East Timor– a country whose very name brings up thoughts of civil war and brutal occupation. And one where my knowledge of it ended there. It’s now a country struggling towards a stable democracy, with a surprisingly cordial relationship with it’s one time oppressors (Indonesia), and a growing worry over the planned UN pull out at the end of 2012. Needless to say, I really had no clue what to expect.
A guy at the BMW dealership in Darwin put me in contact with The Honorary Consul to The UK who ran her house as a jumping off point for people who were coming to East Timor for work- she’d rent them a room and plug them into the local expat community while they looked for more permanent accommodation. It worked perfectly for me since I had a longish wait for my bike and instead of being stuck looking at the walls of my hotel room, I was invited to parties, outings, and quiz nights- perfect!
Dili, the capital, is not a pretty city by any stretch of the imagination. Dusty and dirty, pot holed roads fronting massive new government ministry offices, and an ocean front lined with newly built embassies instead of anything that might be productive to the economy. That being said, it grows on you- helped by the friendly and chatty locals, expats, and cold Bintang beer. And there are some glimpses of what the views could be like if things stay stable.
As well, the upcoming run-off election (held on April 16th) slowly added excitement as political rallies and banners slowly started to appearing on the streets. Seeing these signs of a functioning democracy with the still obvious background of war gave me hope, but the long term future of the country is still very much in doubt. It’s economy has been almost hopelessly twisted by the presence of so many UN and NGO workers, that when they pull out it seems quite possible that unrest will once again rear it’s ugly head.
On a side note, I was very happy to finally see a Western Saharan flag flying. The region has become a bit of a political hobbyhorse of mine since I rode through there during the riots and their brutal suppression by the Moroccan forces in 2010. The flag itself is banned by the occupying Moroccan government in Western Sahara and seeing one flying over their embassy right next door was a daily treat.
As another treat just before I left, a group of riders showed up. They were heading towards Australia and so we passed many an hour talking rider stuff while I sat back and watched them wash their bikes for the strict Australian Bio-hazard control checks.
But finally, after some Easter related delays, I was off towards Indonesia. Slowly off. Very slowly off. While to roads in Dili might have been potholed, those in the countryside were a mosaic of holes of every kind. Anything faster than 40km/hr seemed to guaranty that a deep hole would appear around a corner while a friendly goat would ensure that the clear part of the road was blocked. It took me almost 4 hours to ride the 100km to the border.