Dili – East Timor

While my bike was being shipped to East Timor from Darwin I returned home to the UK for a few weeks to attend my Brother’s Stag Do and Wedding. It was the first time I’d been home for one year and it was good to catch up with everyone again. However, after a couple of weeks I was itching to get back on the bike to start the SE Asia Leg.

I arrived in East Timor’s capital city Dili early 22 Aug after leaving London Heathrow on 19 Aug. I had chosen a cheap flight and so was rewarded, of course, with a nightmare 3 day journey via Sri Lanka, Singapore and Darwin.

When I finally arrived and checked into my hotel, although I hadn’t really slept a great deal, I went straight down to my shipping agents’ office, TOLL Marine (up near the airport) to start what I thought would be the long process of retrieving the Tiger. They immediately packed me off to Dili Port where 5 minutes later a customs official had stamped my carnet (easy as pie!), and back I went to TOLL Marine. By now it was just past 12:00 which meant the whole of Dili had shut down for lunch and I had a long 2 hour wait before I eventually got my bike released. It felt great to be riding her back to the hotel, clean and legal, and I thought that called for a major celebration.

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My Tiger – escaped from East Timor customs!

With Task 1 complete, my next job was to get an Indonesian Visa to allow me to cross the border into West Timor. Normally I would be able to get a visa on arrival when flying into Indonesia, but because I was crossing overland from East Timor I had to apply for one in advance, which I had been told would take 3 days. When I eventually found the Indonesian Embassy late that afternoon the lady there told me they were shut and to come back at 09:00 tomorrow with a pile of completed forms. This left me time to relax a bit and watch the sunset over Dili Port just outside my hotel.

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Dili Beach – right outside my hotel, Hotel Dili

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Sunset over Port Dili

Hotel Dili is a reasonably priced, decent hotel in the centre of Dili run by cheerful Australian/Italian Gino, who also rides a Harley and also runs the travelling biker’s website ‘toowheelsadventures’.  He gave me lots of helpful tips about riding in East Timor, which mostly consisted of ‘watch out for the terrible roads & potholes bigger than buses’ and ‘watch out for the crazy drivers, cows and buffalo’.  I’d have expected nothing less!

Before I went back to the Indonesian Embassy I had to get some passport photos taken. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem as I have a pile of passport photos already prepared, but Indonesia is the only country I’ve heard of that insist on a red background. Anyway, it would have to wait until the morning because all the shops were shut, and it was time for a beer at the ‘Hotel California’.

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Happy Hour at the Hotel California

The photo shop didn’t open until 09:00 the next morning and by the time I’d got my tasteful red background photos and returned to the embassy the queue was a mile long; in fact it wasn’t even a queue – just a mass of people pushing and shoving to try and get to the tiny counter at the front with one hard-faced woman sat behind it. I stayed for a while before I realised I was too late and it was a waste of time, and so rode off to check out some diving places for tomorrow, planning to return to the Embassy first thing on Monday. Unfortunately the next few days were too windy to get out to the best sites (Atauro Island) so I used the weekend to sight see around Dili.

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East Timor flags outside Parliament

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Old reminders of colonial rule under the Portuguese

A worthy visit is the Dili ‘Resistance Museum’ where I learned how the world effectively stood silent while Indonesia invaded East Timor in an attempt to make it her 27th province once East Timor had won independence from Portuguese in 1974. For the next 24 years about one third of East Timor’s population were killed (approx 200,000) as men, women and children were abused, tortured, raped and executed by their murderous illegal occupiers. East Timorese resistance fighters were hopelessly outnumbered but bravely fought on using guerrilla tactics and eventually won their freedom in 1999. For those of you interested, I’ve written an eye-opening account of this part of their history at the bottom of this post (for those not interested, please skip the paragraphs highlighted in italics).

Out and About Dili

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Dili, a short drive east will deliver you to beautiful sandy beaches, quiet beach restaurants and crystal clear waters.  I was beginning to see what a beautiful, unspoilt country this was.

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Gorgeous sandy beaches & crystal clear waters just east of Dili

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Quiet beach lunch in the shade

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I was beginning to see what a beautiful, unspoilt country this was

Continue east and you will come to a 27m tall statue of Christ looking over the city. Cristo Rei of Dili (Christ the King of Dili) was a ‘present’ to the people of East Timor from Indonesian President Suharto in 1996, which is laughable considering the atrocities he had and was still committing against them during his illegal occupation. Some 500 steps lead you from the car park at sea level to the statue. Views of the island from the top are magnificent and well worth the climb.

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Some of the 500 steps leading to the Cristo Rei

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Beautiful views from the top of the Cristo Rei

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Cristo Rei – a 27m statue ‘gift’ from Indonesia

History of East Timor’s Resistance against Indonesia

Effectively abandoned by the Portuguese after the 1974 revolution, East Timor’s decolonisation process was tough, but political infighting eventually settled and independence was declared in Nov 1975. Afraid Independence would lead to the creation of a communist state in the far east, the US (under Ford & Secretary of State Henry Kissinger) and Australia gave their ‘silent approval’ for Indonesia to launch a full scale invasion a few weeks later in Dec 1975, which is strange considering East Timor is one of only two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia, and most Timorese led a good, Christian life.

Throughout the proceeding invasion the world stood by as Indonesia subsequently slaughtered thousands of men, women and children, raping and executing as they went, lining hundreds up on Dili jetty and shooting them. Australian reporter, Roger East, was among a group of fifty men, women, and children that were lined up on a cliff outside Dili and shot, their bodies falling into the sea.

A sign of things to come should have awakened the world 2 months previously when five Australian reporters (the Balibo Five) covering East Timor’s plight were among hundreds executed by Indonesian forces during their pre-invasion incursions.

Despite continued fierce resistance, East Timor troops were massively outnumbered and fled to the mountains where they began guerrilla combat operations.

Immediately after the invasion the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that “strongly deplored” Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, and demanded that Jakarta withdraw troops “without delay”. Unfortunately this resolution was not enforced and the world stood by for the next 24 years whilst over 200,000 East Timorese were killed (a third of the population) in their attempted genocide by Indonesia. I cannot imagine how incredibly brave the East Timor resistance fighters were over the next 24 years, fighting a hopeless battle with a murderous enemy with the blinds closed from the rest of the world.

Despite the UN resolution there remained little resistance from the international community to Indonesia’s invasion, and astoundingly several western governments supplied Indonesia with superior modern weapons to counter ‘the insurgents’, including 13 aircraft on ‘US Aid’ which were used to pinpoint resistance fighter’s hideouts, and for other indiscriminate bombing. Later, testifying before the US Congress, the Deputy Legal Advisor of the US State Department, George Aldrich, said the Indonesians “were armed roughly 90 percent with our equipment…”

This is an interesting read:

http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB62/

It wasn’t until 1998 when the fall of Indonesian President Suharto and a shift in Australian policy led the way for an UN-sponsored referendum in 1999 in which the overwhelming approval for independence eventually came to fruition. Attempts to try the Indonesian President, Suharto, for genocide failed because of his poor health (even though he managed to linger on for another 9 years) and because of lack of support within Indonesia.

Impossibly brave resistance leader Xanana Gusmão became the first president of a newly independent East Timor. Xanana was interestingly named by his mixed Portuguese-Timorese parents after the American rock and roll band Sha Na Na, married an Australian reporter covering his story, and is presently Prime Minister.

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