Saturday, March 30, 2013

New camera - Easter – Ramalau becomes a beach visit – luck at the ATM – another bike gone – Palm Sunday – District visit coming up – Rebuilding a laptop - Late-night church goers in Dili - Onions

Blog ending 2013-03-30
Well the number of ‘threes’ in the date means nothing, but it does look interesting.

We had a quiet ride up to Dare this morning and I used my new Olympus camera to take some shots of the WW2 history banners at the café. We were pleased the café was actually open as Easter is usually, in NZ anyway, when shops are either shut or they charge a premium for the service. The main premium trick here is to allow any malae to pay for the coffee, even if someone else has already done so. So three coffees can be drunk while, in one instance, six are paid for . I am aware that despite having a new camera, there are no photos in this blog

Nearly everyone who could afford a ticket on Merpati (prices way up since Batavia Air went bust) has decamped to Bali for the Easter break. Others have gone to Atauro Island (Barrie’s is full). So Dili is pleasantly quiet.

On Friday, a Rav4 was available for use and three of us were all set to go to Ramalau for a climb, BUT due to the roads and the vehicle being borrowed, we decided against it and settled for an afternoon over the back of Christo Rae, at what used to be called ‘Kiwi Beach’. My chilly bin was excellent for the drinks + ice cream and cucumber. Tracy tested out the cucumber + vegemite on crackers and it wasn’t a bad combination.

Thursday was a big half day. A morning run from the lighthouse to Ocean View and back gave me a heel blister, but I have to get in the distances to do the June marathon. Just off shore, near Ocean View, there were 26 local fishing boats in a 700m radius. Rather intense fishing?
At work, there was a mass exodus at midday. Later, I went to pick up the new camera from Kees, who’d kindly purchased it in Bangkok, and then I passed by the ANZ ATMs, at about 7:45pm, on the way home. Hmmm, better get some cash, so I joined the queue and got straight onto the ATM with no queue, clever eh? Then discovered the ATM provided all services, except dispensing money. Huh. So onto the other machine + queue & passed out advice to new-comers, not to use that ATM. Withdrew $200. The next eager person behind me was disappointed to find out I’d taken the last $$ from that ATM. The ANZ had a notice up saying that they were shut Thursday and would re-open on Monday 1st April. I guess that’ll be when more money goes in the ATMs. Maybe the ATM at Tiger fuel is not on the blink and MAYBE the ANZ ATMs at Timor Plaza are now finally working?

Three weeks ago, between 0100 and 06:00 Friday morning, a bike of mine got stolen. This was the 2nd time. The bike was one I bought in November, after #1 was stolen. #2 was on the porch outside my apartment. The porch cannot be seen from the road and you have to go through a metal gate, then a courtyard next to another house with family members and two ‘guard dogs’ that didn’t bark. Curious. Fortunately, the bloke who bought the other bike (part of a pair donated to Rotary after the '2012 Tour de Timor')  in November hadn’t ridden it, so agreed to sell it to me for $500; same as he paid. Since I still don’t have the insurance from bike #1, bike #3 was purchased with funds snaffled from NZ. Now it is always locked up or is taken into my living room for the night. A water bottle went missing as well the following week. Misplaced trust appears to have been my problem. The new bike is working out really well and I just have to get hold of a carrier that fits over disk brakes. Borrowing Helen’s spare bike has been great as it has a carrier and is pretty good on the roads.

Three of us went to the cathedral last week for Palm Sunday. It was a very big event and preparation had begun the day before with many boys coming down the hill from Dare with big palm fronds stuck in bags or down the back of their shorts. Their bikes have no brakes and they were just dragging their feet on the road to slow down, so I showed them how to put their foot directly on top of the front tyre instead. Two of them had a point to prove and overtook me going back down to Dili.
The church service began at 07:15 when the bishop walked through the crowds outside and flicked holy water from what looked like a large, horse hair brush as one would use from lathering up a beard. I was still checking it out when I was blessed and my glasses got blurry. Then there was a parade around the outside and then Tracy, Sue and I went inside and stood at the back while the service went on for about 90 minutes. We then left. Outside, a large crowd arrived from Dili Institute of Technology (DIT), they had their blue blazers on and carried several banners. It is at least a 2-3 km walk from DIT. 

Next week my counterpart and I will visit three branches, over three days, to the east: Manatuto, Lospalos and Viqueque to attend to computer issues and make sure they are all set for the new financial system rollout.
My IT skills have been used a few times in the past six weeks. A recent example was a fellow volunteer’s hard drive dying. I got a new one and had it rebuilt in a couple of days, with virus protection. Very pleasing for both parties. 

This evening I was in a truck coming back from Railaku and we passed many people in their Sunday best, headed toward town. In Dili; same thing - many families dressed up and walking through town. I guess it is for a late night service before Easter Sunday.

I finally found some large onions for, not 'on' sale, today. Waving my five onions at the stall owner, I was informed they were US$1.5 each....WHAT?!. Reduced my purchase to two onions and decided to cut each into four sections. There was a nice tenderloin in the frozen meat section at Kamanek. Produced by AFCO and from NZ - a  steal at only $60 for 4.6kg.
Back to getting my protein from eggs, chicken and fish, I think.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Big trucks on the Dare hill road – dust – road trip to Suai and back via Balibo – Die Hard5 on the Dili big screen - Pathway near Beach Side Hotel – Tour de Timor 2013 – office chair delivery

Blog as at Sunday March 10th 2013

We no longer have lots of trucks and vehicles on the Ramos Horta road now that Becora is open again. So much for my prediction it would be closed for months. Repairs on the Horta road have taken place to widen the twists, narrow and semi-washed out sections, so the heavy traffic can actually go past each other.

Last Saturday morning, Helen, Eddie and I cycled up to Dare for a coffee. No milk at the café again, meant I am being turned into a black coffee drinker.  Coming down we passed some heavy trucks with earth moving/road construction equipment going the other way. They must have been pushing 6m in height and their width meant some other large trucks going down had to do lots of back-up type jiggling manoeuvres to enable passing. The height meant that one of them caught a power line at about the same time. We’d stopped our biking to observe and let the road clear (twisty downhill section). I saw the first truck run into and catch the cable on the cab of the digger, loaded on the back. At  the last second it ‘snapped’ free. I waved at the next truck and pointed up, so a guy on the back used a piece of bamboo to raise the line up and over the top of their load. Easy, eh?. Considering that most of the Becora work had been completed, I wonder if this was a relocation of equipment  to the south?

Monday 4th, in the afternoon, there was a petrol tanker on fire up the Horta road, just over the top on the Hera side . It (I wasn’t there, but an eye witness told me the details this morning) apparently was fully ablaze and the fire brigade turned up to spray a lot of water on it, to no effect. Then they tried a foam mixture and that worked; sending up clouds of white smoke. To finish off, a fireman climbed on top and opened the access hatch to the tanker and sprayed directly inside. He was completely obscured by the white smoke and steam. Rather dangerous technique I think.

All the mud washed onto the roads becomes a fine dust now and I am seriously thinking of wearing a facemask. Considering that much of the mud is washed out of the drains AKA sewer systems, breathing it in can’t be that good.

You know you've hit Same central when you see this
On Thursday 21st Feb, Kate and I left Dili for a road trip to the southwest areas. We took her Mitsubishi Pajero Junior and it was the perfect vehicle for the conditions we encountered. Kate took all the photos, so follow the links to see the rest(!)  Dare view over Dili toward Christu Rei 

Day one was to Same and the conditions were good. Plenty of mist and cloud cover near Maubisse, but it is a mountain area and is usually cool and damp. The roads have been damaged by the heavy rains, so they are just about back where they were before all the money was spent fixing the Dili-Same road prior to the Bonaventura centennial celebrations in November 2012.
We stayed at a nice $15 place on the inside of a tight left hand turn on the road out of Same. The 2nd floor corner juts over the boundary wall that comes right up to the corner, so good for balcony views, but a precarious corner for traffic and pedestrians approaching and leaving. There is a new hotel/guest house another 2km to the south and we went there for dinner. Finnish staff working on the new power plant in Betano (south coast) are staying there and we saw them. the work must be well paid, but relatively boring as there isn’t much in the way of local entertainment. One supervisor was dining with his visiting wife and they were about to visit Dili for the weekend. I recommended going to the new ‘Platinum’ picture theatre at Timor Plaza.
Next morning we went for a walk and found a ruined church + bell tower. The logo of ‘A’ & ‘M’, superimposed on each other was prominent on the remaining walls. The local story is that the church was destroyed by Japanese bombing in WW2. A special veterans’ conference was being held about 200m from our accommodation. This was happening at different places all over Timor that weekend. The veterans were the resistance fighters of 1975-1999
Day two we visited the Bonaventura memorial grounds, 3-4km south of Same. It is reached via a long, sealed procession way from the road. Flood lights are on both sides, all the way to a circular area with a large statue of the hero/rebel in the centre. A tree protected by a low wall is very close by, so there must be some historical significance there. The lights have exposed connections and the wires are laid directly on top of the ground. No one there except for 3 staff on the gate and about 10 others doing a clean up sweep. The thin sealed surface is already breaking up from the rains and the toilet blocks already have a dilapidated look to them. Hard to think the place was barely five months old.
Kate sitting on part of the fort, just south of Suai
We carried on to Betano and then west along the south coast to Suai. The roads were gradually getting worse, but the bridges were very good. One large one had only recently been rebuilt with Japanese funds. Average speed was about 30-40kmph for the day. After investigating an old Portuguese fort to the south of town, we eventually stayed at the Eastern Dragon Hotel. Expensive at $42, but the food was good and the AC + TV worked. Town very quiet these days as few malae visitors as so many, UN etc, having left the country.

Day three was back east to the inland town of Zumalai and then up the narrow road north to Maliana via Bobonaro, an old Portuguese ‘getaway’ place in the mountains during the summer months. The roads here were the worst I have encountered. One place showed that road works had been undertaken in 2009. We could see four road signs, but nothing else to distinguish the surface from the rest of the route.
The evidence of roadworks in 2009


Looking back up the narrow, washed out section

There was all manner of subsidence, cracks, washouts and in one case, a vertical drop of about 1m right across the road. The apparent line across the seal encouraged me to slow down for a better look and so avoid a nasty thump, or worse. The ‘best’ of the worst was a steep, twisty section of about 200m that was severely washed out on the right, leaving a width of a 2/3 of a normal road. Washout + narrow road The drop was about 60m+. The Pajero fitted OK (we stopped and walked down and up to make sure it was safe). Just prior to us reaching the section, a guy on a motorbike, with two matresses across the back, had come up that same way. Big load on a bike No trucks or buses could safely get across and I believe that another heavy rain or two will finish it off completely. No one seems to be interested in keeping the drains cleaned, so it all washes away. To me this is obvious, but maybe the locals have a different point of view. The road needs so much work over a 50km stretch that it would cost millions. The views were great and we stayed at an old Posada in Maliana that showed deferred maintenance dating back many years. The guest book showed 63 guests since May 2012. Average speed for the day: 15-20kmph.

Breakfast at the posada. The kettle handle was as hot as the coffee inside, so was too hot to hold
Day four was the home run over much better roads across the plain around Maliana then up into the hills and onto Balibo. I could just make out part of the word ’Austral…’ on the reporter’s house. Not bad after 38 years. The message has been protected behind a glass panel now. Above the house is another old Portuguese fort that the Australian forces occupied for several years around 2002. We moved on after exploring the runied building and walking around the fort walls and exploring the cells/store rooms under the walls - dank and dark. Lunch was at the border, Batugarde, and then we went due east back to Dili. Many road works meant a great contrast in stretches being almost four lane in width down to narrow, mud covered sections that had been recently covered by massive slips off the hills. Just east of Liquica, we stopped at a cleaned up set of ruins that used to be a Portuguese prison. The notice boards gave a history of the place and is a miserable one. About 100 years ago the prisoners were kept in water logged cells and some of them eventually chose to end it all by drinking sea water. Things didn’t improve much during WW2. With that sort of contrast, I think life is a lot better now by far.

I finally visited the new picture theatre at Timor Plaza to watch ‘Die Hard 5’. A no brainer, but entertaining and the resolution of the picture is like Blu-ray. The facilities are world class! During the film, 16.6% of the audience got up and walked out. She came back later, so maybe it was nature calling.
The recent flooding came into some ground floor rooms of the ‘Beachside hotel and also washed out part of the pathway that runs along the edge of the beach, by the road wall.

The 2011 Tour de Timor is being shown on the ‘Outdoor’ channel over six weeks, so I joined the Thursday night crowd at Dili Beach Hotel to view the first one. Good news; the tour is on for this year and is scheduled for September, so time to get practicing. Saturday I did just that and cycled up Dare in the morning in 45minutes, a new personal best and then again in the afternoon, in about 55 minutes (much hotter) to get to  Hash run from the monastery about 500m from Dare. It was a great run, over some new territory and took us about 90 minutes over roads, past houses and through back yards (with owner's permission!), over steep foot trails and up to the tops. I felt quite pleased to have all the way up there under my on steam, from sea level.
After a ride down to Dili in a fellow hasher’s truck, I started cycling home (dark by now) and missed a hole in the road. Cause and effect being what they are, I became aware of the circumstances immediately and picked myself off the road having kicked said road with my right toe and lost some elbow skin. The handle bars were a wee bit bent too. Back home it was iodine time and that hurt, but better than an infection later.
I was too wimpy too heat up a paper clip and burn through the toenail to relieve the pressure, so nature found a way. It looks so unpleasant, that maybe I could use it to extort money from a local bank. The wisdom of several beers does not hold up well the next day...

Earlier in the day I bought an office chair for home. The plastic chairs that everyone uses have little to no back support. The vendor had the back half of their premises full of double doored, grey-painted cabinets. All from the recent UN auction where people had to bid on containers they could not open. I couldn’t get delivery included in the price so I just put the wheels section on my carrier and looped one arm through the top section and cycled home with it. Is this going native?