A day dallying in Dili

6am: It’s dark when Pat and I leave home to walk up the hill behind our house. The roosters are already in full throttle and there’s a welcome coolness to the air. We scramble up a rocky path, past silent shacks, in time to see the sky turn orange above the hills of Cristo Rei. In the harbour below, container ships wait to unload almost everything Timor consumes, including rice from Vietnam, eggs from Singapore and clean water from Indonesia. Not much goes the other way.

Sunrise over Dili harbour

Sunrise over Dili harbour

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Times are a-changin’

I was looking forward to getting back to Timor third time round. I’d met family I never knew at a reunion in New Zealand and hugged my grandkids till they couldn’t stand it. It was time to see Pat and friends, pick up my English teaching and Tetun learning, start writing again. Instead I got off the plane with a First World stomach bug and spent the first week in a disoriented fug.

Ants join forces to carry off bits of our house.

Ants join forces to carry off bits of our house to make one of their own.

As I lay on the couch feeling sorry for myself, two welts appeared on my stomach, souvenirs of an adventurous ant. In his Jitters from the Critters post last year, Pat described ants as ‘tolerable’. That must have been before the invasion. Continue reading

The mysteries of mikrolets

Head down, I clamber into the mikrolet, one of the owner-operated mini-vans that trawl Dili all day for passengers. The only spare seat’s at the far end of a thin bench, one of two that run down either side. Clutching my day pack to my chest, I aim my toe at a sliver of floor between 12 pairs of shoes and push my way through a thicket of knees. The bench stops inches from the back wall. When I finally sit down, a bit of me hangs over the edge, my hair brushes the ceiling and my feet are propped on the spare tyre lying in the aisle.

It’s midday and I feel like I’ve walked into a crowded sauna. Workers are heading home for lunch and the afternoon shift of students is replacing the morning one. The air freshener sachets hanging from the ceiling look as wilted as the passengers. No one’s talking although we’re close enough for a group hug.

The trusty No 10 mikrolet

The trusty No 10 mikrolets get me from A to B.

The mikrolets are the closest thing Dili has to a public transport system. Continue reading

Motorcycle diaries

Motorbikes - heading out

Fired up and ready to head out

There’s a golden rule when riding a motorbike in Dili: never drive through a puddle. On both roads and footpaths, the city has potholes that could swallow an elephant. So after a wet-season downpour, avoid the temptation to blast through the muddy brown water that lies everywhere. The dip could be millimetres, or metres, deep.

That’s one of the few rules that apply in the chaotic Timorese traffic. I hadn’t ridden a motorbike since I tore about Wellington in the mid-70s on a Honda 350cc. Continue reading