Riding the Waves in Bed

Saturday 28 Jan 2006 2:02am – all quiet.
Saturday 28 Jan 2006 2:03am – woken by someone shaking the bed. Hey wait a minute … the whole building is shaking in the breeze. Whoa … (expletive deleted).

For about 30 seconds, I rode the wave while lying in bed speaking in mono-syllabic expletives. Swaying in the breeze was just right, but we are only on the 1st floor of a 3 level building.

The knowledge that the Hotel Timor would fail any structural integrity tests elsewhere in the world did not sit well in the guts as we rode out the wave. Having lived in known earthquake zones before, I don’t recall feeling quite so unsafe. One can only thank that this building is no taller than 3 levels.

The thought of finding alternative accommodation suddenly rose to the surface again. Even one of the larger banks in town had to move at great expense because of the imminent collapse of its new foreigner built premises. This does not inspire confidence with alternatives either.

The distinct lack of independent certification of building works is already high on our agenda as we seek clarification on the completely new electrical wiring in our soon to be completed residence. When you have the acknowledged best electrician in town, I am told you have to accept his own self-certification. Because the alternatives are not worth it.

Saturday 28 Jan 2:37am. I think I can go try to go back to sleep now. Maybe I just might pop a little sleeping pill.

Postscript : This quake which was reported widely in the media, turned out to be a 7.7 Richter scale one some 440kms away. As far as I can tell, everyone seems to have woken up during this one.

Seeking New Accommodation re-visited

After boldly deciding that the Hotel Timor was not the place to be during the next quake, we did a quick reccy of 2 more alternatives. One should keep in mind that we are only looking at 6 to 8 weeks accommodation.

The first place (Casa Minha) wasn’t too bad but the most suitable room wasn’t going to be available for another 2 weeks. So we put our names down.

Following recommendations, we had a look at the Timor Lodge Hotel. Its a little further out than a lot of the others being quite near the airport round-about in Comorro. We had arranged to meet up with the wife of an English couple who live in a villa there. But before seeing their place, we allowed the staff to show us what was on offer.

Well, 25 years ago, if I had the arse falling out of my trousers, I might have considered some of the rooms put on display. I suspect prisons in most western countries are in better nick than this lot. Finally, we met up with the English acquaintance who showed us her place. Yes, she agreed they were quite spartan and that they had spent a lot of money fixing it up, painting it and furnishing it.

For 6 to 8 weeks, not really an option for us. So back to the drawing board and back to the Hotel Timor, hoping that the next quake is far into the future.

Hotel Timor Re-visited

Previously, I had commented on the eager fleet of room service people here at the Hotel Timor. After 2 weeks, time for a rethink.

The rooms have tiled floors with a couple of woven mats on the floor in the main traffic areas. And yes, they do come in with a mop and swab the entire visible tiled surface, but the mats have remained untouched and are slowly becoming quiet unclean. They don’t always wipe the tables and don’t always clean the 2 coffee cups in the room.

Two weeks of hotel breakfasts has now revealed a pattern. The morning offering is exactly the same every day, only varied by the absence of yogurt over the last week. It seems that food is brought out at around 7am and we have seen the job finished at 7:30am. Breakfast seems be available until 11am. So thats 3.5 hours of food sitting out on a buffet table. The hot food in trays sitting over small heating flames.

Its only now that I realise that in some cases, these trays are recycled for use next day. And it has now dawned on me that after 8 days of daily gut trouble, skipping breakfast yesterday led to a quite quick recovery. It now makes sense.

There can not be many people in the hotel. On arrival, we might see 4 or 5 other people at breakfast, but as Christmas approached, this has dropped to 1 other and sometimes only us. Evening meals appear little different. This suggests a throughput issue.

We have eaten evening meals about 3 times in the hotel and on each occasion, I have been very unimpressed. I noted that it would have been impossible to create the chosen meal in the time given, without some components being pre-prepared.

So yes, it really was the Sri Lankan restaurant food that started all this but I suspect the hotel food has been fuelling whatever nasties are in my system.

I have noticed quite a number of expats comment to us about the structural integrity of the hotel. I have tended to ignore it until today when I was told that a structural engineering report (done by the US govt. I believe) has deemed the structure to be fundamentally unsafe and as a result, the US Embassy (and the Australian embassy) do not permit visiting staff to stay there. Apparently, the building was a burnt-out shell 3 years ago and re-built in quick time without any additional structural strengthening and a mild earthquake (not uncommon here) of the right frequency and direction, will more than likely lead to structural failure.

So we are on the hunt for alternative accommodation again.

But after a week of gut problems and these structural issues, they still pale into insignificance against the pain I experienced last night on HBO. I watched the movie of the Thunderbirds. They butchered it … lifelong memories trashed … Ben Kingsley, how could you ?

Hotel Timor

For reasons out of our control, our house will not be ready for a couple of months, so we are booked into the Hotel Timor.

The Hotel Timor is (I believe) the only hotel that one could call a hotel in the modern western sense. It is fairly spartan but is functional and operates reasonably well. I am no genius in this area. but I guess it might be a 3.5 stars on a good day. It has air-con, satellite TV (BBC, CNN, ABC Australia, Portuguese & Indonesian channels and HBO), showers that work, toilets that work, even tea and coffee making facilities.

There is also a shop (mostly closed as far as I can tell), a business centre which is really just an internet bar (256kbps connection with 6 pcs USD8 per hour), a coffee shop/bar (with Portuguese pastries) and a restaurant, which does a full western breakfast (USD7-50 each) and Portuguese menu (typical main USD10) in the evening.

One feature that is noticably missing is paper. There are no newspapers or magazines to be found. No hotel service directory in the room, no writing paper, no maps of Dili, no advertising of any local services and no tourist information to be found in the building.

There are alternatives to the Hotel Timor. If one wants some ability to prepare food in your room, there are very few options. Vasco Da Gamas has a kitchen area but very limited utensils. The usual alternative has small rooms in motel style, with direct access to outside and a pool. We had the choice of moving to Vascos or to the Esplanade Hotel, but after more than 3 months of living in close quarters and facing another couple of months in even closer quarters, we decided to opt for the big room option and forgo the cooking facilities. Yes, we will get sick of it, but 2 months in a shoe box with barely enough room to store our luggage was our non-preferred option. It is clear that most accommodation is geared for solo guests.

The most annoying part is the room service people. They are keen as mustard to get their work done and one is left no opportunity to sleep-in as they are waiting outside the door at 8:30am, ready to pounce. Then a fleet of about half a dozen come in and change and clean everything. Floors are swabbed, surfaces dusted and stuff moved so we can move it back to where we want it (again).