After taking approximately my entire life to actually leave Dili, it was a rollicking 4 and a half hour drive to Same. Here is a timeline:
9am: I arrive at work with my enormous hiking backpack and slightly smaller everyday backpack to cries of shock from my colleagues. Yeah, well, no way I’m drinking the evil tap water in Timor, ever, and expecting the guesthouse to have sheets or a towel for me. Be Prepared, kids.
9.25am: I ask where my colleague Herminio’s backpack is. Oh, it’s still at home, mana. He will get our driver, Tino, to pick it up on our way out of town. Like the other two people in our vehicle. Mmmhmm, I think. I can see how this afternoon’s going to go already.
11.45am: The others all leave for lunch – ‘We have to go early, mana, so we can leave this afternoon. We meet back here at 1, ok?’ Mmmhmm.
12.30pm: I go to lunch and discover them all at the cafe. They wait for me to eat with them, and when I finish and say I’m going back to work, they seem surprised that I want to walk the 5 minutes back to work. They are going to wait (half an hour) for the work vehicle to come pick them up, rather than walk (5 minutes!!!) back to work. O-kay.
12.50-2.10pm. I pepper Herminio with texts about his and the others’ whereabouts, afraid I will be left behind (not unheard of), while he and Armando go downtown to buy hats and sunnies, for their stylin’ needs while on tour. I refrain from asking ‘Was it really necessary to do that NOW?’. Start that now and it’ll be a loooong weekend, girl.
2.10pm. Herminio arrives back at work and announces I can take my things down to the vehicle. Yay!
2.20pm. Elfrina, who is meant to be coming to Same in our vehicle, is nowhere to be found.
2.25pm. We establish that she is at her house and we will just pick her up from there. Yay! We are leaving the Palacio! We’re on our way!
2. 27pm. We’re not on our way. We stop so that our driver can buy a hat and sunnies, and so Herminio can return his hat, because it’s already broken. I lean out the window and take pictures of the street – Dili, bustling urban metropolis. (V. dirty.)
2.52pm. Yay! We are leaving Comoro (suburb 2 minutes distance from Palacio). We’re on our way!
2.58pm. We’re not on our way. We’ve come to the Taibesi market, so everyone else can buy bottles of water and snacks. I munch on a muesli bar from the hoard of snacks I bought yesterday, think about all the advice I’ve ever read about driving outside Dili after dark (‘don’t’), and wonder how long we will be driving in the dark, if the sun sets around 6 and last light is around 6.45. One hour? Two? Hmm, I wonder what could be worse in the dark. Landslips? Lack of lighting? Land pirates? Mythical Timorese creatures?
3.15pm. I know we’re still not on our way, because we haven’t picked up Elfrina yet. We stop in the middle of a street so Tino, our driver, can chat to the driver of the UNFPA vehicle, who happens to be heading the opposite way to us. Whatever. Do – do-doooo.
3.25pm. My God! Elfrina is in the car! We are on the road heading out of town! We’re actually on our way!
4.01pm. We stop for mandarins in the first foggy part of the hill (on the side of the road, blocking traffic six cars back). Everyone is suddenly freezing, except me, who is relieved to not be sweaty for the first time in six months.
4.43pm. We stop to take photos on the side of a hill and it really is almost cold now. Like, I think it could be below 20 – maybe even below 15! I put on a jumper and give another one to Elfrina, who totally did not bring enough warm clothes, although I point out she’s 24, this is her country, presumably someone told her it’s not all a stinking hellhole like Dili?. Herminio gives her his woollen gloves (hot pink), she zips up her hoodie, tucks her feet underneath herself and shivers. I rub her arms while thinking about my open shoes and cotton trousers and past times, when I used to think 14 degrees was arctic, but now I am broken by Canberra and Armidale and I think it’s extremely pleasant.
4.44pm Elfrina throws up for the first time. Tino’s driving isn’t the smoothest and the road isn’t fabulous either, although I think by Timorese and NSW standards it isn’t too bad. (Some roads in Timor are WAY better than roads in NSW, just as a point of comparison.)
4.47pm – town of Same, around 7.30pm: Poor Elfrina grows steadily more and more miserable until she is so sick, she is unable to speak. We put her to bed in a room with all the lights blazing (can’t turn the lights off when the generator is on), and I feed her Gastrolyte from my little first aid kit. She’ll be ok in the morning.
I can’t believe we made it without driving off a cliff or something. But hey, we’re here!
- In two days, I will discover that the reason the others are able to get away with one small backpack is that they wear the same two outfits for five days straight. I am unimpressed.