A Tough Old Time in Dili

trying to get the bike working outside the port

some small helpers...

We were in Kupang, straight off the 20 hour ferry,  hurriedly trying to negotiate the repair of one defunct starter motor so we could cross the border before the visas ran out. 

It was weekend.  The mechanics were all shut.  The mechanics themselves were no doubt out singing hymns in one of the makeshift churches someone had thoughtfully erected outside our room.

We were stuck.  So we did what any good Brit does when stuck, and wandered off to find a pub...

At the nearest bar, forty hefty lads from the Australian navy thwacked each other on the back and insulted each other's genitalia.  We got chatting to a young engine-repairer who decided we were Dutch. 

They were on a secret reconaissance mission in Indonesian waters.  It was somewhat less secret after six Bintang beers. 

We watched gleefully as their Captain got very involved with a young Indonesian ladyboy in a mini-skirt. 

We'd met a very friendly young Dutch development worker and kidnapped him to the bar.  He started a shortlived debate on Australian immigration policy with the largest, most Hick-like Aussie.  Things got a little tense.  Luckily the Hick wandered off, and our liberal Dutch friend decided he'd had enough for a night. 

The Hick immediately returned to announce he had harboured a strong desire to headbutt the Liberal.

The navy chef stumbled over to compliment the engine-man on his penis. 

The two young Brist from our hostel were surrounded by large marauding Scottish girls in polo shirts.

We decided to head home.

(Apparently as they later called it a night, the only ones left in the bar were the Captain and the ladyboy....)

We spent the weekend discovering there isnt a whole lot to attract the average tourist in Kupang,  then spent Monday discovering the starter motor was completely unfixable. 

This posed a bit of a problem...

We panicked for a good half hour, then ran around telling people about it, as you do.  Fortunately we told the right man, entirely by mistake. 

Saint Edwin of Lavalon, in one phone call, somehow quite incredibly, managed to find a truck we could put the bike on, all the way to Dili, leaving four hours later... This did mean we had to forego any attempts to pushstart the bike on our own, but past experiences have made us confident in our inability to do this anyway. 

Adam, one small pick-up, and two even smaller drivers went off to heave the bike into the back. 
The smallest one returned having sliced the top of his finger off.  There was a short delay as we tried to persuade him not to wrap it in filthy rags from the ground. 

Two hours later the bike and all bags were in the truck.  Ten guys were filling the remaining space with 2000 inflatable footballs and two tricycles.  Who know East Timor was so in need of inflatable footballs? 

The truck journey took 24 hours.  The distance was approx 400kms.  It would have been an 8 hour ride. 

We travelled at 20kph, all night.  No, no, I lie, there was a brief two hour interlude in a fluorescent fly-pit where we morosely picked at chocolate wafers while the driver worldlessly lay on the floor with a blanket over his head. 

The next morning we found a Lazy Punk in a similar truck, who was waiting in a lay-by.  Apparently he was waiting for us- our man got out and singlehandledly changed his tyre for him, and we drove on in convoy. 

We meandered through West Timor countryside, bumping about.  I took photos of huts.

The Lazy Punk found a house in the middle of nowhere, and the drivers pulled up for an hour's chat.

At the border, customs unpacked every single inflatable football and the two tricycles.  Then they started on the next truck. 

By the time we got through we had been sat at various parts of the border for over 5 hours, and we had seen every available customs official heavily backhanded with wads of dollars. 

Two of them sat in the dirt behind a tree and counted off hundreds of dollar-bills, with serious demeanours.   Either something else was underway, or plastic footballs are big business in this neck of the woods.

Finally, we were in.  Whereas someone had thoughtfully provided West Timor with fertile soil and water, whoever it was forgot poor old East Timor.  The fertile greenliness quickly gave way to dusty scrubland, and pigs snaffled about in the dirt, as did many villagers. 

All buildings were of the the thatched and bamboo variety, and I don't think I saw anyone wearing shoes until we reached Dili.  I saw a few too many distended bellies, and I don't think it was from overfeeding. 

We stopped briefly, and as soon as we were spotted as foreign, small hands stuck themselves out at us for change.   This place has a lot of very recent history...

The nothern coast was rugged and left to its own devices.  Sadly, so was the road.  If the bridges looked unhappy, then the road surfaces seemed suicidal.

We lurched about in the cab, and fell into each other.  No one felt all that well.

At midnight 24 hours later we pulled into their yard in Dili.  We had forthrightly discussed with the driver our pre-organised agreement to unload at the port.  Unbeknownst to us, he hadn't understood a word. 

He got out the cab, and sank onto a mattress in someone's house. 

We stood about a bit and floundered.

After half an hour of extensive charades negotiation, we had gathered a 20-strong crowd.  Always a good way to get things done, they persuaded our poor exhausted, confused driver to take us further.  After much faffing, we finally made it, in the truck, with the bike, to the right yard, and jumped some unsuspecting lads into heaving the bike off the back from under the footballs. 

The driver looked like he might cry.  (We gave him money, and he soon smiled again.)

not lying about the footballs...

We left the bike there, cursing it quietly, and made it back to the backpackers with the help of the Landcruiser Brits, before passing out without undressing. 

The next 5 days were spent in a hideous flurry of sweaty activity, cleaning and stripping out every component part of both the bike and our luggage, in order to pass Australia's stringent quarantine controls.  
(We will write up a full shipping report for anyone behind us in a seperate blog in a few days time.  We were helped by the fact we were shipping with some more overlanders.)

In between, we wandered about Dili a bit.  It is a strange old place.  UN trucks drive straight at you without slowing.  Giant foreigners in linen suits strut about the streets, and sit drinking in the expensive restaurants.  We made marks on the windows, too skint to go in.   The menus started at $30. 

The East Timorese stick to the port area where real life happens.  Kids with sticky noses sell almost-hatched eggs, and surreptitiously ask for a dollar as you pass.   People tether their chickens next to them to the ground.

Old men play cards in little tarpaulin tents.  There's a tangible resentment in the air, and Dili looks like it could do with a good couple of weeks at a spa.

fish for sale on a pole outside the main post office

The main decorative feature to any decent-sized building appears to be barbed wire.  There was barbed wire of every size and shape, everywhere.

The unemployed kids hung around by the harbour, like anywhere else in the world.

Dili sunset

And then an excellent thing happened- we found our Uruguayans from Pakistan!  Still going strong, the 3 member family team are driving their 1977 2CV Citroen around the world.  We met them in the Baluchi desert in Iran, and stayed with them throughout southern Pakistan.  They shipped over to Australia from India, and now are on their way back to Indonesia.  Forever the best blaggers we have ever met, they were staying in the Portuguese UN compound, for free, and eating all their meals in the mess, for free, and drinking at the UN bar there, funnily enough, for free.  

They invited us over for the evening.  We found them, and a whole bunch of incredibly friendly Portuguese guys, all sat about drinking in an odd thatched coconut palm bar within the concrete, guarded surrounds of the UN. 

Someone invited us in for dinner.

Someone else persuaded us to partake of the very good imported Italian wine.

The compound doctor plied us with espresso and brandy after dinner. 

It was a beautifully surreal evening, and we recounted our newest updates. 

As the lads left the next day, the UN provided them with over 100kgs of provisions for the journey. 

The next day Adam got ill.  After 5 days of cleaning the bike in the sun, he was not in a good way.  He had a rampant fever, headaches and bodyaches, and was muttering to himself at night about connecting bolts. 

The following day I got it.  With exactly the same symptoms, we were at least fairly sure it wasn't malaria or dengue, because it would have had to infect both of us....  right?

Wrong.  Ten days later now, and we have had blood tests and been diagnosed with dengue fever.  It comes in stages, and is the most debilitating illness I have ever had.  At times we were both so weak we could barely stand.  Every time I tried to do anything I would vomit.  Basically, it hasn't been fun. 

But in the meantime- we have made it to DARWIN!  We are waiting for the bike to be released in a couple of days, and then by the weekend will be healthy and en-route again for the final massive stretch down the Gold Coast...and our daft adventure will for the moment be done!

Mini- Update: Hang on, we got dengue fever!

 Dili harbour, before the dengue...

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the delay, we have both caught dengue... 
There's heaps to tell but it will have to wait until we are better; try back Tuesday [23rd]!

Cheers, Nicky

Dry-bag Karma, Break-downs and More Brits on Wheels

We hurtled and bounced, and bounced and hurtled.  In between the bounces we cursed the foolish optimistic Lonely Planet writer, who had deemed this particular bit of hell 'a decent road with some dodgy patches', that was 'easily manageable for a competent scooter rider'.  He failed completely to mention that said scooter rider would have to be sat comfily in the passenger seat of a 4wd truck, and preferably have a penchant for nasty cranial bruising. 

Two hours later than expected, and following some hearty swearing and a 2km downhill hike for one of the party (ahem.), we arrived at the port.  The boat trip to Bali was pleasantly benign, and we sat and discussed our preferred despatch methods for Indonesia Lonely Planet writers.

Bali, when it arrived, was radioactively bright.  It seared through the flesh on our eyeballs and they dropped out, leaving us with enormous gaping skull-holes.  That bit isn't quite true.  But it was very bright.  We also suddenly realised that the island was a lot larger than expected.  

Our pleasant little day's ride had just taken on epic proportions, and we bombed it past Balinese temples and Hindus in traditional sarongs, zoomed through scenic villages and around volcanoes, and completely failed to reach the other side before nightfall.

We spent the night at a pleasantly cool altitude in the only hotel available, and studiously ignored the silent French grump studiously ignoring us.  It was all fairly blatant- he shut his door as we walked in...
Luckily the hotel manager was a friendlier sort, and cooked us up some great food.  The next morning as we meandered out into the sun we watched him clamber up onto the bike, and immediately fall off.

We made it to Padang Bai, and couldn't afford any of the hotels.  A guy  found us and took us to his homestay.  Our lovely little room looked out onto an octogenarian with a drool problem, who spent his days sat in the shade with his wife.  They shared a small plastic drool-bucket, and muttered.  The only time I saw any movement was when I accidentally went out wearing a sarong to bring the laundry in.  The old man stood and saluted, before collapsing back into place.

We spent a happy week swimming, sunbathing, and getting root canal treatments.

We met a few interesting souls and listened to their tales, Adam's mouth healed, and time passed.  It was getting on, and our visa dates were looming.  We hit the road for Lombok. 

Lombok is a little place.  It has crowded boats, friendly Hindu celebrations in the street, and horse-drawn carriages.  It took us a day to cross it, so that's about all the information I can impart.    

We crossed over to Sumbawa, and I was thrilled to be on an island I had only found out existed the day before.

After a friendly old greeting at the port, we meandered off past quaint little villages dotted here and there.  I sang Massive Attack songs into my helmet.  Pastel wooden huts lent the place a Caribbean air.  Muslim villagers wandered past with prayer shawls on their shoulders.

We got lost again whilst looking for the grilled fish shack-restaurant made famous by one weary Aussie traveller in the Lonely Planet.  A tiny fishing village was completely over-run with goats, and they sat about on the house porches, glaring at us for intruding.  The entire village came out to wave at us, and we rode through in a strangely imperial way, waving from the wrist...

We found our fish restaurant, and attempted to mime to the lady that we would please like to sleep in one of  her convenient pagoda huts on the shore.  Understandably, miming this sentence whilst filthy and sweating and sitting on a daft-looking bike gave us few results.  After the fourth attempt, which involved the drawing of a tent, the lady looked a little tired, smiled wanly, and said 'yes.'  That was all it took, and we started unloading.

It was still light, but the drizzle had started, and whilst munching our fish we debated the relative merits of having an actual ceiling over our heads, as opposed to thatch palm resplendent with holes and bugs.  We decided to repack and head for the next town.  The lady looked like she might well collapse with relief, and we zoomed off...

It got darker.  As usual, our light didn't work.  As usual, we had forgotten about it.  As usual, our speed dropped to below 20kph, and we bounced along. 

After an hour and a half we found a tiny shack in the wilderness.  We hadn't made it to the oasis promised by the Lonely Planet, or any form of hotel at all.  The shack would have to do.

A handily placed English-speaking Jakartan made the necessary explanations to the bemused shoeless owners.  We set up our inner tent hanging off bungie cords from the roof rafters outside the shack. This caused great hilarity, and throughout the night wanderers would appear, marvel loudly at the foreigner's idiocy, and go for a quick pray at the adjacent mosque.

At 4am a paying customer appeared at the shack, and the owner kindly played a happy hardcore album at approximate 12,67000 decibels to welcome him. 

At 5am we gave up.  Even clambering back onto the bike with our painful saddle-sores was preferable to enduring any more incongruous early 90s rave, Indo-stylee.  The family were very sweet though, and had all slept through the atrocious noise quite peacefully, and we got a grand send-off as we rode away.

Sumbawa carried on being gorgeous.  The roads continued being near-perfect, the villages sustained their quaintness, and we decided never to leave...

We found a hotel at the port where a young trendy Sumbawan told us his laudable life-philosophy in excellent English.  It transpired that basically this was to always do the unexpected in every possible circumstance, which apparently included wolf-whistling at passing devout Muslim girls, despite being able to see only their faces.  None of them ever gave the remotest response, but he assured Adam happily that he had several girlfriends in the village, and didn't seem even slightly perturbed by their lack of interest. 

As we rode into the port at 6am, we were completely gobsmacked to see an enormous 4wd truck...with British plates... 

We had stumbled across some more crazy overlanding Brits, in the most un-foreignered island we had been to...

Our rapid-fire exchange of stories was shortlived though when we had all bought our tickets for the ferry, and waited patiently to load, only to discover the truck wouldn't fit on.  The bike, however, did.  They would catch the next ferry across at 12pm, so we agreed to keep in touch and meet up on the other side.

We found them relatively easily in Labuanbajo, funnily enough, and spent the evening chatting merrily.  Having found them so bizarrely, it seemed daft to travel off on our own, so we took them with us.

We zoomed through Flores, waving at everyone.  Everyone seemed ridiculously friendly.  

At one point we stopped at a tiny shack for grub, only to suddenly be interrupted by two Irish on a borrowed scooter from Lombok.  They stormed in, completely took us and all the villagers by surprise, told us a story and left.  The villagers looked like they had just seen a goat mounting the mullah.  I don't think they saw us foreigner-weirdos much, certainly not complete with strange vehicles. 

Not being able to make it to anywhere with an actual town-centre before darkness, we found a spare bit of beachy wasteland, and camped with the others.  The village turned out to see what we were about, and a man with an enormous harpoon wandered about barefoot.


Amazingly after last time, the tent survived, and, even better, knackered from sudden social contact, we slept like logs.

The next morning a new gang had surrounded us.

 he borrowed my sunglasses for a classy portrait.
We rode on through bamboo groves, and found Bajawa, a tribal village with betel-nut chewing ancients and youngsters doing little dances.  The houses were all thatched bamboo huts with ornate tribal decoration, and they had strange male and female totem poles and tiny Christian graves dotted about with Coca-Cola bottles as offerings.  There was a dead monitor lizard on the roof.  Old intoxicated women spun wool to make local ikat sarongs.

It was all going so well.  The roads were fun and off-roady, with bamboo poles and mud.  We started back towards the town.

Then we ran out of petrol.  There was a petrol-dispensing shack though slightly further along, so we rolled merrily downhill, unperturbed.

It was empty.

Still unperturbed, we came across the truck, and they mentioned more petrol cannisters in the village.  We rolled on.

The village had none, but we did gather a decent crowd.  By this time the perturbation had set in slightly.

We had to call our two fellow Brits to rescue us, and they pegged it all the way back to town in the truck to fetch us cannisters, like true heroes.

At Ende the next day we tried to determine the ferry timings across to W Timor.  The ferry was allegedly on the Friday, but we had heard a billion differing views, including one that said it had not departed for a month...

The office was a little ramshackle.  The ferry guys were also a little ramshackle.  The main ferry information man sported an American football T-shirt and a baseball cap.  He rang around to try and give us a date for departure.

It was looking bad.  Everything seemed to point to us having to drive all night on bad roads 420kms across the island to reach Larantuka for 7am the following morning, thereby missing Flore's main attraction, the volcanic crater lakes at Kelimutu.  I sulked. 

Right at the last moment, another ferry man appeared from a derelict hut next door.  He called a second office, and came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be leaving the next morning, and we had until the original timing on Friday to reach the other end, a far more healthy proposition for our poor un-headlighted steed.

We found a little hut on a tiny farm to stay in, and spent the evening watching the villagers get terribly excited about the possibly sighting of a rescued body from the Kelimutu lakes.  A local lady had leapt to her death from the edge of the lake a few days previously, and the body had to be fetched out by the military.  The ambulance drove past with a million giggling faces following it.  We were mildly horrified.  Then it abruptly did a U-turn and drove back through again so more people could get a look.  The hysterical glee this brought about in the villagers was alarming.  Having said that, it was a very small village.  They may well have got excited about an oddly-shaped vegetable. 

The lakes the next morning were very blue, and very crater-like.  There was police-tape lying about, but  there was no-one there.  We meandered about a bit and went on our way.

By this time we had to zoom, and we pegged it all the way across to Larantuka to make it in time for the ferry.

The ferry.  Oh, the ferry. 

It seemed innocuous enough to start with. There were platforms to lie down on.  It was relatively clean.  Everyone was friendly.  The toilet had water.  So far, so good.

Then a little gaggle of Indonesian men brought on a load of Arak liquor, and got steaming drunk. This still wouldn't have been a problem, except that they were determined to impress us foreigners with their stunning grasp of the English language, and their fascinating array of English mobile phone tunes, including, bizarrely, rather a lot of Kenny Rogers.

No one wants to listen to Kenny Rogers being sung by an enthusiastic Indonesian drunk at 11pm.  Least of all on a pitching car ferry, with the by-this-time putrid toilet aromas wafting gently over to them on the breeze. 

We coped magnanimously for a while.  We smothered the swearing.  Adam just grimaced and gripped the inflatable pillow tightly.  Kym shot daggers at the perpetrators, but asked herself quietly what the the Dalai Llama would have done. 

I asked them nicely.  They nicely offered me Arak and cigarettes, and switched the music to English-speaking Christian rock.

Kym asked them nicely.  So did Gary.  They started on a little comedy act, with us as their main material.  The rest of the room sniggered.  Then the main man started making farmyard noises, I started swearing, and Adam lost his rag, pulled the little scret by the hair and asked him precisely what he thought he was playing at. This little exchange culminated somehow in Adam thwacking him with an inflated empty dry-bag, which caused the drunk so much distress that he ran out of the room with his hands around his ears, sheepishly explaining that he would be leaving now...

An hour later his previously meek compadre arrived at precisely the same stage of Arak-drunkeness, and started squawking and retching, whilst listening to increasingly loud rock ballads...

I had incredibly managed to drift off when I woke to find Adam, pink with rage, stuffing four boxes of cigarettes under the camping mattress, and muttering to himself that they could have them back when they had started behaving.

When I woke up properly, I realised he had also thrown their arak and beer overboard.

It worked.  The remaining idiots wandered off into another room to swear at the crew until they fell over.  Sadly though, it had inspired such a level of excitement in our room, that all the Indonesian families who had been unable to sleep had to get up to have a half-hour gossip about the whole thing.

Quietness was a long time coming.  I think we averagely all slept about 3 hours that night.

We arrived into the port four hours late, packed the bike with lightening speed and made to hotfoot it off the boat.  The others left ahead of us as we waited for a bike opening.

Then bike wouldn't start. 

We unpacked to try the battery connections.  The crowds gathered.  Pressing the start- button produced a sad little Clunk.  It wasn't the battery connections.  Someone helpfully let Adam know this, in case he had missed it...

We  pushed the bike off the boat and into a little piece of shade, and sat morosely waiting for the battery to charge in the office.  It charged.  That wasn't it either.  

In another piece of shade with a new crowd we tried whacking the starter motor back into life.  Nope.  Clunk. 

I kept the crowds happy while Adam removed the starter motor, and we called our rescuers, yet again. 

A few hours later Adam was attempting to explain to a mechanic exactly what was wrong using only mime and three words of Indonesian, while the bike was being covered up lovingly with cardboard by a friendly shack-owner at the port.

It is now sat in the police station car park, and we are sat in the hotel.  We are waiting over the weekend for it to be repaired.  The heat is on to be on the next ship to Darwin in a few days time, but there isn't a whole lot we can do, so we wait.  And hope.  And wonder whether it was karma for hitting the drunk with the dry-bag.