Hello summer – first impressions of East Timor

Visas. One of the fundamentals of travel, had been carefully worked out and timings carefully scheduled. We even thought of whether we’d need them for transit countries, or so we thought… Then we got to Wellington airport and nearly didn’t go anywhere. We were flying via Sydney to Darwin where we were overnighting before hopping over to Dili, the capital of East Timor. Its only Oz and we’re NZ citizens now so have got the mindset that we an go and live and work there whenever we want. Which of course we can, but not when we’re travelling on on our British passports… We both panicked momentarily at the mention of visas at the check in. Umm how can we get one we tentatively asked, oh just walk over to the ticketing desk and they can do you one for $30 was the reply. Big relief! Overlooking the obvious – lesson learnt! On the plus side our first ‘things haven’t’ quite gone to plan’ travel problem is now in the bag.

We were treating ourselves to a last night of comfort in Darwin, at the Rydges resort, which also gave us the bonus of a free late check out perfectly timed for our flight out. It meant we could spend Monday morning hanging by the pool drinking coffee and enjoying the perfect weather – hot but with a lovely breeze and low humidity.

Back at the airport and Marie’s security checks now tally 1 drugs check in Wellington, 1 explosives check in Sydney and 1 hand frisk for liquids in Darwin. Emma’s tally is zero and she is starting to find it amusing.

aIMG_9244We knew the plane to Dili was going to be small but we only realised how small when we were in the departure lounge. We weren’t quite expecting a 30 seater, we still managed to make a new friend though. Victor an Australian picked us out as fellow backpackers and soon introduced himself. Even in a small plane the flight only took 1:35. Flying over the width of East Timor and our first impressions of the landscape are that it is much more mountainous than we expected, from the air it has quite a rugged look, not unlike parts of NZ.

As we landed we passed a row of UN helicopters parked up topped off by a UN plane, there was no doubt we were in the right place. We knew we were going to like it when we disembarked and it was hot but not humid. The plane pretty much drops you at the door, you walk up to a hatch and chuck $30 through a small hole and a man gives you a visa slip so immigration can stamp you in, strangely even though we both said we were staying 11 days immigration gave Marie 15 days and Emma 30, which doesn’t matter but is bemusing. We collected our bags and for the second time out of the 3 flights we’ve now taken there was someone who’s bags hadn’t arrived.

The airport is basic and customs only involved throwing your bag through the scanner and they simply collected our declaration forms without reading them. We waited a minute for Victor to come through to see if he wanted to share a cab. He’d had the same thought so it was a done deal. There were easily 15 taxi drivers hassling for a fare from the tiny flight and as we started to negotiate with one, another tried to jump in and there was bit of jostling.

aIMG_9250The cab ride was great, our run down cab had flags hanging on the inside of the roof, hanging down from the roof, tinted windows and a back window full of who knows what. The driver turned impromptu tour guide on the way to the hotel and was pointing out buildings. We got lucky with the hotel considering we had booked it online just to give us somewhere to stay on the first night. Ran by really nice people, in a perfect location near to the waterfront, a supermarket round the corner and good restaurants within walking distance. Victor decided it fit the bill and checked in too.

We dumped the bags off and the 3 of us headed out to get a quick feel for it before it went dark. We got harassed but not too much as we headed east down the waterfront before turning inland and heading down the back roads to the hotel. On first impressions we think that we’ll really like the place.


  • There are heaps of UN here, although this may be skewed because they are always driving round and often are only in ones or twos. They’re due to pull out at the end of the year and we cant help wondering what will happen when they do as they’ll surely leave a big hole in the local economy.
  • The locals seem really solemn but if you say hello almost without fail they will say hello back and break into a huge smile.

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