Timor Leste : Land of Adventure
If you are wondering where this place is or if it is even a country, chances are you are not alone. It became an independent nation in 2002, so it is one of the world’s newest countries. It is also one of the 25 least visited nations, so of course we needed to see it for ourselves.
Upon arrival in Timor Leste, aka East Timor, we were picked up by our complementary hotel driver who greeted us with cold, damp towels to cool off and some treats. At the hotel we learned that our AC was being fixed, so we needed to wait for our room. To make up for this inconvenience we were served a complimentary lunch and drinks. This sort of experience became the theme of our stay here. Things often didn’t go as planned, but the accomodating hospitality of the people helped make up for it in every way possible. Eventually, we were able to drop off our bags in our room and walk around town. We walked to the nearby waterfront park, and around the capitol building.
Being that there are very few tourists, this walk was also accompanied by every mikrolet (small bus/vans) and taxi honking at us to see if we needed a ride. Throughout our stay we were stared at, waved at, and greeted by people pointing out that we were tourists and curious about where we were from. We later took one of these taxis to the Christo del Rei statue just outside of the city. This is basically the number one landmark in Dili and the symbol of the city. Sitting atop a hill overlooking the sea it can be seen from all over the city. Fun fact: It is the second largest statue of Jesus after the one in Rio.
There were also some beautiful beaches to admire from the hilltop. We heard there were sometimes crocodiles in the water so we decided not to swim here.
We then walked along the beaches back into town hoping to catch a taxi or mikrolet along the way. Unfortunately, we saw none, so after an unexpected 6km walk in the rain we made it back to our hotel. On the bright side, we got to see some very cute pigs on the beach.
The next day we planned to take a boat to nearby Arturo Island to stay there for the next two nights. However, upon checking email we learned that boats could not go to the island that day due to weather. So instead we found a new hotel and later did more walking around town. We had lunch overlooking the beach and watched a man and his son net some fish while a goat had his fill of greens.
On the way back we got lost and ended up strolling through some very local dwelling communities.
When we regained our bearings we went to the Tais Market for some souveneirs. Tais is a locally made weaving that is popular all over the country, with each area having their own unique pattern.
We arranged a driver and a guide from Island Discovery to take us to the mountain town of Maubisse the next day. We saw old forts, beautiful green mountain views, a market and traditional ”holy houses”. The holy house is a room on stilts with a thatched cone shaped roof. It is used to make sacrifices to the ancestors and every community in the district of Maubisse has their own.
The highlight of the whole day was simply driving through the countryside and seeing a glimpse of how the people live their lives.
Our tour guide was amazing! As we approached our hotel, he asked about our plans for the next day and helped us arrange a scooter rental. Actually, he did more than that. He recommended where we should go on the scooter, and when we got back to our hotel from dinner that night, he was there waiting with a scooter. It was $30 for the day and all we needed to do was call him to let him know when we were done with it.
After a nice morning of sleeping in we hit the road on the scooter. The excitment of maneuvering traffic through the city with a serious lack of traffic lights and meaningless stop signs was a great thrill. However, it didn’t compare to the fist clenching muddy, pothole filled roads we had to overcome as we exited the city. I couldn’t help but imagine how one of us would have reacted if the scooter slid out leaving us in a thick puddle of mud. Needless to say we made it through the mud safely with only muddy tires.
Along our way we saw an altar with a traditional Timorese architectural design made for Pope John Paul’s visit in 1989.
We also stopped to see another sight called Ai Pelo Prison. The only English information that was written had faded away. We could tell it used to be a prison because of the name, and it looked pretty old cause it was in ruins. Cool ruins none the less and the goats all around added something special to the atmosphere.
A little bit further down the road was a small fishing town called Likisa. Here is where we found our final destination, Black Rock Restaurant. It is part of a large ”resort” on the beach, and I assume it is named for the black rock filled beach. We had a nice meal here and brief swim before heading back to Dili.
On the way back we made one more stop at a large statue of Pope John Paul II.
After some much needed rest at the hotel, we went out for one more sight before dinner, the Santa Cruz cemetary. Here are buried many of the victims of the Indonesian massacres between 1979 and 2002.
That day we also discovered that our flight to Bali the next day had been canceled. Fortunately, we were able to reserve seats on a flight for the following day, which meant we had one more day to explore Timor Leste. We decided to take a day trip to Arturo Island since the weather was better. Yeah, this is the place we originally planned to spend most of our time. Through all of this last minute planning our hotel, The Plaza Hotel, was more than accomodating and helpful. They let us add a night to our stay and provided a car to the boat in the morning. Our driver even helped us buy the tickets.
After a long boat ride we arrived in Atauro. We walked through the nearby markets where plenty of fresh and dried fish were hanging alongside a variety of handicrafts on the beach The air was filled with the strong smell of smoke and fish to help greet us to the island. It was glorious!
We then had a leisurely walk down an isolated beach and took a nice dip in the crystal clear cool water to escape the heat.
As we awaited our flight to Bali the following day we reflected on our time here. Here are some of our impressions and tips if you are interested in visiting this country.
1. Planning in advance is not easy. There is little information online and most of it is out of date. My main suggestion for anyone considering a visit is don’t waste too much time planning the details. If you know us, then you know we live to plan and like to have everything organised in advance. While we were here we had a hotel, boat, and even our flight to Bali cancelled leaving us to do make some last plans. You just need to ask the locals for information and they are more than happy to share.
2. Though it is a poor country, things are not cheap, especially when compared to neighboring Indonesia. Of course there are cheaper options if you can find them. For example a taxi accross town is up to $20, but you could also hire a scooter for the entire day for only $25.
3. Tourism is in its infancy. If you are looking for a nice beach side resort, beautiful beaches, and lots of tourist sights and activities, there are numerous countries nearby that offer all the above. However, if you are looking for something different with few tourists, you may wan to consider seeing this new nation for yourself.
4. Banks and credit cards are not reliable. While there are ATMs around Dili, they are usually out of order. Visa is accept at larger hotels in Dili if the machines happen to be working. Mastercard will not work anywhere in the country. The point here is, make sure you come in with plenty of cash. Their paper currency is USD, so plan on having about $100USD per day plus your $30 fee (per person) for the entry visa and you should be good to go.