- 3 months ago
There are some spectacular volcanoes to visit including the occasionally active Batur, where you can ride around hills and a lake at your own leisure, or lose a race with an eight year old girl who rides a 250cc motorbike.
- 3 months ago
Earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, prison breaks and maritime accidents make up some of the risks attached to any visit to Indonesia. After a choppy three hour ride in a tourist fast boat, we arrive sunburnt, sea sick, soaked and plonked on the sand of island paradise, Gili Trawangan.
The island reminds me of the aftermath of the Leo film The Beach, where after all the carnage, a group of very good looking, peace loving Europeans bohos move onto the island, open some trendy boutiques and restaurants, outlaw motorised vehicles and exile all ugly people back to Kuta Beach in Bali.
Gili would be amazing were it not more densely populated than downtown Calcutta. There are so many beautiful people consuming vast amounts of seafood, bottled water, and factor 50, that I fear that the island may eventually collapse in on itself, and the only proof of its existence will be a large great Pacific floating patchwork of Vilebrequin shorts and Intermix swimwear.
Leo Messi eyeing up the barbecue
Neighbouring Lombok island has beautiful, deserted white beaches. The only downside to this, is that you have to stay in a resort or in Kuta town in order to access these beaches.
Kuta town’s local beach is run by feral children who bark their wares at pretty European couples who want to get a quick tan whilst recovering from the previous night’s food poisoning. One English girl let a young feral draw some art on her back, whilst she flipped through The Elegance of the Hedgehog on her iPad Mini.
I suspect that she was disappointed by the poor spelling he left in charcoal.
Outside of being woken up by the local mosque at 4am and the roosters at 5am, Lombok is a relaxing island, home to some stunning beaches, a lot of sunshine, some beautiful fabrics, and life threatening surf. Just bring imodium, earplugs and water wings.
After ten days in Timor Leste, I was bored. The people were wonderful, but culturally, I felt that there was something missing. We wanted to find out why. If you ask locals for directions to former prison turned resistance museum Chega! they will look at you blankly but the museum is a true find exploring the country’s tragic history.
We learnt that the Portuguese colonized Timor Leste and then realized it was too far and too small to bother with. Their legacy appears to be a few churches and a strange attraction to Cristiano Ronaldo amongst the male population.
In World War II Japan invaded in order to engage Australia in battle. The victorious Aussies handed the keys to Timor to the Indonesians whose brutal rule contributed to the deaths of 102,000 people, which was 10% of the population. In1999 a pro independence referendum led to a bloody war between pro-Indonesian Timorese and independence fighters.
Our guide at Chega!, Noi, was forced to retreat to the jungle for three months during this conflict, where she and her family built a house out of coconut leaves and lived on potatoes and river water. After Australian-led troops (INTERFET) restored peace, they returned to their house only to find that it had been bombed to cinders. They rebuilt it from rubble. In 2006, civil war broke out again, and the UN moved in for six years to bring in peaceful elections and an end to hostilities.
Why is everyone so happy?
One thing kept bugging me, after such tragic recent history, why were the East Timorese such an upbeat people? Noi explained that the older generation were still angry about the occupation but that the young had to get on with Indonesia, and only wanted to look to the future.
A lot of people are intrigued by my trip to Timor Leste. For the renegade unemployed looking to take advantage of new trade and Timor Leste’s vast oil resources which are being exploited with the Australians, I suspect the easy money has been made.
As a holiday destination it is disorienting. In ten days I managed to live without internet for three days, relied on the kindness of others to hitchhike around the country, had my own island for a day, and witnessed a new nation learning to forgive. All of this in a tiny country where it feels as though you are perched on the edge of the earth.
Dili Airport’s newest customs officer
Always finish with a sunset
- 4 months ago
"Be nice to the French" is not something you will hear me say often.
It all started with the Lonely Planet guide’s chapter on East Timor. Written either by an ultra marathon runner capable of making a carb heavy dinner from tree bark and a few poisonous frogs or by some kid who stayed at a Dili backpackers’ and traded warm beer for travel information, this traveller’s Bible is full of outdated recommendations and a lot of false hope.
I had lost faith in my Lonely Planet after our $140 taxi ride to Tutuala, and so I would have to rely on my wits, charm, a pretty white girl and a lot of dollars to blag my way back to Dili. Respect your elders, and if you can try to leverage them. At our “lodge” we met a group of elderly Australians on a tour. They offered to take our backpacks as far as the seaside backwater called Com. The following day, we started our journey at sunrise, hiking over logs, around ditches, and waving hello to smiley eight year olds who hacked their way to school with machetes. Exhausted and sweaty after our two hour hike, we arrived in Tutuala. I strode over to a local shop and declared to the keeper that I should like to employ the services of a local car driver to carry us to Com and that I was willing to pay a pretty penny (OK $15-20) for the service. The lady’s grasp of cod Dickensian English was very poor; she only spoke the local dialect of Fataluku, and really just wanted to sell me a phone card and a strawberry Fanta, so I headed into town in search of a driver. The reason there are no drivers in Tutuala, is because there are no cars in Tutuala. As I began working out whether we could walk another 15km to the next town, a French family in a 4x4 popped their heads out to offer us a lift. I made a mental note to be nicer to the French. A friendly, intrepid couple, David and Marie had inflicted a six week train journey across China on their three children last year, so five weeks of cabbage and rice, and nights spent swatting mosquitoes in stuffy gîtes in East Timor must have seemed like Club Méd.
Our French BFFs took us as far as another village, where after an hour’s wait for an imaginary bus, the world’s happiest vicar took pity on us, and drove us in his shiny new 4x4 to a town called Lautem. From Lautem we commandeered two kids on motorbikes and arrived to the quiet seaside town of Com. We were reunited with our backpacks and celebrated our small victory with a cold plate of rice and cabbage.
If you want to lord it up like a billionaire, but you’re unemployed or on a budget, Jaco is probably as good as it gets in terms of that private island feeling. Yes, you may arrive there with arse sores, and a bumpy head after a two day journey along some of the worst roads in SE Asia, but the flip side is a big chunk of paradise that is all yours. It’s a perfect destination to play out your James Bond baddie fantasies, perform that long delayed digital detox, channel your inner caveman, or fantasise about being at the edge of the world. Getting across the island is no easy feat. On our first day, I could make out the white speck of a fisherman’s boat bobbing in the ocean. This was our only ride to Jaco and no amount of t-shirt waving, or kid tossing (see pic) would get his attention.
On the second day, we crossed over early to bask in the clear blue water which refreshes as you twirl around underwater and play peekaboo with the little fish; the glorious white sand makes little farty noises under your feet as you dance your way out of the water into the shade of the lush forest. And the best bit is that no one can see you acting like you are Sebastian the crab from the Little Mermaid.
- 6 months ago
- 6 months ago
Timor Leste - Honorable mention for this house
You probably need planning permission to do what this guy did.
If you ever stay at the Melita Guesthouse in Baucau and are woken up by the neighbour’s reggaeton, do take some time to admire this guy’s backyard. I’m pretty certain the tombs cost more to build than the house did.
- 6 months ago