Oh dear what a day. Leaving home went smoothly, although I was carrying too much stuff as always and the heat as I left the city was simply torturous. The silly person that I am decided I would ride directly inland. This means a climb to about 1,400m above sea level. It quickly struck me how incredibly flat Western Australia is, and how unprepared I was for my first ever proper hill climb. Despite feeling like I was dying, I made steady progress for a couple of hours. Then my gear cable snapped. One of the bolts holding my rear rack onto my bike frame broke, setting off a chain reaction that culminated in a snapped cable. I was in first gear at the time and my bike was now stuck in first gear. In all my research I had never come across stories of cable breakages, and I felt stupid that I had never asked the simple question, What happens if this cable snaps? Consequently, I have no replacement parts with me, at least for the gear system; I was able to replace the broken bolt. Despite my predicament, giving up seemed too premature and I decided to keep riding. I was in first gear after all, and all I was planning on doing for two days was ride uphill. The climb will continue until I reach a town called Maubisse. Once there, I can decide whether to return to Dili or continue on in first gear.

So, I kept riding, up and up, until it started to cool and I became surrounded by clouds. At one point I couldn’t see more than ten metres ahead. The views (when I wasn’t in a cloud) were simply spectacular. At first I could look over the Dili coast, however, eventually the coastline disappeared as I wove deeper into the mountains and passed quaint villages perched on steep slopes. Everyone wanted to know where I was going. Kids followed me and even pushed me along at times. Each time I stopped for a rest, villagers would come over for as good a chat as my limited Tetun allowed. Eventually, I realised I wasn’t going to make it to the town for which I was aiming (Alieu), so I started keeping an eye out for a welcoming-looking village in which I could find a place to sleep. When I passed a group of young Timorese listening to music, I thought I had found my chance, so I decided to turn back for a chat. One girl spoke rough English. Her name was Fina. I asked in Tetun (I had it written down) if there was a place I could set up my tent. She consulted with an older guy, who I was to learn was her brother. Did I want to stay at their house? She asked.

I followed them home and was welcomed into their house. I sat inside with her family for a while (she has ten siblings) before choosing a break in the rain to set up my tent in their front yard. When they realised I planned on sleeping outside on the ground they wouldn’t let me finish setting up my tent. I was to sleep inside the house, they said. They would also cook me dinner. For about fifteen minutes I tried to explain that I would feel bad sleeping in their house and eating their food. My failure in being able to convey what I meant served to highlight the fact that the culture I am from is far less welcoming than that of the Timorese. They simply couldn’t understand why I seemed to be refusing their hospitality. Was it because I won’t like their food? Fina asked. I eventually had to concede and accept everything I was offered. By this time there were about 25 people crammed into the furniture-less living area, extended family and other villagers curious to see this strange guy who turned up on a bike. At one point Fina asked if I was good at ‘design’ (art). She explained that her family wanted to make a life-size figure of Father Christmas to display in the village in the coming weeks, but no one was good at art and they didn’t have the money to employ someone to do it. I jumped at the chance to contribute, so I showed her my drawings and said I could do it for them if they wanted. I pulled out my art supplies and spent about an hour and a half copying an image from Fina’s phone onto wooden board. My every movement was closely monitored by the 25 people in the room. Unfortunately, my limited supplies only allowed me to complete an outline. The village will have to find some paint before they can finish it.

When I was done I was invited into the kitchen to eat. Fina’s sister had prepared rice, noodles, fish and egg; a feast by village standards. I was joined by Fina’s brother and brother-in-law. I tried not to eat much as I had no idea if the whole family was eating the same food. I never saw what the rest of the family did for dinner. After eating, I joined everyone again in the family room and continued struggling through basic conversation. The room slowly emptied as people returned to their own homes. I explained that I had a little camping mattress I sleep on, but, as with the tent, as soon as they realised that I planned on sleeping on the floor I was told sternly that I was to have a bed. Fina said there were enough beds around for me to have one. I am not sure if this was entirely true and I think I stole someone’s room for the night.

Lying in bed, there was just enough reception for me to access the internet on my phone, so I looked into how I could fix my gear cable. I learned that I could do it myself if I could source the right parts. The trouble was the right parts were in Europe and there is no such thing as mail service in Timor-Leste.

Meeting local ratbags

Meeting local ratbags

Accommodation House in a village
Distance ridden today 39.33km
Average cycling speed 7.9kph
Total distance ridden 8,405km