Timor Leste is the newest formed nation in the world. The word “Timor” means “East” in Bahasa Indonesian, “Leste” means East in Portuguese. Two words, ten letters, a poetic hint about the history of the most newly formed nation in the world.
Andrew and I never intended to sail to Timor Leste. It was added to our plans only after we discovered our sixty day visa on arrival could not be issued in Tual, and instead we were stuck with only thirty days for all of Indonesia. The solution was simple. Sail five hundred miles forward on our sail track and pop into Dili, Timor Leste. They have an Indonesian Consulate there; we could apply for and obtain a sixty day Social Visa, renewable in four additional thirty-day increments. That will be plenty of time.
Timor Leste? We had never heard of the place, but Timor sounded familiar. Squinting hard through my historical memory of the late 90s, I recalled news reports of a place called East Timor in humanitarian crisis, a war, UN Peacekeepers. Beyond this vague recollection, I have zero other knowledge. Discussing our sail plan with other sailors in Tual, one older gentleman regaled us with his stories from two seasons back. He explained the place is filled with Hummers and jeeps left aside by the UN, the buildings burnt out hulks of war, bullets still lodged in place. “There is an entire age group of men missing between ages 25 and 45,” says our sailing friend.
As we sailed into port, the large statue of Jesus stretches his arms out toward the City of Dili. A sculpture similar to the famous Christo Rai statue in Brazil, it was erected by the Portuguese. Being from America, when I think of colonial powers, first I think England. Then, I think Spain. Then, maybe France. I know the Dutch had their hands in the “Dutch Spice Islands.” Portugal is last on my list. I guess the Portuguese colonies have been too far away from my life for my mind to grasp, at least up until now.
The Portuguese were great sailors. In fact, the Portuguese will be the first to tell you Christopher Columbus was actually from Portugal, but didn’t get his way with the crown and so his explorations Westward were financed by Spain. Portugal colonized much of South America, Africa, South East Asia, and the Caribbean. Their influence on the world is at least as significant as any of the other colonizers I previously mentioned. As they colonized, they sent Catholic missionaries around the world, leading the Pope to “give” Portugal all land South of the Equator. The Portuguese colonized Timor Leste in the 15th Century; they wanted to collect the Sandalwood.
Across the bay, facing opposite of Christo Rai, is a beautiful Portuguese style Catholic Church. It’s spires stretch into the sky, two topped with crosses and the center toped with a Portuguese style sailing ship, a wind vane bearing its bow into the direction of the wind.
We step ashore, and it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust. People running. They dodge traffic and “death holes” while running nimbly on their toes. They run alone, they run in groups. Runners everywhere. If we were in the US, this would not shock me; but we are in the islands. With the exception of our time in New Zealand, I can say with all certainty that I have seen exactly one person run in the time we have been sailing. Makeshift, outdoor gym equipment is tucked away in every corner, always in use. Push ups, pull ups, sit ups, lunges, squats. The fitness culture is unlike anywhere we have been, yet.
Those who are not running are bundled together in any bit of shade they can find. They sit in pairs or groups, chatting, looking out at the ocean, drinking coconuts, laughing. As we walk by, some ignore us completely, others keep expressionless faces trained on our movement. I smile and wave: the test. Their faces warm to a smile, they wave back. “Bon Dia.” Sometimes, they ask us “how are you?” but it comes in a variety of options “Como via?” (Portugese); “Apa Kabar?” (Bahasa Indonesian); or sometimes “Diak ali?” (Tetun - Local Timorese) Each time, I have to roll through my language rolodex for a response: “Bene!” (Portugese) “Baik Back!” (Indonesian) or “Diak” (Tetun).
They do not rush us for selfies. They do, however, still notice the camera around my neck. Tentatively, after we have already walked passed, I sometimes hear “photo, photo?” It’s quiet, and shy. I turn around to see a Timorese looking hopefully back at me.
“Photo?” I ask back, lifting my camera halfway as though it is a question. They giggle and nod, stand ready for their portrait, but then as I’m about to click away, they almost can’t stand it any more. They cover their smile with their hands, duck their heads, and lean away from me, like they are getting ready to bolt. I don’t even get time to adjust per my light meter before they duck away.
First item to accomplish on our list: our new social visas for Indonesia. Standing on the side of the road, we wait for the #10 Microlet to slow to a stop. Color coded, the routes are easy to figure out. We hop on. Andrew folds at three points just to fit inside the door. The Timorese already in the bus divert their eyes and try not to stare, but I sympathize. He looks rediculous.
We bounce along, stopping to pick people up or let people out. Andrew has to disembark at each turn because his legs and feet take up the majority of the van. No worries, we’ll all squeeze in; the Timorese do not hesitate to sit atop each other, crouch in the middle or dangle out the door. When we reach our destination, the whole van devolves into a fit of previously stifled snickers and giggles. They go silent again as I look back and laugh, too.
We wait for the Indonesian Embassy, and head inside to obtain the proper application papers. Andrew tips over to speak to the lady through the window. “We would like to apply for a Social Visa, please?” … She can’t hear him, he isn’t low enough. “Applications for the Social Visa?” Now, I’m snickering.
Eventually, she understands and she hands us two blank applications across the desk, along with a list of other items we need to compile including two new passport photos and an agent sponsor’s letter. She provides us with the name Kym and a phone number. While there was a bit of a language barrier, we presume this is the name of someone who can provide us our sponsorship letter. Phase 1 Success.
We to go find our own late lunch. Fried chicken, vegetables, and rice for two at the Timorese/Indonesian local cafe. $4.50 total.
As we nibble away, a nice young man waves cheerfully to us. He greets us in English. At first, his English is fantastic and easy to understand, but as he realizes what he’s doing he gets more nervous. His chin shivers a little, between sentences. I try to calm his fear. “You speak wonderful English!” I say. He smiles, but remains self-conscious. His name is “Nilthon or Anitu;" I guess we get to pick. I go with Nilthon because for some reason, it seems easier for my brain to remember. He invites us into his village district in the mountains over the weekend. He invites us to hike with him to Christo Rai. We make a new friend. We try to coordinate our hike to Christo Rai for the next day.
After lunch, we conduct our second key item of administrative business: begin our hunt for a package we had shipped from home. Shipping a package from home requires a good deal of strategy and luck. We’ve only tried it one other time, and that was enough to teach us never to try it again. But in this circumstance, we have no choice. In Papua New Guinea, we found our travel friendly ATM card expired. We’ve been surviving off of our backup card that charges approximately $7.00 in ATM fees for every $100 we withdraw. This is cutting into our rum budget; something must be done.
We directed the bank to send us a new card, which we had to send to Andrew’s sister. In the meantime, we researched potential addresses in our future sail plan that could timely receive a package and hold it for us. Hotel Timor seemed like a decent option.
“Okay, ship it to Hotel Timor in Dili via DHL.” Andrew tells his sister.
“DHL? What’s that? I was just going to send it FedEx.”
“No, FedEx won’t work. Ship it through DHL.”
“What about UPS?”
“There is no DHL where I live.”
We force Andrew’s sister to drive an hour into the City to find a DHL location, as DHL is the only shipper that can “consistently” and “predictably” manage shipping to remote island outposts with no identifiable street names or building numbers. Six weeks in advance, Andrew’s sister hands our care package over to DHL in Salt Lake City, destined for Hotel Timor, Dili, Timor Leste. The package takes the circuitous route from Salt Lake City, to LA, to Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, then finally, to Dili.
The doorman to Hotel Timor greets us with a tip of his hat as a beautiful rush of air-conditioning dries our glistening faces. We inquire at the front desk about our package, only to be rejected. Nothing here. No matter, the coffee bar looks rather welcoming. We order a Cappuccino and a Portuguese Tarte to soothe our disappointment. The coffee/wine bar at Hotel Timor becomes one of our favorite haunts. Cold, dry air conditioning, comfortable wicker seats, a nice ambiance and delicious coffee (morning/afternoons) or red wine (in the evenings).
I swear this doorman is more cheerful than he looks in this particular photo.
Andrew checks the tracking again. It leaves off in Dili, but it does not say it reached Hotel Timor. We decide to try the nearest DHL office, maybe it’s sitting there? We hike two blocks over, three blocks down. With only $150 and a divine miracle from the Patron Saint of International Shipping, we actually received our package.
Two successful things in one day? I’m overwhelmed. We have to stop! But our success doesn’t end there. We find a beautiful bar next to the beach, overlooking the ocean. There, they serve us a glass of Portuguese Port wine, a sweet appetizer before dinner back on Sonrisa.
Cheers! First day in a new port, Port!