“We need to get the hell out of this place,” my Mom says to me quietly so the staff at the Fort cannot hear us. Several hundred dollars had gone “missing” from her hidden spot in the hotel room only the night before while attending the owner of the hotel’s birthday party. The problem was, the Balibo Fort Hotel was completely staffed by people who were all related to one another and although we were the ONLY CUSTOMERS in the entire hotel, their unwillingness to admit that one of them had boosted the cash from our room was growing tiring.
“We need to get the hell out of this place,” I repeated, my brows furrowing as I formulated all our options. We both knew that the only airport to return to Bali was from the Capitol city of Dili, but from Balibo there were no local buses, cabs, taxis or means of reaching the city. When we asked the “Hotel Staff” for advice, they didn’t know what to do. Apparently, we were the ONLY tourists to come to the hotel via the border from Indonesia. Most of the tourists had roundtrip tours from Dili to the Fort and back again the next day.
So, with no buses and transportation of any kind… Here were our options:
- Walk the 125 kilometers to Dili.
- Live in Balibo FOREVER.
There was also SECRET OPTION 3. Hire a bloody expensive-ass tour vehicle from Dili to come and pick us up in Balibo and drive us back.
We took option 3 and contacted a company owned by an Australian. The Australian man who owned the company was not in the country and was home in Australia so the only contact we had with him was via email. He referred us to his local guides number and we made the entire arrangements ourselves for a vehicle to be sent from Dili to our location and return us to Dili. We would have a tour on the way back but as it was only a 3-hour drive, our end of the tour was to be quite short. Since most of the tourists, as mentioned previously, typically book a two day tour with the company (and spend the night at Balibo Fort to break up the journey to and from Dili) we had to request specifically to allow the trip to count as a one day “tour” as we were already in Balibo and simply needed a ride.
Images of the Balibo Fort Hotel
The local in charge agreed and sent a vehicle the next morning. When the vehicle arrived, my mother and I were so excited to leave we could hardly contain our glee. Until the vehicle pulled into the Fort and we saw to our horror that the car was unable to drive. They had somehow driven WITHOUT LUGNUTS on the wheels and the tires were falling off. The two men struggled with the car but were unable to fix it and needed to contact their office to send another vehicle to tow them to Dili.
We were stuck, yet again in this Fortress. The view atop the fort was stunning when it wasn’t rainy or foggy. A distant spot on the horizon of the shoreline could be seen from our seats beside the canon. Outside the Fort, Balibo was a depressing place. The town was bleak, dirty and the locals were not accustomed to foreigners. They did not welcome us in a friendly manner but instead looked as if our presence was a disturbance to them.
“We need to get the hell out of here!”
The tour people we had “hired” tried to scam my mother and I, saying we owed them money for their damaged vehicle—which we never even sat in. And that we also owed them money for the “tour from Dili.” We got an angry and accusative email from the Australian man owning the tour company saying we needed to pay him the money we owed him for the “tour” we had supposedly taken with his company. My mother and I had to have the owner of Balibo Fort ring him on his cell to confirm to him that we HAD NEVER EVEN BEEN TO DILI and that we had been staying at the Fort for over 4 days and that we had come from West Timor. Only THEN did the Australian man and his tour company leave us alone and never again contacted us asking for money. (Seriously, next time put some lug-nuts on your vehicles wheels.)
Now, with no ride it seemed our secret option number three was no longer an option. We would have to either live here forever or start walking at first light. Luckily, our occupation as the “only residents of Balibo Fort Hotel” came to an end. A strange, shy and not very talkative man pulled into the Fortress. He was from Canada. And he had rented himself a truck from Dili.
We told the man of our predicament and he very hesitantly agreed to allow us to hitch hike with him. It was obvious he was not comfortable with the idea of having two strangers in his car but we offered to pay his fuel to Dili and not say a word about his driving and he agreed.
The next morning my mom and I took our places in his rental truck and watched him slip on a pair of leather driving gloves. The next three hours would be a bumpy, head banging ride as we tried our best not to say a word as he blasted full speed INTO every pot hole in sight. (He was really careful not to miss any of them…)
We stopped along the way to see a few ruins and old Portuguese Forts.
An old Canon made by the Portuguese.
Finally, my mom and I pulled into Dili. We walked into the first “Three Star Hotel” we could find (holy hell it was the most expensive DUMP we ever paid for! Read More about Travel Scams Here) and thanked the universe that our flight leaving Timor-Leste was the following day.
All joking aside, my mom thoroughly ENJOYED her Timor-Leste adventure despite all the crazy mishaps and strangeness of the situations we faced. It is still to this day one of her best travel stories and although she still loves a nice all-inclusive resort spa, she also craves more challenging travel experiences. I look forward to our next "Adventures with Mom" Series of travel mishaps! *Insert Evil Laugh Here*