Hardcore in Dili, Timor-Leste

Last night I went out for a few drinks at this place called One More Bar and Cafe here in Dili, East Timor. It was one of those typical third world upper level open air bars with a pool and ping pong table (I love both btw). Anyway, it was especially interesting and fun because I got to really meet and interract with the people who actually live and work here. I got to hear their stories and learn first hand about the situation here and what goes on. I also found out that there was a demonstration 2 days ago where the army had to use teargas against the demonstrating students. This took place about one kilometer from where I am staying. Aside, from learning about East Timor, I was reminded once again why I love to travel and meet people. I also realized how hardcore you have to be to come here at all.

I walked up the stairs last night to the bar and was pleasantly surprised that it was a nice place filled with a decent amount of people. In a place like Dili you get the usual mix of people working for International aid and human rights organizations, the UN, teaching English and NGO types. I admire all of these people because they are all extremely dedicated to their craft and literally make a place like Dili work.

Timor-Leste is a country that all of a sudden just declared their independence in 2002 and shockingly it didn’t all just go perfectly. There were a lot of hiccups and there still are on a day to day basis. While the UN is dying to get out of Timor, the same cannot be said for other people who live and work here and who have come to call Dili home.

Last night, I sat down at a chair in front of the TV that was showing Rugby and saw a woman lying on the couch that didn’t look too good. I asked if she was OK and she said, “No I think I’ve got malaria or Dengue Fever”. This took me by surprise a little bit and I was like, “Oh wow, I’m sorry”. After a few minutes of chatting with Ruth, a Dutch National who has been here for years teaching English and has really come to love this place, I said to her, “You don’t have Malaria or Dengue”. I am not a doctor but I have been around enough to have seen cases of both and she didn’t have them-there’s no shot she’d be up and about or smiling for sure.

So we were chatting it up and she was filling me in on the island stories and what everyone was doing here and what she had seen, done, etc. She also mentioned something that I thought was really interesting. She says, “I haven’t been to many expat places as I’m sure you have but I hear the difference between Dili and other places is that people love it here-they don’t want to leave”. She continued by saying how she had to leave during the violence in 2006 and really missed it on Timor-Leste-it gets into your soul she said and you just want to be back here. Ruth said that East Timor is “Paradise with a Manual”. I promised her I would quote her and not expand further as she wants to write a book about this place titled just that.

She is right though, this place is a relaxed, beautiful paradise where you are basically isolated from the rest of the world and as long as they don’t start fighting again-it’s perfect…sort of. East Timor is the least visited United Nations country because of a lack of flights. As I mentioned yesterday they only fly to two cities and allegedly they will start flying to Singapore soon which would really help tourism on the island and give the expat workers a cheaper alternative to get off the island-I hope that works out.

After Ruth left, I was playing pool with a group of Aussie NGO workers and a UN police officer. It was again interesting to hear them tell their stories as I was completely enthralled by what they were doing. They, like Ruth before them, asked me why I was here and I filled them in on my quest and they were shocked. Not at my trying to break a record but that I was a tourist and came here. They had seen exactly zero tourists since they had been here and that made me feel kind of cool. We then continued discussing the virtues of the island and why people don’t come. It’s no secret that the only time you hear anything about Dili is when there is violence and 99.99999% of people couldn’t even place it on a map correctly.

So it was kind of interesting but the bottom line is that you have to be pretty hard core to come here. If you work or volunteer you are a hardcore worker and truly believe in the cause you are here for and develop a love for the island and the people. If you work for the UN here, you are hardcore because you have seen it all over the past several years and have developed a passion in one way or the other for this place. And yes, if you travel here for fun-you are hardcore because nobody comes here voluntarily unless they are working. It’s expensive, out of the way and generally just a pain in the ass to deal with along with the distinct possibility of violence breaking out at any time.

I like the way they put the hardcore aspect of East Timor to me and I wish all of them luck with what they are doing and hopefully they will all succeed and stay safe with what they are doing. I love places like this because it allows me to meet people like those I mentioned and really hear some stories from the people who know because they’ve been here-not just from BBC or CNN. I’m taking off back to Bali shortly and as I am excited to head back I will miss this place a little bit. It was only a short visit but as a passionate person, when you hear and see others being passionate about what they are doing-it’s inspiring and I won’t forget this place or the great, if only brief, time I had here.

By the way, that Turkish place, Kebab Club, was really pretty good and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the island. Try the Turkish Delight-it’s fabulous.

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  1. Obviously, they dont know how to play pool in Timor! ALways fun playing ping pong in 1000% humidity as well.

  2. I used to be an aid worker in Timor-Leste and I spent many evenings in the One More Bar. It’s nice that you visited because Timor is a nice place to stay. The countryside and mountains are beautiful and the diving is very nice as well. I am back in Portugal now with my service being done there for 2 years and I find myself wishing I was back.

  3. Thanks for the recent info on Dili! We will be there for one night next month

  4. Ya Dili was pretty cool, certainly interesting-it takes a little while to grow on you as the first impressions are not that great but it’s just one of those neat places that all hardcore travelers should see…take care Jordan and good luck to you.

  5. We just returned from Dili; definitely agree on how gorgeous the place is, and what charming people. We walked around the markets and down along the beach for a bit, also went up to the Christo Rei statue (500 steps!). The new Austasia flight to Singapore is quite nice and empty compared with the Merpati flights.

  6. Awesome Jordan, thanks for letting me know…thats great they finally got that flight up and running to give those people a price break and give them more options

  7. I never even heard of this place, but stumbled across it while I was looking at enclaves on Wiki. Can you add any info on your visit to Oecussi — how did you squeeze that in? THanks

  8. Lee, I am planning a trip to Southeast Asia later this year, probably starting in Oz and flying from Darwin to Dili. How did you get to Oecussi — I’ll probably head there and then on to Denpasar. Thanks for any info on traveling from Dili to Oecussi — did you take the overnight ferry or overland. Any hassle with Indo visas? Not too many people have posted about East Timor and very little info on Oecussi. Thanks much.

  9. It has been my practice to travel jet lag free with jetLAGFX http://www.jetlagfx.com/. With your article, I am pretty sure I will have a good time.

  10. Jill Umbach says

    I enjoyed your piece. I lived in Timor for many years as a community development worker and consider it one of my ‘heart’ places – the people keep you there as an expat as well as the natural lifestyle – diving, beaches, mountains and food. It is a hidden gem and we enjoy the large beaches with regulars and families to picnic. The coral reefs are pristine and the fish varied and plenty. But it is the people that are so special.

    On a very sad note, our friend and my ex-roommate Ruth who you met, was killed in an auto accident while traveling in Timor last Friday. While maybe not her best moment – suffering on a couch – she was a vivacious woman with a passion for Timor. We loved her and the whole community has come out to support her family and friends. It is what you do in Timor.

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