Monday, March 16, 2009

Dili traffic

I’ve been meaning to write about this. Dili traffic has a poetry all of its own, an ebb and flow that is particularly sea-like.

Aside from the newly marked one-way streets, Dili’s traffic adjusts to the time of day. Four any given two lane road, four lanes of traffic will flow, three to four of them in the predominant direction. Tooting seems to be about the sole form of communication with headlight flashing not only rare but random in occurrence and intent. Added to this is the habit of taxi drivers to toot all prospective fares, young men to toot pretty girls and 4WDs to toot to establish their precedence in the traffic pecking order. Nevertheless, it’s not loud and not particularly aggressive. Flow is the perspective and the word.

Things more flow into things than barge, push or shove. I’m looking forward to getting a car but they are unaccountably expensive.

A lot of writers mention bad and aggressive UN drivers. I haven’t really noticed this personally, but I’ll give it time. They do seem less patient than others, but then others can be infuriatingly slow.

As with many places, the majority of people walk. The little minibuses (‘mikrolets’) travel absolutely packed with usually 3 or 4 guys hanging out the door. This appears to be traditional, rather than required by space considerations. Taxis are also cheap but I tend to walk because I see more that way. A restaurant (Mama’s, a new Thai place) that I’ve eaten at a couple of times, the owners said that they were used to seeing me walking around. I guess most malae (foreigners) don’t walk, and those that do aren’t wearing an Akubra.

Families of four or fewer often travel on a scooter or motorbike. I have seen the occasional bike laboring along with 5 passengers. Mum and Dad have helmets, but the kids don’t. I imagine accident statistics are not particularly favourable, although I haven’t actually seen a crash scene. The main form of damage to cars is not dents from bumps, but smashed windscreens from rocks. Up to a couple of years ago, gangs were notorious for stoning cars. I passed one car yesterday with what looked like a bullet hole in the windscreen. Expats were nonchalant about the sight, suggesting that in all likelihood the hole was years old.

Update: One thing I forgot to mention is the common sight of the men driving the bikes and the ladies riding behind, often sidesaddle. It, like many things East Timor, looks very elegant.


  1. Hi, great to read your stories, keep up the good work, I will check your blog regularly

  2. Thanks Bonita.

    If you are a wine drinker, think of me next time you are attacking a bottle of Stonier's Reserve Pinot Noir or T'Gallant Half Acre Pinot Grigio. That's a beautiful area there.