Friday, 26 September 2008

Day 492 - Second post from Dili

I left the hostel in Dili, having searched for somebody to let me out, and went on another search, this time for breakfast. Everywhere was shut, so I had to do will a few little rolls that I found at a kiosk. I once again timed it well as it was just before an unexpected climb, but the top afforded some nice views. The road ran inland a bit from the coast passing little villages and houses and skirting around mangrove swamps. There was then another good little climb around the rugged coast before entering the town of Manatuto where I was surprised to find a restaurant that actually had some rice and bits and bobs, though I couldn't get any water out of them, so I was even more surprised to get wonderfully cold water at a nearby kiosk. The road suddenly turned deserted, no villages, houses or traffic, the ground was very dry, but still a few trees around. Then I started to pass houses again with little stalls outside, some selling basketware, another selling coral, massive turtle shells and a hub cap! With 30k to go a real wind whipped up, where did that come from? Just for a change it was head on, then another climb arrived, it looked like just a little rise in the ground, but it went on and on, 9km of it, I still can't work out where that hill suddenly came from. At last I dropped down towards Baucau, East Timor's second city. I passed a few market stalls at the roadside and one or two little shops then the roads climbed yet again, I had had enough of it I just wanted to get to Baucau. After about 3km my compass told me I was heading away from the coast, I shouldn't have been, Baucau is on the coast. I asked directions and was told it was another 10km, but I was still heading away from the coast. Thankfully, when I stopped to ask again a girl could speak good English and told me I had gone too far, at least it was down hill on the way back. I was amazed to find that the centre of town was where I had seen the market stalls. I found a guest house and there on the balcony when I arrived were Philip, Brendan and Andy who had been at the same hostel as me in Dili. We had dinner together but as they had been here the previous night they knew there was nowhere to have a drink, yes, the second city and no even a bar, well, there was one, but only for the UN. We chatted away through the evening. Philip and Brendan are Irish and Liverpool supporters, I was amazed at their knowledge of the Premier League.

The following morning we had breakfast together before the other departed and headed back to Dili. In the afternoon I made my way downhill for 6km to the beach. Whilst there a lad came up to me and asked "Are you Irish?", so I can guess who was here yesterday. Baucau wasn't the most exciting of places, like everywhere else it is a bit run down, building look derelict, some of them are. There are a few old colonial Portuguese buildings, the old market place (photo) would once been the centre of a bustling community. East Timor is a struggling nation, it's been an uphill battle since it's independence in 2002, but the end of the hard times are not in sight yet. So what has gone wrong. Well, until 1998 the place was governed by Indonesia, then with a change of power they were offered a referendum in 1999, much to the annoyance of the military. The vote went 78% in favour of independence, the military had to withdraw but in doing so destroyed the place killing over 150,000 people in the process. Then the UN moved in and it has survived off aid ever since. If what I have heard is true some of that aid is misguided, for example the Americans donate rice as part of their aid funding, that meant that there was no more need to grow rice in East Timor, putting local farming communities out of work, rice paddies now lie dry and barren. Nothing is really produced here anymore, other than coffee that grows at the roadside in abundance. Aid should really be provided to educate and bring back the farming giving the people a chance to be self sufficient otherwise there will never be an end in sight. The UN are here in numbers, charities such as Oxfam and the World Food Programme are also in evidence, but it is an uphill struggle. Their is very little construction, roads are not being maintained and are falling apart. The Chinese are funding the building of government offices, even Bangladesh fund the security at Baucau airport, that surely says how bad things must be here, it's going to be a long uphill struggle, hopefully one that is worth it for the people here.

Yesterday I made the return trip along a road described as "...a stunning road with 'oh' inducing beaches around every bend...". Hmm, that wouldn't have been my description, sure it was nice and a good 10km of it was right beside the coast, no more than 10km though, there were even a couple of lovely beaches, but there were certainly more than two bends in the road. Who ever wrote that must surely have fallen asleep on a bus for most of the journey. Near Manatuto I stopped to take a photo, I was soon surrounded by kids so took one of them as well, then showed it to them. They all ran off leaping for joy, arms in the air, shreeking with delight as if East Timor had just scored the winning goal in a World Cup Final, it was a joy so see. For once I knew exactly what was in store on the road ahead so I knew to expect 1000m+ over 125km despite being told it was basically a flat 110km, but that wind whipped up again and for a change I loved it as I was pushed along. I arrived back in Dili at around 5pm and once again checked into the Backpackers and met up with Philip and Brendan again, Andy had moved on. A group from the backpackers were heading for a nightclub and asked if I was going, but what would an old fart like me be doing in a night club? Besides, after a hot hard ride I would have fallen asleep after one drink.

This morning I made another visit to the Australian Embassy, they wanted to see ID so I gave them my driving license. It hasn't really stood thew test of time and I felt a little embarrassed as they carefully tried to open it only for it to fall into about 10 pieces. They gave it all back to me and asked to see ID with a photo before I could go in, a bit of a problem as they were already holding the only ID that fitted that criteria. At last I got in, and what's more I had a visa, a multiple entry visa too that allows 6 months from the start of each visit, no x-rays, no medicals, nothing. I went back to gloat to Brendan who is having no end of trouble getting his visa, but he was still sleeping off the effects of last night. Then I went to book a flight and typically the one I wanted was $100 more than any other, so I have moved it forward a day to Sunday. I insisted on them stating that I would have a bicycle as I am only expecting a very small plane and don't want to be turned away. "How would you like to pay?" they asked, "Visa" I said "Oh, you need to pay a week in advance if you pay by credit card", "So what other methods of payment are there?", "You will have to pay by cash". So what was the point of asking me? Before I handed over my hard earned I asked to see where they had stated about the bike "We can't do that, just turn up at the airport", but before I paid I made sure that I could at least see on their computer that they had mentioned it, but I expect that was deleted as soon as I left.

So Sunday at 11:45 I will be in Darwin, Australia.


jac said...

Flippin' 'eck. Australia.
Cycling to Australia is arriving in Australia.
Truly amazing and impressive and wonderful. A huge achievement. :-)

aoiffe said...

Like jac, I say wow. I remember that in the weeks prior to your departure as we talked about all the possible problems you might encounter you said that that you would be disappointed to cycle for less than three months. Well here you are 18 months later about to arrive in Australia. Brill and wow.

I shall have to update the staff at hotel JR, for the oft repeated question from the doctors to me was less of 'how are you today' and more 'how is your brother doing, where is he now?'

dad said...

Hi John, Congratulations on reaching your goal. Today is Sunday time 0915 so you will be in Darwin by now, and no more trouble getting water or beer. Many people ask me how you are doing so I shall now be able to tell them you have reached your target. What next?