Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cycle to Baucau, Christmas on the beach, Cycle back to Dili, Atauro Island, Local accommodation & walks, First paddle in local dugout-outrigger, Home again

2012-01-05 Blog ending Saturday 5th Jan 2013

Christmas for myself and the other NZ volunteers was going to be in Baucau, so we traveled East on the 23rd.  Nearly everyone, seven, went either via scooter or motorcycle, while I had a 122km journey on the bicycle. It is an interesting trip over rather steep roads, roads that are in various stages of repair. One rather wide hole managed to cause a buckle in my front wheel, despite the shocks working 100%. It was a very hot day. I started at 07:00 and met the others at ‘Dollar Beach’ about 35km & 2.5 hours later. My tan progressed on my legs and arms only. Before leaving home in Dili, I did some careful thinking & ditched the bicycle helmet in favour of a sun hat with a large brim. As the sun was a certainty while getting my head knocked was not. No cause for regret there! 

From Dili to Baucau I passed many nativity scenes created by local people. These are generally life-size with cut out figures inside a specially constructed shelter with lots of additional decoration. There is a sort of competition as to which location can make the best one. They become community gathering points in the evenings over the holiday break and that is where the parties happen. Recently lots of lights and large stereo systems have become popular accessories, I even saw one setup that had the stereo speakers 'front and centre', with no sign of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the three magi nor various combinations of horses, cows and/or sheep. 

Everyone was very proud of their particular construction and I took photos of each and then showed them to the following groups; this meant my stops got progressively longer. I got into Baucau at 7pm, a 12 hour trip. I took the right turn at the gas station rather than the left, so it took me a long time to find my way to the Posada (old Portuguese building now converted to a restaurant) for dinner with the rest of the team. After dinner we all went down the ‘road’ to the beach – all downhill for about 4km. The guesthouse was just off the beach, by the old customs house. 

Next day the motorcyclists left for a big trip to Los Palos and then to the south coast before going to Viqueque. It is a challenging route with steep roads in very poor repair. The journey took about 14hours with bikes being walked at some stages. When they eventually got back to Dili three days later, there were some interesting scars and stories. I and Trisha stayed on at the guest house for Christmas Day and I used the opportunity to recover from the journy's effects of dehydration and too much sun. I didn't help matters by deciding to sun bathe and read a book on the beach. An intended delicate toasting unfortunately became a lobster job. For the next week I remembered that day and then the skin peeled off, hmmmm. 

I tried out some ‘Shin fins’ for snorkeling, but they didn’t work very well for me. Christmas day was nice and we went to the beach bar, but they’d kind of run out of beer, so we nursed two cans between three of us (we'd also been joined by bloke from Finland who was collecting stamps on his passport and was up to 42 countries). It was a casual bar setup with the barman asleep on the floor behind the bar and a volunteer, he didn’t actually work there, sitting beside the sleeper and playing a computer game.
On Boxing Day I headed off again for Dili by going up the steep road section from the beach to the upper area of Baucau. It wasn’t too bad as I paced myself and started drinking lots then and throughout the rest of the day. In fact I stopped at nearly every concession/shop for bottles of ‘Mizone’ isotonic drink (60 cents) and anything else I could get. After getting up to the plateau, I pedaled past the local airport (rather large, but virtually unused by anyone) on a straight road for an 8km journey across broken, rocky land. There was little evidence of anything being grown commercially, but there were still a few houses and a couple of nativity displays. The local water buffalo seemed to spend all their time in the wallows of mud.From the plateau, it was a neat downhill of about 8-9km, twisting and winding through villages and road side stalls. 

Going back was faster (11 hours), maybe I was fitter or just carrying less baggage. The heat was a challenge and despite the seat being well designed, I was, umm, uncomfortable before the halfway mark. Manatuto is halfway and I took my last photos there. I’d kept my digital camera in the top of a rear pannier bag for quick photos and video clips. So far, so good, except for the bumps in the road that caused the camera to part ways on a permanent basis by apparently bouncing out - it certainly didn’t end up on the road and I didn’t discover the loss until about 10 km later. Oh bum :-( 
Trisha was headed back to Dili on the same day and she had scored a car ride with some Australians and had also taken on of my bike bags. They caught up with me around 6pm on the last hill from Hera over into Becora and Dili itself.

We had two days of rest in Dili, then we headed off to Atauro Island for New Year’s Eve. Stephanie had organized a local outrigger (well, they are really a kind of tri-outrigger with bamboo extensions on both sides) that left at 08:00. The departure point was just along from the front of the Palacio (Parliament). We could see 2-3 of the police semi-rigid craft sitting on trailers, semi deflated in one case and another, on a trailer with a flat tire. Apparently there is no fuel to run them and they are not being maintained. Cost was $10 each to get to the island ($35 if by water taxi) and another $5 for my bicycle. It was about 28 km or so across the water and it took just over two hours. Two hours sitting on a bamboo mat. I found one of the backup paddles and jammed it into the gunnel for a back rest – very nice. The water was almost flat and a school of about 70-80 dolphins came by, right up to and around us; very exciting.
When we got to the Atauro beach it was very close to the ‘Bonecas’ (Bon-e-car) workshops where the cloth bags and dolls are made. We stayed at the accommodation area setup by some priests and now run by a local cooperative for about $12 a night. Only one 6km stretch of road to look after, so work is fairly quiet for the police and their SUV. Four locals run tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorcycles with a small tray + seats on the back) for transporting locals and malae around for $2 a pop. The local shop was meant to open at 4:30pm but it didn’t so we left. Later in the evening, we discovered it opened at 5pm and then closed about an hour later. 
One of our party got some bad news from NZ - a sudden death in the family and so she had to leave early the next day for Dili and then fly out that night. Her New Year’s Eve was spent in Darwin airport…. We moved accommodation up the road to ‘Barry’s’ and while $40 a night, it is really nice and all the food is included. All one has to do is sit in a hammock outside the chalet entrance and enjoy the sun, sorry, I meant shade, before heading off for a nice feed or complimentary coffee. My bike was suffering from flat tires and so I got a new tube from the local shop for $2. New Year’s we had a mini-Olympics with about 8 events that covered luck, skill and physical prowess. I could only hold a handstand for about 25 seconds before ungracefully collapsing. The best event was running around a stick (one end stuck in the sand and one’s head on top of the other) ten times, on the beach and then trying to run a straight line after – no one can! Some fireworks to celebrate the changeover and it was done. Our location on the beach meant we could see all the fireworks going off in Dili as well. 
Next day three of us went back to Bonecas  to check out the dolls; I bought one for a present. It took a three hour wait and then repeated requests of local people to get the place opened up. Later that day I got hold of a single-sized fishing canoe with its dual bamboo outriggers. One other item I’d bought to the island was my outrigger paddle – all the way from NZ. I went for a paddle for 45 minutes and was satisfied. There just might be an option here for doing some racing in Dili harbor! Also, six months without paddling is darn hard on the muscles.
We found out that the locals celebrated New Year’s on the night of the 1st. They certainly did and karaoke was going all night long. It didn’t stop until about 8am. The trip back to Dili was on the same craft as before but we stopped at a village along the Atauro coast and they piled another eight people plus a wee baby on board. There were now six crew, seven of us and eight locals – kind of packed with a 15HP motor. Still the free board was longer than the distance from my elbow to my fingertips. It was raining and overcast so no chance of sunburn. The dolphins dropped by again and there were frequent appearances of flying fish. Drammatic stuff as I reckon they can be airbourne for 5-10 seconds and the cover at least 100m. The sea conditions changed for a while and the waves came up a bit (‘twas a red sky that morning). I thought about us being unencumbered with things such as
  • life jackets
  • spare motor
  • another nearby boat or 
  • GPS. 
We did have four wooden paddles plus my outrigger beauty. The waves went down and there was no drama. We got back and out on the Dili beach. Someone had bought a load of firewood on the boat and they had ‘fitted’ it in beside my bike to the detriment of the derailleur. C’es la vie.
Now I am back at work and thinking once more about improving a server system and providing internet access to all the branches.

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