Though small, East Timor's capital city of Dili is an interesting, laid-back place to soak up some colonial Portuguese atmosphere for a few days.
I was there in May, 2015. I chose to stay outside of town at the Tibar Beach Retreat, which is about 20 minutes' drive away. Despite the lack of public transport, this choice proved to be no inconvenience because the owner of the hotel, Doña Alice, makes daily shopping trips into town, and she just gave me a lift. She also accompanied me to the the tais market on another day, but I'll have more to say about that in a future post.
On my first morning, she dropped me off at the Resistance Museum. As far as I could tell, it's the only museum in the capital.
The Resistance Museum in Dili.
Fortunately, it's an excellent museum. It covers roughly the last 3 decades of the 20th century, from East Timor's decolonization, through the Indonesian occupation, to the independence referendum of 1999, and finally to the country's rebirth as the sovereign nation of Timor Leste in 2002. All the exhibits are meticulously presented in Portuguese, English, and the national language, Tetun, also spelled Tetum.
Nothing is very far from anything else in Dili, and it was a short walk from the museum down to the waterfront. The Dili harbour is a relatively quiet one, but there are ships to see, and also a view of the island of Atauro. There is a ferry that runs to the island, and you can also charter a speedboat. I didn't go, but it's apparently a popular weekend escape for Dili's residents.
A view of Atauro Island from the Dili waterfront.
The colonial legacy is also visible at the waterfront in the shape of some old Portuguese guns pointing out to sea.
Portuguese guns at the Dili harbour.
Walking along the waterfront, I came to the government palace, which happened to be in the foreground of some dramatic sky at that moment.
The Palácio do Governo in Dili.
Since the rain that seemed to be threatening didn't materialize, I continued my walk. Next to the government palace is the old Portuguese barracks dating from the late 18th century. It's now home to a government agency.
The old Portuguese barracks in Dili.
The Portuguese first claimed Timor in the early 1500s, establishing their capital at Lifau on the south coast. Dili, on the north coast, was founded in 1520, but the capital was only moved here in 1769.
After photographing the barracks, I turned back and walked along the waterfront to the Timor Hotel, where I had a lovely but pricey Portuguese lunch, followed by a pricey coffee, which I really only bought because wifi access in the hotel's cafe was restricted to guests and customers. I have to say that in general Dili is not a cheap town, which is probably a legacy of the UN era around the turn of the century. I should also point out that the US dollar is actually the national currency, except for the coinage.
I then wandered over to the former Portuguese high school, or liceu, which is now the home of the National University of Timor-Leste's Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences.
The former Portuguese liceu (high school) building, now used by the Universidade Nacional de Timor-Leste.
I then rendezvoused with Doña Alice at a nearby supermarket, where I picked up a couple of bottles of Portuguese wine, as well as some delicious Portuguese cheese and bread. One of the pleasures of visiting the former Portuguese colonies in the East is shopping for Lusitanian treats that are otherwise unobtainable in the region. Alice then drove me back to the Tibar Beach Retreat (stay tuned for a review), thus ending my first day in Dili.
The following days were spent relaxing at the hotel and touring the north coast (again, stay tuned). On my last full day, Doña Alice's husband offered to drive me out to Cristo Rei beach at the far end of Dili. I say the far end because it's on the opposite side of the city from the highway to the Tibar Beach Retreat. I gladly accepted.
Like Lisbon and Rio, Dili has a hilltop statue of Jesus. I didn't actually hike up the hill, though. We just parked at the beach below and strolled around there. My only remaining photo of the statue is from a distance.
Jesus looks out to sea. Cristo Rei beach is visible at right.
The beach is lovely. There was no one around at midday except for some kids playing in the water.
Children playing in the water at Cristo Rei beach. Sun, sand, and water should be free for all.
The views from Cristo Rei back towards Dili are impressive. It's still a very low-rise city -- pending the start of revenue from the offshore oilfields, I assume -- so you almost wouldn't know there was city among the distant greenery.
A view of Dili from Cristo Rei beach.
Driving back towards the city, we stopped for lunch at Tito's restaurant at the Clube Nautico.
Tito's Restaurant, Dili.
I took advantage of the occasion to order a Portuguese classic: grilled cod. The Portuguese chef turned out a memorable rendition of it.
Grilled cod at Tito's, Dili.
We then returned to the hotel for my last night before flying out to Bali. Fun fact: you can only fly to Dili from Denpasar (Bali), Singapore, and Darwin.
As mentioned above, more posts about East Timor are in the pipeline, so please stay tuned. Did you know that Lotus & Persimmon has both a Facebook page and a gallery on Instagram (@lotusandpersimmon)? Please like and follow!