24 – 31 July
Rachel is heading home in another week so we spent the weekend on Atauro Island off the coast of Timor-Leste. Apparently, a favoured spot for the local ex-pats. There is an eco-lodge there, Barry’s Place. Because Australian Volunteers International is responsible for our project, I have to follow their rules. This means I had to take the water taxi which cost $45 and takes 1 ½ hours instead of the Dragon Boat which costs $10 and takes 50 minutes. The Dragon Boat does have another name – the death capsule, which is probably why AVI don’t want us to get in one. Rachel happily, arrive in one piece on the Dragon Boat.
Barry’s has a series of grass huts, all solar powered, food included for all meals. It was great. I had a huge grass hut with a loft, Rachel had a really small one but right on the beach. We spent our leisure time there as it had a much better view. We went snorkelling in the afternoon on the reef which is very close to the island. Wonderful.
At night I settled in, pulled down the mozzie net (there is dengue on the island) and read for a while and tried to get to sleep. I felt something on my back. Suspecting a bug, I put the light on and there was a rat looking at me from the other pillow! I threw my pillow at it and it scampered away and then peeked out from behind the pillow again. I gave up. I gathered up everything, put as much as possible in my bag and went up to the loft to sleep in one of the beds there. I tucked the mozzie net in all around so my resident rat could not get in. I didn’t sleep well at all and eventually watched the sunrise from my loft bed. When I ventured down, I notice my phone, which I had left on the bed, looked a bit odd. When I looked more closely I realised, the rat had eaten the whole front cover. Never to be used again!
We had a long walk, a swim, lunch and then got ready to leave. My expensive water taxi was on time and the Dragon Boat was ready for take-off. As Rachel and I walked towards the Dragon Boat it took off! Half an hour early! Luckily, Barry and others were madly ringing the captain to say that there were about 12 guests they had forgotten to pick up as the boat was actually scheduled to leave at 3pm. Happily, the Dragon Boat turned around. The seas were a bit rough but the death capsule arrived half an hour before the water taxi. I had a sore back from the terrible seats and the rough sea and a head ache from the noise of the engine. A terrible trip. Considering the rat and the horrendous boat trip, it may be a while before I get to the island again.
This week, I spent two days in the rural area that will be my working grounds for the next five months. I was picked up by a 4WD at 6 o’clock and we made our way east along very narrow, winding roads. The scenery along the coast was beautiful and we watched the sunrise. When we were coming into land when we first arrived in Dili, we realised that Timor is made up of mostly mountains, the only flat area was Dili itself. The rest of the island is a series of mountains going the length of the island. I found this out on my trip to the district. The roads went around and around the mountains. Most of the roads were hardly roads. More like dry rivers beds. We drove for miles at 20kph to get over the rocks, through the ruts and avoid massive pot holes. There was road building going on everywhere and roads were gouged into the sides of the mountains. There had clearly been no environmental impact study carried out before the roads were started as huge mounds of waste rock and dirt had just been bull dozed over the edge of the mountains in many places. There was no consistency in which bits were being dug up and one stretch of road might have just been graded, another covered in asphalt and then we would come across a section where we had to get around huge rocks and deep holes. Many of the gangs of road workers were Chinese. Apparently, China is putting a lot of money into road building here. I wonder what their agenda is? China is not well known for philanthropy.
We visited several schools along the way and after eight hours in the car, we finally made it as far south as the road goes. I had been introduced to Directors and Adjuntos of the schools in preparation for my real work in a few weeks’ time. I felt that I could have done without the road trip and just met them then. It was a long way to go to just say ‘hello’. I stayed overnight in another convent, Madres. Not quite as up to date as the one in Dili. No running water, no hot water and no air con. The nuns made dinner, lots of fish and tempe. Not a fan really so I ate the rice and vegetables and of course, the cake. Breakfast was also rice and vegetables. The trip home took five hours and the only stop along the way this time was to pick up some fruit, vegetables and wood for cooking fires from the stalls on the side of the road. At one of the houses, a young boy climbed up a tree and used a stick to get 15 enormous avocadoes for us. The family charged us 10 cents each.
The roads were terrible but the worst part of the drive was when we got closer to Dili. The road was very narrow and hardly wide enough for two cars and there were trucks and buses going both ways. The road wound around the coast, cutting into the cliff with a long drop over the side to the ocean. It was very scary and we had a few very close calls.
We caught a taxi up to Dare where there is a wonderful view of Dili and the mountains. The Lonely Planet Guide said to book tickets for the Australian Memorial Museum online. We couldn’t find it. I have been there twice now and apart from a café with lots of banners telling the Australian story, I haven’t seen a museum. The road is very narrow and there is not much of a town. Perhaps it is around the next corner.
It was Rachael’s last weekend and we all went out to dinner to a restaurant on the beach. We had drinks first at a Portuguese restaurant with bean bags and sofas overlooking the beach. We watched a beautiful sunset. We went next door to the Chinese restaurant and had lots of courses for $7 each. Much cheaper than the fancy Portuguese restaurant. Same view!
On Sunday we spent the afternoon at Area Blanca where there are chairs and tables on the beach and the restaurant across the road brings meals and drinks. A lovely way to spend the day. I will miss having Rachael here, she was a lovely connection to family and home and it was so nice to see a familiar face all the time.