Am on holidays

It eventually must come around to the time when you have to take a decent length holiday and now is the time.  So I will not be back in Dili until next month.

My initial reaction is that I have not budgeted anywhere near enough dosh.  Maybe Dili is not that expensive after all.  Have had my first draught Guinness for a long time and life is good … except for when you eat afterwards and it feels like a monthly mortgage payment.

That’s Europe for you.

Driving blindfolded

Driving between 6pm and 8pm is now becoming a bit like driving blindfolded.  Having had a near collision with a motorbike without lights, you may as well drive blindfolded.  (After 8pm, the general traffic diminishes so it is not as noticeable.)

Having been sensitised by this incident (ie he was heading for my driver’s door), I counted well over a dozen similar blacked-out motorbikes and a few cars as well over the next few minutes.  Having raised this in conversation, it appears I am not the only one to notice.

The curious belief that using lights uses up more petrol is often mentioned.  In other cases, the bikes and cars just do not have functioning lights – a lot of this from being belted with rocks or sticks over the last 12 months.  I suspect few vehicles would pass OZ-style roadworthy tests.

There are a few other aspects that would also fail such tests.  The first is cars with tinted windows so dark, you can not detect any sign of life through the windows and secondly, vehicles with cages instead of windows, which make them look like vehicles from a “Mad Max” movie or from a speedway circuit.

It’s safer on the bicycle.

Oecussi festival – mark your cards

The Oecussi Festival runs from 1-12 August with the main events hosted over the weekend of 3-5 August 2007 and culminating with Oecussi Day on 11 August.

During the weekend of 3rd – 5th August 2007, the main beach boulevard will be transformed into an array of art and craft markets with accompanying beach competitions, water sports, open air restaurants, traditional ceremonies, costumes, dancing and singing, nightly bonfires, fireworks and of course rock bands playing into the early hours of the morning.

This is straight from
where you can find more details on what’s happening and how to get there etc. etc.

Dili airport – byo drinks

I think I have worked out that I had a coffee at the airport coffee shop on the very last day before it closed.  It has been closed since 7th of May.  In addition, barriers have now been put up to prevent non-travelers from swarming around the entrance and exit doors, which just leaves the old coffee shop area as the only protection from rain.  And there now is an operational TV screen showing the 2 or 3 civil flight movements per day.  It has all made the airport a bit less attractive and not the low-key “see your mates off” gathering at the coffee shop.

If you haven’t had the AirNorth check-in guy come out and tell you (and all other passengers) personally that you should move on in to the departure area (I am reluctant to use the term “lounge”), you have missed something.

Confession time : When I saw some mates (L & C) off earlier in the year, they challenged me to see just how far I could get as a non-traveler (ie no ticket, passport or any special pass).  I took them on and wandered past the security check, wandered past immigration but did get scanned through the 2nd passenger-only security check.  I called it a day in the departure lounge but know I could have gone all the way to the plane door.

If you think that sounds bold, you shouldn’t.  People once wandered all over the place but I doubt you could do it now.

Traffic lights heads up

Having mocked the traffic lights mercilessly when they were installed a couple of months back, it is worth reviewing their performance and effect on road safety.

In general, they have been installed on the incoming side of intersections only, so there are no lights on the other side of the intersection.  They are also placed about 5 metres back from the intersection corner which means one must stop 5 metres before the intersection so you can see the lights change.  This means you must look at a weird angle to see the lights change and a lot of the time, you can not see vehicle movements on the cross street.  4 out of 10 for no lights on the outgoing side of the intersection and 2 out of 10 for not being able to see traffic in the cross street.

They are sometimes working and sometimes not, sometimes on permanent amber, sometimes not.

There are a couple of intersections where the lights are respected but others where they are pretty much ignored.  I had expected that they may be vandalised by now but I have seen no evidence yet of this.

All up, provided you ignore them at select times, I doubt they have any effect at all.  If you observe them, probably a negative effect.  At this stage, UNPol do not pick you off for ignoring the lights which seems the common sense response to me.

Many think that street lighting would have a much bigger positive effect on general road safety and crime.

There goes the job in police public relations.

Google Earth news plus an underwear change

Yesterday, I zipped into my Google Earth of Dili and nothing … blank … nada.

I knew what it was straight away.  Google Earth had expired the saved store of images because there were a new set of satellite photos.  It will take a bit of slurping at an internet cafe, but I will slowly work on updating the imagery and finally comprehend everything I am seeing compared to the old 2005 pictures.

You can now see the airport IDP camp quite clearly just south of the airport and the Central Maritime Hotel (the floating hotel which left in May 2006) is no longer in picture but I have the floating bed there as a memory.  The state of the front of the Palacio do Governo suggests the imagery is dated before November 2006 as significant landscaping works have been almost completed in that area.

You can clearly see the New Comorro market lining the street near Pertamina Wharf but it is pretty much solid stalls on both sides now.  The OZ military presence at the heliport is in its early stages – it has expanded a lot since.

The IDP camp across from the port entrance looks like it is not there but maybe it is all under the trees.  Other IDP camps at the National Pharmacy warehouse and Don Bosco school are clearly visible.

It really is a case of spot the white UNHCR tents.  For those that can – enjoy.


I believe there are humungous problems going on right now but I do not know details.  OZ Embassy have racheted up security to LEVEL 5.  This is basically getting close to skid marks on the underwear stuff.  I thought I heard a gunshot a while ago but dismissed it until I got the LEVEL 5 message.

Bicycle rage 101

Maybe I was on the angry pills last week. But usually, I don’t have any trouble driving around and rarely have much trouble on my bicycle but one day last week, I must have popped a bad pill or something.

How can someone on a bicycle get road rage ? Well, if you cycle back from Cristo Rei not long before sunset, you will find yourself cycling west against a stream of vehicles heading for a sunset drink down at the “Caz Bar” or “Sol e Mar” (or a bit of exercise). The road can just fit 2 vehicles and is quite rural at the edges.

But 3 times, oncoming drivers attempted overtaking manoevres just as they were about to pass me. The first time, I was too late to get out a suitably aimed string of invective, but the 2nd guy copped both barrels. You can imagine how it went. I am wary of this stream of traffic, warning systems on alert and say to myself, “you are about to overtake right now aren’t you?”. And he did.

The 3rd one happened in slow motion outside the Lita Store. Another string of invective and my hand went into the air in consternation. The UN police driver following the offender, merely threw both hands into the air as if to say “what can you do?”.

Two minutes later, the piece de resistance occured next to the Palacio do Governo where the traffic was filling both lanes on the one way system. My way was blocked by a group of Timorese trying to cross the road at a “pedestrian crossing”. They were stuck, creeping out a few steps then retreating and I could not get around them unless I veered out into the traffic. I stopped, pondered the situation for 10 seconds then I snapped.

I got off my bike, walked out across the traffic (on the pedestrian crossing) holding up my hand to stop the traffic and herded the group of shocked Timorese across the road, while offering constructive suggestions to the drivers shocked into stopping at such a critical moment in their driving day.

Snorkeling out east

There is no doubt I have been getting too serious here lately.  I haven’t even commented on my trip out east a week or so ago when I finally got to stay at the “Com Resort” at Com which is the only establishment in the country that uses the term “resort”.  And possibly after the Hotel Timor, the only accommodation with conference facilities.

I guess it is the closest thing to a resort.  It’s not bad but perhaps a shade expensive for what you get.  But on the other hand, it is a remote sort of place without electricity, apart from that generated by the resort generator.

We took a Supreme room, meaning it had air-con.  Technically, the small AC unit was probably too small to handle the luxuriously-sized room, but it worked during the prescribed generator operating times of 7pm to 9am.  There was no sign of life from the TV which showed a blue screen and none of the Indovision satellite I expected.  But we were not there to watch TV.

We had our snorkelling gear and were told the best places were at the point to the west of the resort or down at the port in the harbour.  After breakfast, we walked down to the port where 2 Thai fishing boats were docked.  Now, if you don’t snorkle but do want to see coral and fish and stuff like that, the wharf is the place to go (with your camera).  But it is not the place to go to get wet if fishing boats are there as I am sure it was a little bit more than bilge water scum on the surface.

Funny how on the walk back, 10 tais* vendors appeared and had their wares out.  Prices were a bit high so we didn’t partake.  There are probably about 3 or 4 guest houses on the shoreline and if you are prepared to forgo AC (next time) one or two look quite neat.  I love the one with the sign “cold beer, warm beer”.  I think that covers all possibilities.

Later on when the tide was right, we went the other way to the point about 1km west of the resort.   Pretty good to get a coral reef to yourself.  Clearly the other resort guests were not there to get wet.

The next day, we went to Jaco Island via Tutuala.  This is the most eastern point of the island of Timor.  We rented a boat to take us the 500m across to the island and snorkeled off the island just because we were there.  Again, a coral reef to yourself.  You could see a mile under the water which was just far enough to see a small shark, which on seeing us, disappeared as fast as a speeding bullet.  We returned to the mainland and had barbecued fish cooked by the fisherman who inhabit the shore.  The fish was excellent and cost 1/10th of Dili prices and was much better.

All in all a very pleasant trip with absolutely none of the security problems of Dili.

* tais is Timor’s unique woven cloth that at the end of the day, is probably the most likely souvenir purchase one will make.

Driving – Dili-style

During the week, UNPol announced that they would be clamping down on cars without licence plates, unregistered cars and unlicenced drivers. They were also going to target riding on the roof of microlets (mini-buses) – a very common sight outside of Dili.

The roof riding practice is a bit dangerous, particularly on some of the mountainous roads around the place. UNPol refer to the high accident rate but I would like to see some statistics on this.

One day, the infamous new traffic lights will actually be switched on and this is likely to cause quite a bit of trouble. People do not bother with give-way rules or stop and give-way signs so it will take some to time to become accustomed to a new road discipline.

My general feel is that speeding is the most dangerous form of driving here. Supposedly, the Dili speed limit is 45km/hr but I would think that apart from taxis, this limit is exceeded by most drivers most of the time. But I am not talking about drivers doing 50 kph but those sprinting down Dili streets at closer to 100 kph. When I am on my bicycle, I don’t like it.

Although I have never had a dangerous moment, I have withdrawn off the road a couple of times in the face of vehicles overtaking and coming straight for me. They had plenty of time to adjust their manouevre but elected to press on. I had plenty of time to move off the road and on the odd occasion, have enough time to make rude hand gestures and curse their mothers. There is just a bit too much overtaking on urban roads for my liking.

That brings us to “Whitey”. I don’t know “Whitey” but apparently, he was a well-known local fixture in the building contractor game. While riding his motorbike on New Years’ Eve, he encountered 2 F-FDTL army trucks seemingly racing down the beach road near the Ocean Harbour View cafe*. He was hit badly and sustained very serious injuries. The army trucks did not stop and I am unaware if there has been any success in finding the trucks or drivers.

I believe “Whitey” has had a number of operations in hospital in Australia and I know a number of people here are thinking about him. It is worth noting that there is no insurance system in TL, so unless his employer has some decent cover, it could be a bit of a problem financially.

* I often make the mistake and call Harbour View the Ocean View which is of course the other end of town.

Traffic lights ! What the …

I try to be an observer but no matter how hard I try, I can’t help but collapse with laughter at the new sets of traffic lights that have been popping up over Dili over the last couple of weeks.  Fortunately, they have not been switched on yet.

It is a subject of great mirth for just about anybody living here, but no doubt, there is someone who has this as their pet project.  For the moment, it is a huge laugh but one day soon, they will be turned on and I am laying odds-on bets that it will be a schemozzle of the highest order.  Surely, it is a lumbering bureaucracy somewhere that came up with this.

I would love to see the traffic analysis figures but I have never seen traffic counters, of the human or mechanical variety so assume no figures exist.

You can drive across Dili in 15 minutes and apart from the odd traffic snarl due to either an accident, breakdown or sudden road closure, I can not recall ever thinking that traffic was a genuine problem.

But what came out of all the talk on the subject was that there is no road code apart from a 45km/hr speed limit in Dili proper and no drink-driving (when there is no mechanism to test for it).  So who is going to stop for a traffic light and what will happen during the 15 hours per day when there is hardly a car on the road.

I have heard some wacky stories about the expected vandalism and methods of combatting it, but I will have to leave that one when I actually see it happen.  Another huge laugh is a certainty.

Can you believe it ?  Dili has 20 sets of traffic lights !  And 2 weeks ago, none.