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Getting to Dili

Paula Dobbyn is a freelance journalist from Alaska who recently completed a master of laws degree in human rights through Queen's University Belfast and National University of Ireland, Galway. She is spending four months in Concern's Timor Leste headquarters in Dili working in communications.

Hindu prayer calls echoed before dawn.

As I opened the door of my hotel room to investigate, the scent of plumeria wafted in from the courtyard. A skinny cat darted between the trees, stalking prey. After a two-day journey from Belfast-Dublin-Frankfurt-Kuala Lumpur, I arrived in Bali the previous night, the last stop before my final destination: Timor Leste.

Exhausted but amazed to be in Southeast Asia for the first time, I collapsed in bed at 7pm and fell into a deep slumber. Wide awake just after midnight, wracked with jet lag, I wandered outside to the porch and slouched into a rattan chair. Under the dim light of a single, low-wattage bulb in the ceiling, I scribbled notes in my journal and considered the possibilities that lay ahead over the next four months.

Only the occasional whine of mosquitoes disturbed the night stillness (prompting what would be the first of many applications of bug spray while I’m here!). As the sound of religious chanting filled the courtyard, a gentle sunrise of tangerine and melon hues melted into to a bright, lemon sky. The sun rose, and with it, soaring, tropical temperatures to match. Now I was fully awake!

I had a day to kill in Bali before catching my final flight to Dili. A tour brochure collected at the airport offered a plethora of choices. I dialled a number and less than an hour later a driver picked me up and negotiated his car through the crush of morning rush-hour traffic, which included a sea of motorcycles transporting workers, students and entire families with toddlers and infants strapped aboard. As the motorbikes zigzagged around our car, the driver whizzed me to the serenity of a quite day spa. The spa provided the perfect remedy for easing the tension of two days of bus and plane travel from Ireland.

Revived, if still bleary-eyed, I opted for a 6-hour tour of the island, which included stops at a silver and gold jewellery-making centre, a batik shop, a terraced rice paddy in a massive gorge, and an open-air restaurant featuring local specialities. (I went for shredded chicken cooked in lime and chilli sauce.)

The next stop was a monkey forest sanctuary in Ubud where dozens of spider monkeys scampered on the walkways and benches. They swiped bananas and sweet potatoes from tourists’ hands, climbed on visitors’ heads and backs, swung from vines and posed for close-up photographs while scratching their heads and underarms. Totally surreal! As sun began to set, the driver and I headed back to Kuta where he dropped me at the hotel for my second and final evening in Bali before heading to Dili.