I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Friday, 9 September 2011

East Timor… Timor-Leste… Timor Lorosae…

.. potatoes, teh-maiters. Call it whatever you want, as no-one, least of all the Timorese, will really mind all that much.

Not too many people, outside the Australasia region, even know the whereabouts of this tiny new nation, surrounded by Indonesia on three sides and Australia to the south. The reasonably well-informed, however, know of the country’s existence and its recent 'troubles'. Like me, they can re-call the massacres, the genocide, that the Indonesian army committed over their 25-year occupation.

Few, however, know much more about Timor-Leste's recent grim history and the actual causes behind the conflict that rocked this little country from 1975 right through to the end of the last century.

But I digress.

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Friday, September 2nd

Dili, the nation's capital, is not a large place. Nevertheless it is a melting pot with an impoverished, overwhelmingly Catholic population, who mainly live hand-to-mouth and number around 200,000 all told.

The City sprawls for miles around a bay on the northern coast of Timor Island and sits below the 27m [89½ ft] statue of Jesus that stands upon the head of the Eastern Fatucama Peninsular about 3km just outside of town.

As the bike won't be arriving from Darwin for at least another 6-7 days, we rent a Toyota 4x4 sports utility vehicle for a week. With our air-conditioned independent transport secured, we thought we might drive to the top and take a closer look at the statue ..

.. but some of the shoreline road that runs around the hilly base of the statue has slipped away into the sea below. Shanks Pony it is then, right from the baseline ..

.. up the 600+ steps to the top of the mount in the midday sun. Phew!

Great views though. You just got to stop for a break to take it all in (er .. stop around ten times actually), not that we needed the breathers, of course!

The end result. Right under 'Cristo Rei of Dili' or 'Christ the King of Dili' who looks towards the sea and the Indonesians, the expelled Islamic invaders, beyond. Maybe a sick joke? I dunno.

By mid-afternoon we're making our way further eastwards in the direction of the country's second city, Baucau, 125 km [78 mi] away.

It’s a dry land and mountainous. Not made for farming. Gnarled trees with leaves like toughened mimosas, droopy-leaved columns of shade trees; the Caribbean touch. Paddy fields .. and the odd herd of water buffalo here and there. Feral goats roam everywhere.

Along terrible roads. Potholes galore.

The occasional river to cross, although nearly all are mostly dried out at this time of year and are reduced to swathes of dusty rocks and pebbles.

No point in relying on any Highway Code protocols here. Rule No.1 - when you're behind the steering wheel, think like the local drivers do.

Refreshments are plentiful along the way. Just pull-up at any of the countless roadside stalls for a [warm!] bottle of water, some cracker biscuits; plus maybe a packet of imported candies, if you're lucky. Fresh local fruit, such as mangos, bananas and oranges will always be available.

The boys ahead take a break.

'Bon Dia Meeestir', they say, with a warm smile .. :o)

'Bon Dia' I reply, and smile right back. :o)

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Some more background

I'll digress some more:

As I was saying: East Timor, Timor Leste, call it what you will, is now an independent nation; one of the world’s newest (it’s only ten years old), and one of its smallest. It occupies the eastern half of Timor Island; plus a tiny enclave in Indonesian West Timor called Oecussi.

How so? Well, the Portuguese and Dutch, the first colonists into the region, agreed to split the island into two halves. Portugal somehow clung on to their eastern half of the island and Oecussi until the mid 1970s. Then the Portuguese empire fell to pieces, and Timor-Leste was free.

For, eh-hem, nine whole days.

With the end of the Vietnam War, Indonesia just didn’t want to share a border with a potential communist country, which was the way Timor-Leste appeared to be going after their liberation. Western powers - lead by the USA, and indeed Australia -were panicked by stories of communist infiltrators into this brand new (and perhaps naïve) new country, not only stood by, but armed the Indonesian invaders.

So the Indonesian army moved in and occupied Timor-Leste, with complete abandonment and no international consequences or significant initial resistance from the Timorese. By the end of 1975 there were 20,000 troops stationed in the country, and by April the following year that number had risen to 35,000. Timor-Leste was officialy declared Indonesia's 27th province on the 16th July 1976.

Indonesia's brutal occupation lasted two and a half decades and lead, according to some Timorese estimates, to the deaths of one-third of the population. Let's guesstimate at 200,000 murdered, tops .. and why not?!

And the rest of the world stood by .. and did absolutely nothing to stop it. Unbelievable.

So now you know.

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Evening, Friday Sept 2nd

Later we arrived in Baucau, which is Timor-Leste's second-largest city, after Dili, with about 16,000 inhabitants. We wind our way to the beach - 5 km north out of town - down a very twisty track and discover ..

Baucau Beach Bungalows (huts really) .. well, bungalow/hut (singular), as the other three were burnt to the ground in some sort of political protest after the country's president stayed-over in one 2-3 years ago.

The surviving bungalow-hut wasn't up to much either, as the toilet was fooked .. not a great situation with three potential queasy stomachs to deal with first thing in the morning. Lucky for us the owner had a spare conventional - block built - three-bedroom 'real' bungalow adjacent to his house, which at US$15 pp [approx GB£9.50] we gratefully accepted without hesitation.

The boss has a real nice family, which extends to nine children ranging in age from about 2 - 27 years old. Seven of the nine still live at home, so there were plenty of hands available to prepare and serve our dinner (at US$8.00 pp - about GB£5.00).

What a great setting; paradise really, as we watched the sun sink slowly below the western horizon before mealtime.

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Saturday, September 3rd: I should explain that we hooked-up with a Sydney-based aussie called Ian, who is also motorcycling overland from Timor up to Laos and Cambodia. His motorcycle is being shipped to Dili on the very same cargo vessel as ours, which I guess is the common ground .. and how and why we met up.

G'day Ian

Standing two metres [6'6½"] tall, Ellen & I have an altitude problem when we hold a conversation with the bloke.

Can we discuss this sitting down mate?!

Sunrise on the Saturday morning, about 06:40am. I take a lonesome stroll along the shoreline, which is no more than 50m from our lodgings.

Five minutes later .. and about 100 metres eastwards along the beach. What a great way to start the day, don'tcha think? Waking-up to a such a sight.

Back at the bungalow, my two companions are also up .. but not quite about!

Breakfast (@ US$3.00) with one, of the three or four, of our landlord's pet dogs waiting for any morsels that might come his way.

10:00am and we're on our back up the hill into Baucau township.

For some reason the kids are out of school already .. and appear to be making their way home. The streets are full of sky-blue uniforms.

A collective: 'Bon Dia Meeestir'

'Bon Dia' .. :o)

Back to the mania that's the Timor-Leste road network - if you can call it that.

Heading towards the settlement of Com located at the eastern tip of the island, we pass through a handful of villages, with many traditional dwellings.

At one place, Laivai I think, we stopped so that Ian could take a look at an abandoned Japanese WWII rusting relic and within a couple of minutes we were surrounded by about 30+ very enthusiastic kids. Ellen pops a smiley sticker on each (we brought a few hundred with us from the UK).

The kids were absolutely ecstatic.

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Down from the mountain ranges and we're soon back near sea level on our journey to Com.

Panorama - click on the picture for full view

On the way we see Timorese men and women eke out a brutal living by scraping seaweed from the shore and gathering anything else that's edible with their bare hands.

All under a baking sun that's almost right above your head this close to the equator.

(Around 8° of latitude below the equator at this point.)

Panorama - click on the picture for full view

Soon Com comes into our sights.

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That evening, after securing our lodgings at the Com Beach Resort - although I would hardly call the establishment a 'resort' - nevertheless it's a nice and quite pretty (by Timorese standards) beach-style hotel /motel located in the middle of Com. There's a big open area near the bar which is literally right on the waterfront.

Some more kids drift by, looking for whatever kids look for .. and I strike-up a conversation.

'Hey Meeestir, you say you from England, eh?'

So I get out one of the five infaltable globes that I brought with me for just such occasions as this

.. and point to where I live.

So now I'm down to four blow-up globes, the first one having turned into a beach ball!

By the way, East Timor has two official languages, which are Portuguese and Tetum.

It’s great to see the kids so keen to practice their schoolboy English ..

.. with attitude!

Our supper turns up

Along with the man that caught it.

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Sunday, September 4th

We've used more than half of the SUV's tank getting out to Com. There's no service stations this far east. Roadside petrol is stored in, and dispensed from, old plastic water bottles D-I-Y style.

21 km [13 mi] - about 25 mins - back west along the same road .. and we turn left at Lautém and head-up into the mountains once more. Through the isolated township of Lospalos ..

.. to the south coast of the island ..

.. along the worst road conditions I've ever driven. Our average speed is cut down to less than 5 km/h.



Passing through remote villages. We feel like aliens from outer space.

A true subsistence way of life.

Amazing though how they pay such high respect to their dead, especially those - so it apppears to us - who lost their lives in resistence to the invading Indonesians.





We are silent .. and humbled.

Traditional Timorese housing doesn't get more authentic than this.

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Eventually we arrive at the village of Loré. We're about as far from Timor civilisation as you can get on this island.

Damn! do we feel foreign here .. or what? Incongruous even.

We turn right and look for the coastal road heading west; it's on the map after all. But it's now just an overgrown track.

We (perhaps foolishly) press on through the thicket and overgrowth ..

.. until we can go no further. A fallen tree blocks our way.

With no chainsaw or machete handy, we half-heartedly give it a good hack with our knives and tools; and try lifting it out of the way. But it's hopeless. back the way we came, over that shite road [ugh!] to Lospalos before nightfall.

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Lospalos pop. 17,186 (2006). 248 km [154 mi] to the east of Dili.

More kids come rushing-up at our guesthouse lodgings.

from cheeky chappies

.. to five-year old innocence.

Summary: It's been an interesting day in the Third World.

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Monday, September 5th

Returning from the rural areas - back to Dili is like a form of time travel ..

.. moving from feudal conditions where plowing is still done by water buffalo ..

.. and where men go fishing just to feed their families ..

.. we drive back along the road we came, with our tails between our legs because we had failed, through no fault of our own, to circumnavigate this fledgling little country.

Back to to a whirlpool of confusion where everyone seems to be touting their goods and services.








including this little fellow.

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Tuesday 6th & Wednesday 7th September

We spent the remainder of the week pottering around the city. Travelling here and there a lot of the time in Microlet mini buses. If you can't find a seat inside ..

then hang on the doorway for dear life!

The view from my perspective.

And we met-up and spent some time with Nicole and Martin who are currently out from Bournemouth and have been travelling around the world in their landcruiser for the last 15 months. You can catch-up with their story by visiting this website: Nicole and Martin's Overland Adventure.

And did I mention that we have the Transalp? Yep, we collected her late Thursday afternoon (8th) from the shippers. We're back on two wheels and should be crossing into Indonesia - at last - on Saturday-10th. We're planning to be at the land border just before lunchtime.

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Conclusion

We're almost gone, but I now know, first hand, that despite the hostile images reported in the news media, the Timorese are some of the friendliest and most polite (in a simple way) people I have ever encountered. Not once, not even for a second, did Ellen or I ever feel remotely threatened during our 10-day stay here, including when walking out-and-about late at night.

Indeed, many of us could learn a valuable lesson in stress management from these folk who don’t expect things to work very well during the myriad of challenges they face every day. They just smile their way through it all.

The Future for East Timor, Timor-Leste or Timor Lorosae .. Call it what you will?

Well, there appears to be an economy running now - it’s a sort of organised chaos – that’s beginning to work in its own way, currently turbocharged by NGOs, trainers, plus a small army of UN workers who fly around the City’s streets and rural roads in their flashy, huge white air-conditioned landcruisers with tinted glass .. and who seem full of their own self-importance.

But you have to wonder how a country this poor, this small and this young can honestly ever survive, when the peacekeepers eventually leave, which they surely will one day. I hope it all works out for this fiercely proud nation after they’re all gone. It’s a question, I think, the folk here are secretly pondering over themselves.

I wish them well.

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From Ellen's Journal: click on this link Better late than never

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