Monthly Archives: January 2010

My travels in 2009

2009 was a pretty good year for me as far as travelling is concerned – I managed to spend 289 nights outside the UK, and visited 17 countries (beating the 8 I went to in 2008, my previous best). I’ll save a full round-up until I finish my round the world trip in March, but for now here’s a nice little montage of my favourite photo from almost every country I visited in 2009, kindly created for me by Matt.

Featured photos (from top to bottom left to right) are:
UK – London in the Snow (January)
France – Skiing in Les Arcs (March)
Guatemala – Indigenous woman on the streets of Antigua (May)
USA – Art Deco Miami (June)
Bolivia – The Salar de Uyuni (September)
Australia – Kata Tjuta at sunset (November)
Peru – Sunrise over the Cordillera Huayhuash (August)
Chile – Grafitti in Valparaiso (October)
New Zealand – Jumping on the Tongariro Crossing (October)
East Timor – Beware the crocodiles on Baucau beach (December)
Belgium – Antwerp Docks (February)
Mexico – Mazatlan beach (March)
Honduras – Utila beach (June)
Colombia – Fruit sellers in Cartagena (July)
Easter Island – Moai (October)
Indonesia – Sunset over Senggigi beach, Lombok (December)

The only countries missing are Norway (from January, where I forgot my camera), Argentina (from October, where my camera was broken), and Switzerland (from March, which was just a brief stopover on my way to France).

Sadly I won’t be doing quite so much travelling in 2010 – but with Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma & France to come, as well as the Philippines (where I am now) and Malaysia (where I was earlier this month) there’s still lots to look forward to. Stay tuned for further installments – and click here if you want a look back at any more of my photos.

The stunning rice terraces of Batad

It’s never a nice surprise to arrive in a new town, bleary-eyed after a restless night on a bus, to find it pouring with rain.

“Isn’t it supposed to be the dry season in January?”

“Dry season? Ha ha. No. That doesn’t start here til March”

Serves me right for trusting the Lonely Planet when it comes to planning for the weather. For it turns out that yes, while the dry season starts in January in most of the Philippines, high up in the Cordillera Mountains of North Luzon it’s a different matter. Which was a bit of a problem. We’d made the epic journey up north for one main reason: to see the spectacular 2,000 year old rice terraces of the Ifugao people – and looking out of the hotel balcony, we couldn’t see a thing, as the entire valley was shrouded in cloud.

On arriving in Banaue I’d met up with an English / Ecuadorean couple (Matt & Carolina) and a German (Dominic) and we quickly abandoned our plans to go up to the viewing point over the town. The view would be even worse there. So instead we donned our raincoats and headed out for a wander around the valley in the hope we might actually get to see something. After a while the cloud lifted a little bit, but unfortunately the rain just got heavier and heavier (which is no fun at all when you’re walking along a very muddy unpaved road) so we had to admit defeat and turn back before we’d seen anything but a few smaller terraces.

Rice Terraces close-up

We’d only planned to stay two nights in the area before heading on to Sagada, so despite the weather we optimistically booked ourselves on to a trek for the following day.

The following morning only offered a slight improvement – the clouds were a smidgen higher, but the light drizzle continued. It was our only chance to see the terraces, so we jumped into the Jeepney for the bumpy one hour ride down the road praying for miracles. The weather continued in the same vein throughout the first section of the walk, down very steep, slippery steps and along yet another muddy path as we headed to our ultimate destination – the village of Batad.

We weren’t all that hopeful about our prospects of a good view, but as soon as we came round the corner and saw the village’s rice terraces in all their glory, suddenly the weather didn’t matter any more. For even with grey skies and persistent rain, the sight was spectacular. The guidebook describes them as looking like an amphitheater surrounding the village, and that’s pretty accurate – they rise high up the hillsides in a semicircle all the way round the village, and continue down the valley below as well. As we were there just before the new planting season, every terrace was full fo water – and as they completely surround the village, from our viewpoint above it made Batad look like an island.

The Batad amphitheatre

Trying not to fall in

An island in the mountains

The hike then took us out onto the terraces themselves, walking right along the narrow dividing walls The sight alone is impressive and beautiful enough – but it’s also quite incredible to think that they were carved straight out of the steep mountainsides, at over 2,000 metres, such a long time ago – and not just in Batad, but over a huge area (apparently laid out end to end they’re stretch the whole way round the world several times).

Rainbow over the rice terraces

It’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen on my trip so far – and pretty unexpected too. If I knew anything about the Philippines, it’s as a destination for beaches and diving. I really wasn’t expecting such stunning mountain scenery. Just four days into my stay in the country and I was already falling in love with the place.

You can see all of my photos of the rice terraces here

Manila made me a mallrat

Mallrats is one of my favourite films ever, mainly because it’s pretty damn funny, but also because it gives an insight into one of the those baffling American pastimes that mean little to a Brit like me – I mean, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would you want to spend all their time hanging around in a shopping mall?

Until I got to Manila. I’d already read it in the guidebook, but it wasn’t til I got my bus in from the airport that I realised quite how many malls there are in the city. There must be dozens. And some of them are huuuuuge – the biggest (the Mall of Asia) is apparently the third largest in the world.

I had no intention of spending any time in them, but on my first day I needed to pop in to the local one to get money out. After wandering around town a bit getting my bearings, I soon found myself sucked back in to get a snack (after all, they had a much bigger selection of food outlets than anywhere nearby). I don’t think I’ve ever been to a mall twice in one day before. I resolved to be more adventurous on day two.

Colonial building in Intramuros

I headed out the next morning to take a walk down to Intramuros, the old walled part of Manila. As it happened, the mall was on my way so I popped in for some breakfast (and my first taste of Filipino sausages: mmm). So much for trying to avoid the Mall. Anyway, I headed down to see some history, which took all of a couple of hours – I had no idea Manila had such a tragic recent history, as it was one of the world’s most badly damaged cities in World War Two, as the Americans and Japanese pretty much razed the city in 1945, killing over 150,000 people in the process. This tragic episode has left little of what was once one of Asia’s most beautiful cities. The huge protective walls are pretty impressive, and there are some nicely restored colonial houses, and even the World Heritage listed San Agustin church (nice as it was though, I’m not entirely sure why).

San Agustin Church

Fort Santiago

On the way back I found myself wandering into the mall without quite realising I was doing it, and for no apparent reason. Still, while I was there I popped into M&S for a quick look (just to see if it was exactly the same as back home – it was) and a coffee before heading back to the hostel, where I bumped into the people I’d met the night before, and soon found myself heading straight back to the mall (it turns out – of course! – that the nearest supermarket was located there) to buy some dinner to cook in the hostel. Three times in one day. What was happening to me?

On day three we had some time to kill before catching the nightbus up to the mountains, so we decided to have a bit of a jeepney adventure. Jeepneys are very much the typical Filipino means of transport – they were originally converted US army jeeps, but are now made in the Philippines, and have to be my favourite method of local transportation I’ve encountered yet, as they are painted in bright colours, covered in stickers, and plastered with various slogans (I’m such a fan there’ll be a separate post on Jeepneys coming up). We thought they looked pretty fun, and so we decided to just jump on one and see where it went – which turned out to be chinatown, which is full of your typically hectic asian market stalls (many of which were playing exactly the same ultra-violent chinese film, which people were glued to). Still, it was mostly tat, so after a bit of a wander, one of the girls needed the toilet so we soon found ourselves – where else, but the local mall.

Riding a Jeepney

Despite our best efforts to be in and out in five minutes, we soon found ourselves sucked in, trying out the local empanadas (very nice, but not a patch on Argentina’s), munching on chocolate doughnuts, and shooting hoops at the local arcade’s basketball game.

In the end I had to face up to it: I’d turned into a mallrat myself. And you know what? It turned out to be a lot of fun.

Indonesia Budget & Other Numbers

My wallet was looking forward to getting to Asia, as everyone had told me it was even cheaper than Latin America. And, I didn’t do too badly – food & drink were the cheapest since Bolivia, and accommodation was the cheapest yet. Or rather I should say, I didn’t do too badly as long as I stayed on the ground. Because my (inevitable) overspend was down to two things: one was flying between islands, and the other was the nine dives I did. One was pretty essential (ferry timetables aren’t always that helpful) and the other I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The other big expense was that I treated myself to a brand new pair of (real, not fake) boardshorts to replaces the ones I bought in Miami and which are already a bit frayed from daily wear. They were particularly nice, if I do say myself. So nice in fact, that after just three hours of wear I hung them out to dry, from where they were promptly nicked while I popped out for a drink. At over $20 an hour of use, it was one more big expense I could have done without.

It’s looking more and more likely now that I’m going to overshoot on budget for the year – although it’s still only marginally. Here’s how the daily averages looked:
Transport: $10.66
Accommodation: $5.56
Activities: $14.88
Misc & purchases: $5.39
Food & drink: $18.44
Total: $54.94

In the seven months of travelling before Indonesia, I’d met a grand total of one Swede. That all change in Indonesia – the place is FULL of them. In fact, the 23 Swedes I met is the biggest concentration of people from one country since the 21 Americans I met in Guatemala. Bizarre. The total is enough to shoot them straight up into joint eighth place in the list of where people I’ve met are from, alongside the Dutch, who were nearly as ubiquitous in the country. The only new country added to this list in Indonesia was Hungary.

Sweden:23
UK: 20
Netherlands: 15
Australians: 14
Indonesia: 13
Germany: 8
USA: 8
Canada: 5
Finland: 4
France: 4
Switzerland: 4
Belgium: 3
Spain: 3
Saudi Arabia: 1
Brazil: 1
Hungary: 1
Portugal: 1
Austria: 1
Mexico: 1

And finally onto those other numbers. Being in the world’s largest archipelago was enough to see my island total shoot up. There’s also a new entry on the modes of transport front – after only being on a moped once in my entire life, they became quite a regular feature in Indonesia.
Beds: 21 (including one on a boat and one in a tent)
Cash withdrawals: 16
Phone calls: 10
Postcards: 2
Laundry: 5
Islands: 16
Dives: 11
Beaches: 8
Volcanoes: 3
Museums: 1
Buses: 16
Taxis: 14
Boats: 14
Mopeds: 15
Flights: 3
Kayaks: 1
Jeeps: 1
Cars: 2
Tuk Tuks / Bejaks: 4

Two Months in Indonesia – a Round-up

I planned my round the world trip around spending at least 6 weeks in certain countries rather than trying to rush around and do too much. Out of all the countries in South East Asia, Indonesia was the obvious choice to spend that amount of time in.

But apparently it was just the obvious choice for me. Out of all the places I’ve been so far on my trip, Indonesia was by far the least touristy (apart from one bit that I’ll come onto in a minute). And I find it completely baffling.

Batak Houses on Pulau Samosir, Sumatra

Indonesia is the biggest country in South East Asia, and has the fourth biggest population in the world. It has more volcanoes than any other country in the world, many of which are safe to climb. It’s home to the biggest lizard in the world, it’s one of only two places to see Orang Utans in the wild, and the forests of Sumatra also have the world’s largest flower. It has the best diving and surfing in Asia, and countless perfect beaches. Java has the world’s biggest (and possibly finest) Buddhist temple, as well as many beautiful Hindu shrines. The people are friendly, the food is good, and everything is pretty cheap. And yet most of the country is almost empty of tourists, other than Bali, Lombok & the Gili Islands. It’s as weird as if 95% of the foreign tourists coming to Europe skipped everything apart from Mallorca and Ibiza.

I’m guessing that people are put off by a combination of the natural disasters that have hit, lingering fears over terrorism (although that doesn’t stop them going to Bali) or maybe even the fact that with a country so big, it seems pointless when you only get a rather stingy thirty day visa on arrival.

Lombok Sunset

Still, it’s their loss, because I absolutely loved the country, in fact I ended up spending even longer than planned, with my eventual time there being nearly two months. There really were so many highlights, but I’d have to say that two stand out for me. First is the fact that Indonesia has the best sunsets I have ever seen. I’d never been a big connoisseur of sunsets before this trip, but some of the ones I saw in the Andes converted me. And they were nothing compared to the stunning shows the setting sun put on night after night.

Orang Utans in Sumatra

Best of all though for me was the wildlife. I’ve never been all that obsessed with plants and animals – historic cities, great beaches, and beautiful scenery normally impress me more – but Indonesia changed all that. I was utterly gobsmacked by what I’ve seen the last two months, including Komodo Dragons, Orang Utans, Manta Rays, huge Turtles and dozens of Reef Sharks, as well as various species of cheekly little monkeys. It’s given me a new-found appreciation of nature and it’s made me rethink some of my future travel plans to do more of that sort of travel in future.

It’s been a bit of a constant theme of these country round-ups that the locals are very friendly, but I have to say that I think the Indonesians have been the best yet. On several occasions I found myself wandering down the street only to find a local strike up a conversation – now this kind of behaviour instantly gets my traveller guard up in case they’re trying to sell me something, but more often than not they just start chatting because they want to talk to you and are interested in where you come from and what you think of their country. My only regret is that I didn’t make more of an effort to learn more Bahasa Indonesia (especially as it’s probably the easiest language to learn in Asia, with its simple grammar and lack of tones), as it really would have enriched the experience even more.

I just wish I’d had even more time there – Sumatra and Flores in particular were beautiful, and I only had a few days in each, due to having to rush before my visas expired, and I’d love to return to see more of them. I had planned to go to Sumba too, but Christmas got in the way, and so I never got to see one of the best-preserved traditional cultures in the country. And I didn’t even get to touch the northern chain of islands – Borneo, Sulawesi, Malaku & Papua – all of which sound fascinating and which I definitely want to return to some day.

So if you’re reading this and planning a trip to Bali – please think about seeing a bit more of the country. Bali is nice enough, but there’s really not much you can see or do there that you can’t see even better, even more cheaply, and without the crowds elsewhere in the country. Plus there’s so much more besides that you could never get to see in Bali alone.

Next stop is the Philippines, which I’m pleased to hear is also pretty uncrowded compared to the rest of South East Asia. I fear that Thailand & Cambodia, my probable final stops, will come as a bit of a shock to the system after this.

You can see all of my Indonesian photos here, and you can read all my Indonesian blog posts here

I wanna hold your (furry) hand

Lake Toba was a pretty lovely place to spend a couple of days chilling out, but I was really only in Sumatra for one reason: Orang Utans.

A couple of hours north of sprawling (and not particularly exciting) Medan is the tiny little village of Bukit Lawang. It’s a charming little place, but it’s not the village everyone comes to see. Sumatra is one of only two places in the world (the other being Borneo) where Orang Utans still live in the wild. Just outside the village is a national park that protects both the rainforest and the animals that live there; on the edge of it is an Orang Utan rehabilitation centre that has been so succesful that the park can take no more of the animals, with the result that a second centre has been opened up elsewhere.

With that many Orang Utans living so close to the village, it’s no surprise that a steady stream of tourists head to Bukit Lawang to trek into the jungle to see them up close (although with this being Indonesia, that stream of tourists is more like a trickle compared to the flood that would visit if it were in most other South East Asian countries).

First monkey of the day

So at eight thirty in the morning, I met up with our guide, Alex, and the group of seven others I’d be trekking with – unusually for Indonesia, they were all English. It took us just a few minutes from the hotel to make it into the jungle, and in no time at all we came across our first close contact with some apes – a troop of Thomas Leaf Monkeys. They weren’t shy at all, and the adult male of the group came down from the trees to have a good look at us (and pose for photos), whilst the kids crashed around the trees above, chasing each other round, swinging from vine to vine and performing rather impressive leaps from tree to tree. Being a young monkey looks like a lot of fun.

It was a nice way to start the day, but we all knew we were there for one reason only, and so we soon moved on to try and find some Orang-Utans. Soon we came across another group standing at the bottom of a tree in silence staring straight up – and we quickly realised what the spectacle was. Perched right at the top of a tree was an adult female Orang Utan in her nest, while her child swung around the tree-tops above her. Exciting as it was to see one, she was so high up, with the sun directly behind her, that it was pretty hard to get a good view.

Getting close to Mina

The day continued in a similar vein, with regular glimpses high up in trees, often obscured by branches, and moving away as soon as we approached. Trying to spot wild animals is always going to be tricky, but it was pretty frustrating all the same. Our luck was about to turn though: as we sat down to have lunch, another group came running past us, as they were trying to get away from the notorious Mina. We’d heard all about her – before she was in the rehabilitation centre, she had lived with humans and had no fear of them. In fact, we had more to fear from her, as she knows humans normally carry food, and she can be quite aggressive in her pursuit of it. So we quickly finished our meals and headed in the direction she was supposed to be, and soon found her. She made a beeline for our guide, who managed to placate her by feeding her bananas one at a time, but as soon as they ran out she started heading straight for us, forcing us to make a quick exit down a steep hill to escape. While they may be shorter in height than humans, they are heavier, and much, much stronger, so it’s really not a good idea to get on the wrong side of one.

With all the excitement over, we headed back down the hill, down some waterfalls, to our camp by the river, with all of us on a real high from getting to see an Orang Utan so close up. We had no idea the best was yet to come.

Jackie

Soon after we made camp, we were all sitting around drinking tea, when Alex pointed out that another semi-wild female, Jackie, was heading down the waterfall and in our direction. She soon made it over to us, and perched on a short little tree just a metre away from where we were sitting, with her adorable little baby (with a cool little Mohican) hanging off her side.

She sat there for a good half hour checking us out, before coming down from the tree and holding the hands of the two nearest people from our group, Helen & Sheri. I really hadn’t expected to get quite so close to an Orang-Utan, and for the next twenty minutes or so, she sat in the middle of us, at one point even giving Sheri a great big hug (which sounds great, but with her huge size and vicelike grip I think Sheri was quite glad to be released again).

Making her way down from the trees

Hugging Sheri

Getting close

It soon became clear that Jackie is quite a bit smarter than Mina – rather than using aggression to get her way, Jackie lulled us into a false sense of security with her affection, and once our guard was down she made a beeline towards the kitchen tent. The guides managed to stop her just in time, and I ended up holding her hand and walking her back across the rover and away from the camp while one of the guides tempted her with some bananas.

Getting ready to walk her away from the camp

She knew she was on to a good thing with us, because as we woke up the next morning she was back in the tree above camp, and soon came down again to get close to us. This time chaos ensued. A troupe of long-tailed macaques had decided to take advantage of our distraction by sneaking round the kitchen tent from the back to try and get at the food, and as soon as we realised what they were up to we stopped watching Jackie for a second and she was off – straight into another tent where she had clearly sniffed out our fruit supplies. In no time at all she’d nabbed all our bananas, oranges and lychees (as well as Helen’s breakfast) and was back up in a tree just out of our reach munching away at her prize.

A Macaque takes advantage of the chaos to steal some toast

We were all pretty speechless. I’d come along on the trek hoping to see the Orang Utans, but I had no idea I’d be able to get so close to one as to be able to hold her hand. They are such beautiful creatures, so human-looking in some of their actions and facial expressions, and clearly very intelligent too. Bukit Lawang had never been on my original itinerary, but I am so glad I made it now. It was my last day in Indonesia after two months, and what a way to go out, as it’s without a doubt one of the best memories of the entire trip to date for me.

You can see all of my photos of the trek here

Cheeky Monkeys & Startled Ladies

After the unavoidable stop in Kuta for Christmas, we had time to escape the madness and explore a bit more of Bali before heading to the Gilis for New Year, and the real must-see was Ubud.

Ubud is one of the many places that I’ve visited on this trip that apparently ‘isn’t what it used to be’ since it was ‘discovered’ and ‘overrun’ by tourists. Funnily enough places that are rather snottily described like that often turn out to be the most fun, and Ubud was no exception.

A rather thorough flea inspection

The town’s main claim to fame is being the centre of traditional Balinese culture (although by day that seems to manifest itself by shop after shop crammed with the same tourist tat, plus an added sprinkling of expat ‘artists’ churning out staggeringly bland and identikit paintings of rice paddies and Balinese temples) but for our first stop we were more interested in some of the other local inhabitants, the rather cheeky little monkeys of the town’s Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It’s just outside the centre of town, and the place is full of Macaques walking straight up to you in the hope of finding food. Despite the fact it’s all pretty touristy, it was great fun. The monkeys are pretty adorable (especially the babies) and when they’re not feeding they seem to spend most of the time sitting around in pairs checking each other for fleas (or, in the case of some of the male ones, engaging in a certain more solitary activity).

If the monkeys were a nice little distraction for an afternoon, the real highlight of our stay in Ubud was getting to see some traditional Balinese dancing. One evening we made our way up to Ubud Palace to watch a performance, and it was really quite incredible. It takes years to train to be a professional dancer, and you can clearly see why. The elegance of the different poses they strike is quite beautiful, and the various traditional forms that they gracefully and seemingly effortlessly hold themselves in – particularly the way the hands are constantly folded right back, far further than any normal person can manage – is amazing.

There’s just one aspect of it all that I find a little bizarre – it’s the way the female dancers spend most of the time with their eyes as wide open as they can, with eyebrows raised, that makes it look like they spend most of their time looking rather startled.

Christmas & New Year in Indonesia

If there’s one tip I could give wannabe round the world travellers that I failed to pick up on during my fifteen months of planning, it would be to think carefully about where you want to spend the Christmas and New Year period. I met countless travellers heading to Sydney who hadn’t planned ahead and were shocked to find hostels charging trip the normal rate. For a while I thought I was going to get stuck in East Timor – all the flights to Singapore and Bali were full, flights to Darwin were stupidly expensive, and all the buses out to West Timor were booked up too. Luckily I found out at the last minute that I was able to get a more indirect bus, and so I made it out just in time to get to Bali on the evening of the 23rd of December.

It wasn’t just the transport that I should have planned ahead with – I had fun enough on my last visit to Kuta back in November, but of all the places I might have chosen to spend Christmas day, it was far from the top of my list. Luckily though, I was meeting my friends Simon & Katie from back home, so at least I had good company and was able to spend the day on the beach trying my hand at surfing.

It was a pretty brief experience: I was utterly useless. I’d occasionally catch a wave and manage to get about one foot on the board before toppling off again, getting a mouthful of sea water and then struggling for the next twenty minutes to get back out to the waves again, only for each attempt to end the same way. After a couple of hours I soon realised I was never going to make it as a surfer and gave up to chill out on the beach.

If Christmas was a little disappointing, we had higher hopes for New Year. I’d loved the Gili Islands on my first visit, so we headed back there. Nice as Gili Trawangan was, I’d heard it would be pretty crowded, expensive, and difficult to get a room, so instead we decided on Gili Air as I’d heard there was going to be a party on the beach there for the once in a generation New Year’s Eve full moon party. Now, a little note to the Observer: the Gili Islands are not ‘the new Ibiza’, as a spectacularly idiotic article claimed last month. The comparison is laughable – each Gili Island is about the size of a single nightclub in Ibiza (and it’s worth noting that the islands don’t even have any nightclubs). About all the two places have in common is that they have a beach and a few hippies. It never ceases to amaze me, the drivel that British travel supplements churn out week after week.

Anyway, we arrived on Gili Air and instantly worried that we have made a bit of a mistake – despite most of the hotels being full (or out of our price range), it still felt as quiet as it had done on my last visit. The tranquility of the place is part of the appeal, but we were at least hoping for a little bit of action for the big night.

A final Gili Islands sunset

A final Gili Islands sunset

The place to be, apparently, was the Space bar, hidden away in the even quieter North Western corner of the island, so we hopefully trudged our way round the sandy coastal path with no idea what to expect. The bars we passed proceeded to get quieter and quieter…until eventually we began to hear the muffled thud of dance music somewhere in the distance. We finally arrived and were rather amazed by what we found – a full on rave on the beach, with lasers and projections and all kinds of glowing things hanging from the trees, and with a mixed group of about three hundred locals, hippies and backpackers dancing away on the sand.

NYE Fireworks

Ooo! Aah! etc..

It was hardly Ko Pha Ngan but I reckon all the better for it. It was bust enough to feel like a real party, but still quiet enough that there were plenty of quieter places along the beach to chill out on when we fancied chilling out from dancing to the rather banging psychedelic trance music. As we spent the night drifting between dancing amongst the palm trees, watching people dancing with fire poi, and the beach, it was one of the best new year’s parties I’d ever been to.

Raving on the beach

Raving on the beach

The next morning (well, afternoon actually, by the time we finally emerged from bed), the island has returned to its normal, sedate self. The only mystery was where on earth all those other people at the party had come – we didn’t see most of them around the island the rest of the time we were there.

East Timor budget and other numbers

You’d think that Asia’s poorest country would be a cheap place to travel. Unfortunately, the presence of huge numbers of expats on fat UN salaries means you’d be wrong. It turned out to be one of the pricier countries so far, although as usual some of that was due to my own profligacy.

The two big problems were food, drink and accommodation, which worked out more expensive than anywhere I’ve been except for the three rich countries (USA, Australia & New Zealand) that I’ve been to. To be honest, I could have saved a bit of cash on the food and drink by eating in more of the Indonesian-style warungs and not going srinking so much with the expats, but to be honest I was having too much fun (and enjoying a bit of a break from Indonesian food, which is pretty much all I’d eaten since mid-November).

One other little quirk of East Timor is that it doesn’t have its own currency – instead, it uses the US Dollar, although with its own locally minted centavo coins in use instead of US Cents. My favourite is the 10 centavo, which has a cockerel on the back. Cool.

So here’s how the daily averages worked out:
Transport: $6.60
Accommodation: $12.00
Internet, visa, laundry & postcards: $5.61
Food & drink: $30.90
Total: $55.10

Thanks to my time spent with the expats, Brits again topped the table of people I propped up the bar with. A new entry this time for Jordan, thanks to a UN Policeman I met from there.
UK: 10
East Timor: 5
US: 3
Irish: 3
Australia: 2
Germany: 2
Sweden: 1
Turkey: 1
Jordan: 1
NL 1
PT 1
NZ 1

And finally the other numbers. Nowt too exciting this time, but I’ve kept the count up this far so I’ve got to pop this in for completeness sake:
Taxis: 9
Mopeds: 8
Beaches: 4
Buses: 4
Postcards: 2
Cash: 1
Laundry: 1
Local brands of beer drunk: 0 (Yep. East Timor is the first country I’ve been to that doesn’t have it’s own beer. How sad is that?)

That’s it for my little 10 day stop in East Timor – back to Indonesia now.

Getting an Indonesian visa in East Timor

Last time I checked, the Lonely Planet’s info on getting an Indonesian visa in East Timor was slightly out-of-date, and missing a little information, so I figured having just been through the experience it might be useful to explain the process to anyone wanting to do the same. Regular readers, move along swiftly, there’s nothing to see here. Normal posting will resume shortly.

Whether like me you’ve fallen foul of the fact Indonesia only gives a 30 day visa on arrival (which really isn’t long enough for a country that big), or whether your 60 day visa has expired, or if you’re flying into Dili from Darwin or Singapore, it’s pretty straightforward to get an Indonesian visa at their embassy in the East Timorese capital. And the good news is it seems to be pretty easy to get a 60 day one too.

Here’s how it all works:

Be Prepared

Before you head down to the embassy, you’ll need a passport photo taken with a RED background (no, I don’t know why either), a photocopy of your passport, and a letter explaining how long you want the visa for (30 or 60 days) and a rough outline of what you plan to do. Apparently this can be handwritten, but it’s probably safer to type one up. All of these can easily be sorted in Dili if you don’t have them before you arrive in the country.

Get up early

The embassy may open its doors at 8.30am, but that doesn’t mean that’s when you should turn up. They only process about fifty a day, and considering there’s lots of East Timorese people applying as well, this means you should really get into the queue at the front gate at around 6am (which is what I did, and I was 14th in the queue).

Fill in your forms

While you wait for the doors to open, a security guard will pass you the forms through the gate, which you need to fill in with a BLACK pen (again, don’t know why, but make sure you do or you’ll just have to fill it in again). You also need to glue your photo to the form. The guards have glue.

Wait patiently
…until the doors open at 8.30am. You’ll be let in one at a time to see a person who checks you have everything you need, and that you’ve filled in your form. He then gives you a number and then you get back in the a queue, this time inside, and wait for the person behind the counter to call your number. The person behind the counter checks all your forms, takes your $45 (for 30 or 60 days), and your passport, and gives you a receipt and tells you to come back in three working days later (not the five that the Lonely Planet suggests; however double check on this locally as it may change again). Watch out for East Timorese and Indonesian public holidays (there are quite a few of both) as the embassy closes for both sets.

Go and explore East Timor

There’s lots to see.

Return after three days

…and hopefully it’ll be ready. The office is open for collections at 3pm.
Bear in mind if you’ve already had an Indonesian visa and you’re running low on pages, they won’t stick the new one over the old one, but will use another whole page for it. Lovely.