A Long Layover in Timor-Leste

When attempting a world-wide survey of countries as we have done on this year-long trip around the world, the route is sometimes determined by no criteria other than an answer to the question: “How much can we experience without collapsing today?”

The entirety of our journey through Asia was a wonderful assault on our senses. Exotic, often intimidating tastes and smells. Sunsets in holy places blending purple light with red and peach clouds in a watercolor sky. The ordered chaos of dusty traffic and the surprisingly complex language of auto horns. The shops and streets and canals refusing to sleep for want of one more hustle.

Even when we rested, we woke tired.

Angela and I found ourselves yearning for some familiarity. As much as we would deny it to each other and to ourselves, we needed to spend some time speaking unbroken English with strangers. And Australia was so close on our calendar that we could feel it.

Between the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia, of which Bali is a part, and the continental landmass that is Australia, there exists an obscure little country called Timor-Leste. Commonly known as East Timor, the nation shares half of its island with the Indonesian territory of, you guessed it, West Timor.

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And, although we had sated ourselves on Asia, we couldn’t help but wonder how East Timor would serve as a last farewell before we arrived in Australia and, in earnest, stepped back into western culture.

In East Timor, you won’t find much infrastructure for tourism. No luxury hotels. No gift shops. No Michelin-starred restaurants. But what the country lacks in terms of comfort is easily compensated with natural beauty. East Timor boasts empty beaches, stunning rainforest landscapes, and scuba diving on virgin reefs.

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

With a long history of resistance to colonial rule and an burgeoning sense of national pride, the various ethnic groups within the country are concerted in their efforts to develop an identity that is uniquely East-Timorese. Their independence was hard-won. And the people have a latent distrust for outsiders that can sometimes make them seem hostile.

Although we experienced some of that distrust, we also met several locals who were cautiously curious, asking how we came to visit the capital of Dili and encouraging us to tell our friends how beautiful the country is.

“We are a poor country,” one of our new East-Timor friends confided. “But we are a beautiful country. Easily as beautiful as Bali.”

And, driving along the coastal road, with the jungle mountains shrouded in early morning mist, Angela and I agreed. Beautiful and raw.

Truly, undiscovered.

We couldn’t think of many places on this trip that could make that same claim. Having seen over ten Asian countries during this adventure, we had finally found a place where westerners rarely dared to venture.

And, as we were leaving Asia, we couldn’t imagine of a better way to say goodbye.

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Although we didn’t have enough time to dive in Timor-Leste, we did make a new friend in Darwin, Australia, who recently visited the country and shared these photos with us. Thank you, Kristen!

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sierke

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