Walking from Bali to East Timor

Technically, of course, not possible. But I did it a number of years ago after the visceral delights of hedonistic Kuta were starting to take their toll. My body needed a change and so did my mind: perhaps the peroxide from the Japanese girls had somehow been seeping into my body? I don’t really know. But whatever it was I needed a break. I felt terrible. But to East Timor? The playground of the poor and unknown? What had I let myself in for?

We slinked away from the hotel at some ungodly hour, the hotel staff sleeping at their desks, and trudged up a near-deserted Poppies Lane (even the hawkers aren’t around to try and tout you something at 5.00am!)

The planes never seem far away from Kuta beach, but it’s still a fair old walk to
Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport I can tell you. It was heavy going as well, and we seemed to sink into the soft sand as if it were that quicksand stuff they have in those old movies. But we kept going and eventually came to the airport.

Now this being the pre-Bin Laden era, the airport security guards weren’t too perturbed by our presence – today, of course, you’d probably be gunned down as a suspected terrorist - but they still told us to take the long way round to get to the actual terminal when simply jumping over the security fence would have been a whole lot easier.

All in all, it took us around two hours to arrive at the check-in area. Not bad but we were drenched in sweat, physically exhausted, and still tired from a lack of sleep. My throat was so dry an early morning Marlboro would have set it on fire.

The departure lounge is full of government official types in their safari suits and we draw a few cold, hard stares. No other tourists to be seen.

Now comes the flight – or the part that must be erased from memory. So we sleep.

Welcome to Dili, East Timor. Goats graze close to the runway. We walk from the tiny plane with the hole in the back to the shed-like building. After a while, we pick up our luggage and head outside where a mass of taxi drivers are jostling for position to greet us. They don’t see foreigners too often and think they have a ticket for the lottery. But none of them do: we are walking into Dili, a distance of around 5 kms.

It’s hot, dusty and eerily quiet. Feels like Aus. We haven’t seen a vehicle for more than 15 minutes when an army jeep speeds past, and the driver slows down to look at us for a few seconds before roaring off again. I make a mental note of the driver’s face.

Dili is strangely quiet. Not in the sense that there is no traffic – that I had expected - but because we are totally ignored. People stop to stare at us – but only from a distance - and then wander off. I start to feel uneasy. We are not far from “that” church, but head further south. Here, away from the government whitewashed brick buildings of central Dili, we see the shacks, ragged children and rabid-looking dogs. But no Gang Poppies. And no peroxide haired girls either. Or bars packed with Aussies drinking ice-cold beers. Kuta? Hell, I’m starting to miss it already…

We find the hotel – ridiculously overpriced and almost as gloomy as the shacks we saw earlier – but don’t have much choice: this ain’t Kuta is it? And anyway it’s only for one night cos we will be heading for the hills the next day. Only one other guest is staying there we’re told, and as I glance over, a young man lowers a newspaper and acknowledges our presence with a slight nod of the head. Shit… He looks an awful lot like the guy in that jeep!

Note: walking door to door across huge distances is starting to gain in popularity. Beginners – often photographers - start with inner city jaunts before progressing onto greater things. All in all, Psychogeography includes just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape, or indeed an entirely new landscape. Now just how far is it to Sukarno-Hatta airport?


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