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Timor-Leste: Dili

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Dili > Timor-Leste > Asia

[Visited: November 2014]

Ever since my cousin was killed in Dili during the reign of terror surrounding the 1999 independence referendum, the city has been linked forever to his brutal murder. After the long trip down to East Timor, the first thing we do is to go to Becora. When I show the picture of the small monument erected in his memory to a taxi driver, he pretends to know where it is, but when we reach that part of town, he looks into the rearview mirror with an inquiring look. By coincidence, I recognize the monument on the roadside. We put some flowers behind the monument, and then, inevitably, emotions come. A nearby school comes out, and the kids look at us with wondering looks: I realize they were born in an independent country, and only know the history of their country through their parents. It has taken a long time, but now I have finally seen the monument and been close to the place where he was killed, I somehow feel more complete - and ready to explore the city.

Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): The Presidential Palace of Dili

Dili is not a city choke full of must-sees. We have read that the Presidential Palace is the most accessible of the world, so we walk up to the entrance. After checking our passports, the security staff ask us if we had an appointment with the president. We show the text saying that the president invites anyone to come visit - but the guards say: Ah, old president! This one, different! So we have to make do with a view of the Chinese-built palace with its grounds, and walk on. We pay a visit to the Chega! exhibition, about the bloody road to independence. The graphic pictures, and the view of some of the torture cells, still with carved texts by prisoners, leaves a big impression. From here, we walk to the Santa Cruz cemetery, where the Indonesian military massacred more than 250 people in 1991. The event eventually drew attention to the situation of the East Timorese internationally, and has been important in the eventual independence of the country. We are one day early: there is a podium with a choir practicing their singing for the celebrations commemorating 12 November 1991.

Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): Cristo Rei statue on a globe, looking towards the west with the bay of Dili at his feet

One of the main, and remarkable, sights of Dili is the Cristo Rei statue, a gift by the Indonesians a few years before Timor-Leste would achieve independence, to celebrate the integration of East Timor into Indonesia. It is a Christ statue, reminiscent of the ones in Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro, albeit much smaller. We find some gorgeous beaches at the foot of the hill on which the Cristo Rei statue stands, overlooking the bay of Dili with open arms. I walk the steps to the top, which gives sweeping views of Dili, the mountains behind it, and the beaches and sea below. We end the day by seeing the sun sink behind the mountains from one of the beaches. On the day of departure, I take a taxi into Dili, and walk back, just to get a taste of the city. Discover a small market here, a plaza there, a monument, walking the boulevard which actually is pretty well made, watching fishermen selling their catch from a motorbike or the seawall, streets lined with old trees, the many mikrolets. There is a Chinese temple, there are old colonial buildings like the 17th century Portuguese garrison buildings, now in use by the European Union, there are monuments for the independence. There is also remarkable street art: paintings on walls - some small, some as big as an entire building, that make the city look more attractive.

Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): The waterfront of Dili has a boulevard and beach
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): The old lighthouse on the waterfront of Dili
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): The Praia de Areia Branca seen from the Cristo Rei statue
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): Fancy clock at the Clock Tower Roundabout
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): Monument on the Clock Tower Roundabout
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): The statue of Arturo de Canto Rezende, in a small park on the waterfront in Dili
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): Selling fish from his motorbike on the waterfront of Dili
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): The Santa Cruz cemetery, where a bloody massacre took place in 1991
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): Monument to the 13 Regions of Independent East Timor
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): Colourful wall painting in Dili
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): One of the rooms used for torture, on display in the Chega! exhibition
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): Chinese temple in downtown Dili
Picture of Dili (Timor-Leste): Mikrolet driving the streets of Dili, with guys hanging out the door

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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