Our friends John and Shelley have been in Dili, East Timor for two years now. It took us forever to get our act together, but we finally dashed out for a visit as they are wrapping up and getting ready to go back to Australia.
Flights into Dili through Bali are absurdly expensive, so instead we flew to Kupang, on the opposite end of the island. You will recall that East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999 after decades of occupation and resistance. Now, the east half of the island is independent while the west half is a province of Indonesia.
We got to the hostel in Kupang at midnight and discovered the only bus we could get seats on was leaving at 4 a.m. The room was, shall we say, pretty basic. My favorite part was the bathroom sink that emptied directly onto the floor rather than bothering with any kind of pipes. But the beds were beds and we managed a couple of hours of sleep before getting blearily onto the bus (actually just a van) in the still-dark city.
The ride from Kupang to Dili is an 11-hour marvel through all kinds of terrain: jungles, little villages, mountain forests, rivers, beaches. I napped a bit while it was still dark, and then I just stared out the window drinking it all in. I especially liked the thatch-roofed huts, which looked like big hairy beasts.
After the first several hours of drowsy window-gazing, punctuated by bursts of loud syrupy Christian ballads on the driver’s tape player, we got to the border. There we grabbed our backpacks, paid our $30 (US, cash, exact change only please) and entered East Timor to meet the vehicle that would take us on to Dili.
The border was surprisingly low-key, especially considering the destruction Indonesia-backed militias wreaked in East Timor just a decade ago. We made our way through a series of buildings which, as Chad said, “resembled chicken barns,” chatting in Indonesian with friendly guys in camouflage fatigues. We sat in the hut above, which turned out to be a medical office, for about five minutes until someone came by and told us we didn’t need to be there.
Once the paperwork was sorted, it was on to a new vehicle (an SUV), a new driver, and new music (Beatles hits and slightly-wrong Asian covers of random old country songs). We hurtled through the last three hours to Dili taking hairpin turns at terrifying speed and sometimes hitting 75mi/120km per hour on straightaways. We were mighty glad to get our tired, sweaty selves off the bus and put our feet on solid ground and John and Shelley’s.