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Published: June 20th 2006
The church of AinaroTourists - an unknown species
A remnant of the Portuguese time.
East Timor is the place to go if you like to travel to foreign countries but you don't like tourism (which seems to be a wide spread attitude of independent travellers). Tourism in East Timor is not well organised, if you measure with Indonesian standards, and if you take New Zealand's tourist industry as comparison, tourism in East Timor is non-existent. When we arrived at the outskirts of Dili coming from the Indonesian border, our taxi driver got a bit nervous when the police stopped the car. passports, please. What nationality are you? What business?? tourists?! Ah, well, go ahead.
Dili is definitely the place you have to start your East Timor journey. Here you find accommodation, food and transport, the basic needs which are rare in other parts of the country, as facilities only exist for business people and business is mainly done in Dili. Here you will also find banks, bars, internet cafes, burgers, pizza and muesli with yoghurt. Everything was set up for the UN force, and when they left the area, some of the facilities were kept alive for the foreigners still in the country: well-paid people engaged in all kinds
of projects and programs supposedly helping to start the new country running. So, there are actually quite many foreigners around, but not many just for pleasure. When we got to Venilale on one of our journeys into the countryside we were once stopped by the police and reprimanded for not having reported our business on the local police station? We told a surprised police officer that we were merely tourists on a sightseeing tour - an unknown species here in East Timor.
For our tours around the little country we rented a motorbike in the only backpacker in Dili (a mean of transport which is highly recommended). Do it with a guidebook (LP is probably the only one existing) or without - it doesn't really matter where you go. The only real advantage of having one is that you get an idea in which place you might find a place to eat or sleep. But wherever you go, you will experience what this country is worth visiting for. There are the people waving like mad at every foreigner - especially the ones on motorbikes - trying to slap the offered hand as hard as possible, greeting, running after you, cheering.
Cheering on the day of the (first) independance(from Portugal).
Then there are the beautiful churches in every village, which are especially colourful on Sundays when the villagers gather around them in their special-day clothes. Christianity is widespread in East Timor and seems to be the only progress(?) the Portuguese have cared bringing to the island during the time of their colonial regime. A third highlight are the roads which lead through remarkably changeable landscapes, often offering stunning coastal scenery. Even more often they are in adventurously bad condition (which is also much fun). It doesn't matter if you take your guidebook with you or not, you will stumble across some reminders of the sad history of this new-born country: ruins, cemeteries, places of massacres. Don't expect interpretive signs or would-be-guides to lead you through these places. East Timor is not yet dressed up for tourism and their history is too fresh and undigested to be put in signs. The kids have not yet learned to ask for money, they are still just kids, sometimes shy, sometimes curious. Someone with a camera is an attraction and most of the people we met liked to be on our picture and even more to look at it on the display (the real
The walls of Dili
are telling many stories.
advantage of digital cameras). They are not ashamed of themselves and proud of their country. We very much enjoyed our time in East Timor. It offers everything of a real tourist destination - friendliness, beauty and history - but it has not yet what is most likely to spoil a tourist destination: tourists. Appendix
The youngest country in the world is not without problems. Underemployment and an alarming growthrate of its population are likely to cause serious problems in the future. It made us really sad to hear about the recent riots just a couple of months after we have left the country. Of course this doesn't attract tourists either. However, not for the tourists sake but for all the smiling people we have met along our way we hope for stabilisation of the situation.
Find more stories and pictures on our Lovelyplanet-Homepage
. Planet Portrait
* Top 3:
The first night in the Dili Hotel. (the first AC/TV room of our trip!)
* Our route:
Dili - Baucau - Viqueque - Ainaro
* That was bad:
We couldn't hitch a boat ride to Australia.
* Recommended guest
Popular and expensive entertainment for Timorese men.
house: Dili Backpackers
30 days at the border for 50 USD
* We paid for a meal:
1-5 USD. Planet Pictures
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; mem: 1.7mb