Well I’ve made it.
I landed in Dili, the capital, this morning at about 7am and duly shit myself as every taxi driver in town tried to take me to a destination I didn’t yet have. I’d planned as far the wheel’s of the plane landing. They’d just done that. Now I was clueless.
I sat for a while, keeping my head down while a group of Aussies chatted near by. Finally I got a grip, gathered my stuff and went over. ‘Excuse me, do you know if there’s a youth hostel in town? ‘Sure is said Jill,’ an aid worker in her 50s who said she’d drop me off.
We had a good chat, she warned me about the dangers – not to go anywhere alone at night etc – and cursed endlessly about the UN presence who it did seem, as we passed through town, to be a bit much. White UN 4x4s everywhere, just driving around the streets that were otherwise clogged with mopeds and minibus crammed full with bursting bodies everywhere. Chickens were in cages on the roadside, the air was humid and I’ll be honest, I had a distinct feeling of fear as I sat in the passenger seat listening to the horror stories, which thankfully, don’t yet include murder. Just theft and attacks on women. So I’m alright then.
At the hostel I was just grateful to hear an English accent. There was Ian on a visa hop from Inonesia, an American fella here doing reseach and an older Irish and Australian guy who wrapped me in their own little blanket of fatherhood. But the hostel was okay, not cheap at $10US but a safe haven in a sea of chaos.
You see East Timor’s a bit like Ireland; all messed up thanks to other peoples meddling; in this case Indonesia and, indirectly, Australia’s. Now they’re indepedent things are getting better, but you can still sense the nervous tension. People told me not to trust anyone but as I ventured out, first to the Indonesian embassy to sort out a visa for when Dot arrives next week and then in to the city to get passport photo, I realised that’s crap advice.
The only white people the East Timorians see are members of the UN, which they see as invaders, so keeping my head down and ignoring basic greetings and smiles was stupid, so I started smiling back and realised the world’s not such a bad place when you do. There are some shady characters, remnants of the country’s grisly past, but in the whole people are pleasant and polite. Happy even.
Things aren’t cheap tho, about as much in England, which is strange given the poor wages. A kebab for example is 6 quid. A can of coke 70p. Petrol 50p a litre, which is good. And what the locals mostly ride are scooters, mainly new Hondas which they cut each other up on and create carnage on the roads where taxi drivers continually drive past you beeping. A pound fifty will get you in to the town centre which is about a mile away.
Back at the hostel I’ve met a couple of Germans who’ve ridden their bikes all the way from home and are now off to Australia, and in the street, waiting for a taxi, a guy called Richard who’s trying to set up a fair trade coffee plant here, offered me a lift in his taxi into town. Nice chap and once of the many nice folk I’ve already met in my first day in East Timor.
So still a little nervous but also intrigued. A genuinely fascinating place which hopefully I’ll explore and photograph in the next few days. More importanty, I’ve just been shown how to eat a mango. Now that’s progress.