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Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Timor-Leste (ii): Beach Meat Diving

Days in Dili were slow. I'd generally get back from the office around 5 and have evenings to myself. Most were spent walking up and down the beach road that my hotel sat on. The inland side of the road was lined with embassies, bars, restaurants, and dive shops. I hopped around a lot of these places. Dili Beach Hotel and Nautilus became regular stops. There was a Korean restaurant that was halfway decent. An Italian spot had edible pizza. As I'd walk along the road with a Tiger beer in hand, the sun would set. Dili faces north and the sun set behind the mountains to the south. The sun would disappear in the early evening, but would continue to paint the clouds with shades of red and purple for several more hours.

After about 6, the beach side of the road was filled with tables set up with tables covered in meat and fish satay. Each table was more or less identical. Old women sat in flimsy plastic chairs behind them waving plastic bags attached to sticks to ward off flies. Countless fire pits covered with makeshift grills (fan covers, sections of chain link fence, among others) were covered in skewers of indistinguishable meat and fish.

One of the weird things about Timor was the total lack of any sense of economy or price among most people. Case in point, you could go to five of these tables and get told five different prices for a skewer of chicken. Even stranger still, no one really tries to haggle. If you suggest a lower price and just hand them money, they will take it (unless it's unreasonably low). The same was true at shops and restaurants. I'd often buy my drinks and food separately to save myself a few dollars. And none of the locals really seem to understand why that's a problem. Nor do consumers really take advantage of it.

Once I had my plate of meats on sticks and a beer for a few dollars, I spent a good number of evenings sitting at a plastic dining set wedged into the sand looking out over the water and Atauro Island 30km away. The sky would burn out its color like a candle. 

Prior to leaving, I'd been told that Timor-Leste had some of the best diving in the world and that getting my certification there would be much cheaper than it would be in the States. So I put it on my list. During my first couple of weeks over the holidays, I decided to spend some of my off days getting certified. My boss had recommended going to the Aquatica Dive Resort, which is where she goes to dive. The dive instructor, Desmond, was a Malay-Korean Australian living in Timor. I ended up hanging out with him and his girlfriend a few times. He actually ended up doing the pool dives with me on Christmas day.

To be perfectly honest, I strongly considered discontinuing the certification while doing the pool dives. It's just such an uncomfortable experience in the beginning. Breathing underwater is weird. I pushed through though and got fairly used to it. Once certified, we went diving at a few of the popular spots (Dili Rock, K41, Secret Garden) and it was a really cool experience. As it turns out, I suck air down way faster than everyone else in our group. I had to come back up way earlier. Rainy season isn't the best time to go as the sediment in the water decreases visibility, but still fascinating to swim down a wall of coral. But I'm certified now and will definitely try to dive again in my travels in the future.

 

(I am aware that "beach meat diving" sounds like some kind of bizarre sex act.)