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!


  1. Wow. Sorry to read about the dengue. But great to hear you made it to Australia.

    All the best for the last leg!

  2. Finally caught up with your posts! Congrats on reaching the final bit of landmass on your journey and hope you get better!

    How's Manfred's starter motor doing?


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