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East Timor, 2003

Silly Dili

4th November 2003

Dili is very noisy first thing in the morning. Had insomnia last night. Didn't get a wink in. I decided to go up to the roof when I heard the sparrows chirping on our window ledge. The number of rooters in Dili would be in the tens of thousands. Being on the roof, with y eyes closed, was like being in a sea of roosters going off randomly. The roosters seem to set off the dogs who where howling and barking in aimless furry. It's a good thing pigs aren't very vocal. Most of the Malae you talk to here say they can't get a good nights sleep because the rooster go off randomly day and night. I heard that one girl who was staying a little village when nuts and decided to buy every rooster in the village. It cost her about $250 USD and she slept well that night. The next day the villages where so elated with all the money they had most went out and bought even more roosters. Poor woman.

A taxi experience, Dili

On a different note, we're got a taxi the other day.

A taxi in Dili is any kind of vehicle, in any kind of condition, with the letters 't' 'a' 'x' 'i' spray pained onto it somewhere. I saw a two door ute from the 50's, rusty red with taxi written on its door. Some have those little taxi things on top, most don't. Some have AC (air conditioner) and have obviously been cleaned every day of their lives, other you can see the road though the floor and the electric windows don't work (and oh man, do you wish they did without the AC on). They all have some sort of shrine near the steering wheel that gives homage to what ever goods the driver pursues, be it: little statues of the Madonna, little pictures wrapped in plastic of obscure heavy metal bands (maybe they aren't obscure as it not my scene), or semi naked pop princes. What's quite common is little round curved mirrors that come on stands you can stick to any surface. One cab I was in had four or five of then in a row across the middle of the front wind screen. Perhaps he like to keep an eye on his passengers.

It ranges from American country to Portuguese pop to the hard core hip-hop. The microlets are where the music action is on the roads. The drivers are usually making good money so the young ones buy sub woofers and play some sort of low base techno. They are usually so stuffed with people three or four are hanging out the window. The level of noise inside must be deafening to the passengers who have to sit on the speakers.

Anyway, this taxi we go into the other day had a little plaque hanging from hooks off the back bumper, like a mud guard, and had the word 'EROTIC' written on it in three inch high letters. There didn't seme to be any particular reason for it.


Friday 17th - Sunday 19th October 2003

From Dili you can see an Island directly north. It appears in and out of the hazer like a stalker. Ominous and ever present. Well, its a lovely place with white sand beaches (a novelty in East Timor) and surrounded by colourful, fishy reefs. This was the setting for Captain Alex and the Lazy Sarong Weekend!, or at least that was the original idea... (read on to see what craziness Captain Alex got up to next!).

Dili from mountains to the south. Atauro in the distance.

It was a dark and quite peaceful evening. Meeting time was at 1pm but it was evening by the time the troops had assembled and passage to the... densely populated island (pop. 8000) had been arranged, well it was sunset by the time our mighty vessel managed to span the 20km gulf between Dili and the island of mystery, after the boys spent a hour or so hitting the engine with something dull and metallic. Its always mysterious to arrive at a place in pitch blackness. Gives you something to look forward to in the morning.

The plan was to go to round the island and stay at a beach on the north side which, rumour had it, had, the elusive: the 'best beach in East Timor 2003' title (a title that seem to get around and happened to be at every destination I travel to in Timor). So hopes were hopeful to say little of the expectations we were all feeling as we disembarked 6 hours later (yes, that's a average velocity of 5km/hr, given that the length of the island is about 10 clicks).

The skipper ran the boat aground and we all hopped off into lovely cool, knee deep, water and white sand (very promising). Orders were to go 200 meters up the beach to camp, which we did in utter darkness. Osman, a local radio actor and all round crazy dude, assembles large bits of trees that had been washed up to shore and we had a bomb-fire in no time, chap doesn't do things by halves I say!

When I first got on the boat and meet Osman, he was making load Kookabarra on LSD sounds and signing to the world. He later settled down to just signing and to the world and asking "Are you alive?", a newly added phrase to his English arsenal. Osman seemed to embody the lively, juvenile, playful aspect of the Timorese people and managed to keep all our spirits high during the trip. A wonderful person to have around.

Osman and myself slept next to the fire, while the rest had tents and mosquito domes, so nether of us got much sleep on the hard sand (Yes, hard. Sand is not soft, hence sandbags are used to absorb shrapnel and stray gun fire and not 'soft' things like feather pillows or fluffy rabbit dolls. For example. I mean, nobody makes sand mattresses or sand pillows. Can you imagine flopping down playfully onto a completely sand bed).

Saturday, There are beaches and there are beaches

I love the smell of... goat in the morning, Atauro

When dawn finally arouse, we discovered that we were in the barren part of the barren side of the island. Next to a goat pen. I awoke to the twinkling sounds of goats bleating and lying on randomly dispersed volcanic rocks. Not a happy Alex that morning, I can tell you, especially after no din-dins. Never the less a quick swim in the marvellous ocean and a little explore around and all was right in the world. Imagine if every one had a swim in the morning. The world would be a happy place (la-la-lee-la).

The landscape was very arid and there was little to no shade on that beach. We were next to the boat crews village and so purchased an assortment of fish of the local variety. Some were colourful ones from the reef that was 100m off shore. We attempted to construct a shelter from the sun which became quite unbearable near midday and we all baked. It became an unpleasant experience being on that beach as the sun grew hotter and hotter and the tide went out so that even swimming was in ankle deep water that was half boiled from the sun. Musical instruments were brought out and a little jam comenced which took our mind off the heat and all spirits were high again.

Mangrove tree on the shore line, Atauro

In an inlet, just behind where we were camped, there was a little mangrove swamp. The tide was low and there were thousands of little, bright red, crabs with one claw bigger than the other. They where all standing next to their holes in the muddy sand and all popped into their shelters when I came within 2 meters.

After we'd eaten fresh Ikan (fish) and our skin was beginning to resemble the crackling on a roast, it was discovered that the beach we'd been after was actually 30 minute walk along a de-funked road that hugged the coast. It didn't take much discussion and we broke camp, stashed our gear on our land locked boat (which wouldn't be a float again until the tide came back in three to four hours later) and headed for the beach.

The walk was quite easy and the beach was paradise. The shore was lined with big shady trees and there were coconuts available which we purchased desperately. The was a marked difference in the quality of the second village to the first. The local dwellings were better kept, the wasn't any visible garbage and there was shade! By this stage my body had been burnt in all the odd places that I didn't cover up or had missed with sun block. I was exhausted form the previous night so I found a nice quite shady spot and slept the afternoon away.

We eventually headed back to our boat as we were going to go back around the island to a village we had passed in the night that had a malae hotel and where arranged to spend the night. The tide was almost in but the boat needed a little push to get it afloat, and much to the surprise of the locals, who found our efforts quite amusing (they found a lot of stuff about us amusing), we pushed it off (well, I video taped it and the others pushed. Its a tough job but...). There was a bit of trouble with the engine (for about 2 hours) so Johan cracked open a large bottle of Tua Sabu (palm wine that is brewed locally and usually about 50% proof) that was quickly consumed amongst the nine of us. We really didn't care what happened after that. Instruments were brought out and there was music all the way to the hotel at the little village of Tua Koin on the island that we'd passed on our way to the boat mans village the night before.

Sunday of the Sarong

The hotel was run by an Australian woman, Gabriel, who's hospitality was an oasis. She had been there for a few years form what I gathered and seemed to be the most relaxed person I'd ever meet (without the aid of narcotics). The 'hotel' consisted of a half a dozen little huts, some closed and on stilts and others closer to the ground and open to the cool breeze that seemed to bless the place the whole time we where there. There was a larger central hut with a kitchen attached that served as the common dinning area. The tables were on the floor and there were simple flat square cushions to sit on. There was a book shelf with a diverse collection of great books that drew all the malae members of our group to it mentally salivating. Good books are hard to find here as, like everything, they are expensive to import. We were treaded to a large meal of Mei Goreng and fried cabbage with rice when we arrived even though it was late. The place was perfect. I could envisage spending a month or two there in contemplation occasionally broken up by the odd snorkel out to the reef that was about 100m form the shore.

A merry ride home from Atauro

I borrowed Jill's snorkel and Johan's flippers and snorkelled around the reef that seems to crown every beach on the island. The first 100m or so between the beach and the coral was kelp which didn't have much fish life in it to my surprise. The coral reef was alive with fish. There did seem to be a limited variety and very few giant clams even though there was evidence of there being many shells. I got the impression that the locals might be over fishing certain species, and on my way back to shore I passed a local boy who had a spear full of small colourful reef fish. Most of which seemed too small for eating. The coral had also been smashed up a bit and was as colourful as I'd expected, but this might just be typical for islands in this part of the world.

Never the less I was reminded of how much I love snorkelling and I am once again inspired to do lots more of it! There isn't any thing like it. Being immersed in a totally alien environment with different physics. With plants and animals that glow luminescent and are so closely linked with each other. I saw a school of tinny bight blue fish hovering near a canopy of coral. When I moved my hand near them they moved as one, retracting to hover within the coral, giving the impression of a tight symbiotic relationship between the fish and the coral.

After very easy day of eating, reading, chess(!) and of course sleeping our boat arrived to take us home. Three hours late. We picked up four other passengers at the hotel, one of which was a german folk musician who reeled off tunes all the way back to Dili, its bright lights reminding us of morning Monday and how much we'd enjoyed being away on the little tropical paradise...

A typical Sunday in Dili

Sunday 12th October, 2003

Sundays are slow in Timor, with no exception given to Dili. We had a late breakfast this morning of toast and tea, quite a luxury here. Due to the lack of basic infrastructure, you have to buy gas in canisters and so ovens are usually wood fired. This makes any bread you do find ether really good or really bad. The later being mass produced and overly sweet. I'm developing a nasty craving for a variety of baked goods (particularly the stuff from the Greek cake shop in Bourke St, oh of a cheese and cherry strudel!).

Febi is so happy

Yesterday we were lounging at the Tropical Bakery, which is a malae place where they server long cold drinks and have fans instead of AC, as well as an eye for interior decorating (must be the only pace in East Timor!). One of the staff there, Febi, used to volunteer at the Timor Post (Newspaper) and invited us to her house this morning. She is staying at uncles house in a suburb/village of Dili called Bairo Pite on the western side Dili.

Local dwellings

Just off the main road the road is dust and rocks and your in a little village. All the houses are the semi traditional houses with the foundations and, wall up to the knee, being of cement and the rest being made of coconut palms. They strip the leaves and keep the stems of the palm leaves. They then nail or tie these together, side by side, to create the upper part of the wall. Once its try it becomes very hard. The roof is tiled by palm leaves lashed together in an over lapping pattern. Its all very simple but effective and all the materials are really available. There's no shortage of coconut palms in East Timor. If the locals have nothing else to live off they could survive on them. All the trees you see have foot holds cut into them to make climbing easy.

There doesn't seem to be much grass and so the ground is usually grey dust, swept if its a neat village. There was a big fat hog snorting though the litter that was strewn around the outside of the various house perimeters. They are all so tightly clustered together that this means there are clumps of rubbish and still water all over the place. There is no garbage collection in Dili so people burn all their litter, hence the constant smell of burning and melting plastic in the air.

Kids every where

bit of the old sitck and ball, Dili

Some of the local kids were playing pool in a neighboring open shelter. Billiards seems to be a very popular pass time and despite the lack of the basics most villages I've been have a pool table standing in a shelter made from palm leaves. These kids were keeping score using playing cards. The kids of Timor are quite amazing. The will come up to you and shout 'Hello Mister!' and run around in circles before shooting off, or they will smile and wave and look excited when you wave back. They are everywhere and if you stand still long enough you will draw a little crowd of them. So are shy and some are jumping up in your face.

Cock fights

The kids are offend playing in a world of their own since there is nothing to do usually. One of them was carrying a roster like a toy doll. The rooster had a little rope tied around one of its legs, which it continually tried to ignore and flap away. A popular local sport is cock fighting and every day, in the late afternoon the locals bring their prize roosters out and head to the cock fights. The markets I walked though in Maubisse had a crow gathering of local guys in there sarong's and roosters under their arms, so I imagine its a widely loved sport. Febi said she didn't like it much but that her parents were into it.

Uma Lumics I have loved

Two Uma Lumic openings in two weekends. An Uma Lumic (lit: house holy) is atraditionally built house that is the center of all traditional ceremonies andsacrifices in the Timorese culture. They were suppressed under theIndonesian's and thus now they've had enough time to save and build them theyare opening all over the shop. They are so expensive to build because theguys who do it have to use traditional methods to acquire the wood, cuttingit and tying it all together (from rope they have weaved themselves).During the process the builders, who appear to be mainly the elders and adultmen (there aren't that many left of ether, 70% of the population is under25), have to stay on the site and can't leave or do any other work up to sixmonths.


Friday, 12-14th September 2003

The next weekend I went to Viqueque (Vi-kee-kee) on the south side of theisland as I was invited to a Uma Lumic (Lit: house holy) that was opening bya guy I'd meet, Josh, who is the prince of that district form what Iunderstand. Miriam stayed in Dili as she had a workshop to do on Saturdayand it was a 9 hour journey on way.

The lush south coast of East Timor

To get there we had to go via Boucou (bow-cow) which is about 4 hours east of Dili and then directly south from there over the mountain range that divides the island in half, north from the south. The habitat is much lusher in the south side and the North is much dryer and arid, much like the Australian Northern Territory.

The road was bad for most of the journey and, because we where tiring to make it to a village near Viqueque by 8am we woke at 3am in Boucou for the drive south. By the time we got there we were all stuffed and found out thatthe ceremony had been postponed 2 days ago till the following weekend. One of the disadvantages of having no phone lines or satellite coverage in the districts.

We went up to see the Uma Lumic anyway, which was on top of a small mountain with great views over the surrounding country side. Some of us malae camped on the beach which was beautiful. Having a swim as soon as I got out of the mosquito dome.

Josh invited me to his districts Uma Lumic opening near Viqueque on the south side of the island. Timor is divided in half by a mountain range, which divides the weather patterns and as a result the south side is much more lush and green, dense jungle, typical of Indonesia. The Northern half, where Dili is situated, is much more dry and arid and resembles the dryer parts of Australia's Northern Territory. To get to Viqueque one has to drive to Boucou (bow-cow) and then drive almost due south across the mountains. The further you get from Dili the worse the roads get.

I got a ride with Steve in his beat up van. A 4WD, and boy do you need it. The road between Boucou and Dili is of fair quality if not a little windy near Dili. Beyond that the road rapidly degrades the further you go. In some parts whole sections of the road have dropped away. The villages, on the other hand, get nicer in the outer districts. They are more traditional farm based communities and seem to be cleaner generally (apart from the constant burning of... stuff)


Friday, 19th-21 September 2003

The following weekend, Miriam was invited to another Uma Lumic by a local member of parliament she had been working with on media law, a Manuel Tillman. This one was in a village, Fatubisse, near Maubisse in the middle of the mountains south of Dili. The road was very windy an the local driver was going as fast as he could, which was only about 40kmph but we all felt queasy in the back seat by the end of it.

The Pousada hotel

We stayed in a nice old Portuguese style hotel, the Pousada, mounted on a little panicle surrounded by mountains. It had a beautiful view in all directions and it was quite cool in the evening, which was a pleasant change. A brochure form the Portuguese company that owned and ran the hotel had commented that its architecture was "typical of the region". We all found this quite amusing since it and the church were the only Portuguese buildings in the region. The locals all lived in traditional houses with thatched roofs. There seemed to be a problem with water in Maubisse and we discovered that you had to 'order' for the water to be turner on for your room. Considering we were paying $50 USD a night, three months wages for an average Timorese (apparently they double it just for the weekends), making it one of the most expensive places outside of Dili, we were unimpressed. Since its the only hotel in town, we had nothing to say about it.

Uma Lumic ceremony

So remember to brush three times a day plus floss!

The Uma Lumic ceremony was very Christian and a bit dull as a result. Perhaps if christianity wasn't so boring it would be more popular (but I don't want to go into that). I heard later that the one near Viqueque on at the same time was much more lively and festive. It started out with a catholic mass on top of a steep hill overlooking the uma lumic. Again due to every party involved being late it didn't start until about noon and we all got fried in the sun. Miriam got particularly badly burnt on the shoulders and my bottom lip was in blisters for more than a week afterwards.

Every body got a drum, Fatubisse

The ceremony then proceeded to a Portuguese style grave yard near by all white and aqua blue, where respect was payed to the dead. While we were doing this the old folks of the village where getting warmed up banning drums and gongs, and was a much welcome relief form the morbid Christian part of the proceedings. The crowd, of about two to three hundred attended from the local surroundings, moved back to the village where they were greeted by the elders who where done up in feathers colourful native looking numbers. The little band consisting of two people with one drum and a gong player or two would randomly burst into heavily syncopated noise for a couple of minutes at a time. The elders would dance/float around at this in circles and then stop again with the music. Some sort of handing over chanting was done with Manuel Tillman by the elders and then we all ate, and I mean all. Food, mainly roast cow, but possibly house of buffalo, steamed out continually while we were there. The elders danced on and off with the music which started and stopped every five minutes. This went on till 6am the next morning.

Maubisse and its market

We spent the next day in the hotel recovering form out burning and admiring the view. We hand lunch in Maubisse at a local restaurant (the only restaurant) opposite the market place. Miriam and I shared a Mei Gorang (lit. fried noodles) which was pretty good and one of the few dishes available in Timor due to limitations in produce and cooking ingredients.

While we waited for lunch we were entertained by the local crazy woman who was the source of much amusement to the locals. She looked in her 50s and had shortly cropped hair, unusual for Timorese women. She ranted about something and the owner of the restaurant tried politely to stop her entering multiple times. She was obviously disturbed by out presence. She ended up throwing horse manure on the bonnet of our 4WD and walking off into the market ranting loudly. Another old guy, who seemed to be a few roosters short of a cock fight, went a bit funny at us after we refused him money.

There was a general uneasy feeling about the place for us malae. It is the only time I've felt unwelcome in Timor. After lunch we had a stroll though the market place. It was very dismal and all eyes watched us as we moved though. From the quality and quantity of the produce for sale you could tell it was a poor area. There is a drought declared over Timor and Maubisse seemed to have a lack of water.


Sunday 31st August - 1st September 2003

I'm now married to Miriam, her swami, as far as any locals are concerned. This is a strong catholic community and so they don't go near free love with a 100 foot pole or electrical cabal as it seems...

On the first weekend I was here Miriam dragged me to Liquica (Li-ke-sa) to get away form the hustle of Dili (even though I'd only been here a day, and asleep for most of that). We got a cab out to where you can get a microlet to Liquica.

Microlets are small vans that have seats and act as the main form of transport here for the locals and usually have a driver and a one or more boys who stand half out the door as it weaves though the traffic. They usually circle around their departure village/town until they are completely chockers with people before they start on their way. Microlets usually have elaborate paint jobs and strange lithographs of random bits of western culture. Stuff like specific 007 movies, or monster trucks with grant wheels. One we got in had the peace symbol with the word 'Piss' written under it. I'd like to do a photo essay on Microlets.

Family at the Motor cross, Dili

The motor-cross happened to be on that weekend and was close to were we got the microlet to Liquica so we dropped in briefly (for three hours). The motor-cross is one of the favorite local sports and is basically a trail bike race around an obstacle course. The winner receives a TV and becomes a local hero. Miriam knew one of the guys participating so we hung around for the first race which, after much deliberating, ended up starting at 12pm, the hottest part of the day. Seems anything involving more than two people starts late here.

Liquica is a quite little village about an hour and a half west of Dili as the microlet fly's. There's a lovely beach there and we were forced to sit on it and drink fresh coconuts that a local guy happened to be harvesting at the time as the day turned into evening.

We were initially told that there was a hotel we could stay at in Liquica, but after walking around for a hour at dusk we slowly ascertained that there was no such hotel in existence so we went looking for Jane's place. There was only one malae (ma-lie) in town so we figured it would be easy to find where she lives. We were pointed to a house and discovered that it wasn't where Jane was staying but the eldest daughter whom Miriam spoke to said there where plenty of rooms there and she liked helping strangers. So we went to the beach while we waited for her parents to return. We meet Jane at the beach and she told us where she lived but we decided to stay with the family we had meet. The Timorese are a very friendly people.

Young lover [Liquica youth]

Miriam has a friend there, Jane, who's doing work with thelocal community radio, and could show us around the village. Jane works withsome of the local boys, most volunteers, who have had 'trouble' of late. Twoof them were caught taking their girl friends up in the hills for an hour.All parties are over twenty one but because the boys don't have any money orjobs they can't afford to marry the girls, local custom says they need togive the girls family an buffalo as dowry. The matter was taken to the villageelders and the boys where beaten with 'electrical cable', and the girls werebeaten by their uncle later at home. One of the boys had told Jane manytimes that if he can't marry the girl he loves he'll kill himself. A couple of weeks later I heard from Jane that he drove his motor bike of a bridge and was in hospital. I think he'll be ok. Ahhh, young love...

Jane reported the whole thing to some Australian peace keeping troops (PKF) whenwe were there. They said nothing will be done unless the boys press chargesagainst those that assaulted them. Even if they did it likely it will bethrownout of court and referred to 'traditional law' to handle. This 'traditionallaw', the PKF guys said, has also seen an 84 year old marry a 4 year oldbecause he molested her, so the family married her off to him to save herhonor.

When we got back to Dili we got a cab to the airport to get a bag I'd lostin Darwin that was flown in. The cab driver was playing some Rap artist whowas singing load and prod about the act of love and his favorite positions,in not so many words. It was so over the top that we started laughing to thepoor chaps bewilderment. Didn't understand much of it apparently.