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.

Elections coming up – lawyers win again

There are 2 election processes coming up in the next few months – Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The Presidential election has been called for 9 April – about 2 months from now. My understanding is that the Parliamentary election must be held within 80 days of the Presidential election so it must be held by 28 June.

The Fretilin party claim the Parliamentary election must be held by the end of May. I don’t know why but there may be more on this to come.

A 3 person foreign election certification team has released 3 reports on the progress of the organisation for these elections. Their most recent report #3 concluded :

On this basis, the Team finds that at present the electoral process in Timor-Leste is not proceeding satisfactorily. The findings set out at Annex 3 are of substantial significance, and relate to all but one of the main areas on which the Team has been mandated to focus. It is therefore imperative that appropriate corrective action, as recommended in this Report, be taken as a matter of the highest priority.

I downloaded the report from the UNMISET web site and rather than attempt to read it (its not exactly comfortable reading), skimmed my eyes over a number of sections that are shaded. These are the key action items.

The thing that strikes me is that with 2 months to go, the certification team’s action items include a number of recommended law changes in relation to electoral laws. I counted recommendations to repeal 3 laws and recommendations to amend 18 others.

These law changes are based on meeting benchmark (international) criteria and also to tidy up electoral laws that are in conflict with the constitution.

This will be a test. Changing 21 laws in 2 months.

Press freedom a la

Reporters Without Borders (AKA Reporters sans frontiere) at have published their 2006 Annual Report on press freedom around the world.

As the TL report is short, I will reprint it here (and hope I don’t get my freedom to re-publish it infringed)

East-Timor – Annual report 2007

Riots and political tension did not make the job of the press any easier. Several publications were threatened by supporters or opponents of the former prime minister, Mari Alkatiri. Despite this violence, the young country continues to enjoy a favourable atmosphere for press freedom.

A military rebellion against the government triggered a serious deterioration in working conditions for journalists from May 2006. Several publications had to work in secret for fear of reprisals. The Timor Post and Suara Timor Lorosae had to halt publication for several days under pressure from supporters of Mari Alkatiri, who was forced to resign at the end of June. The former head of government had openly criticised and called for a boycott of independent media like Suara Timor Lorosae.

Journalists were physically attacked on several occasions. On 10 June, an Associated Press reporter was manhandled and briefly detained by Australian peace-keeping soldiers. On 12 June, a gang of youths stoned journalists from the Timor Post. Political militants ransacked the offices of the leading radio and television channel TVTL in Dili on 29 June demanding the suspension of news programmes. Finally, on 9 November an Agence France-Presse correspondent was hit in the face by a stone thrown by a demonstrator.

As for me, I am not press and apart from a couple of ranters last year accusing me of being a patsy for the Australian presence here, I have received no heavying. In the interests of open-ness, yes I did delete their rants. I am the author, this is my blog, no-one pays me to do this – so there !

Actually I do not have a lot of sympathy for some reporters who were here in May/June/July last year. They only came to see blood, fire and rampaging and then were gone. They were racing around trying to go anywhere to see some of this. When I saw one TV reporter doing a story while walking amongst a group of running youths, I can easily see how a security force would get cheesed off with this.

Oops, there goes the media career.

Water problems

If you can’t talk about bottoms and personal hygiene, do not read any further. This article is for scatologists only. Repeat : “Warning Will Robinson”.

For the last week, I have self-diagnosed myself as having a mild case of giardia. In the past, I have had the real deal but this is very mild. If you have had it, you know the drill – bad wind, burping, distended stomach, bloatedness, following by the occasional evacuation. Add on to that a bit of lethargy and loss of energy.

For me, it has been manageable this time except for the day I “followed through”. May I thank the Lord for permitting this to happen while at home and not (for example) while riding my bike.

While in South America, I was not so lucky. Three hours on a bus in the Andes, precipitous drops right outside the bus window, arrive at destination, feel warm wetness in nether regions, ask partner to check rear-end, confirmed severe accident and I didn’t even know I did it. Emptied contents of underwear, hauled them straight back up and proceeded to tackle the day as planned (sans toilet or any personal hygiene products). That was one of those days when you just want to go into a coma until it is all over. And the next day, I was in a coma.

I had pondered whether you should all know this, but I grabbed the half-consumed plastic bottle of commercially acquired water from last week, opened it up and … it smelt like a botty burp (ie toilet water). I had another bottle in the corner that had been opened for a couple of weeks and … no smell of used toilet paper. Conclusion : I copped a bad bottle and domestic environmental conditions were not to blame.

I am not the only one who been affected by reverse enjoyment, and I have got off lightly as the main detrimental effect has been loss of energy and the strong desire to lie down and have a good deskansa. (Or malinger around my laptop and write blithering dross.)

The word around town is that the culprit is the large plastic water barrels that many people use for drinking water. I doubt that any expat would risk tap water, whether it be the Dili piped supply or bore water. The OZ doctor has had a big run with this one and the drug that appeared to fix it up for severe sufferers was the classic anti-giardia drug, Bactrim. Hence my self-diagnosis.

It seems to be well-known that the bottled water company has quality control issues at regular intervals. I assume this means “run out of chemical A … she’ll be right for a week”, or “UV lamps broken … better order some more”. A long-term resident once told me to never use the barrel water. So one reverts to the smaller 1.5 l and 0.6 l plastic bottles, which has been the house rule for last 2 or 3 weeks.

It is somewhat disconcerting to cop a bad small bottle as well. But I did buy it in LosPalos last week and I had never seen this particular brand in Dili before. Warning over.

Recent security crackdown

A couple of days ago, UNPol (with military support) conducted an operation to seek out illegal weapons in the Ailoklaran area. Ailoklaran and Hudilaran have been areas with quite heavy gang fighting for a number of weeks. Total deaths for January were six.

The international media have pretty much ignored the daily fighting, and it was almost a surprise to see this operation get into the foreign press. Who knows how successful it will be, particularly when one of the 49 detainees is the leader of the PSHT (Setia Hati) gang.

I heard that one result of detaining these people was the burning of some of the detainees houses by the other gang (I guess).

It was obvious something special was going on with helicopters circling the area for some time. Until the operation, Dr.Dan’s Bairo Pite clinic was subjected to nightly rock assaults. This is believed to be directed at some of the patients rather than the clinic itself. Yesterday was rather quiet.

The day after the operation (I must find out the code name used), I saw a fleet of trucks (Ministry of Labour and Community Re-insertion and IOM) and UNPol vehicles heading out east. As I was returning to Dili at the time, it was easy to count them. But they were on their way somewhere east of Metinaro and the trucks contained a lot of construction steel and wood beams, presumably for housing construction. There were quite a few UNPol vehicles and maybe some IDPs (refugees). Don’t know really.

I have updated my Google Earth information to include the UN security hotspot areas as of 31 Jan 2007.  Many are the same as 3 months ago, but some of the eastern parts that were hot are no longer – in particular the Santa Ana area, Dili National Hospital and Becora.  But the Hudilaran, Ailoklaran and Bairo Pite areas have been added and are now the current hotspots.  I was a bit surprised that the Delta area, just east of the Comorro River and south of the Leader supermarket has not been included.  And if the Bairo Pite clinic is getting stoned every night, why is it not included.

For my latest Google Earth file, go here.

TL, Global Warming and environmental footprints

One could argue it is warm enough here already, but with the UN report on global warming about to come out, I thought I would oar in and comment on the TL contribution.

Back in my western world, I have long practised the art of turning off lights, rejecting useless packaging, recycling to the point of analness, using a compost bin, cycling when feasible, public transport when possible and no doubt some other particularly rectal pursuits.

In the expat world, many expats may have their electricity paid for by employers or at least, bundled into an accommodation package.  If you live in a hotel or serviced apartment etc., this will certainly be the case. So do you turn off un-necessary lights, turn off the air-con – usually no.  And when the power blackouts cut in, there is often a diesel generator to take up the slack. (Note that the last 2 weeks has been pretty bad for power cuts. I heard that the issue is contaminated fuel this time.)

And there is no recycling system, so bottles, cans, paper all go into the same bin. Maybe there is some separation done at the rubbish dumps (whatever that is). For locals, waste disposal is into public concrete bins with easy access for the local pigs to snorkle up every last morsel of nutrient. After the pigs have done their job, the left-overs are burnt. This often causes palls of dark smoke which a few months ago, was disconcerting as it was not clear if this was another house going up in flames in the distance.

You do see plastic water bottles being recycled for re-use as containers for diesel/petrol and “tua” – the local palm wine and fire water. And occasionally, glass drink bottles are seen doing a similar job.

But it seems like many expats have a large 4WD and use it for everything. If one wishes to avoid breaking out into a huge sweat, the 4WD with AC on full bore is the norm. And with current security concerns, it is seen as better to travel in 4WD with windows up and doors locked at all times. Use of taxis has plummeted following targeting of taxis by rock throwers and reports of taxi drivers conducting dubious practices in their vehicles particularly with foreign women.

The air is a big winner. With no industry to speak of, it is only the vehicle pollution to worry about. Without strict controls on vehicle emissions, some vehicles are a disgrace in this area and can cause significant local distress to those otherwise appreciating the fresh air in their vicinity.
At the end of the day, it is the same old picture. The locals at the lower end of the income scale find themselves unable to contribute much to CO2 footprints. While the well-heeled foreigner probably is at the other slothful end most of the time.

As for the rise of sea level, most of the damage will be in Dili where the already crumbling sea walls cop a pounding during storms at high tide.  There are many breaks in the walls and it is not uncommon to see the esplanade covered in sand after a storm.  I guess this will get worse.  Mostly, it will upset those that have the means to sort themselves out.  The people at the lower income end will probably just move their small rustic palm frond and tin shacks further away from the beach.  Most places on the northern coast tend to drop sharply to the sea so probably will not have much of a problem, except maybe Com.

Atlases – Census 2004 and Geo-historical

One of the more useful TL government web sites is the National Statistics Directorate, otherwise known as “Direccao Nacional de Estatistica” at

I have seen a paper copy of the census reports (dated September 2006) which comes in 2 booklets :

Timor-Leste Census of Population and Housing 2004 – Population Projections 2004 – 2050
Timor-Leste Census of Population and Housing 2004 – Atlas

I looked at the first and thought it a bit inpenetrable to anybody but someone keenly interested. The Atlas version contains lots of coloured maps which are easier for me make sense of, and I intend to get myself a copy – as a momento of what things are like here when my own memory fails me one day.

I am not sure when it appeared but an abbreviated (but not readily downloadable) version is now available on the Directorate web site. It reminded me to put acquisition of a copy on the todo list.

Some interesting numbers (from 2004) :

  • Population : total 923,198 ; Dili 173,541 (2010 projected : 1,149,028)
  • 19% of population in Dili (trending upwards rapidly)
  • 103 males per 100 females (but trending lower outside Dili, down to as low as 89)
  • Mean number of people per household : 4.7
  • Median age : 18.3
  • Age distribution is uniformly suggesting high birthrates and high deathrates, the only blip being in males of 25 to 29 years.
  • Agriculture is by far the biggest “employer” with 27% of al families involved in coffee growing
  • Language proficiency in Dili : Tetun 75% ; Indonesian 71% ; Portuguese 19% ; English 12%
  • Illiteracy : Total 54% ; Dili 26%
  • High school graduates : Total 15% ; Dili 38%
  • Fertility rate (babies per woman) : Total 7 (the highest in the world) ; Dili 4.5 (lowest district value in Dili which is still very high)
  • Infant mortality (1st year of birth) : 98 per 1,000 (very high)

A recent acquisition and recent appearance (at the Hotel Timor gift shop) is the “East Timor Geo-Historical Atlas” by Frederic Durand (published by Silkwork Books in 2006). It is an English translation of the French “Timor Lorosa’e, pays au carrefour de l’Asie et du Pacifique” published in 2000. It has some updates but is basically the 2000 version in English. As it has a historic rather than geographical /social emphasis (like say the census), it probably does not suffer too much from this. Locally, it is US$45 which may be a bit pricey but compared to what !