Dili, East Timor.
I came. I applied. They said wait. In my innocence I had thought that the Australian visa would be the easiest one to get, after all Britain and Australia have strong historical ties. It is possible to apply for a visitor’s Visa online but it’s only valid for three months and I didn’t feel that I could do the country justice in such a short amount of time so applied to the Embassy in East Timor for a six month visa. The process is not as easy as I thought and I’ve had to fill in forms that you would give to someone seeking asylum or citizenship and although I’ve ridden a bicycle from London to East Timor almost 30.000Kms I might need to have a medical to make sure I’m fit.
So I’m playing the ' come back tomorrow game ' and that’s where it stands. I go to the Embassy each day just hoping that they will hand my passport to me with a nice shiny six month visa on one of the pages. Sometimes I feel like screaming.
Dili. East Timor
One of the worlds newest nations East Timor is no holiday destination although hopes ride on Tourism's great potential and the gas and oil fields in the Timor sea. The Timorese government is trying hard to make this a reality but nothing is easy here from getting the internet to work to making an international call. Nation building is never an easy task and from what I can see on the streets its going to be a long term project. The country's infrastructure is slowly being put back in order after the mess the departing Indonesian troops left in 1999. The streets of the capital Dili are full of UN vehicles and equipment, government workers and humanitarian organizations from all over the world are helping to get this small island back on its feet.
After paying my $20.00 fine for overstaying my visa by one day I was standing at the East Timorese checkpoint with a very unfriendly official asking me why I wanted to visit the country. He explained rightly that it would have been much easier to fly direct to Darwin from Singapore. I tried to explain that I wanted to ride as much land as possible and I had never visited Indonesia or East Timor and flights from Singapore to Australia with a bicycle are expensive. He questioned me for about an hour. I knew he would eventually let me into East Timor, there is no visa on arrival into Indonesia at this border crossing so I couldn't go back to Indonesia only forward to Timor and I guessed that he would need a very good reason not to allow me into the country. After about an hour I got the stamp in my passport and a lecture on how I had to be out of the country in thirty days otherwise I would find myself in serious trouble.
I had no intention of riding the potholed 140Kms road from the border to Dili and took a three hour bus ride instead. The views as usual were stunning, white sandy beaches, clear blue water, its possible to walk off shore to a reef that surrounds the island and explore the brilliant sea life and the island is almost totally deserted. I'm waiting here for my Australian visa to come, hopefully by the 1st march. I walk to a deserted beach everyday for a swim and other than the foreign workers here there are very few if any Tourists. Locals who talk to me always begin the conversation by asking me which agency I work for, when I tell them I'm a tourist they are completely amazed and I'm given warm handshakes and I have fallen back into my Bangladeshi rock star mode.
Most Timorese lead a subsistence lifestyle and what is not eaten is hopefully sold at the local market. The infrastructure is very limited and many people have no access to running water or electricity. What is very noticeable is the absence of a whole generation. There are very few people who are of my age only young people or old people. Almost 100.000 people died during the war for independence and that's the generation that is missing.
What I will remember most about Timor is the Timorese people, children come up to greet me wherever I go and everyone I pass nods or stops for a talk. The violent history has made everyone politically aware and I often pass people sitting on the beach wall discussing politics or the UN. Many of the younger generation would have been raised on stories of the Indonesian invasion and the older generation witnessed it first hand. It has left something in the eyes of the people that tells you, my life is my life and all I have is my life, we will survive this and rebuild our country.
East Timor is probably not the first place that you might look at when thinking about a holiday but belive me its worth a visit. I met John who was staying in the same hotel as me who specialises in touring the island by bycicle. If your interested then check out his website. Hes a great guy and has spent many years on the island seeking out good mountain biking trails, it would be the holiday of a life time. www.trekkingeasttimor.org