Key Country Facts
East Timor, also called Timor-Leste, is a nation in Southeast Asia covering half of Timor island. The island is surrounded by coral reefs, making it a diving hotspot. East Timor was founded in 1975 but gained official independence in 2002 from Indonesia. The capital is Dili and the population is about 1.2 million (2013). The main religion is Roman Catholic and the official languages are Tétum and Portuguese, though many people speak Indonesian and English, too. Its primary exports are printing, soap manufacturing, handicrafts, and woven cloth. The climate is hot and wet from December to April and very hot (around 95 degrees or 35 degrees Celsius) in dry months. Its time zone is 14 hours ahead of EST.
An interesting but sad fact about East Timor is that it is the poorest nation in Southeast Asia, with over 40 percent of people living in poverty. Food scarcity remains a big problem, with grains often being taken and sold in the black market.
Other interesting facts are that East Timor uses USD currency, and that the name “Timor” comes from a Malay word, timur, meaning “east.” This means that East Timor translates to “East East.”
You just couldn’t make up this country’s past: colonized by the Portuguese, declared their independence in 1975, and then 9 days later the Indonesians invade East Timor. For the next 25 years they rebelled against the Indonesian occupation, which took the lives of over 200k people. When the Timorese declared their independence in 1999, the Indonesians didn’t take it well and the retribution was brutal. The militia destroyed roads, churches, schools, electrical and water infrastructure, and even shot dogs in the street when they departed. This predominantly Christian (99%) country has slowly recovered, although many Timorese still live simple lives.
The capital city Dili (pronounced dee-lee) is vibrant, with lots of cars and mopeds navigating its shop-lined streets. Its vegetable and meat markets are wonderful places to visit and interact with locals. I took some wonderful pictures there and was fortunate to be able to play a game of billiards with the guys. Going up into the hills, where the temperature decreases by at least 20 degrees, affords some fabulous views of the city’s coastline.
Heading west along the coastline tempted me to snorkel in the crystal clean water, however a busy day prevented me from doing that. Instead, I watched the local fishermen catch mackerel, a woman dig for clams, my friend Marco gather firewood, I shoveled riverstone and learned how to weave baskets. Perhaps the best and most scenic spot in the country, the Black Rock Restaurant, served up an amazing locally caught swordfish, with chips. There I met up with some of my Navy friends I had run into at my hotel. They were in E. Timor serving a humanitarian mission (building schools etc.) but also projecting U.S. strength in a mostly Muslim and Chinese dominated region.
I was invited to the cockfighting ring where I watched the local men clamor to get their bets in. The fights were swift (30 seconds) and lethal, often with both cocks becoming mortally wounded. This sport has been a part of the Timorese culture for centuries, and while it was difficult to watch, doing so reminded me to not to judge others.
My hotel, the Timor Plaza, was an excellent choice. Its location in the center of town, next to a dozen or so ships, a supermarket, and 5-star restaurants was ideal. Although the hotel doesn’t look like much on the outside, it’s spotless on the inside. The rooms are spacious, beds comfortable, and everything worked (including the internet). My tour company and guides couldn’t have been any better, and would highly recommend them if you’re going to this wonderful country! Contact Platao Lebre. firstname.lastname@example.org / www.islandexplorer.com.au