Women with drive love to travel and, as a result, are always looking for new places to explore. However, by going off the beaten track to a new travel destination, you risk spending precious holiday time in a place you may not enjoy. So we’ve decided to start a new series of articles that look at emerging destinations and ask the question: “Would a woman with drive enjoy this place?” Our first destination is East Timor.
East Timor, or Timor Leste, is a near neighbour to Australia. It is a mere two-hour flight from Darwin or Denpasar to the capital of Timor, Dili. Tetum and Portuguese are the official languages, however Indonesian and English are also spoken. The currency is US dollars and the religion is mostly Roman Catholic.
When I told friends and family I was going to East Timor for a holiday, the over-whelming reaction was “is it safe?” Memories of the country’s violent struggle for independence from Indonesia and the UN peacekeeping forces moving in seem to be foremost in our minds. However, this year the last of the UN forces are leaving Dili, the Government is stable and East Timor is a safe place to visit. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs suggest you exercise a ‘high degree of caution’, also what they recommended for Indonesia and Thailand.
The first thing you need to know is that East Timor is a Third World country and the tourism industry is very undeveloped. Don’t expect luxurious resorts, advanced infrastructure or professional service. This is a destination for a more adventurous woman with drive who is looking for natural beauty, warm and friendly locals, wonderful seafood and a cultural experience. Also, if you love snorkelling or diving, this is a destination you must consider.
The Beachside Hotel is highly recommended and located just outside town on a beach called Areia Branca, on the way to Christo Rei (the Jesus statue pictured). The rooms are basic but clean, air-conditioned and reasonably spacious. The hotel is run by an Australian couple, which can detract from the cultural immersion you might seek, but the room, location and service more than make up for this. They even do your laundry and give you breakfast for $110 per night. You are opposite the beach where you can snorkel, surrounded by amazing coral and tropical fish, and there are a few restaurants just a short stroll away. I could imagine it would be very easy to settle in for a month and do nothing.
If you want to explore East Timor, you will need a 4WD, and don’t expect to hire a Cayenne! You’ll be lucky to hire something that does not break down (our Pajero had a faulty gear box). The roads are some of the worst experienced, with huge potholes a major feature. It certainly makes for a slow and leisurely drive. We travelled east from Dili on a coast road that puts Victoria’s Great Ocean Road to shame. The untouched beauty of the coast makes for a magnificent journey that hugs the coastline then brings you slightly inland where you pass by small farming villages.
We drove for three hours until we reached the town of Baucau, which has a buzzing local market at its heart selling local spices and produce. It felt like we were the only tourists in town, but most people greeted us with a friendly “bordeia” which is Portuguese for hello. There are many Portuguese style buildings and old markets that have partially fallen into disrepair, but their charm is still intact. The main hotel is the Pousada de Bacau which was built in the 1950s. During the Indonesian occupation it was used by the secret services as a prison, but was re-opened in 2002 as a guesthouse.
There are two main offshore islands to explore. Further down the coast road from Baucau is the eastern tip of Timor Leste and the island of Jako, which again offers amazing snorkelling, diving and natural unspoilt beauty. Closer to Dili is the island of Atauro where you can stay in thatched huts on the beach.
So should you consider East Timor as a travel destination? If you are the more adventurous woman with drive who enjoys a cultural experience in a holiday, then I would say yes. However if you value luxury and an uncomplicated holiday with seamless service, then East Timor will not be the place for you. Personally, I would like to return for a couple of weeks with plenty of books in my luggage and an idea for that novel I’m still to write.
For more information visit:
East Timor Now: http://www.easttimornow.com.au
Lonely Planet: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/east-timor
Beachside Hotel: http://www.beachsidehoteldili.com
Pousada de Bacau: http://pousadadebaucau.com
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