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East Timor



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East Timor is a section of Indonesia that used to be under Portuguese control but they pulled out in 1972.  This left Suharto, with encouragement from the CIA, free to move in and annex it, forcibly.   Since then there has been various levels of unrest on the island and the island has been under military control for the past 25 years.  With the fall of Suharto, the unrest has became more intensified with special permission being required for anyone to travel to the region, although the controls were loosening a bit in '96-'97.

Now you might ask, what were we thinking when we decided to land in Dili, the capital of East Timor with no permits, having officially checked out of Indonesia in Bali, 800 miles to the west, during a time when the whole country is up in riots?   Well, the guidebook said that Dili had some fantastic bakeries.  After not having decent bread for 5 weeks, we were willing to risk bullets and Molitov cocktails for a decent baguette.  Besides, despite the reports of riots, we had not seen any signs of hostility anywhere along the track so far.

We pulled into Dili harbour, a very pretty if not well protected harbour with colonial style buildings along the water front, very clean looking, except for the navy base at the entrance.  Once we had the hook down securely, we looked up and noticed a bunch of uniformed men trying to get into a small speed boat over near shore.  It looked like something from the Keystone Cops.   Before we could get into the dink and row ashore, the boat load of uniforms came straight to us.

We had no less than two representatives each from the Indonesian Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine.  12 people in all came aboard to check us in to Dili.  Now the IP37 is a pretty good size boat as 35 footers go, but there is definitely not seating room for 15 (16 counting the boatboy on the speedboat).  Everybody was very cordial and we managed communicate fairly with one of the Customs officers speaking good English.

As they proceeded to inspect the boat and the crew, there was a lot of "tsk-tsking" when it came to paperwork.  Dili, was not on our cruise permit, we did not have a special permit for East Timor, our passports showed we had checked out of Indonesia in Bali, our Zarpe (customs clearance for the boat) was from Larantuka to Darwin, and there were fresh riots on shore the night before.

With our best impression of American humble arrogance we said, "Sorry about the paperwork, can we go ashore now?"  Well, Customs, Quarantine, Navy, and Coast Guard, all had no problems.  Unfortunately, Immigration and Army said NO!  Not only that, Immigration was starting to make rumblings about us being in the country illegally therefore we must be subversives.  At this point I changed tacks and said we need to take on fuel and make repairs.  At that, everything was OK.  We could not leave the boat, and immigration was going to hold our passports until we left but we could stay in the harbour over night.

The army captain that was assigned to baby-sit us let us go ashore to take a bath in the barracks.  He also "procured" some diesel and some local food for dinner.  I did notice that the diesel the army has was of a considerably better grade than we had been getting to that point. It also cost the most, 12 cents per liter. 

We never did get our baguette.

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Last modified: February 01, 2009