Timor Air

On 2 February 2009, Timor Air intend to start an air service in direct competition to Air North.  Rather than just do the Darwin-Dili leg, they intend to link from Cloncurry to Brisbane to Darwin to Dili to Bali.

This is a very attractive option if the price is right.  They intend using a Darwin-based 94-seat Embraer E-190 which I guess means the draconian luggage limitations of Air North will be over.  Not to mention that Darwin check-in chick.

Flying here – update

Fairly soon, AustAsia Airlines will be commencing flights from Singapore to Dili – 1 August, I believe*.  They have been offering opening specials at USD200 (+ taxes) each way for the 1st and 5th August flights, returning by 19 August.  This brings the number of incoming airlines to 3, flying from Darwin, Denpasar (Bali) and Singapore.

One can never really quote a fare as they seem to change all the time but I needed an update as I am fanging for a trip out real soon to recharge the shopping and eating batteries.

Airline Flight Days Departure/Arrival Times
(all in local times)
Approximate Price
Darwin – Dili
Flight Time 1:45
Distance 703 km
Daily AM flights
PM flights on Sat, Mon, Tue, Thu
AM Flights
DRW-DIL 07:00 / 08:15
DIL-DRW 09:00 / 11:15
PM Flights
DRW-DIL 12:00 / 13:15
DIL-DRW 16:45 / 19:00
AUD415 (book ahead) or up to AUD860 with no planning
Denpasar – Dili
Flight Time 1:50
Distance 1139 km
Daily DPS-DIL 10:05 / 12:55
DIL-DPS 13:35 / 14:30

Singapore – Dili
Flight Time 3:50
Distance 2661 km
Starting 1 August.

Aug : two per week (Tue & Fri)
Nov : three per week (Tue, Thu & Sat)

SIN–DIL 09:20 / 14:15
DIL–SIN 15:25 / 18:10
USD820 to 850

* FOS corrected my dates.

Travel advisories and what it means now

I know I risk annoying someone for touching this one but yesterday morning, Radio OZ chose to broadcast much of the content of a recently released Timor-Leste travel advisory by the OZ government.

Unless you listened very carefully, you may have thought things had descended into a security nightmare again.  But the reality is slightly different.  Yes, the travel advisory was changed on Tuesday but only to add a section warning against movement in the seaport area following a major acid spill.  Otherwise, the general flavour of the advisory has not changed for months.  (Note that if you register on the advisory website http://www.smartraveller.gov.au you will get an email reminder if the advisory changes, as I did on Tuesday.)

That flavour is based on the January/February situation where there were nightly rock fights in specific parts of town and things were generally not very nice.  Things calmed down in early March but the advisory has not fundamentally changed.  It has not changed as there has been an expectation that something will kick off the trouble again – like an election.  And here we have an election process – campaigning, voting, announcement of results – which will go on until July.

For those who are not students of the travel advisory (http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/East_Timor), it basically advises Australians to leave and advises those staying to avoid the western districts and avoid congregating in bars, restaurants and places frequented by foreigners etc. etc.

I suppose one contentious point is the system of defining warning levels.  TL is at “level 5” which is the highest level but most people can’t quite believe that you can equate TL with Iraq or Afghanistan.  And if it is level 5 now, then May last year should be “level 9”, shouldn’t it ?

Most expats who have been here for a while generally know where not to go and when not to go.  They tend to know what to avoid and will generally know which direction is the way to safety if something goes wrong.

In general, I wouldn’t recommend a first-time visitor coming here unless they join up with a group (ie employer-related) who will provide some accompaniment and guidance.  It takes time to become accustomed to the security environment and to get the “feel” when things are wrong.

However, I move about freely right now and feel no anxiety about moving about Dili, although I would avoid places like Fatuhada, Kampung Alor, Bairo Pite and the Delta areas in Comorro.  Very few expats have a need to hang around these areas.  At the end of the day, it is all about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There are hundreds of UN police roaming about the place these days and I am confident if any escalation of problems occurs, it will be quickly fed into the security notification system which now seems well entrenched.

If I feel the need to don the cast-iron underwear (with high-tech chafe-free absorbent gusset), you will hear about it here.

Heads up : should you come ? Yes/No

I will try to give a bit of current background to anyone thinking of coming or returning at the moment. This is targeted at returnees who may have left with a 10kg travel bag and left a household here. Also to short-term workers and anyone who really wants to visit as a tourist.

Most countries with a significant presence here have had government travel warnings advising against coming here and recommending that non-essential residents consider leaving. These have been in place at their current level for about 2 weeks now and remain in place. The major effect these advisories have is on travel insurance for private travellers and employer-based insurance for employees. The insurance companies do not want to carry the risk which is based almost entirely on these government travel warnings.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, there were good reasons for travel warnings but for about 10 or 12 days, there have been no security incidents of note affecting the expat community. The wide ranging rock fighting and general danger seemed to evaporate. However, the numbers in the IDP camps have increased. (There has been the odd localised incident in the Taibesse, Bairo Pite and Delta areas but nothing like the previous weeks.)

If you ask a few questions, you will find that the current warning state is based on recent history and threats which are assumed to be related to the forthcoming elections. So I can’t see the warnings lifted before the presidential elections scheduled for 9 April at the earliest.

Yet, right now, the streets seem as safe as they have ever been in the last 10 months. I dusted off the bicycle last week and felt perfectly fine. At night, the streets remain fairly deserted although it is debatable whether this is much different to “normal” anyway. The numbers in the bars and restaurants are down but not woefully low. A survey of home delivered pizza volumes would probably be a better indicator of expat activity.

The rice shortage situation is not over and living next to a rice warehouse is a highly undesirable activity. Chez Squatter has acquired a sack of rice at US$1-20 per kg which should last the rest of the year. Nevertheless, supplies to IDP camps are still limited.

Returnees would find it all quite OK but I think the main problem with first-time arrivals is that you just don’t know where to go or where not to go and when to do it. And knowing people who can tell you when something is “going down” is also important.

Despite all this, some people who left a week or so ago are returning, but not the international volunteer community for the moment.

On Friday, the presidential candidates all signed a declaration to play the election campaign fairly and to accept the results when they are known. Major Alfredo has gone quiet so maybe he has been closed down in the hills and is not in a position to get his mobile phone batteries re-charged.

Shopping supplies are fine. Coral reef snorkeling down the coast to the east was fine. I have heard rumours of a couple of expat businesses considering “pulling up stumps” but for the moment, it just seems a bit of a waiting game.

Hope this helps.  Just don’t sue me if everything goes bad again.  All the above applied 5 minutes ago.

Note for non-cricket playing nationals : “pulling up stumps” is a term based on the act of removing (at the end of play) some of the equipment used in the game of cricket. So it effectively means closing down for a significant period.

Back from a Bali refresher

We spent a week in Bali between Christmas and New Year.  A couple of things have changed back here but it is worth commenting on some of the noticable differences between Dili and Bali.

It was only days before we left that an Australian government advisory came out warning about potential trouble in Bali and advising against non-essential travel.  We didn’t even bat an eyelid over that one.  Arrived in Bali and had the fastest airport movement (through immigration, I meant !) I have ever had in Bali.  Later it became clear that the tourist numbers were well down.

I am not a Hawaian shirt wearing, zoom lens toting tourist with a bag of souvenirs under my arm so I don’t have a lot of time for kazillions of souvenir shops and the buying of another “I’ve been to Bali” t-shirt.  But I was gobsmacked at the staggering number of souvenir/art shops and not a tourist in sight.  It turns out they are hurting really bad.

At the remote hotel we stayed at for part of the time, there were acceptable numbers when we were there but no bookings after 8 January.  And they had spent 3 months during last year without a single guest.  As for the staff, they just went back to tending the family rice paddy or whatever.

We spent New Year in Ubud and again, I was gobsmacked.  Hardly a single tourist on the streets after dark.  3/4 of all restaurants empty.  Restaurants who had decorated themselves with balloons etc. for New Year and not a single customer.

Only the flash trendy upmarket foreigner restaurants seemed to making any headway.  Definitely no backpacker types looking for the best cheap eats in town. But it did mean eating a wonderful meal at New Year at 2/3 of Dili prices (and infinitely more exquisite) and not having to book.

A lot of Balinese are doing it really hard.

In and out by plane

Before I forget the detail (and for the benefit of visitors threatening to drop in soon), it is worth noting some of the features of arrival here from abroad.

The only commercial flights in and out of Dili are by AirNorth to Darwin and Merpati to Bali. Apparently there was a flight to Kupang in West Timor before my time but not now.

AirNorth operates one or two flights per day and uses a Brasilia Embrauer 120 which seats around 25 to 30 passengers. If bookings are a bit lower, they use a Metro 23 which can seat about 18. Both are twin-propeller driven things (turboprop ?) and take around 1 hour and 40 minutes to get here. It is worth noting that the Metro 23 does not have an onboard toilet.

Both planes are sufficiently noisy to make personal music listening a bit difficult. Cabin food service is limited to crisps, sweets, cakes and biscuits plus beverage of choice (ie tea, coffee, soft drink). This is at no extra charge and not much good for those on strict diets.

The AirNorth flights limit checked-in luggage to 13kgs which is significantly less than the 32kgs allowed on domestic flights in Australia. Carry-on baggage is also reduced as the Embrauer overhead lockers are smaller than larger planes and the Metro 23 does not have overhead lockers at all.

The Merpati flights are usually 737s (I think) and do overcome the baggage restrictions. In general, I would recommend tourists come via Bali as Bali offers a much cheaper stop-over than Darwin. As for safety, I can see no problem particular if you stay away from Kuta and Legian. Flight time is a similar 1 hour 50 minutes.

On arrival in Dili, you will be deposited onto the Comorro Airport tarmac and guided into the terminal building. If you do not have a visa, the visa office is in a small pre-fab hut by the walkway to the terminal (USD30 for a 30 day tourist visa). There are usually around 3 operating immigration officials and it is fairly quick getting through less than 30 passengers. Just past immigration to the right is the baggage collection carousel and a small duty-free shop where you can pick up your duty-free spirits, if you haven’t done it already.

As you walk out, you will be asked for ID by customs who may or may not require an inspection. I have never had any trouble here. A short walk and you are out.

Although I have taxied to the airport, I have always been picked up on arrival so can’t speak for the taxi allocation service outside. But I wouldn’t pay more than USD2 for a trip anywhere in town.

Leaving is a bit different. One just walks straight into the terminal (where non-travellers are generally not allowed) past the unattended X-ray machine to check-in your luggage. Online ticket purchases are recognised on presentation of ID. A lad usually offers to take your check-in luggage over to manual scales for weighing. Then its 10 steps right to pay your USD10 departure tax.

I usually leave the terminal building at this point (about 4 minutes after arrival) and retire to the coffee shop outside. It seems it is the done thing to wait there for the guy (who checked in your luggage) to call you to your flight.

Then its back into the terminal past the “remove your ammunition clips from your weapons before entering terminal” sign to immigration to hand in your completed immigration form. These days the X-ray equipment for your carry-on luggage now does work. The departure lounge has no food or drink hence the milling around the coffee shop outside. The departure lounge has a duty-free shop and a couple of souvenir shops. The prices are high but it is not a bad range of souvenirs.

One is then called to the flight and marched out behind the cabin staff across the tarmac to the plane. Then you’re out.

Although it varies, timetabled flights are typically :
DRW-DIL 7:00am, 3:30pm, flight time 1:45
DIL-DRW 9:00am, 5:30pm
The afternoon flight is not on every day. If you book ahead, the DRW-DIL leg should cost AU199 and the DIL-DRW return leg US159. You can do this at :

I have not done this one for a while but I believe the timetable is something like shown below following a reduction in timetabled flights recently :
Every MONDAY :
DPS-DIL 10:10am (arrive 1:00pm)
DIL-DPS 1:40pm (arrive 2:35pm)

DPS-DIL 10:30am (arrive 1:20pm)
DIL-DPS 1:55pm (arrive 2:50pm)

The Trip to Darwin

I had better get accustomed to return trips to Darwin as I have another 2 dental maintenance trips to do over the next 3 months.

The usual way to Darwin is via AirNorth flights in a 30-seater Embrauer Brasilia turboprop aircraft which takes around 1.5 hours.

On the way to the airport, I mentioned to the other half “I wonder how many people we will know at the airport ?”. Answer : about half a dozen. Yep, Dili is a small place.

The flight also included a small group of Timorese WW2 veterans heading off to Melbourne for Anzac Day. I had read all about them already. Check out the following link at the Melbourne Age – The Age 25 April 2006

Anyway, having copped the raw prawn * courtesy of my rear molar, it only seemed fitting that I arrive in Darwin a day before a cyclone warning. It was looking like the biggest cyclone to hit the north coast on record and bigger than Cyclone Tracy which obliterated Darwin in 1975.

Fortunately, it drifted south and missed Darwin and I only spent one extra day in Darwin while the city went into lockdown. I was told not to bother going to the airport to get my scheduled flight out as all other airlines had cancelled flights and someone even told me the army had taken over the airport for emergency measures.

I couldn’t contact AirNorth or the airport which was closed, so I didn’t bother going to the airport for my original return flight.

Now tell me why all the other airlines cancelled flights and little old AirNorth actually flew out at my scheduled time ?

* cop the raw prawn – receive something disagreeable, often hot and steaming

Bali Break

After a few months of domestic hell with water problems and almost daily trooping in and out of “tradesmen” (I use that term quite loosely), an opportunity came up to get away for a breather, courtesy of the other half’s employer.

I imparted the USD284 for a return flight to Bali on Merpati. One hour and forty minutes later, one is in Bali and although I have been to Bali a couple of times before, the feeling this time was quite different. It really felt like the “boy from the bush” returning to the big city. It felt cosmopolitan, the traffic was awful, the shopping opportunities endless (by comparison), the normality gob-smacking. And cheap. Most things are 1/3 of the price of Dili.

We stayed with a hybrid Indonesian/western family and ate fabulous Indonesian home-cooked meals morning, noon and night. I gutsed myself. I did no exercise. And I came back to Dili weighing another 3kgs lighter. I guess it was the sambal* morning, noon and night.

I went with an empty suitcase as one of the main missions was to buy a few household items sadly missing from our house. We came back with plumbing fittings, telephones, cables, bedspreads, shower curtains, cushions, cushion covers, kitchenware and I nabbed a new LCD monitor as my poor old 11-year old monitor seemed to lose focus and intensity after 5 months in a hot, humid shipping container.

The LCD monitor savings over Dili prices effectively paid for my airfare. I could get used to this.

* sambal equals crushed chili often mixed with shrimp paste or lime juice but almost always hair-raising.

Arrival Day

There are 2 main ways to get to Dili from OZ. One is via Bali and the second is via AirNorth from Darwin, which was our chosen option.

AirNorth operate a ~25 seater Embrauer twin-prop plane. Cabin space is much tighter than your typical jet so cabin baggage is also limited. Clearly there had been some sort of dispute at the check-in over cabin baggage and one argumentative sod had clearly defied instruction not to take his huge sports bag into the cabin. He spent 15 minutes removing stuff from his bag in the aisle while overlooked by 2 unhappy hostesses.

I attempted to alleviate the tension (and delay) by listening to my portable music player. I didn’t notice the hostess come over and start giving instructions to those sitting near the wing emergency exit. She castigated me for not listening and went on to ask if we were prepared to remain sitting here and if necessary, unlatch and eject the emergency door. As I was sitting next to the emergency door, I think she meant me. However, I missed the bit about doing it “on her instruction”.

The flight was uneventful. Cabin service included free noise, a beer, peanuts, crisps, a piece of cake and a Mars Bar. Nothing much for the health freak, I’m afraid.

It was clear blue skies all the way until we actually reached the island of Timor. It was encased in dark brooding clouds and we wended our way through gaps over pretty rugged terrain to Comorro Airport on the other side. It had been raining and was still raining lightly, but it was surprisingly cool.

The customs and immigration procedure was near non-existent and no specific security procedures were evident (compared to the usual high security rig-ma-role elsewhere). A vehicle was waiting on arrival to take us to the Hotel Timor.

The 10 minute drive took us through a very rural scene but in the urban area of Dili. The rain didn’t actually make it look that comfortable out there.