Before 2015 I had no real grasp of what East Timor was. I’d heard the name before, maybe on the news some years ago, but my knowledge of the country was pretty much non-existent. East Timor – or Timor Leste – remained a blank spot in my universe. That was until a good friend of mine got a job with Care International and moved to Dili, the capital of one of the world’s newest independent nations. Only in 2002 the small country with a population of a little over a million people became a sovereign state.
Through my friend I was lucky enough to land a contractual position with the Timorese NGO Ba Futuru as a residential Body Psychotherapist and in April 2015 a colleague and I found ourselves in the tropical paradise of East Timor, ready to do the work we loved in an environment and culture we were excited and honoured to get to experience.
I was in East Timor for three months, and during those three months everything changed. My life would literally never be the same. I guarantee you East Timor will have an impact, so if you get the chance to visit, I would say GO! You will not regret it. If you need a little more convincing, here are five unique reasons you should visit East Timor:
There are really no beaches like the beaches of East Timor. East Timor’s tourist scene is pretty much non-existent, there are no big casinos or high rise buildings ruining the scenery and often you can find yourself completely alone, maybe sharing the beach with a fisherman or two a mile down the beach. The beaches are unspoiled and pristine, they truly feel like paradise on earth. I especially loved Areia Branca as it was breathtakingly beautiful and a short drive on the scooter from Dili. Drinking fresh coconut water on the beach while watching the sun setting in an explosion of purple and orange was out of this world.
The openness and friendliness of the Timorese people is truly astounding. We were constantly met with open arms, big smiles and tremendous amounts of helpfulness. I don’t like to generalize, so forgive me for doing so, but the kindness of the Timorese people we met was palpable. Many Timorese have faced extreme adversity in their lives due to political unrest and years upon years of violent occupation; and many people live on less than a dollar a day. These hardships never seemed to affect the warmth with which we were met everywhere we went.
The Timor Sea has some of the most spectacular-looking reefs and reef fish in the entire world. The Timor Sea is located in the so-called Coral Triangle, which is famous for its biodiversity – scientists actually recently discovered that Atauro Island, 24 kms away from the Timor main land, has the most biodiverse waters in the world. An abundance of beautiful colors and exciting creatures await underneath the surface. There are some fine Scuba diving schools around, Dive Timor Lorosae is a great option.
Seafood is East Timor’s middle name. Fresh from the ocean, often caught by hand with just a line and hook, you can get the tastiest fish and a huge variety of seafood in East Timor. Banana leaves, rice and delicious spices usually play a part in the seafood dishes too. One of my favourite meals was at Cast Away Bar, where I would get sticky rice with a creamy, garlicy sauce with prawns accompanied by the tastiest juice of pineapple and mint. Yummmmmm take me back!
The scenery of East Timor is so incredibly beautiful. Lush, green forests, high mountain tops, lakes, rivers, the big blue ocean, the clear sky. You can appreciate dolphins in their natural habitat, swimming and jumping right next to you, when you leave Atauro by boat. You can drive up the mountains and experience a different, quieter way of life in Baucau or you can enjoy the hustle and bustle of Dili. Going dancing at Tower or enjoying live music at The Espy or Cast Away was so much fun. Hiking, diving, snorkeling, cooking, there’s so much to experience in East Timor. While you’re there, remember to get some of the beautiful tais, the traditional weaving cloths unique to Timor Leste.
Here I am with friends, wearing tais.
Are you planning on going to East Timor? Or have you been? I would love to hear your thoughts.