Dili, Timor-Leste -
(Apologies for the long absence. On 14 April, Susan left our home in Scarborough, South Africa bound for Jakarta, Indonesia for a training session. I followed on a few days later travelling from South Africa to Dubai to Thailand to Indonesia where I was reunited with Susan. The next day we flew to our new home in Dili, Timor-Leste where we have been busy setting up for the past week.)
After reading accounts of the devastating violence reaped upon this small island nation between 1999 and 2006, we were not prepared for the tropical beauty that we have discovered over the week since our arrival. We were lucky to find a small house set high on the hills above the capital city of Dili.
From our front porch, we have sweeping views over the bay and across the strait to the high peaks of the volcanic island of Atauro. Behind us rise green hills, rich with banana trees, papaya trees, coconut palms, and other lush tropical vegetation. Golden beaches fringe the placid blue ocean as small cargo ships sail over the horizon.
The city of Dili is small but bustling during the day. Centered around a small harbor, the city stretches along the coast from the airport in the west past a small harbor near the center of town and east towards beautiful beaches and the iconic Jesus de Christo statue. Most of the international embassies, restaurants, and hotels are scattered along the beach west of the harbor.
We have rented a small motorcycle that we are using to explore the streets and neighborhoods. We’re looking forward to adventuring through the rest of the island as soon as we can find a small 4x4 and/or a couple of 250cc motorcycles.
Our shipment from Kabul is due to be delivered to us early next week (it’s been held up by Customs paperwork). It’s been a frustrating wait since our diving equipment is in there! The fringing reefs found along the north coast of Timor are considered to be amongst the best in the world. Timor shares the same seas as the much more famous dive sites found in Papua New Guinea, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Malaysian islands. As Timor has never been developed, it has not yet suffered from urban runoff, overfishing, or other adverse impacts. Fortunately, there is a nascent conservation movement to ensure the reefs are protected as a future tourist attraction and revenue source. Chris has been researching the local dive shops and is planning to start his Dive Master certification course next week.
It is hot and humid but we are quickly adapting. Despite not having A/C installed in our house yet, we are able to sleep at night with the windows open and a fan blowing softly. We are lucky to be up in the hills as the temperature is significantly cooler than in the middle of town. The higher elevations also seems to discourage the mosquitoes! It is apparently the end of the “wet” season although there is still some lingering rain in the afternoons. It will get steadily drier and cooler over the next six months before the wet weather and higher temps return in October.
We’re still finding our way around the markets and our kitchen is not yet fully equipped so we have been relying on the local restaurants for most of our meals. There is actually a good variety of options in Dili including the expected Indo-Asian influences such as Indonesian, Thai, Burmese, Japanese, and Chinese but also Portuguese, Italian, and even Turkish food. Fresh fish is available on most menus but interestingly the Timorese are not considered good fishermen and it is not a staple of local diets. Apparently, the lack of natural harbors prevented the Timorese from being a major sea-faring culture despite being an island nation. Instead, pork and chicken seem to be the most popular meats with eggs providing an additional important protein source.
Naturally, the local markets are bursting with tropical fruits such as papayas, bananas, rambotans, melons and other as-yet unidentified fruits. We have also found sweet potatoes and yams, heirloom tomatoes(!), avocados(!), peppers, carrots, ginger, Japanese eggplant. Leafy vegetables and salad greens are harder to find – a head of red cabbage was found in an international market priced over $10! The international markets also stock imported foods at a steep mark-up but we have found prices similar to those in Kabul. Even once we get our kitchen set up, we do not expect to be cooking the hearty rich meals we enjoyed in Afghanistan – the heat and humidity do not promote big appetites! Last night we prepared a simple meal of antipastos including tomatoes in oil and vinegar, fresh bread with cheese, homemade guacamole, and a plate of pickles, olives, and pickled onions. We think this may become a common style of dinner, but never fear, we will continue to explore new recipes and share more food experiences from our new-found paradise.