Have just returned from a 10 day vacation to Timor Leste with a group of intrepid fellow travellers and what an amazing experience it has been. Culture shock? Well it was pretty hard not to be affected by the abject poverty rampant in this country of just over 1 million people.
Would I go back again….you bet!
Our journey began in Darwin waiting for our 1 hour plane trip to Dili. The problem was that even though our tickets showed that we had booked and paid for this flight, the computer system at the airport had absolutely no record of our group…and the flight was fully booked!
We hung around for an hour or three at Darwin Airport until we were told that a specially chartered plane had been arranged to take us to Dili….in a 19 seater pencil jet no less! It was enough of a relief to know that we were going – forgetting that I don’t fly well in small aircraft.
Looking down on Darwin…those wings started flapping as we bounced around in turbulence later on in the flight….sick bag came in handy!
at least we all had a window seat!!
Our base in Dili was with the Bacon family…they opened up their beautiful beachfront home to a group of 14 strangers! Thank you guys!
Give me a home among the palm trees!! (yep nestled there amongst the trees is where we stayed – happy sigh!!)
The sleeping quarters of the younger girls in the group….all you needed really was a mattress, a roof and a mosquito net.
On the first night we didn’t get a lot of sleep as there were frantic preparations happening with the sudden impending visit of the Bishop of Dili to the local church the next morning. The singing practice happening throughout the night would have been more enjoyable had the volume not been so loud!
We attended the church service the following morning…and were invited to have a special morning tea with the Bishop afterwards. Had to decline as we needed to leave for the orphanage where we were taking the kids out for a picnic to the beach.
Sunday church and with the visit of the Bishop, this was quite a special occasion. With the country being 98% Roman Catholic, church attendance is high. By the time we arrived, it was standing room only, but being held outdoors it wasn’t really an issue.
After a quick bite to eat from the table filled with sumptuous food – we had to make a semi hasty retreat in order to get to the next venue on time.
Our visit to the Samaria Children’s Home was with the purpose of taking the children to the beach for a picnic. Philomena, who runs the orphanage, opened her heart and home to disadvantaged East Timorese children and she now cares for up to 30 children. The children are either orphans, or their parents are unable to care for them.
The girls dorm was simple yet tidy….not much in the way of material possessions but these kids were the happiest bunch of contented children!!
The kitchen too was without the mod cons we are so used too – even the running water was located outside!
While loading into the 3 troop carriers hired for the occasion, a few of the neighbours came around probably to see what all the commotion was about….and I was quickly learning that Timorese love to pose for photos! Kids especially love displaying a various array of fingers?!
I made it a point to show them the end product (ie the camera LCD display) – which was usually accompanied by chortles of laughter.
Our journey to the beach took an hour or so driving along the coast road…which in itself was an interesting experience. Not much maintenance is done on the road system in Timor-Leste and chunks of road which had either collapsed or washed away, we affectionately dubbed “shark bites”.
Dwellings too, came in all shapes and sizes…
Kiosks and roadside stalls were absolutely everywhere…families rely on buying food with the meagre income derived from their roadside stores and kiosks.
See the satellite dish outside this home….well no matter where we travelled, it was a pretty common sight.
Arriving at our destination, everyone piled out and made their way to the beach. Food was the first item on the agenda and it was quite the culinary delight. The packets of cooked rice wrapped in leaves were a real novelty…imagine the work involved in their creation!
Initially it was enough for the children to watch 10 year old Griffin rollicking in the surf having the time of his life…they howled with laughter at his antics.
…but still they were content just to get their feet wet
Rob and Catharina Williams live in Dili…they have for the last 14 or so years. Both are involved with improving the way of life of the Timorese people through their various professions – Rob with agriculture and Catharina with her skills as a linguist and translator.
Without their help in organising our itinerary and being involved in showing us the country and its people, we would have been pretty well stuck!
Once again, our presence alerted the neighbourhood…we were being watched!
It really didn’t take too long before the kids were in the water boots and all…Rob had his hands full (literally!)
It was so neat to see the joy and delight these kids had playing in the surf…it was such a great afternoon.
Philomeno flanked by Catharina and the first child she took into her care…a young man who is now studying to become a minister.
…and then it was time to go home.
Whatever fruit or vegetables were for sale along the roadside stalls and kiosks…they were always displayed in the most amazing bunches
Found that the most prolific form of transportation was the motorbike….they were everywhere! On the way back from the beach we had to detour around the Sunday afternoon drag races!
As well as the infinite number of motorbikes, the yellow taxi probably rated a close second. A ride in one of these was always fun….although trying to get the driver to understand the exact destination was an exercise in itself. Lost a group of the younger travellers one morning when their driver thought they wanted to go to the Jesus statue instead of the ferry terminal…huh?! Hint to self: always negotiate the fare before you get into the taxi and not afterwards!
Another form of transport was the “microlet” – sort of the in between version of a taxi and a dump truck (the story of that experience comes later!) Those guys hanging out the side are the equivalent of a bus conductor.
Would love to read the local road code….watching the traffic you could easily think that such rules don’t exist. Perhaps you could say it is polite barging in and instead of using indicators you simply honk the horn. Would be an awesome experience in patience for Australians who suffer from that all too common symptom called “road rage!”
Couldn’t get over the number of dogs roaming the streets…yet another obstacle to avoid when driving! Veterinary care for such animals, well any animal really, is not even on the radar of possibility for many Timorese.
…and so the end of another day drew nigh. It was time to process the sights and sounds of a way of life that is so different to ours.