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.

Bicycle tales

The old bicycle is showing signs of wear and tear, mostly rust from the salty humid air, I suspect.  The bell (yes, bell) is now rusted solid.  Now that I am on the OZ-sourced inner tubes, I do not have to pump the tyres up every 2 days and I have gone more than 2 weeks without an inner tube failure.

A couple of months ago, one of the pedals snapped and I have now moved onto the $5 all metal locally-sourced version.  The bearings seem to have a problem already and these will not last long.

Early on, I bought the cheap locally-sourced lock and chain.  Within 2 months, the lock had rusted up and was unusable.  So I bring back into the country a flash, expensive, guaranteed-for-life lock and chain.  Last week, the chain snapped right next to the built-in lock.  So I am back to the cheap, locally sourced variety.

My bike seat started deteriorating rapidly a couple of weeks ago and accelerated until bits of foam underneath started poking out.  It is now held together by black linen tape ($2 at Oceano).

But I can’t say I am not getting my money’s worth.

From the Asian pollution cloud

The UNEP (UN Environment Program) have released a report on the ever-increasing pollution cloud in Asia (see here).  I remember holidaying in Asia during the severe Sumatran forest fires and experiencing horrendous air pollution problems in KL.  But this time, there is no single source.

I can report that Dili has no such pollution clouds.  During the dry season, the prevailing wind is from the north-east.  And there is no heavy industry to be seen for a bulls roar (ie a long distance).

However, on a per-capita basis, it really seems that Dili is not doing too well.  It seems that the vehicle traffic has tripled since I arrived in 2005 and while cycling, I have nearly keeled over a number of times from a face full of diesel fumes from vehicles sadly in need of maintenance or putting down.

And Dili is serviced electrically by diesel generators that have a bad habit of clapping out regularly.  As a result, every man and his dog seems to have a private generator to overcome these problems.  So at any time, there must be total generating capacity far exceeding total demand.  I will call this inefficient.

But if Dili has a problem its the stripping of all vegetation off the hills for either fuel for cooking or because of some old tradition of burning off the hills during the dry season.  And that confounded habit of sweeping the dirt around domestic dwellings (ie no grass) in the mornings … could cause more pollution than anything else.  But at this stage, its all small beer (ie not too much of an issue).

In any case fellow Asians, if you are getting too much of a lungful of the pollution cloud, why not come over to Dili and test out the pristine air.  And you only have to drive for 10 minutes to get out of the metropolis … eat in grass huts by the sea, cold beer, swimming, snorkelling ….  (Jakarta residents take note.)

Tourism drive

I note that the President is urging Australians to come here as tourists.  And I see that a new 5-star hotel resort is on the cards :

The resort will be built between two ridges in Taci Tolu * on the coast of western Dili and will have a five-star hotel with about 350 rooms, a 27-hole golf course set amid lakes, and a business park.

This puts it just west of the existing Timorese defence HQ (and the race course) and just beneath the outstretched hands of the recently erected Pope Paul statue.  It is also just across the road from Dili Rock – a popular diving spot.  And 10 minutes from the airport.

Not that I am a hotel ratings genius, but my current best guess is that Hotel Timor may be a 4-star.  Discovery Inn looks ordinary from the outside but at least it does have a more hotel-ish restaurant and bar.  And the Com Resort is more 3-star-ish with its non-24-by-7 power.

On the more rustic tourism front, I recently did the Mt. Matebian walk.  For more details on how to do it, I would try this site which seems pretty up-to-date to me.  The contacts given in the web page seem to be current.  We did the Uaiboro start option which is gettable by 4-wheel drive in the dry – allow about 7 hours from Dili.  I did the Uaiboro-summit in 4 hours and return in about 2 hours 40 minutes.  I was knackered and drank about 3 litres of fluid during the recovery time at the end.  It was fine but cold at the top, requiring additional clothing.  It was fine but hot at the bottom, requiring as little as possible.

My only failure was my boots.  The sole almost came off one on the ascent and had to be taped back on – this worked.  The left sole came off 30 minutes from the end (no tape left) and I staggered in looking and feeling like a wreck.  My t-shirt looked like a salt pan.

Note that TL does not have a camping/hiking store that can supply typical western supplies so you have to bring what you need.  We used a guide which I think is preferable.  The guy wore cheap running shoes but took them off half-way up and went the rest of the way barefoot.  While I was chugging down the water on numerous occasions, he seemed quite happy to do without.  Near the end, the local kids were laughing at me with my sole-flapping boots as they raced past and around me barefoot on the loose stones and gravel.  Doesn’t it cheese you off !?

* Note that “Taci Tolu” literally means 3 lakes.  They currently exist but after the wet season, 2 of the 3 lakes usually merge to make 2 lakes.

Changes, always changes

It seems like every time I look, something has changed.  I have made a few changes to restaurants in my Google Earth landmarks file which include amongst other things the apparent change of HarbourView Cafe to a Thai restaurant.  Maybe the sign was knocked down, is being cleaned/changed or maybe the HarbourView name is no more.

Besides becoming increasingly difficult to cross now, Comorro Road is changing at a rapid rate.  Perkins shipping has moved to “Banana Road”.  There must be about 4 new petrol stations and if you look over fences that you may otherwise fly past in your car, you will see lots of cleared land ready for something.

Physiotherapy Timor is now operating from near the Dili Club so you can get the full body service in that strip of shops now – haircut, massage, a curry, Thai food, pizzas, beer and physiotherapy if you fall off a bar stool.

The streets

There is no doubt that the traffic is the busiest I have seen it.  No, I haven’t done a traffic survey.  I base it on the increased frequency of cussing and animated hand gestures.  Apart from the florid bits, the words “road awareness” pass my lips all too often.  Like while I am holding back as I see the car in front drift slowly to the right to give a nice wide turning circle in order to go left.  So while I am holding back to avoid possible conflict with parked car on the other side of the road, the car behind floors the pedal and overtakes me.  !@#$#@ … not long to live for these guys !

I had my 20th bicycle tyre blow-out last week – again it was a faulty locally sourced inner tube that was the culprit.  I have now replaced it with a tube sourced from OZ.

Slowly but surely the IDP camps are closing down which makes the streets appear more orderly.  The significant ones to go have been the Jardim camp right outside Hotel Timor, the one at the old Chinese Embassy down near Hotel Dili (plus the huge build-up across the road by the sea) and the huge airport camp.

A lot of the others are a little more hidden or in out-of-the way places so I don’t tend to notice changes in those, but I do notice that the Motael Church camp seems as packed as it has ever been.  So some may have returned home (whether old or new), some have gone to other temporary camps and others have probably moved into some of the existing camps.

The inaugural Timor-Leste Job Fair is on this week at Salon Delta Nova (about 200 metres south of Leader Supermarket) on 7 and 8 October (ie Tuesday and Wednesday).  There has got to be an opening for a driving school !

Even Bali has duds

If you want a break from Dili then Bali is the cheapest destination where there is some semblance of Western comfort items.  In Dili, you eventually get accustomed to life without Starbucks, Mickie Dees, squash courts and golf courses.  And in the end, you don’t really miss them much at all.

But you go to Bali to eat and drink well at half the cost of Dili (and still don’t go to Starbucks, MickieDees, play squash or golf !).  As far as eating goes, my rule is (as far as possible) to eat something you can’t get in Dili.  But it means striking duds occasionally.  It was my turn to choose so I selected the trendy looking Balinese decor restaurant with some Italian-derived dishes on the menu.  I use the term Italian-derived to avoid abuse from RO who would probably be appalled if I just used the word “Italian”.  And there is no way I am going to insult my gnocchi rolling teacher !

Anyway, things were going OK.  Food was OK without being spectacular then it happened.  The band started playing.  A few guys wearing chefs uniforms playing violin, double bass and conga drums.  I choked when they got to “Johnnie B Good”.  Then a few more old classics were butchered.  I sprayed when other diners actually clapped.

I suddenly saw my future as clear as a bell.  Would I be doing this when I am “retired” ? * Yes, the restaurant was probably mostly retired folk and the children were obviously grand-kids.  I blew it.  My rights to choose a restaurant withdrawn until further notice.

And for once, if a guy had said “transport”, I would have accepted instantly and offered to drive back to Dili.

*  That is, clapping musos in chef’s uniforms !

Coffee plungers and Darwin

As I always travel with ground Timorese coffee and a coffee plunger, it is bound to happen and that extra squish of the bag breaks another plunger glass insert. Fortunately, I was on my way to Darwin where I could whip down to Casuarina Mall (by free bus of course) and solve the problem.

For some reason, going to Casuarina Mall always makes me feel healthier. Watching the engorgement of food in the food mall reminds me of this. But the Mall always gives one a chance to update the aging Dili wardrobe of shorts, t-shirt and sandals.

In the end, it took a veritable coon’s age * to acquire the necessary plunger replacement glass insert. It could not be found at the Mall at all. Later, I visited 3 homeware stores in central Darwin and finally came up a winner at Alfreds in Knuckey Street – you know the place a short walk from your hotel (and not 20kms away at Casuarina) ! Best places for new ones are Alfreds and Cameo in Cavenagh Street.  Alfreds were out of stock of the flash all stainless steel plungers.

I have probably been asked a dozen times about where one can buy a plunger in Dili. I saw one at Leader supermarket 2 years ago but have not seen one since. Fortunately, caffeine has no effect on me whatsoever … no effect on me whatsoever … no effect on me whatsoever … no effect on me whatsoever …

* A “coon’s age” is a very long time and a term I learnt from wharfies at the Watersider Hotel in Melbourne. Obviously it refers to aged/matured cheddar cheese known as Coon Cheese in Australia – an essential part of my diet along with Vegemite when I was younger (and still wearing shorts).  Both of these products were manufactured by Kraft at that time.  Can’t understand why Kraft offloaded it !  Besides, the Dairy Farmers version is an inferior product and no longer on my shopping list.

Oecussi Festival

Unless I am sadly mistaken, it is Oecussi Festival time.  This coming weekend is a long weekend (ie Timorese public holiday on Friday) so it ought to be the big weekend for this festival.  Google has failed to come up with any more information than that.  I understand that the Nakroma (ie Dili-Oecussi ferry) has a few maintenance issues at the moment and may be out of action which is really good timing for the festival.

So if you come across Dr.Who in your travels, hijack the Tardus and get along down to Oecussi for an old fashioned Timorese knees-up.  There is also the Oecussi races down by the sea on a track that gives the Dili Tasi Tolu track a run for its money – as do the Oecussi horses I am told.  Be prepared for some rustic “tau osan”.  Oecussi is pretty much BYO.

Walks around Dili

I have cycled over most of Dili itself, and cycled, run or walked numerous other parts of the surrounds.  Dili is surrounded by hills so as long as you know up from down, you are unlikely to get totally lost.  However, you may find yourself cornered on really steep and slippery slopes – slippery as most of the hills are very gravelly.

I would not recommend mountain biking on the hills unless you are experienced and have lots of tyre repair gear.  For the visitor who really wants fresh air, views and exercise, I have added 5 possible walk/run/cycle routes to my Google Earth file which includes the “must-do” trip up to see Jesus.  These 5 trails are on well-defined paths with little likelihood of getting lost.  Just don’t forget to take plenty of water.

They are :

Dare to Dili – take a vehicle up to the Dare turn-off called “Fatuk Nava”.  Take the road to Dare from the turn-off and after about 600 metres take the pathway downhill (shown as a sharp dogleg to the right).  Follow this old roadway (called Fatuk Laran) all the way to Vila Verde Cathedral.  This is all downhill and tough on knees but has speccy views.

Seeing Jesus – a typical walk/run from Caz Bar (or one of the other bar/restaurants in the vicinity) to the Jesus statue and back.  This is the tourist guide “been there done that” tick it off walk/run.

Daisy’s Loop – the loop from Caz Bar up “Ramos-Horta hill” over the top and diown to the sea on the other side with scramble up the hill to join the “Seeing Jesus” track.

Seeing the Pope – a much shorter walk (or even a car trip to the top) to see the Pope and yet more views of Dili from the western end.

City to Bars walk/run – from the Palacio (or anywhere really) to the Caz Bar/Atlantic Grill/Sol e Mar restaurant area and back.  A flat seaside walk with numerous refreshment stops possible.

There are numerous variations and one or two more that I could add.