While the road conditions in Timor-Leste might be something to try and forget, the friendliness of the people lingers long in the mind. Entomologist Jean Weiner recalls some of the contrasts he noticed during the Museum's terrestrial expedition.

Timor-Leste Expedition 2012
Timor-Leste Terrestrial Expedition #62 Photographer: Chris Reid © Australian Museum Image: Chris Reid
© Australian Museum

Timor-Leste Terrestrial Expedition #6 Photographer: Jacquie Rescei © Australian Museum Image: Jacquie Rescei
© Australian Museum

Why is the Australian Museum in Timor-Leste? To assist with conservation planning and more.

What I remember most about visiting Timor-Leste are the stark, if not dramatic, contrasts. The roads were very challenging, yet the people didn't hesitate to use them. The topography was challenging, yet the mobile phone coverage was excellent. The population hovers above the poverty line, yet their friendliness was unforgettable.

Never have I driven on such generally bad roads.

Once upon a time that particular infrastructure was in good condition. Most roads were originally well sealed. But I assume the torrential rains of the annual wet season have undone any attempts at maintenance.

Thank God the Toyotas were tough!

We decided finally that any road where one was capable of doing an average speed of 60 km/h was deemed a super-highway. An average of 40 km/h was considered an excellent road. 20 km/h was a good road, and 5-10 km/h was typical – the norm on roads that we could only describe as ‘challenging’.

So in the end it seemed that most of our time was spent travelling to the various collecting sites rather than doing any collecting, which is why we were there. Nonetheless we did manage to return with a very useful number of specimens!

Despite the condition of the roads, there was still lots of transportation around the island – well at least the eastern half where our group travelled. Where roads were ‘passable’, vehicles still ventured, laden to their limits with people, animals, jerrycans, motorbikes and produce piled high and wide as they scrambled and slithered their way along the narrow roads that lead from town to town.

And as difficult as road travel was as a mode of commuting around the island, virtually anywhere was contactable by mobile phone! Even if much of the population is economically challenged, a large number have mobiles. Speed of communication by road is in sharp contrast to the electromagnetic variety.

However, in this country of such contrasting and often harsh topographies, a country parched dry by many months of searing tropical sun yet full of huge river beds that attest to the staggering amounts of rain that does fall, a country where a large proportion of its population hovers above the poverty line struggling to make a living amidst all this ruggedness, one thing stood out more than the rest: the friendliness of the people and their winning smiles, often triggered by a simple ‘bon día’.

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