UN Troops, Refugees and shotguns
Dili Travel Blog› entry 203 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Markus (Finland), Hannes (Sweden), Alex (Spain)
I was curious to discover what lay inside the borders of one of the Worlds newest countries, but at the same time i was also cautious over what problems may still lie hidden under the surface. Having read that up until 2 years ago there had been riots at the border town of Atambua, it was decided that a toursit minibus would be the best way to make the 12 hour journey from Kupang in West Timor, to Dili in East Timor. The van which took us to the border was very nice, but once we had our bags searched and our passports stamped, we were bundled onto a much more run down minivan.
Even though East Timor receives few tourists, there is still a huge UN presence in the country and we passed several jeeps along the road with UN markings. Unlike many parts of Indonesia, where if a local spots you on a bus passing through the town, they start waving and drawing attention to you, the opposite seemed the case here, as I received steely glazes in response to my smiles.
The sun was setting as we approached Dili and our first drop off was for some locals into a refugee camp. The streets were pretty empty and the sun had set by the time we were dropped off at East Timor Backpackers.
The following day brought better news, as the owner Henry informed me that they had a double room that had become available for Julia and I, which would cost exactly the same as 2 dorm beds ($20). This sounded great, even though i fully expected it to be just a shoebox room with a bed in.
Henry was an interesting bloke and one of the first things he did after giving us our new room, was to tell me about some of the problems that had gone on in his adopted country during the last few years. As if words weren't enough, he proved his stories with graffic photos of several policemen with their brains blown out, at the hands of the army! It was advised that we should be extremely cautious after dark, as there were gangs stoning cars and creating a sense of fear amongst the population of Dili, whilst in the daytime it was more or less safe, but still to take the necessary precautions.
Before venturing out, i spotted that England vs Russia in the Euro 2008 qualifiers was been replayed on TV from the previous night. I therefore ordered some food and enjoyed our boys giving Julia's a good 3-0 whipping, which made one of our days pleasurable and the others miserable :) Leaving the hostel with a big smile on my face, the 4 of us went off to take a look around, checking out the Palacio de Govierno and Xanana Reading Room that contained information on the battle for independence, amongst other topics.
Exiting the reading room, I was also lucky enough to meet a group of Timorese who had gathered for an apointment with an American, to try and win a scholarship to the States. At first they thought i was actually the guy and were telling me why they were the right person for the place! After several minutes assuring them i wasn't playing an elaborate trick on them, they decided that maybe i wasn't the guy, but why the hell was i there then!? Explaining i was a tourist didn't work and now they were really suspicious and guessed away at UN worker, investor, journalist etc etc.
What followed was a really interesting discussion with a few of the guys about East Timors current plight, how they saw their opportunities within the country and what their hopes were for the future. All agreed that the recent change in government had to be a good one, as any change was a good one compared to their last government (i found this a little too simplistic - think of Germany, Russia etc etc in the 1900's whose citizens preached such words!). They also had a disliking for the UN and believed that they should leave the country as soon as possible, as they were draining money from the country without giving anything back.
Getting cash in Dili proved our next concern, as the only ATM was out of order when we first visited. A chat with security guard led to us finding that it was only operational for a few hours in the evening, so we went to buy some provisions from the supermarket, before calling back there on the way home.
Friday was a disappointing day as we found the Indonesian Embassy had closed early when we called on them. The rest of the day was spent investigating some other areas of the city including the football stadium, some refugee camps and UN complex and walking along the promenade. Julia was also keen to get some food to cook from the supermarket and i couldn't resist the Australian pies that were on offer, along with baked beans, chips and cold beers, all of which went down a treat that evening!!
Saturday proved to be a sad day for us, as Hannes was heading to Australia, bringing to an end 5 months of travelling with him on and off.
Our next 5 days were pretty eventless in comparison with our first few, with the main objective of our time been to obtain our Indonesian visas. Our applications were eventually handed in on Tuesday and we got our passports back by the Thursday.
Markus, Julia and I spent much of the rest of our time in Dili watching movies, playing ludo and poker and generally relaxing after the gruelling travel schedule that we had set ourselves whilst crossing Indonesia.