Dili to Com

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September 18th 2011
Published: September 18th 2011
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We arrived back at the hotel earlier today after 2 long days driving to and from the eastern end of East Timor. It certainly was interesting. We left Dili at 8:00 a.m. and had lunch at East Timor’s 2nd largest town Baucau which is just 123 km away. I’ve been on worse roads in China but these were still pretty bad – huge potholes, missing bridges, missing tarmac etc. If we weren’t slowing down because of road conditions we were slowing down so that we didn’t hit a cow, goat, pig, dog, chook or human. Still, we travelled in relative comfort in a 4WD. The locals travel either by small motorbike, microlet, bus or truck. A microlet is a tiny minibus which is packed to the gunnels with people, often with people hanging on but travelling on the outside of the bus. The buses are small buses, similar in size to the airport shuttle buses that we have at home. I couldn’t see how packed these were on the inside but I assume that it was sardine-like. All buses have large loads tied to the top and frequently there are a couple of people travelling on top as well. On our way back this afternoon we followed a truck that was loaded with people. The tray and sides of the truck must have contained about 25-30 people and between the tray of the truck and the cabin there were another 5 or so people. We found it an amazing sight and were very surprised to realise that at least 2 of the passengers holding on to the side of the truck tray were actually asleep.

There were 4 of us on this trip and we were all very surprised to see how dry the country was. Granted, it is the dry season but we still expected it to be lusher than it was. Our trip was along the northern coastline and much of the countryside reminded me of the area around Moree and Goondawindi during drought conditions. There was hardly any significant vegetation - a lot of aloe vera and prickly looking shrubs. In a few places where there was a river that was still flowing it was much greener as rice was grown here. These areas also had a few water buffalo around just to confirm that we really are in Asia. One of the reasons that it is so dry is because much of the land is actually old coral reef and so very porous. This also has the disadvantage that when it is crushed it breaks down to a powder that looks like cement.

The old part (Portugese) of Baucau was one of the few exceptions to this general appearance of dryness. Here it was quite lush with water flowing through the town and providing sustenance for huge trees that line the streets. When we returned to Dili today we drove through the new (Indonesian) part of Baucau which turned out to be dry also. We figure that any water/rain that falls on these old reefs just drains through the porous rock and eventually runs out in selected locations as springs further down the hill. In Baucau, motorbike and bus owners had their vehicles lined beside the water flowing from these springs and were washing them, women were doing the family laundry and kids were bathing and playing.

In addition to Baucau we drove through quite a few villages, both large and small. There are two types of traditional houses in this area. The most common type have walls made of small straight sticks (part of a palm) and palm frond roofs. I thought that these were very attractive looking structures. This design is being modernised with time so that all or part of the wall is made with a grey cement brick and frequently the roof is corrugated iron. The yard surrounding the house is swept clean and is completely bare soil. Many of the houses have other smaller structures to the side that I think are basically shade houses for resting in during the day, enclosures for pigs etc. while an even smaller number have a kitchen garden enclosed off to the side of the house. The less frequent type of house is a pole house that sits 2-3 metres above the ground and has a very high, peaked thatch roof. We were taken to visit one of these houses and met the family. The Timorese are in the process of extending the electricity supply and this traditional house was now wired, complete with meter, although the electricity was still to be connected. All the boys at this house wanted their photographs taken and it was difficult to get a photo of the young girls without their brothers racing in front and blocking
View towards ComView towards ComView towards Com

Still a long way to go
them out. It was quite an interesting contrast in the behaviour of the 2 sexes.

Our destination for the night was the village/town of Com. Com is set on a lovely sandy beach with reef just offshore. The women here weave “tais” which is a very colourful fabric that comes in a range of sizes from scarfs through to larger table cloths and bedspreads. We didn’t go for a swim at Com but we did have one at a beach near Baucau on the way out and we stopped and had a snorkel at a place called K41 on our return to Dili today. The snorkel was great. There was a bit of a current but not too bad. We only had to swim about 10 metres before we reached a small, shallow coral reef which was home to a good variety of colourful reef fish. A little further on it just dropped away with a very obvious wall. This really refreshed us and set us up for the next hour of travel back to Dili.

Tomorrow is our last day of training and we fly home on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see just how far we get. Qantas workers in Melbourne are striking on Tuesday for 4 hours and Qantas expects the effects to last for 48 hours. Hopefully we will only be late home rather than having to stay over en-route.

Additional photos below
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K41 beachK41 beach
K41 beach

The men in the background are resting in the shade of their nets. They had been fixing these earlier.

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