Sunday, January 25, 2015

[DILI] Around the City

Walking around Dili is an option if you don't have a fixed itinerary in mind. You can do this on the first day or on the last day whenever you are free. Dili isn't really that big and you could see most of the notable landmarks in just a few hours. However, make sure that you have the necessary protection. The weather in Dili is hellish and the sun could be merciless. Apply enough sunscreen in the morning. Apply enough mosquito repellant in the evening.

Again, Mikrolet #10 is your friend. A Mikrolet is a small van converted into public transport pretty much serving the same purpose as the Filipino jeepney, albeit smaller. With a fixed fare of just USD 0.25, this is the mode of transportation of choice for most locals, and you might have to compete with them for space inside the vehicle. The good thing is that most of them are friendly to foreigners and would most likely yield. There have been three instances when I was given the space next to the driver’s seat.

Mikrolet #10 plies the route stretching across the main highway, if you could call it that. This means that you can ride it going west to the airport or as far as east to Cristo Rei. This is also the right one if you intend to go to Timor Plaza, which is perhaps the only mall they have in the city. It doubles as a hotel and most locals and tourists alike frequent the place for the wealth of Wi-Fi choices available care of the hotspots of the country’s mobile carriers.

If you are staying for a week or two in Timor-Leste, then you could go to the nearby districts and explore the likes of Liquiça where there is supposed to be some sort of Portuguese ruins or Baucau which could be your jump-off point to the island of Jaco, which they say is just as stunning but not as crowded as nearby Atauro. If not, then around three days in the capital is enough for sightseeing at a leisurely pace. As for me, I only had three days and I already saw Cristo Rei when I arrived. The last day was reserved for strolling.

I frequented Timor Plaza because of the food choices available. Dili can be very cheap if you opt to eat like the locals do, stopping at various roadside eateries offering local cuisine. My stomach is not as adventurous, however, so I had to stick to the familiar. In East Timor, the familiar meant Burger King because that seemed to be the only Western fast food outlet you can find there. Aside from the one at Timor Plaza, there is a new branch near Largo de Lecidere. Timor Plaza also has a cinema, by the way.

How much would you be spending on food at Timor Plaza, then? The damage would usually be upwards USD 5 per meal. Okay now, enough food and more travel! On my third and last day, I took the USD 0.25 Mikrolet ride to Timor Plaza and decided to walk all the way back so I could take photos and observe everyday life on the island. There is just so much potential here yet to be reached, but for now it seems like a once sleepy town that has suddenly burst to life.

Most of what you will see in terms of the urban landscape are various government buildings and monuments scattered all around the city, but mostly along the main highway. Walking back all the way from Timor Plaza, the first government building that might pique your curiosity will be the Ministry of Defense. It looks unique enough to stand out but not that attention-grabbing for most people to give a damn, but just snap that photo!

Now approaching the guesthouse, there is basketball court and a small park where locals spend the afternoon despite the scorching heat. The park has a monument with two Timorese holding their national flags. What makes it notable, though, is the backdrop of the mountains far inland, which somehow reminded me of Coron. Given the comparably slow internet connection, the analogy is rather spot-on.

Walking farther ahead you'll reach another park with  locals holding on to their laptops. I suppose that it's a Wi-Fi hotspot of sorts, because seeing people with laptops in a café is normal, but in open-air parks? A hotel can be found nearby, and they say that there is a bar frequented by locals there because of the ambiance and the food. I wasn't able to try it out.

Follow the street where that hotel is on and you will eventually find yourself in front of a museum which seems to be brimming with patriotism and history. I think it's closed on Sundays, which meant no history lesson for me. I think it's okay, though, given the wealth of information available online. I did some research prior to arrival this time around, you know! Anyway, from here the other buildings that might be of interest to you are clustered around a small perimeter that wouldn't require much walking.

The Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e is just across the parliament. In case you are interested, the Instituto Camões, which is in charge of the propagation of the Portuguese language across the world, is located here, or so said the poster I saw there. As you know, learning Portuguese in Asia is quite an uphill battle due to the lack of resources. If you want to learn in-country and you think Macau just won't do, then maybe you can do it here. Good luck dealing with the boredom, though. No casinos here!

If I'm not mistaken, the national government palace is just behind the parliament. These two government offices are just right across the Portuguese Embassy and the Portuguese Embassy is just in front of the yellow Casa Europa, which is just across the main road separating it from the bay area. Did I mention that Dili is really small?

The bay area is long and stretches all the way up to Areia Branca where you find Jesus on the cliff. Walking all the way to Cristo Rei is good exercise if you have the time and the stamina to endure the heat of the sun. Otherwise, take a cab for around USD 3. Anyway, this area is a popular hangout for locals having a chat, fishing, or just admiring the beauty of the sea. This is also your jump-off point to Atauro if you are traveling with Compass Charters.

I noticed the absence of Mikrolet #10’s going back to the center of the town, which prompted me to walk around and find them. This brought me to Largo de Lecidere which is just a part of the long stretch with some fancy shaded areas. Taking one of the side roads, I ended up in the new Burger King branch I mentioned. I found Mikrolet #10 after crossing a few more streets. And that is where my day stroll ended. You might want to take a shower afterwards, if only to make the sticky feeling go away.

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