EAST TIMOR = Timor-Leste: Launch pad for Oz.

Click on images to enlarge them.

Dili has a Rio-style Jesus statue overlooking it.
Not by coincidence; both have Portuguese backgrounds.
National Geographic photo downloaded.


A concise history & economy: An independent, democratic nation since 2002, tiny 1-million-population East Timor is the second-newest nation on earth, Montenegro taking 1st newness prize.

While getting this far, its people suffered some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, some 100,000-250,000 died (estimates vary) – 10%-25% of the population. Those percentages are akin to Ugandan deaths during Idi Amin's barbaric rule.

It is largely a Christian (Catholic) nation, contrasting with mostly-Moslem Indonesia next door.

During the 25-year Indonesian occupation that preceded their 1999 withdrawal, the Indonesian military was by most accounts – brutal. Then Indonesia withdrew with a scorched-earth campaign, destroyed enormous infrastructure, killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands to become refugees in Indonesia.

Indonesians were not nice guys in the process, a major blight on their record. The Australians came in at Dili's request with force, to quiet things down. In 2006 through 2008 there were further outbursts of violence, but things have been relatively calm in the last couple years.

It was formerly a Portuguese colony, the colonialists leaving in 1975 after which Indonesia quickly invaded to quash an armed independence movement. Some of the West was blamed for supplying arms and support for the bloody movement.

It has been a rocky road ever since. It is drought-ridden and poor; looks, feels and factually is very Third-World while riding in.

It does have vast offshore oil and gas reserves however, which petroleum fields Australia has been active in exploiting. A 50-50 revenue sharing deal with Australia has been struck with the government, while some disputed petro-related items are in abeyance.

The UN presence is immediately obvious when you get there. It's enormous. UN cars and plates, white people all over the place – attest to what looks to us travellers initially, as disproportionate. But given the not-long-ago violence, there may be good reason for the large number of peacekeeping whites.

Apparently the UN and Australia have brought peace to the nation and are training locals to take over. BBC says: 'The rebuilding of East Timor has been one of the UN's biggest success stories.'

Here is a short but good BBC Country Profile [link]; plus the CIA Factbook with greater detail [link.]

GDP Per Capita (PPP) in 2009 is $1900 (CIA says $2,400), which ranks East Timor as either #178 or #181 out of 225 countries [source link.] That's about tied with Laos, North Korea and Sudan.

It's very poor, oil notwithstanding, and doesn't produce much outside of basic agriculture –except for trying to rebuild its Indonesian-and-rebel-destroyed infrastructure. Its petroleum products are shipped to Australia for processing.

42% of the population is deemed to live below the local poverty line.

A long road lies ahead; the UN and Australia are likely to be around for a while.


Tourism: The official currency is the US Dollar and there seems to be some psychological link to US prices.

Estimates are less than 20,000 tourist visits a year, so we were rare birds here!

With investment in infrastructure it could pick up as there is evidently excellent scuba diving and abundant beaches, mountains. Roads that we travelled are quite adequate and being improved.

There are only 700 hotel rooms in the entire country [New York Times source link], with UN and business visitors occupying most of them. They are very booked and extremely costly compared to the rest of SE Asia; indeed we had trouble getting a room, most places just had $130-$200 rooms – even in the current rainy low season. Why? Because it's packed with UN personnel on high per diems. Hotel owners are getting quite rich.

Restaurants also are vastly over-priced. We did find a couple acceptable sushi places in Dili, plus a Chinese restaurant, all of which cater to the white UN folks. The prices were about like Toronto's – nothing like Asia's. Restauranteurs are also obviously getting rich: First World retail prices on Third World overhead.

If East Timor business people remain greedy and maintain the high American-level prices, there is every reason for tourists to stay away in droves and go to enormous, cheap and beautiful Indonesia instead.

Perhaps once the UN presence tapers off, local businesses will get real and humble – and attract business they have to work for. But that appears to entail a few years' wait.


Travels: Entering East Timor from Indonesia was a snap. A $30 visa-on-arrival for each of us, plus a stamp in the Carnet de Passage. That's it, no issues. We joked with the Customs officers and felt quite welcome as rare tourists.

Sections of road are under construction. Here's one.

It was under 100 km from the border to Dili; largely a narrow, winding, hilly road, tight blind curves, mostly a good ride although much road construction and some serious potholes that sneak up on you. The coastal road is beautiful, rugged, with abundant empty beaches. Poor villages en route, mostly straw and bamboo/mud brick homes.

One thing I truly hate is riding slippery, narrow, mud tracks.
A village we passed – are they troglodytes? Don't know.
Many seem to live in mud piles.

Many large white SUVs, with a large portion bearing UN plates and logos – including 'UN Police' on many.

At the local Tiger gas station we met a great friendly Australian UN police advisor, Fraser, who kindly led us around to try various hotels. We ended up at the $50 Chinese-owned Hotel Audian with English TV, air conditioned room and gated parking. Room looks out onto the street separated from the action by a big steel wire fence. Breakfast and the kitchen are horrid beyond belief and internet is a rapacious and s-l-o-o-w at $5 per hr. An internet café a block away is $1 an hour but also painfully slow.

One can easily pay 300%-600% too much for stuff like food, water and internet by going to places geared for whites. Whites pay it, simply because they can, all or most being on expense accounts.

The Tiger gas station also has a fine rare-treat-for-travelers convenience store that has shelves of whiskey, wine, European cookies, cheeses. Our eyes popped out of their sockets after being booze-and-luxury starved in East Indonesia.

The Tiger station also has a pizza delivery service, which we took advantage of the first night. A pizza! Delivered! With a cold beer! And it was great, actually excellent, with tons of pepperoni and cheese. We sat in our room watching English TV, munching a loaded pizza and feeling like heaven. Small things do amuse after missing them for a while!

But it was a $20 pizza, which, after months of $5 meals was a culture shock; a transitionary fiscal step towards Oz just a few days away.


Shipping bike/car & people to Australia. We were in Dili for one ultimate reason: It's how you get to Australia using a ship for your wheels. Ships from Indonesia take a l-o-o-ng time, like a month, and are far riskier and more costly.

Dili –> Darwin is the best route, period.

Australia is extremely strict on clean bug-free imports.
Had Black Bike high pressure-washed twice to attain spotlessness.
Strapped into container ready for Oz trip.

There is one shipping company that does most of the business and they are quite efficient. It's just a four-day freight ride from Dili to Darwin.

The shipping company is Perkins Shipping [link.] Their web site is not easy to work through, but there's a schedule buried in there if you keep looking.

They run ships between Singapore, Dili and Darwin about every 9 days, so if you miss one, it's a bit of a wait for the next. Hence we were rushing to catch this one, not the next. Hanging around East Timor for a week or two, was not on our current list of preferences.

You must be in Dili with your wheels two business days in advance of the ship's departure, to do the paper work and to super-clean your vehicle for Australian Customs – they are ultra-fussy about importing any bugs.

The local shipping rep you do business with in Dili is:
. . .SDV Logistics [link] [office phone: +670-332-2818]
. . .It is a medium-size western company, quite professional and modern,
. . .French-based we believe.

. . .The Dili manager is a very helpful guy, Rafael Ribiero
. . .. . .[email: r.ribeiro@sdv.com mobile +670-723-0517]

. . .The person who processes your paper is ace, perfect English.
. . .Antonio Magno, Sales Mgr.
. . .I recommend speaking with him and doing everything through him.
. . .. . .[Mobile: +670-731-8249]

All-included, shipping my big Goldwing inside a container came to almost US$500.

The Australian side cost a reasonable $70 for port charges and $111 for Quarantine inspection – and it was thorough! No kidding the inspector went on his knees with flashlight and mirrors, found some animal dung hidden deep behind the lower cowling we'd missed and made me clean it. It was not a casual inspection – so do it right in Dili!

. . .I will never forgive/forget the Surabaya harbour thievery.
. . .$70 port charges in Darwin where wages are First-World high;
. . .compare that to $500 in Surabaya Indonesia! The same bike.
. . .For a similar distance. For similar shipping costs of $500.
. . .What a vile rip-off Surabaya Harbour is!
. . .Horrid horrid and clearly a mafia of the local shipping people.

The downside in Darwin was the ship was a few days late due to weather. Quarantine for the vehicle is at minimum 2-3 business days (weekends extra). In total it took us nine days of waiting with not much to do, in order to get cleared. But the Aussies are great, friendly and no-BS. They have their strict quarantine rules to keep bad bugs out of their similar-climate country.

. . .Shipping Black Bike to Oz cost about $700 incl freight & Customs.
. . .Add airfares, 2 weeks of hotels in Dili and Darwin, food, taxis
. . .and such, the entire crossing + our living costs came closer to $2,500.

Daily flights for humans are reasonably priced. Air North is the airline [link.] You book online – but be aware that you need to arrange an electronic visa for Australia. We didn't know that, so had to do ours at the airport which took a half hour. You might wish to work through a travel agent to get the visa.

But here's a strong suggestion: Do not buy airline tickets until your vehicle is 100% for sure to leave with Perkins on a specific date. The cheap airline rates are non-refundable nor exchangeable. The Perkins ship may be delayed by a few days, or even cancelled. Then your wheels are stuck in Dili and you are in Australia.

I paid $50 more per ticket because it was a next-day flight, but it was worth not booking ahead because ultimately the ship was a day or two late. Being there during packing a bike is important: I got to tie it down personally inside the container, with Perkins employees help. This is a very good peace of mind factor without insurance!

On February 24 2010 Back Bike was in a container and the ship was to take it to Darwin.

Early that morning we flew out, not being interested in exploration East Timor with a rented car. We were simply tired and had seen enough of SE Asia for a while.

Time to move on.


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