Day 02 : Death from Above

Thursday 19 June 2014

– “so, it’s a shame the aircon doesn’t work”
– “Doesn’t it? I often go in that room and it’s freezing. Have you checked it’s not just turned off; we often do when no-one’s in the room to save money.”

The upshot is that the dorm room is now getting quite cool … ahem. 😀

The hostel’s actually quite nice; I was a little unsure about it at first as it seemed quite ‘slapdash’ and ‘casual’ but it’s definitely got charm and a nice vibe/atmosphere. I’m not sure how many rooms it’s got, but most of them are private 2 to 4 bed rooms, and just the one 9-bed dorm that I’m in.
Apart from an inside TV room, there’s a courtyard area with tables, a bar, some fans, a couple of electric points even, and a tree. This tree is the most dangerous thing I’ve so far found in the city. It’s lethal. It’s what we seem to call a ‘water-apple’ tree, and at the moment it’s very good at dropping said water-apples onto the ground beneath; either they fall straight and just miss someone sitting/walking through, or they bounce first off the tin roof that covers one half of the courtyard where some of the tables are – this causes a bang not unlike that of a gun.

Dili’s … there are two notable and unusual things about the city’s design, in general. Firstly its shape. I’d describe it as being ‘four towns Iong and half a town wide’. It’s not quite a ‘linear village’ but it certainly feels like one. The other thing, that may be related, is that everything is quite well spread out. There is no one point where you can say ‘this is the city centre’. The main (only?!) shopping ‘mall’ is three-quarters of the way to the airport, whilst the presidential palace and government buildings are separated by several blocks of residential and commercial zones.
There is also an almost complete lack of signage. Virtually no road has a nametag, and there are almost no signposts along any of the roads telling you where the roads go. Nor are there any signs to local attractions. People navigate by landmarks (so my hostel is ‘near the Tiger Fuel petrol station’) and following a map has you literally having to go ‘take the third right’. That being said, the lack of width of the city, coupled with the roads that do exist generally being in a grid-pattern, means it’s actually pretty hard to get lost.

It’s not a pretty city. I was musing when I was writing my #LetterACountry today that in a way it reminds me a bit of Chisinau, in Moldova, in that it’s a relatively incoherent city which very evidently doesn’t have a lot of money, and both are small capitals of countries that few people have ever heard of.
The pavements, where they’re not blocked by trees, are run-down and often disintegrating. The roads in the ‘suburbs’ are often gravel/stone rather than bitumen and this kicks up a lot of dust into the air (you can very easily tell where my sandals have been worn). Off the main road the buildings are pretty scruffy and look like they were put up in a day (and some seem like they’re a day away from falling back down again). The roads are filled with four types of vehicle – the yellow taxis, big trucks, motorbikes, and small minibuses (mikrolets) that seat about 10 people but usually have at least three people hanging over the doorway never mind the people inside. These minibuses ply several routes (the highest route number I’ve seen so far is ‘10’), they seem to operate about one every 30 seconds, and each one is uniquely decorated in a myriad of colours and posters/banners, some dedicated to women, some to football teams (mainly Brazil, Portugal, or Benfica), some just randomly decorated (I’ve even seen one with the British flag on it).
They also only cost 25 cents to ride, as I found out when I took one back to the hostel after taking a walk all the way up to the Timor Plaza shopping centre, and thinking ‘I’m sure I’ve seen the ‘10’ go past the hostel”. I actually wandered inside the plaza and got distracted by the airconditioning and the football World Cup; they were showing matches on a big screen in the main central area of the plaza (90” LED screen, apparently. There were also two of them, one atop the other). The match they were showing was France v Honduras, which was a bit confusing as that was last week…lots of people were watching it bit none seemed interested when France scored.

The hostel is also showing the World Cup, on a TV at the bar, live, which means most of the games are in the mornings. I’ve actually caught snatches of a couple, but they’re showing the England match tonight/tomorrow morning, at 4am I think they said. Yeh, I’m not going to get up for that.

Have made a decision about next week, and I’m biting the bullet and changing my plans and am now going through Bali on Sunday. It actually makes the journey easier and quicker (the flight from Kupang to Labuanbajo is as much as half the price of the Dili-Bali fare and departs at 6am or something, so in essence overall the extra cost is small enough to justify in terms of convenience). Not staying long in Bali, but I have booked in one night in the town nearest the Lombok ferry (rather than on Lombok itself) – it breaks up the journey a bit plus it means I arrive at a reasonable hour in the early afternoon.
I still need to book accommodation for the following night (Monday), in probably the town of Sumbawa Besar, which is pretty obscure (if large) and hostelworld has no hostels there…
The snag is that as yet I haven’t received any confirmation from the airline that I’ve booked the ticket (cf Adelaide to Brisbane), but this time I have at least made a note of the booking confirmation so if nothing else I can go to the airport and say “oi, I’ve booked”.

It being a religious holiday today led to a weird feeing this evening; as I was walking back to the hostel from the warung I’d eaten in, I felt like I was walking against the tide of Armageddon; what felt like the entire population of Dili were walking in the opposite direction to me, on the pavement, in the road, four abreast at times. Most of them seemed young – under 16 – though this is reflective of the demographic of Dili.
It turns out that they’d all been to the cathedral for the Corpus Christi service and were walking back home. It’s amazing how many people you can fit into a cathedral, I guess!

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