent a few days owing around town in my (misguided?) quest to try and get to Australia without flying, the elusive Holy Grail of overland travellers. In fact just before leaving Indonesia I had received an e-mail offering just that from a private yacht planning to skirt north around New Guinea and hit Australia's east coast. Unfortunately the timetable was such that I would have had to have gone immediately, thereby forfeiting the possibility of seeing East Timor and Caroline. Although it pained me the choice was obvious. So instead I had to resort to printing out some flyers with my contact details and going round the city's hotels, dive centres and other places where foreigners congregate in the hope of catching the eye of someone with a boat … going to Australia … soon. A long shot I knew, but in the absence of a marina where yachtspeople could moor and be easily approached it was my only hope. I didn't fancy my chances as the main sailing season had already passed; but hope springs eternal.Upon returning to Dili one of my contacts told me that a boat heading in my direction is scheduled to arrive the next weekend. And so I have made that my deadline: if I don't manage to get a ride on it, or with some other boat that may turn up until then, I'll cut my losses and fly. In the meantime I had to find a way to keep myself occupied...

The statue of Maria atop Mt Ramelau, Timor's highest peak, catching the sunrise over a sea of clouds. I could use some divine intercession to help me find a boat to Australia.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tour De Timor

Like all capital cities Dili is not representative of the country at large. The relative order of the city and the small, but noticeable local middle class, driving SUVs and the youngsters hanging out in the waterfront park crowded around their laptop screens sharing Youtube clips, obviously bear little resemblance to what life is like for the majority of the people outside the metropolis in this, Asia's poorest country. Determined to see with my own eyes the other reality of East Timor* I left a small, but heavy, box of unnecessary belongings with Caroline and set off on a loop around this half of the island.

The gorgeous Portuguese-era market in Baucau, looking more like a palace than a communal building. Sadly now it's only used for graffiti, as a lavatory, and for grazing goats.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Dili Dallying

The ferry journey from Oecussi to Dili was calm, uneventful, and would have been completely forgettable were it not for the presence of another foreigner aboard. Sometimes I purposefully avoid other Westerners whilst travelling, but I thought that anybody catching this particular ferry and sleeping on deck with the locals in such a forgotten part of the world must have a story worth sharing. There are three types of foreigner to be found in East Timor: those who work for the alphabet soup of INGOs or supranational organisations, such as the UN, Oxfam, MSF, Caritas, the UNDP and so on; the second are those who come to visit friends and family in the first group; and then there is the third group, those who are overlanders and completists, who include East Timor in a larger itinerary, usually linking Indonesia to Australia. Mike was none of these. Instead he was the quintessential eccentric Englishman; a solicitor who had decided to take his annual three week holiday in a lesser-visited holiday destination. He had just spent the past week in Oecussi, a place where most Timorese have never set foot. A rare breed of tourist indeed.

The modern-looking Independence Memorial Hall in Dili is one of the best history museums in Asia.