Day 01 : Who turned the oven up to max?

Wednesday 18 June 2014

As a traveller, sometimes you have a feeling of trepidation before you arrive somewhere new. Maybe it’s a paranoid delusion that you won’t be let into the country due to some minor oversight, maybe it’s a worry you’re going to constantly ripped off by the locals, maybe it’s that everything’s going to be so different that you’ll suffer from three days of culture shock.

Within about 15 minutes of landing at Dili Airport (in the country of Timor-Leste/East Timor), I had none of these. In fact, in the front seat of one of the ubiquitous yellow taxis (broken windscreen, dodgy-fitting door, techno music blasting out) bring driven unusually slowly down the main street of the city by a chap called Callisto from the exclave of Oecussi, window wound fully down, with my left elbow resting on the door, it felt weirdly like, after 49 days, my round-the-world trip was just getting started.

However, let’s cut to the chase. Dili is hot, I mean damn hot. Hot and wet, which might be how you like your bedroom activities, but, like Vietnam, not really how you want your cities. The temperature’s only around 29-30 degrees Celsius, but the humidity makes it feel far worse, far more energy-sapping. (Weirdly, the relative humidity is lower than the UK – most places are; Britain regularly has relative humidity in the high 90s %. But remember, hotter air can hold more water, so absolute humidity is king here. Britain is one of the few places in the world where you can feel cold and humid/clammy at the same time).
This is why I chose to spend $10 on the 6km taxi ride from the airport – yes I would normally have walked it. However sometimes even I don’t fall into then ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ stereotype.

What didn’t help matters either was arriving at the backpacker hostel, waiting half an hour to check in, and then finding that my dorm room (9 beds) had a ceiling fan that was whirring away merrily, but no aircon. Or rather, there was an aircon unit in the room but it didn’t appear to be working. Not to worry, I’ve stayed in rooms like this before; you get used to it and anyway the temperature falls at night, right?
Well, as it happens, it did drop, from around 29 to the bends-inducing, er, 24. On a related note, and one for my work colleagues to savour, I have probably drank more water today than in the whole of my 2014 office life (4 months).

I have, however, also eaten more in one day than I have for most of my journey (with the obvious exception of my time in Nambour). Timor-Leste is supposed to be the most expensive country in SE Asia. However, having just come from Australia, and being British, I have to admit (possibly slightly awkwardly) that this may be a slightly relative statement.
Dili seems to have very few restaurants. What it does have however is ‘Warungs’ – street-side ‘stalls’/’shopfronts’ that inside reveal a seating area of maybe 6-7 tables. Mostly they sell ‘local’ food, or, to be more precise, what would elsewhere be labelled ‘Indonesian’ food; mainly rice or noodles with a variety of meaty substances. The standard food in these parts is Nasi Goreng –‘fried rice’ but usually served with some meat; these meal tend to be served on a plate with the rice piled up into a kind of dome, and the meat and vegetable (cabbage, chilies) arranged around it.
The typical price for a filling meal for one person seems to be around $2 (USD). Is that expensive? Well, yes according to people who know a lot about Indonesia, but at those prices I could have three for the cost of a hot chocolate at a Mooloolaba seafront café, so it’s a bit relative.
(Timor-Leste uses the US$; some of the low-denomination coins seem to be native but for notes they use the greenback. As many developing nations do, such as the USA).

I did have another problem occur today; one I shall have to sleep on.
My plan for the next few days was to get an Indonesian visa here in Dili, travel overland to Kupang in the Indonesian province of West Timor, then island-hop via Flores to Sumbawa. The visa takes between three and five working days, assuming you get the application in before midday (complete with bizarre ‘photo of you against a red background’ requirement), and is necessary because you can’t get a visa at the land border.
However, what I didn’t realise is that tomorrow is a public holiday (Corpus Christi) and the embassy will be closed. This means that the earliest I can put the application in now will be Friday, which means I might not get the visa until Wednesday; the bus to Kupang is a 10 hour ride and as far as I can tell only runs in the daytime (presumably because the roads are buggered) so not only would I have to spend a week here, but also means I wouldn’t be onwards in Indonesia for maybe a week and a bit.
The alternative is to fly to Bali (you can get visas on arrival at the airport), and effectively ‘go back’ on myself by heading East again through Lombok to Sumbawa, but I did make it my point not to go to Bali, because everyone does and it’s got a bad reputation as party central, like certain parts of Thailand, but that probably costs more. That said, it’s marginally easier to get from Bali to Sumbawa than from West Timor to Sumbawa.

You might want to look at a map to understand that above paragraph. 🙂

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