The Visa Runs

Let me take you back to the summer of 2018. Harry Kane was top scorer in the World Cup, Avengers Infinity War was all the rage, and I, oblivious to it all, was island hopping through Indonesia.

After Sumatra and Java, I found myself in Bali. Everyone knows Bali. So much so that some people think it’s a separate country. In fact, with its new 5 year tax-free digital nomad visa, it may as well be. Anyway, the point is that despite the epic sunsets, Bali wasn’t really my vibe.

Sunset in Bali
One of Bali’s magical sunsets.

After a few days, I decided I’d head to Lombok, check out the Gili Islands, maybe climb Rinjani Volcano. I only had around 10 days left on my visa before I needed to do a visa run (cross the border and come back), so I thought it was just enough time to squeeze it in. Settled on the plan, I went bright and early to the ferry port, only to find that there were no ferries.

“High waves,” they said.

So I came back the next day.

“High waves,” they said.

When they said the same thing on the third day, I was half-convinced I was stuck in Groundhog Day. Unable to visit Lombok, I decided to do my visa run early instead. Most people do visa runs to Singapore, Thailand, or Malaysia, but I’d been to those countries and I wanted to try somewhere new. I actually wanted to go to Papua New Guinea, but the flights were extortionate, even from the neighbouring country. And if I went overland via Western Papua, I needed to have a visa in advance. Settling in between familiar and extreme, I chose Timor Leste. It was still unusual and exotic, but within the same price range as the usual suspects.

So, later that day, I was boarding a plane. Little did I know that, at the same time, the coast of Lombok was struck with a 6.9 magnitude earthquake, causing tsunamis all over the region and killing more than 560 people.

I was in my own little world, shovelling cold airplane pasta into my mouth like it was going out of style. It didn’t take long before I started to feel queasy. I tried not to focus on it. It’ll pass, I thought. Ahh, how innocent I was.

Welcome to Dili

Cristo Rei at the end of a long, empty beach.

We touched down in Dili airport in the afternoon. It was a tiny place. I’d barely even left the plane by the time the taxi drivers were swamping me, asking to take me to the centre. I’d expected there to be some kind of bus service, but it quickly became apparent that Timor Leste did things differently. Annoyed by the taxi men, I walked out into the car park and decided I was just going to hitchhike. It was only around 6 km in a straight line to the city centre.

Sure enough, I hadn’t even gotten out of the car park before someone stopped and offered me a lift. They were super kind and friendly, and, thankfully, they dropped me right outside my hostel – if they hadn’t, I would’ve been in serious trouble.

My stomach was churning and I could already feel a heat rising within me, edging closer to my throat and its inevitable exit. I checked in as quickly as possible, dropped my bag on the concrete floor of the bedroom, and then sprinted to the toilet.

In hindsight, the concrete floor should’ve been a hint as to what’s to come. The hostel room may as well have been outside. Sure, it had walls and a ceiling, but the floor was just a continuation of the pavement. The hostel itself was in the back of a local market shop that sold crackers, among other boring stuff with faded packaging. I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the stock was out of date.

Nothing like a bathroom surprise to spice things up

I opened the bathroom door as the airplane pasta was already on its way out. Half-preparing myself to lift the toilet seat and kneel down in one swift movement, I was momentarily stunned by the off-white ceramic basin that had two footprints either side of a gaping hole.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve used hole-in-the-floor toilets before: for number ones mostly, and the occasional, albeit reluctant, number two. But I have to admit, this was the first time I’d ever been sick in one. And let me tell you: it wasn’t fun.

Ever had the tap on full blast and accidentally aimed it at a spoon? Now imagine that but the tap is my mouth and the hole is the spoon. Sick was flying around the room as if I was some kind of vomit fountain, projecting a cascade of bile into a whirring fan. It sprayed the walls, soaked the floor, and drenched my clothes. In fact, it seemed to go everywhere except the hole.

And the worst part? I was aware of all this happening in some kind of slow-mo time warp, but I couldn’t stop. Once it had started, I had to let it run its course, trying, hopelessly, to adjust my position as bile surged from the depths of my core.

Once the main gist of it was over, and the dry-heaving relented, I looked around at what I’d done in my first five minutes of being in the hostel. And that’s when the panic set in. There was no toilet paper, no mop, no bucket or sink. The only other thing in the room was a hosepipe-style arse washer. I don’t know its real name, and to be honest, it’s too traumatic to learn now.

For the next ten minutes, I crawled around with the hose, spraying the walls and trying to direct orange chunks of vomit into the hole. The smell was almost enough for me to repeat it all over again. It didn’t help that the length of the hose wasn’t built for cleaning the entire room either. It struggled to reach the farthest parts, but eventually I managed to replace most of the sick with water. Without any flushing mechanism, the smell still lingered, but what else could I do? It was a job well done in my opinion.

I went back to my room, crashed onto the bed, and didn’t leave it for the next three days, except to go back and forth to the toilet, only to repeat the events but with more finesse. I also bought some crackers once, but I can’t say they helped.

This was when I learned about Bali and Lombok, too. I had missed calls from my family, and dozens of messages. I told them that I was ill, but they were just glad I wasn’t in Lombok.

Out of the bathroom

Secluded beaches near the statue of Christ near Dili
One of the many secluded beaches near the Cristo Rei statue outside of Dili.

On the morning of the fourth day, I felt almost human. I hadn’t felt the stomach-clenching urge to run to the bathroom in a while, and so I decided to stretch my legs. This was the first time I left the hostel. I came outside, walked about seven steps to the left, and then a random guy got mowed down by a car in the middle of the street.

This wasn’t just a little bump, either. He catapulted through the air and crumpled into a heap. Before I could do anything, he was surrounded by locals and they all seemed to know what they were doing far more than I did, so I tried not to be nosy. I carried on to find out what other wonders Timor Leste had in store for me.

As it turns out, there was a local chicken seller that wanted to take my hostel dorm-mate to a chicken fight. I didn’t even know they were a thing, but apparently they strap blades to two chickens, chuck them in a pen together, and place bets on who will be the last one standing. Unfortunately, I missed that brutal affair.

Instead, I tried a bunch of Portuguese dishes (Timor Leste was a Portuguese colony) that I’d had in Brazil to compare the difference, explored an empty beach a few miles from the city, and chilled out with the only other traveller in Dili. He was filming a documentary about the least visited countries on the planet, and Timor Leste was one of them.

The view from Cristo Rei.
One of the many empty beaches on the walk to Cristo Rei.
Cristo Rei, several miles from Dili.

A nice death threat for my final night

On my final night, while the two of us were talking in the dorm room, a little girl came in and started jumping on the beds. We were a bit confused, but let her do her thing. Then she started jumping on our beds, hopping back and forth while we were still sitting in them. We told her she should find her parents, to which she replied, “My parents are going to kill you.”

She broke the silence with a manic laugh.

We looked at each other with raised eyebrows, then the girl laughed even louder, continued jumping, and started to repeat the same phrase over and over: “My parents are going to kill you. My parents are going to kill you!”

Bear in mind, me and the other traveller in the room were the only two tourists I’d seen in the entire town. We were in a low budget, shanty-style hostel in a country that most people have never even heard of, with a seven year old cackling at us while reciting that her parents were going to kill us.

It started to feel like the beginning of a horror movie.

Luckily, I flew back to Indonesia the next morning in one piece. The same couldn’t be said for my hostel friend. I received a message from him the following day; while he hadn’t been murdered, he had woken up in the middle of the night with a rat crawling on top of him. Glad I missed that one.

I may have sicked up my guts, watched a guy almost get killed, and had a visit from a creepy horror girl, but I can’t help feeling that there’s a lot more craziness to be experienced in Timor Leste. I’ll definitely be heading back.

There were more bulls than humans.

Share the shit

If you like this kinda travel story, I’ve got plenty more up my sleeve. I’d appreciate it if you could share on social media, or wherever you feel like, and I’ll get writing more tales from the toilet.

Let me know what you would’ve done in that situation in the comments!

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