Travel Through East Timor on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

East Timor on a Harley (13/9/04 - 20/9/04)
Distance 745 km (398280 km to 399025 km)

This is part of the Eleventh section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Australia
 

13/9/04 The 4pm, 90 minute flight on a twin prop aeroplane with 30 other passengers, military, oil workers and a couple of other travellers, had us landing on the short runway of Dili Airport. A $US 30.00 payment each for an on the spot visa, cursory customs, a $US 5.00 taxi, shared with two other travellers we met at the airport, a $US 5.00 per person room (including breakfast) and we were settled in. Dili Guesthouse, just out of town, basic rooms, cold ladle dip showers where balance is important not wanting to touch the walls. Where used toilet paper is placed in a bucket not flushed in case it blocks the plumbing. The pedestal fan keeps away most of the mosquitos at night, when there is electricity, and the bathroom door has a lock but not much airflow with windows closed for security. A comfortable, friendly, locally managed accommodation, welcome back to Asia.Unloading the container to extract the motorcycle

14/9/04 The Perkins boat sails almost every Saturday from Darwin. We were asked to have the bike there by Thursday as it gets busy Fridays. Scheduled to arrive in Dili Tuesday morning it was at the wharf being unloaded this morning, on time, as we walked past. SDV, Perkins agent in Dili, charged us $US 24.00 handling fees this end plus were asking another $US 50.00 to clear customs, the  motorcycle would be available in three days, Friday. We chose to attempt customs clearance ourselves and despite Timor East not being a carnet member they accepted our carnet and processed the temporary import passing us from one office to another. Incredible helpful they even drove us to Perkins bond storage yard to inspect the motorcycle, the whole process finished by 3.30 pm and we were riding Dili streets, the motorcycle's 144th country. The world's newest country and our first leaving Australia this trip. We even had time over lunch to visit the Xanana Reading Room, a graphic video and pictorial display of the events following the independence vote in August 1999. The subsequent vengeance and destruction wrought by the Indonesians vividly displayed in footage and eyewitness accounts of victims.Water buffalo cooling off in the river This part of the world was one of the last countries or territories to be invaded or occupied by another country, the Indonesians in 1974. There have been no other successful territory or country occupations in the world since that time. Two other territories occupied about the same time, The West Bank and Tibet, have yet to be returned by their occupiers.

15/9/04 The UN arrived soon after the troubles quietened. Their large white vehicles dominated the streets and their dollars opened up restaurants and accommodation, even bringing SCUBA diving operators. The demand created high prices for everything, food, alcohol, accommodation, but as things have remained quiet here now for a few years their members have decreased, prices returned to normal, competition fierce. Travellers have been here now for a couple of years, tourists are starting to arrive. The lull between the UN and the tourists is always a good time to visit a country. We rode the bike west, along the coast, almost every palm stick, grass roofed hut new. More solid buildings either still gutted or part rebuilt. Dili itself the same mixture. Some buildings totally destroyed, others newly renovated. In the evening we sat on the coast below the Christo statue, a popular place near sunset.Dip bucket shower and toilet. Old tyres as water storage.

16/9/04 Packed up we headed east, a reasonable sealed road, light traffic, winding alongside the coast. Small palm stick, thatched roofed huts in villages. Occasional larger fertile areas alongside rivers had intricate watering systems for wetland rice where water buffalo would be used to plough the fields in the wet season. There was a series of lunch rest stops, local fried fish and rice, before Baucau and soon after the countryside became drier towards Com, a beachside village, popular with weekending NGO's (Non Government Organization) and a new resort and a couple of local houses turned guest houses where we stayed.

17/9/04 It takes a week to renew an Indonesian visa in East Timor and those doing this seem to be the majority of travellers in the country. Com, a nice place to rest attracts them. We spent the day exploring the surrounding hills. Limestone fences dividing paddocks, poorly tended, hillside cemetery with independence fighters graves, a couple of old ladies siesta-ing in a grass hut, raised off the ground, pigs running underneath and a dog's warning bark.Trying the local palm wine with friends A beach in the shade with fresh spring water bubbling up in the sand, a dilapidated colonial building overlooking town. The local alcohol, made from the Saba palm, was being offered around at a local ceremony, the conjunction of two families, one from Com the other Los Palos. A two day event, the slaughter of a pig and goat promised tomorrow to feed the 100+ invitees. We indulged in a bottle of palm wine ourselves, a strong smelling, not unpleasant tasting, relaxing drop, as we sat in darkness on the beachfront.

18/9/04 Electricity used to flow to this part of Timor but it will be some time before it happens again. The poles are here, the wires missing. Candles and lanterns the only light option after dark. A small road to the hills at Los Palos. The land more fertile on the plateau. East Timor is an uplifted limestone land mass giving generally poor soils however it traps water deep in the ground and springs flow all year at lower altitudes like in Baucau, the second biggest city. On a craggy limestone hillside the abundant water flowing through town produces enormous trees. People wash and bath in open clear water ponds and drains.Women preparing lunch for the men harvesting rice in the fields Despite its size there are only four hotels, one recently closed, leaving us to stay at the comfortable church diocese in the middle of the old town. We get electricity from a generator in the evening, the rest of the town is dark.

19/9/04 Different societies tolerate different noises. Vehicle noise is accepted in the west while we awake here to a cacophony of roosters crowing and dogs barking incessantly. The days are hot and dry, leading up to the wet season. Goats predominate the hillsides, a few banteng cattle, a Timorese breed, and the small Timor ponies graze flatlands along with short tail sheep. During it's 25 years in the country the Indonesian government improved the infrastructure. Water reticulation through most villages, solid government buildings, agricultural colleges, wharves etc. Rode back to Dili staying this time in a "donga". These prefabricated living quarters, basic but adequate, were imported with the military and UN, now being recycled to low budget tourist accommodation.Facing off the birds before the fight

20/9/04 There are two roads to the Indonesian border, along the coast or inland through Ermera and the coffee growing mountains. We chose inland, a winding road, cool hills. The road to Ermera, reasonable, land slips had made it narrow and rough in places. We then headed to Maliana, via a direct route, not on our map, just 70 km, steeply over one mountain range and equally steeply to a broad river valley the other side. Travelling at just 30 km/hr with the windscreen removed and tyres deflated there were small patches of asphalt but too many wet seasons had passed between repairs for most of the road, now a dusty rocky track. We are yet to see anyone out working on roads in East Timor, however we understand nations have promised aid in that area. Near to Maliana are 100 Australian military engineers given the task of improving roads in the region, an enormous task. Down a quiet alley opposite the markets a small group had gathered. Some were gambling, a board numbers game but the main attraction was the cock fights. Men only, except for Kay, holding and facing off a dozen or more fighting cocks,East Timorese man examining his fighting cock for injuries after a fight eyeing the opposition, arranging the odds, strapping a single 75 mm knife blade to the cocks spur and into the ring. A brief sizing up by the birds and the flutter of feathers, the stabbing, a pause, another flurry, another stabbing, blood, a collapsed bird in its death throws, the victor announced and the bets settled. Normally a fight to the death, sport or entertainment or barbarity?

21/9/04 It was in Balibo, just down the road, that in 1975, five foreign journalists, some from Australia were killed by the Indonesian forces, hoping to prevent news of the atrocities from escaping to the world. We passed through the town, now a quiet place, near the new East Timor and Indonesian border. This border region also the most dangerous area during the recent independence struggle, still with occasional reports of cross border conflict. A East Timorese man was recently pierced through the neck by an arrow fired by an Indonesian. Crossed the border at Batugade, a very thorough search by the police, customs stamped our carnet and immigration our passports without problems.
 
 

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