Dili (Part One)
Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, was a base that I returned to after each of my trips around the country. I always stayed in the same accommodation, and each time I arrived it felt like I was coming home. I knew my way around the neighbourhood, where to buy food and how public transport worked. The familiarity allowed me to relax between each adventure, giving my mind a break from trying to figure out all the small details that arise every time you travel to a new town. This is part one, the day I landed in Timor-Leste.
In many ways, Dili reminds me of a Melanesian/Polynesian island, rather than a Southeast Asian country. There are almost no buildings over three storeys tall (the couple that I saw were empty shells), roads are wide, traffic is virtually nonexistent and pace of life is slow. Large chain stores and restaurants are few and far between. Supermarkets are dark and dingy, but most people shop at the roadside market stalls or at hole-in-the-wall shops selling a limited variety of basic necessities. Young men carry huge loads of vegetables balanced on bamboo poles across their shoulders, and call out the stock they are carrying. Others push large carts around, full of fresh produce using music or horns to attract customers (there was never going to be a shortage of vegetables in this country). I feel like I'm in a rural town, not a capital city.
The people I've met so far have been incredibly friendly. Everyone has a smile on their face and makes the extra effort to help when they see me struggling (which is not uncommon).
For lunch I headed to a restaurant with the witty name of Dilicious. The food took forever to arrive, but my eggplant curry was fantastic, full of turmeric, black pepper and coconut milk. On the side was a huge plate full of rice, salad and a local green vegetable known as kabura - I could have eaten a whole plate of just this. If this was the standard of food in Timor-Leste, I was in for a great culinary journey.
So far, I love the public transport system within Dili. It exists solely on microlets, which are old vans that have been pimped up in a similar fashion to the chicken buses of Central America. The interior contains a bench seat running down either side, and music blasts out of the speakers. There are only 12 routes around, with the number displayed on the front of each van, and they come every minute or two. Thanks to a handy website, I could work out which microlet to get on and when to swap to another route. No official bus stops exist - stick your hand out to flag one down, then let them know when you want to get out. At 25 cents a ride, it's an easy way to get around the city.
As I had a kitchen in my apartment, I decided to make my own dinner. I had been on the road for several weeks, and this was the first chance I had to eat a home-cooked meal. At a localsupermarket I found 2-minute noodles, rendang curry paste, mushrooms and bok choy. It was simple, cheap and better than many other meals had eaten on my travels. I was looking forward to coming back in a few days to do it again.