Day One - Dili
It was an early 3.30am start to the day and after a sleepless night from being continually woken by the clap of thunder I was showered and dressed and on my way to Darwin Airport.
As my cab turned right out of Packard Street I thought to myself 'that is the last time I will turn out of this street' and the memories of the last 10 months of living in Darwin flooded through me. But there wasn't any time to be sad as my cab driver was having a quiet night and the opportunity had finally arisen for him to chat to someone.
With my bag filled with about 30 cans of tuna (my housemate's husband whom I was meeting in Dili has a continual food shortage so I was delivering supplies) I sheepishly made my way to the check-in counter. I knew I was a couple of kilos over and was hoping that with a bit of luck that I wouldn't get stung with excess. The check-in chick didn't even bat an eyelid and I didn't have to produce my sob story of my poor mate in Timor who never had any food but I did mention it after I was processed.
My flight time was only 1 hour and 15 minutes, a blink of an eyelid really. Even though the flight was only half full (so that was why I didn't get stung with excess) I was seated next to a guy from Palmerston who was heading over for the Hash Harrier's runs. I was also participating in the runs on the Saturday and the Sunday and I was inquisitive of what to expect although he didn't have too many details himself so I would need to wait a bit longer to find out what I was in for.
Flying over East Timor was a breathtaking sight. It was just so mountainous and having lived for the past year in Darwin which is just 'flat' it was a real novelty to see. Amongst the mountainous terrain you could see houses scattered everywhere. People must be really fit in these parts if they have to contend with those hills!!! And then Dili came into sight, a flat strip of area dotted with palm trees along the north coast of the island and a few kilometers out to sea was Atauro Island and it was mountainous also. As the plane landed a guy was doing his morning run alongside the airstrip and I was quickly reminded that yes I am back in a third world country where obviously running alongside an airstrip is perfectly normal and not a restricted area.
After what seemed a very long time our baggage was offloaded and I was first off the rank. I loaded my extremely heavy bag onto a trolley and then out through customs to meet my friend. Wow what a treat this was being picked up from the airport. Normally I arrive and then have to plan how I am going to get to my accommodation. Do I take the bus? Do I haggle for a taxi? Do I jump on the back of a motorbike? None of these options even needed to be considered this time…..how fabulous.
Our first port of call was to grab a coffee. If East Timor is known for anything it's their coffee although some beg to differ. As long as it's not instant I am happy and the brew served up to us was pretty good and at a $1 a cup who wants to complain anyway. If there is something that Darwin lacks it's a coffee culture…no-one can make a good coffee and then they charge you $4-$4.50 for it!
Along the way Marco pointed out various things like different embassy buildings, where the supermarkets are, the local market etc. We passed many homes which are very basic and it is obvious that this country is very poor which is sad considering that the amount of aid money injected into this country would make every East Timorese a millionaire. So what do they do with this money??? Not on infrastructure that's for sure. Lining a lot of people's pockets would be the answer to this one and I was astounded to hear that the UN is a guilty party in this.
After coffee we dropped off Marco's tins of tuna at his accommodation and then we went and dropped my bags off at the backpackers that I was booked into. Marco came in with me to remind them that a deposit had been paid for my first two nights. No matter how nice people can seem you can never trust anyone, especially when you are white and considered well off (and yes that's why I stay at backpackers because I am sooo rich!!!). Anyway sure enough the manager tried to charge more per night than originally arranged when Marco booked me in a couple of weeks back. Having someone speak the local language is such an advantage and the price was haggled back down to the originally agreed price….but of course' you can't tell the owner'.
Once my accommodation was sorted we were back on the road heading out to the point where the famous Jesus statue on top of the world stands. The area is currently under development and new paths have been installed and a park is half way being finished. Being a weekday it was very quiet and the views were just great. Then it was time for a fresh coconut. Oh how I love my coconuts and we sat on the beach to drink them in the shade away from the blistering sun. I was not sure what to expect temperature wise here. I was hoping for it to be a few degrees cooler than Darwin but I don't think that is the case, but then again did I spend that much time out in the direct heat and I can't recall climbing a couple of hundred steps either. Next it was a drive past Horta's home (the President) and then on to Metinaro to see where Marco works. The journey was just around 21km along the windy coastal road. The beaches here are nothing to get excited about as they are very corally. Snorkeling is probably pretty good but with the possibility of being attacked by a crocodile puts a big dampner on that. We drove through a couple of very small villages where housing is very basic, passed a herd of water buffalo and quite a few goats. Once at Marco's work I was treated to a visit to say hello to the resident pets. I wasn't sure what to think or what I was about to see when Marco got out a machete!! I followed behind quickly and then Marco stopped and asked me to stay behind…what was it? Well it was Maria and Antonio, the resident crocodiles!!! Yes you heard right….crocodiles. I couldn't believe they were keeping them on the base behind some wire fence. Maria and Antonia live in separate enclosures as Antonia had killed his other 2 wives because when they got pregnant they had a bigger appetite and so ate Antonio's food. Maria came out of her pond to say hi but Antonio stayed in watching our every move.
After our brief visit we headed back to Dili for lunch. With Marco having lived here for 12 months there was no research needed into 'where does one eat around here?' As Dili is on the coast most of the restaurants are situated near the water capturing the sea breeze and overlooking Atauro Island. I had stir fried prawns - yummo and a fresh mango juice - even more yummo.
We then headed up the road to Dili Beach Hotel (aka Bum Crack Bar) to pick up our show bags for the upcoming weekend Hash Runs that we had registered for and what a great show bag we got. It included a hat, stubby holder, towel, bookmark, sticker and the bag itself. By now I was feeling pretty weary so Marco dropped me back to my accommodation so that I could get an afternoon nap before heading out for dinner.
With a bit of a siesta under my belt it was time to head out again. Off down to the beachfront to dine at one of the many restaurants. We went to Little Pattaya which served up both Thai and Lebanese cuisine. We started with a green papaya salad and falafel followed by chicken pad thai washed down with a fresh mango juice (yes I am hooked on them and its only day 1). The breeze sitting on the beach front was great after battling the heat all day. After dinner we stopped for a drink at Hotel Timor, the best hotel in Dili (but nothing special) and then back to Dili Beach Hotel where we ran into a couple of Darwin hasher's who had partaken on the day 1 run. Having being met at the airport that morning at 8am with an esky they were pretty tanked…and it was only day 1 of 4!!! My god what is this Hash Running Club about? I was very naive about the whole thing but it was now obvious that a lot of drinking was involved. How will I survive the weekend?!