Timor Leste was a fascinating place to visit. It had crystal clear water and beautiful beaches. Also called East Timor, this small island country is located between Indonesia and Australia. It shares the island with West Timor, which is still part of Indonesia. Timor Leste has a very tumultuous history and has only been a country for 13 years.
Timor Leste was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century, but they invested little in TL and in 1975 Portugal walked away from it. Timor Leste declared its independence, but within days it was invaded and occupied by Indonesia.
Guerrillas fought for independence for years. It was not until 1991 that the rest of the world started to pay attention when Indonesian forces opened fire on a memorial procession in the capital, Dili, killing at least 250 people.
In 1999, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory, but it was May 20, 2002 that Timor Leste became its own country.
The country is not set up for tourists and receives relatively few visitors. You can only fly there from three other countries: Singapore (lucky for us); Darwin, Australia; or Bali, Indonesia. From Singapore, there are only two flights per week.
It is hard to describe TL. I have to admit, when we first arrived I felt a bit unsafe. Maybe I read too much about its history and that the United Nations had only pulled out 2 years ago, in December of 2012.
After the first day, we could see it is simply a laid back, peaceful country. As I said earlier, they just don't cater much to tourists. I even had a difficult time researching the country for things to do.
Timor Leste's population is around one million. It is a very poor country with about 52.9% of people living below the international poverty line - less than U.S. $1.25 per day. Sadly, 50% of the population is illiterate, especially among the younger generation; which is very unusual.
Their natural resources are oil, gas, gold, marble, sandalwood and coffee. They need to figure out how to export these products to bring money into the country. You can purchase coffee from Timor Leste at Starbucks.
We only visited Dili, the capital. Surprisingly; hotels, restaurants and car rental are very expensive for such a poor country. Again, due to lack of tourists. The roads are very rough and it takes hours to get anywhere. Because of this, we chose to only visit Dili. For our first two nights we stayed in a sweet little B&B on the outskirts of the town.
October is the dry season so we saw a lot of dust, dirt, and brown landscape.
The next photo shows a woman selling milk. You can see a few bottles on the table.
*update* A reader informed me that this is not milk, it is tua mutin, a palm wine brewed locally. And he said it is very potent stuff!
People, trucks, and taxis
Young men would stand out on the main road selling fish. The one above had a beautiful smile, but when I asked to take his photo, he became very serious.
These girls were digging for sand crabs.
They stopped to let me take their photo. Very little English was spoken. The official languages are Tetum and Portuguese. Indonesian and English are also spoken. There are 16 indigenous languages of Timor Leste including Tetum, Galole, Mambae, Kemak, which are the largest ones.
Here is a young mother with her children digging for food.
This woman is collecting rocks...
and sorting them into piles of "like" rocks. We had no idea for what? A wall or walkway?
Public transportation was very limited. What we did see were trucks filled with people standing in the back. As we like to say "safety first"!
Look closely at the point of the arrow, they are carrying a piglet on the roof!
And this one - there is a fish on the front of the car. We have not seen this before!
The taxis were VERY interesting. We had to negotiate for every ride as there were no meters. It was a bit scary riding in them as they all looked like the photo below. Dark, with a black opaque strip halfway down the front glass. Most had things hanging across the front windshield. Fortunately, the roads were so bad they could only go around 20 mph. And I am pretty sure this driver was 14 years old : )
Timor Leste has very few tourist sites, but what they do have is some of the best dive and snorkeling spots in the world. With its warm waters, minimal tourist trade and lack of commercial fishing or heavy industry, the coral and sea life have been able to thrive.
We went snorkeling twice (D went three times). You can walk right off the beach and see amazing coral in crystal clear waters.
Unfortunately. we did not get many good underwater photos, not because of lack of amazing sea life - but more operator error : ) And we do not have an underwater camera - just the plastic pouch.
The Cristo Rei of Dili statue (Christ the King of Dili) is probably TL's most popular tourist attraction. Way off in the distance you can see the Fatucama peninsula with the statue. We dove off the other side (see first photo for the place we snorkeled).
The statue is 88.6-ft-high was unveiled in 1996 as gift from the Indonesian government to the people of TL, at which time it was still part of Indonesia. You can climb 550 steps to the top to get a beautiful view.
Timor Leste is 98 percent Catholic, one percent Protestant, and less than one percent Muslim.
I visited the Santa Cruz Cemetery. This is the site of the bloodiest day in their history - 250 (mostly young people) were killed by the Indonesian Army. There are no guides or any signs, and most of the tombstones are unmarked. The second and third photos are of a small cemetery off the side of the road near our first hotel.
As you leave the airport, one of the first images you see is a statue of Nicolau Lobato, a national hero. He was prime minister of TL in 1975. Upon the arrival of the Indonesian military Lobato fled into the Timorese countryside to fight against the occupying forces. On the final day of 1978, Lobato was ambushed by Indonesian Special Forces and killed. Lobato became the symbol of the Timorese Resistance
More of the beach
On our last day we moved back to the hotel on the beach (Beachside Hotel). The hotel itself was basic, but the beach was so relaxing. Below, D contemplating this great big world....
As for food, there really was not a local cuisine. What we did enjoy, was the food cooked by the Australian owner/chef at the hotel. On our last night we had a romantic bolognase dinner with wine on the beach. Not what you would associate with Timor Leste or the beach - but it was perfect!
We almost had the beach to ourselves!
This photo of the sunset was straight from the camera - we did not alter it.
Timor Leste is a country that is learning. At a business dinner, a young man sang John Lennon's song "Imagine". It made me cry.... he sang it so beautifully and with such passion. It captured what I was feeling about my experience in Timor Leste.....
With all the political unrest and war that this little country endured for so many years....