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 Restaurant Scene

I know I am speaking from a purely expat perspective here but so be it. Most Timorese do not have spare disposable income to splash on restaurants as us expats do but life goes on nevertheless.

In general, restaurant life has returned to normal for those that can afford it. As mentioned previously, the Monkey Bar has downgraded while Ross concentrates on earning some real money for a change courtesy of the huge influx of foreign troops. Hotel Dili carries on as per normal. Hotel Esplanada is much the same, as is Hotel Timor and Vasco da Gamas.

In the Area Branca direction, the seaside restaurant across from the Enigma bar operates as per normal as does the Balinese Paradise restaurant (security assured by the GNR across the road). The Victoria restaurant remains closed as does Bachky. BanThai is closed but at least it is reasonably safe as the bar/nightclub joint across is used by NZ troops. The CazBar has hardly missed a beat and my favourite juice bar, the Sol e Mar is back after a one month hiatus.

The City Cafe, Metro Cafe, Foodstart, Crazy Sandwich and MyFali all now appear to be running as per usual. (The Oceano department store finally did re-open a week or so ago.)

The Terrace Cafe near the Palacio do Governo continues its decor improvements and is one of the few commercial establishments that actively advertises with special meal deals etc. Temptations next to the Portuguese embassy is also operating, as is Cafe Brasil around the corner which has stayed open for most of the last couple of months.

Castaways and the Dili Club have also pressed on for most of past couple of months. The Dili Club in its new western Comorro Road location has expanded its menu with the addition of a new chef. I think they are doing well with the vastly increased take-away pizza market. “Can you deliver 50 pizzas to the ???? army base ?”

There’s no doubt there is an expectation of increased business from foreign troops and perhaps particularly from the forthcoming new UN setup. The bars will have to wait a little longer as the lads with guns will remain “dry” for quite a while yet – perhaps forever.

Internet Narrowband

One of the things I did while back in OZ was do all of those downloads that are just too painful to do here. I knew there was a reasonable chance I could bludge off one of my hosts (ie the multiple households I bludged off while away), but the first crack I had was at an internet cafe with super-fast broadband.

I had a large list of bits and pieces to download (eg software updates, Windows patches etc.) and I blitzed through that list in next to no time. I was actually gob-smacked at how quick it was.

So instead of growing older doing big stuff via dial-up here, I decided to hit a few big downloads (funny how Windows updates always seems to be on the list) at a Dili internet cafe. I had forgotten that there is broadband and there is not broadband.

At the 1st internet cafe (US$6 per hour), I was slowly crunching my way through when a squad of OZ troops bowled in and bam, everything hit the wall. Initially, throughput slowed then my system complained that someone else had nabbed my IP address so internet traffic stopped. I tried to complain but got nowhere so left. I moved onto another internet cafe (US$4 per hour) and after 5 minutes, the Microsoft update server had still not responded. There was muttering around me suggesting that throughput had ceased. I packed up and left, concluding that my dial-up was faster than this anyway.

So I go home and find someone has sent me a huge (apparently) amusing email with pictures. I think I aged 5 years after all of this.

The Coffee Recovery

I have meant to wax lyrical about Timor and its coffee for some time now but I decided to leave it until I had done a tour of the coffee producing areas and seen coffee harvesting and processing in action. I had timetabled for this months ago but was held back by the fact that harvesting does not start until June.

Now that June has passed, it still has not happened. The coffee-producing centre of Ermera has been one of the bases for the so-called “rebels” and the coffee production facilities have been in general turmoil for a while now. The coffee producers rely on seasonal labour at harvest time and because of all the crap lately, the labourers are reluctant to go to the Ermera/Gleno area for work.

More importantly, over the last month or so, the troubles have dealt a severe blow to us lovers of freshly roasted coffee. My source of high quality beans had closed down for over a month and the street sellers of lower quality beans near the airport had deserted their premises.

The supermarkets have a large quantity of vacuum-packed beans from mainly European and Australian companies – but all of unknown age and many packets which have lost their vacuum-ness. Out of deference to the local industry, in times like this I buy the Portuguese processed “Delta” Timorese coffee which is re-imported back into Timor (and fortunately packaged in a cardboard package to protect the vacuum bag inside).

But I finally managed to arrange for my fix of the high quality roasted beans which were delivered to me by bicycle. They make me feel like I am the only person in town with such exacting requirements. But can’t complain.

Its strange really as I didn’t start drinking coffee until one day at work (a number of years ago) I arrived at work with a hang-over and figured that the only thing that might help was a strong cup of coffee. Tea just didn’t do a thing. It was then that I finally realised why the “Pablo” coffee I once provided for coffee drinking guests was greeted with disdain.

Of course, I had a bad start. My mother drank International Roast and Maxwell House and I recall her once allowing me to try coffee when I was but a wee lad. It was her funny way of ensuring I wouldn’t drink it. I also figured this out as she did a similar thing with wine by allowing me to try some green coloured hungarian wine that sat (opened) in the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

Its all child psychology really. The result is that I have become a coffee konnoyzer and wine lake reduction expert.

I’ll be back and he was

After a little break, you get to see things afresh. And the very first thing I noticed apart from the nice neat fence separating UNHCR refugee tents and the airport area, was the general tidy-up that has obviously been going on in the streets.

I have seen teams of workers with brand-new wheelbarrows and tools attending to rubbish and vegetation gone wild. It certainly does make a difference in the areas where it has been done.

One not so impressive action has been the re-instatement of the annoying one-way street system. I have yet to meet anyone who supports this system and I suspect the OZ police have merely returned to what was there before. I think we need a real traffic engineer to do some proper traffic counts and computer analysis to prove why it is so annoying.

The other noticeable feature was the number of Timorese who had smiles on their faces and said hello. A big increase on this one.

There is definitely a slow assimilation of the foreign troops/police into the local economy. I know the boys (and girls) are still “dry” but maybe they are now allowed to go shopping. I went to the DVD rental shop (the one with the infinite return policy) and was gob-smacked to be asked for 4 times the normal price. I bargained down to the correct price and left, as I only bargain like this for sport (of course). Naturally, I was offended when also offered a massage with the lot for US$5 while perusing the DVD racks. Did she think I was cheap or something ?

Alas the Monkey Bar is a shadow of its former self as Ross has taken on more lucrative financial endeavours. Its sad that doing laundry for the military pays better than running a bar/restaurant. I think his bar does just burgers now.

My favourite juice bar (Sol e Mar) is open again. There aint no better place to partake of a late afternoon juice under the palm trees looking at the sunset.

And finally, the yogurt is back.

The Slob returns

I was doing so well, then 10 days in OZ and I am a wreck. Stress relief ? Recidivist slob ?

I did my bit to reduce the OZ wine lake and never refused seconds. Results +3kgs, out of shape, dacks a bit tight … back to the punishment.

Weather great as usual, popped down to Christo Rei to commence physical recovery. And what is there now that wasn’t there the last time I went. A whole lot of (presumably) Portuguese military police (GNR) stripped down to g-strings* doing push-ups I dream about.

Girls, I will give you a tip. If you like 6-packs and beefcake, Christo Rei in the afternoon is your place. As for me (and a few other normal types), I just tried to hide in the corner as much as possible.

* more commonly known in OZ as budgie smugglers