Day 687: There Be Hobbits

18.11.10:

One of the things about living out of a backpack is that it’s so easy to forget things.  I’ve probably got about one hundred items with me, ranging from my glasses to my malaria pills to the charger for my electric razor, and first thing in the morning is the worst time for having your brain in gear.  When I think of all the things I’ve lost on this trip (my South America Lonely Planet, my little diaries, my hat) – it’s even more remarkable the things I haven’t lost.

Having said that, I do sometimes suffer from lapses in concentration that are, quite frankly, embarrassing.  One such lapse occurred today as the bus charged towards the port town of Aimere (pronounced Eye-Mere-Ay) – I left my infernal Yellow Bible in the little eatery we stopped at to get the usual BLURGH of steamed white rice and fish heads (sometime you can get chicken bones instead w00t! – just as inedible).  Maybe I was riling at the blandness (and coldness) of Indonesian cuisine.  Seriously – I was given better grub in jail – at least it was hot!

Here in Indonesia, it’s like Monty Python’s Spam sketch, only with rice.  Rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, rice for dinner…

We’ve got rice, rice, rice, egg, beans and rice; that’s not got much rice in it…

It wouldn’t be so bad if they had the same selection of sauces they have in Chinese cuisine, but no – here any garnish will usually consist of a few green beans if you’re lucky or some cold curry powder slop if you’re not.  Weird when you consider these were the spice islands – the lands that made mad European adventurers froth at the mouth for hundreds of years.  Never underestimate the power of condiments.  Wars have been fought over condiments.

Anyway, we were too far away by the time I noticed I had lost my book for us to go back.  We had been cruising around the utterly incredible series of bends that constitute the main road of Flores (this place would make an ace episode for Top Gear) for a good couple of hours since the rest stop.

Luckily, the driver got in touch with a mate of his who was taking the afternoon minibus to Ruteng (halfway to Aimere).  If I was happy to wait in Ruteng, he could pick my book up and give it to me later.  But, by then, heaven knows how I’m going to get to Aimere: the last bus of the day would have already gone.

Was it worth hanging on for?  After my experience of trying to get through South America without a guidebook, the answer to that question was a resounding YES.  I don’t stand a chance of chance of getting to East Timor or West Papua without it.  So I hung around the town of Ruteng for a couple of hours.  Loads of schoolkids had an assignment which required them to bug Bules (pronounced boo-lays and meaning Johnny Foreigners in Indonesian) like myself to write in their exercise book that the kids speak good English.

Fighting the urge to demand payment for such duplicitous services (their English was as bad as my French) I happily signed about ten books during the afternoon, and each one I recommended for a gold star and a jellybaby.  Oh and don’t worry about halal: Flores is a Christian island.  Not that that stops the Muslim call to prayer being pumped out at some ridiculous hour of the morning.  Lucky I spent so much time in the Middle East my body has learnt to sleep right through it.

By 5pm I had my book back (hoorah!), but now a bigger problem arose like a grumpy levitation from the depths: how the hell was I going to get to Aimere?  But then, literally as my book was handed over, a people carrier sped past with a guy hanging out the window shouting ‘Aimere! Aimere!’.

A-ha!  A shared taxi?  How much?  $11?

That’d do.

It’s amazing what outrageous fortune these gods of the Bronze Age keep on bestowing upon me, especially considering I don’t believe in any of the buggers.

As I clambered onboard I mused about the fact that here I was, crossing the fabled island of the human hobbits: homo floresiensis, At just one meter tall and with brains the same size of that of a chimpanzee (tellingly our closest surviving relative), the hobbit’s remains have been dated to just 18,000 years ago – a mere blip on the evolutionary timescale of us homo sapiens.

It’s sad that Flores and Neanderthal man died out, the world could be a very different place if more people understood that homo sapiens are not quite as special or unique as they seem to think (the vast majority of people on this planet seriously believe that we, alone amongst living things, are going to magically survive their own death! Ha! Good luck with that!).

Sharing the planet with two other species of human might have given us the lesson in humility that we so desperately need (if we’re ever going to stop destroying this fine planet of ours).  But given the numerous purges, genocides, pogroms and ethnic violence perpetrated by humans against their own species, I guess our fellow hominids didn’t stand a chance.

There has been a bit of debate as to whether the ‘hobbit’ skeleton found in the Manggarai Region of Flores constituted a brand new species or whether it was just a normal human with a rare (but not unheard of) genetic deformity.  The discovery of several similar skeletons nearby has all but chucked the ‘deformity’ theory out of the window (oh, Young Earth Creationists – if only Evolution was as easy to disprove eh?), and the brain size alone signifies that these guys were most definitely not sapiens.

It’s interesting that the first homo erectus fossils were found in Java – a completely separate branch of the hominid family to the hobbits.

While I was musing such matters, would you believe what I saw…?

Bilbo's Mum!!!

Yes, I believe that to be a living hobbit.  I may be wrong, maybe she’s just a tiny old lady, or maybe the hobbits ‘died out’ due to interbreeding with us sapiens.  But I’m fairly sure people on this island (on average) are shorter than the folks on Bali…

The Little People

Nah, they’re just kids.  It’s cool that they all wave when the see a Bule like me drive past, reminds me of the good bits of West Africa.

Anyways, as night fell I was invited by the driver of my ‘travel’ (shared taxi) to play DJ.

Thank the maker!  If there is one thing that may just put you off Indonesia for life, it’s the crimes against music perpetrated by the bus and ‘bemo’ drivers here.  With sound systems set to ‘Krakatau’, they pump out the worst of the worst music you could possibly imagine: Indonesian music seemingly ripped from Japanese advertising jingles from the 70s, what I can only describe as ‘Oompah-pah Electronica’, desperately poor Indonesian hip-hop (think GLC taking themselves seriously), 80s mom rock that would make Elton John look heterosexual and the insipid drone of Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, Scorpions, and, worst of all, Akon.  How a guy who sounds like the goat-diddling lovespawn of Crazy Frog and Stephen Hawking has sold a single album blows my mind.

The biggest joke is that most of the buses here are covered in punk rock stickers – it’s pretty funny to see a bus plastered with pictures of Sid Vicious blasting out Celine Dion at ear-splitting volume.  Seriously.  Seriously.  Gay.

And who the hell sings that infernal cock-rock song about wanting to lie down in a bed of roses?  Christ when I get hold of him I’m going to pull a Mel Gibson on the nonce and bury him under a bed of roses.

As I selected Blitzkrieg Bop from my iPod, I explained that for the next two hours I would be giving these guys a crash course in the sort of music that ridiculously over-amped sound systems were invented for…

A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.

Day 688: Executive Class

19.11.10:

Last night I stayed in the grottiest pension I think I’ve ever seen.  Aimere is most definitely a one horse town as the only option was a pension down the street which (unlike the one I stayed in) had seen a lick of paint in the last few decades.  Not that that justified paying twice the price.

When I was visiting the dragons on Wednesday, I was enjoying a nice cold Coke after all that trekking in the sweltering heat of Komodo national park when I got chatting to an Italian guy called Simon who was (marvellously enough) travelling from Italy to Australia in a Fiat 500.  Just then his travel partner, Chesa, popped up and said I looked a little like that Graham guy off the telly.  Funny that, I said, because…

After introductions we realised that we would be taking the same ferry over to Timor and would probably be in Dili at the same time next week.  Emails were exchanged and now here in Aimere we met up again: they were actually staying in the same pension (not that there was really any choice).  Their car is hilarious: just enough room for two front seats and backpacks.

So they didn’t make it all the way overland, they (and their car) had to be flown from Nepal to Thailand.  Like the Oz bus, it seems that if you wanna overland it from John O’ Groats to Hobart in your Reliant Robin, you’re going to come unstuck when it comes to crossing China.  Wouldn’t be such a problem if Burma wasn’t such a basketcase, but as it is there is no option but to fly.  Of course, if you’re doing the trip by public transport it’s very possible indeed: well, at least until you get to Dili – something I’ll talk about more when I get there.

Funnily enough, Chesa and Simon, like me, couldn’t believe how good Iran was.  A note to the people of Iran: you rock!  A note to the government of Iran: you suck!

So we all clambered onboard the good ship to Kupang.  I pretended to be with Chesa and Simon so I could get on before the braying masses (nobody thought to ask how on Earth I would have fitted in the car).  I had paid $2 more for ‘executive class’ and I was bursting to see what this would mean.  In the end, it just meant more comfortable seats, but still no air conditioning and the ship was pretty unclean.

What was good though is that the executive class was pretty empty so I could (happily) lay across several seats instead of attempting to sleep sitting upright with my chin pressed against my chest.  Which is pretty dangerous, you know – it can cut off your air supply – that’s how come so many people died in the Moscow Theatre Siege.  True story.

As Chesa and Simon caught up with their blogs (they’re just getting around to blogging about Pakistan!  And you think my blogs are a bit late!!) I mooched around the ship: at the back of executive class was normal class, which I’m so glad I didn’t go for as everyone what perched on hard moulded plastic seats – the type you get in the doctor’s waiting room and the type that it’s pretty much impossible to sleep lying across without risking serious back injury (I know this from painful experience after attempting to sleep on the Grimaldi ferry from Tunisia to Italy last March).  Downstairs in the cargo hold was the hilariously named ‘zero class’, which featured entire families lying on cardboard rollmats between the cars and goods and bananas and rice and cockroaches.  I had flashbacks to last year’s nightmare trip on the Shissiwani from Dar Es Salaam to Comoros and ran back upstairs.

We left Aimere bang on schedule, but we wouldn’t be getting to Kupang in Indonesian West Timor until tomorrow.  I did some working out: if you include the few boating excursions I’ve been on during this expedition, this was my 100th boat trip: from tiny wooden canoes to massive cruise ships and pretty much everything in between.  Not bad for someone who gets woozy just thinking about the ocean.

That night I spent a good few hours sitting on the port wing of the bridge chatting to Simon about our various adventures around the world.

Ah, wanderlust: the overwhelming feeling that you should probably be somewhere else.

It that same wanderlust that led our ancestors out of Africa 50,000 years ago to as far a field as China, Australia, the Americas and Wales.  It was the desire to see over the edge of the known world that propelled the likes of Columbus, Magellan and Cook to seek out strange new lands and it was that same desire to transgress every boundary – natural or otherwise that fuelled Gagarin’s and Armstrong’s rockets into the stratosphere.

Well that and some rocket fuel, I guess.

Can’t help it, mate – gotta travel.  What are you waiting for?

Day 689: Kupanged!

20.11.10:

A sticky and uncomfortable night on the ferry was compounded by the tuck shop’s (pot noodles and skinny cans of Sprite – it’s the same all over Indonesia) decision to start playing the usual rubbish Indopop at full blast at 5am.  What is that?  In lieu of the call to prayer.  I went over and told them that if they didn’t knock it off, I wouldn’t be buying any more pot noodles.

Simon and Chesa were planning to spend the day in one of the villages surrounding Kupang.  I, on the other hand, was tasked with the job of getting my Authorisation letter for East Timor.  My first port of call was the bus company that runs minibuses direct to Dili.  They didn’t seem to care if I had authorisation or not and just wanted to sell me a ticket for tomorrow’s 6am bus.

So I headed over to the brand new East Timorese consulate that has just been built (in fact, they’re still building it!), but it wouldn’t be open until Monday.  Would it be worth risking it and heading to the border anyway?  It was only six hours away: I could be there and back within a day if necessary.

I checked into the Lavalon Backpackers (although, being run by Indonesians, they didn’t quite get the concept, so the place was something between a grotty pension and a cheapo bed and breakfast, but they had a western toilet, so my bum was happy) and then headed over the road to the Lavalon Bar which was (surprisingly) run by the same guy, Edwin.

Edwin’s a bit of a legend in Kupang, so much so he’s actually mentioned by name in the Lonely Planet.  He’s a bit nuts, but in a good way.  He told me straight out not to attempt a border run without the Authorisation letter: I’d just waste my money.  Best I wait until Monday and go to the Consulate.  This would waste another 2 days, but what’s 2 days in 700 eh?

<groan>

Brilliantly enough, Edwin’s joint had Wi-Fi, so after a little walk around town (it may be the capital of West Timor, but it’s quieter than a racist in a Nairobi gym), I settled in for the day with a bottle of Bintang and my laptop, content to watch the cooling afternoon rain lash down across the bay.  Less brilliant were the flying ants that came out at dusk: they were EVERYWHERE – crawling up my legs, in my hair, in my beer.  The rule is, in the tropics, you get an itch, you SCRATCH IT BEFORE IT BITES YOU.  Quick quick!

Day 690: Oh Dear

21.11.10:

Kupang is a little dull.  Here’s a list of my ten favourite place names in the world:

Azerbaijan – Sounds like something a magician would say before pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Galapagos – It just sounds lovely. Lovely lovely lovely.

Timbuktu, Mali – The name alone sounds like a promise of being miles from anywhere.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso – Pronounced ‘Waggadoogoo’ it’s the capital of Burkina Faso, TAKE THE TRAIN!!!!… yes, it’s called the Ouagadougou Choo-Choo. BRILLIANT!

Shit, Iran – Exists! Try typing it into Google Earth!

Kumbag, Turkey – See above.

Wetwang, England – the town of which the late great Richard Whitely was mayor.

Lake Disappointment, Australia – Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Truth Or Consequences, USA – Awesome.  I wish I had the job of renaming towns.  Hull, Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Skegness and Milton Keynes would be first for the chop-chop.

And the best ever, ever name for a place?

In my book, nothing beats…

Oh Dear, Pitcairn Island – really, really exists.  It makes me giggle whenever I think about it.

Oh My God That Is So AWESOME!!

Actually, Pitcairn Island is full of awesome monikers: Timiti’s Crack, Where Dan Fell, Tom Off, John Catch-a-Cow, Johnny Fall, Bitey Bitey, Little George Coc’nuts, Bop Bop, and my second favourite name on Pitcairn, Down The God.  Sounds like something Richard Dawkins would use as a book title.

A Cavalcade of Titular Hilarity!

So what are your favourite placenames?  Come on, don’t be shy…!  Let me know!!

TALKING OF PITCAIRN ISLAND… do you know Kupang’s claim to fame?

Here’s a clue: What historic character has been played by Charles Laughton, Trevor Howard & Anthony Hopkins?

Aye… it’s got something to do with Mutiny on the Bounty…

That’s right!  They all played Captain Bligh.  Well done.  Hurrah for imdb!

If you have ever seen or read Mutiny on the Bounty, you’ll know that the mutineers of the titular taste of paradise cast Captain Bligh and his loyal officers adrift in a 7-metre open launch in the middle of (what is now) French Polynesia.  Eek!

But thanks to some KICK ASS bit of navigation (a feat that has not been repeated since) he and all of his crew made it here to Kupang… some 6,710 kilometres away.  With just a sextant and a pocket watch.  Seriously.  3,618 nautical miles in a little wooden boat in the Pacific?  With no charts?  In 1789?  Wow.  And he did it in just 47 days.  Puts my daredevil boat trip to Cape Verde to shame.

Edwin, the owner of the Lavalon Bar is (understandably) proud of this fact and does his best to promote Kupang’s Bounty heritage.  And, hell, it’s easier to get to than Pitcairn Island.  A crew from Britain and Australia tried to copy Bligh’s achievement earlier this year: cast adrift in French Polynesia with no maps and no navigational aids.

They did, however, have an emergency GPS.  One day, with a storm closing in and deadly reefs all around them, they (sensibly) chose to smash the glass and use it.  After 221 years, Bligh’s kick-ass record, armed with just a sextant and a pocket watch, still stands.

Considering there have been so many film versions made of Mutiny on the Bounty, I’m amazed that nobody has had a punt on the second book of the trilogy, Men Against The Sea, which recounts Bligh’s epic 47 day journey to Kupang.

In fact, bringing this (admittedly one-sided) discussion full circle, I’m even more flabbergasted that nobody has made the final book, Pitcairn’s Island, into a movie… a real-life Lord of the Flies extravaganza: of the 15 men (mutineers and Tahitians) who settled on the island, after a decade of madness and bloodshed, only one remained.

Somebody fly me to Hollywood!!  Stat!

I was trying to write some blogs up on the trip from Labuanbajo to Aimere the other day, but the windy mountain roads made that job a little – urk – difficult, especially as my drivers seemed to take a sick delight in fanging it around blind corners.  My attempt to get up to date on the ferry was doomed by a lack of electrical sockets and my battery not being charged the night before thanks to the fact that my plugs don’t actually stay in any given socket.

Okay, I’m going to blow off a little steam here, but just bear with me, okay?

Something I would like to take issue with YOU WORLD is the matter of electrical sockets.  Like seriously, can you ALL JUST F**K OFF with your limp, dangling plugs?  Euro round 2-pin: YOU SUCK.  America flat 2-pin: you SUCK.  Australia flat angled 2-pin: YOU SUCK.

I am SICK TO DEATH of wasting hours of my life trying to get you little bastards to actually STAY IN THE FRICKIN’ SOCKET!  Gaffer tape, sellotape, medical tape, packing tape, I’ve tried the lot; and yet as Radiohead once sang, GRAVITY ALWAYS WINS.

Can we have some kind of international standard PLEASE?  And like the international standards of time, longitude and language can that standard be British?  Yeah, say what you like about my crazy little country, AT LEAST OUR PLUGS STAY IN THE FRICKIN’ SOCKET!!

Nice solid plugs and sockets.  That’s what I want.

And world peace.  Of course.

Oh Dear!  Ahahahahahahahaha!!!  Love it!

Day 691: The Authorisation

22.11.10:

It was a 9am showdown at the East Timor Consulate in Kupang.  Luckily for me, Simon and Chesa where there, and Chesa, being Indonesian, could explain my predicament to the lady a damn site better than I could.  I had applied for my visa authorisation FOUR WEEKS ago, and heard nothing in reply.  The lady made a phone call and said that the authorisation had been sent last month.  No it hadn’t.  I had flashbacks to when I had to explain to my mum back in 1997 yes it did matter if you spelt the email address incorrectly.

The lady said to go and wait for the email confirmation, they would resend it.  So I did.  I went back to Edwin’s joint and twiddled my thumbs, refreshing my email every now and again.  I knew that if I didn’t get the authorisation today, when I finally got to Dili, I would be spending the entire next week there waiting for my visa BACK INTO INDONESIA to come through (you can’t get one on the border).  If I got the confirmation for East Timor today, left here tomorrow morning, I could be at the Indonesian embassy for Wednesday morning, I could have my visa on Friday and be out of there on Saturday.  Otherwise I would be leaving on the following Tuesday at the earliest.

By 3pm the email hadn’t arrived.  I actually went back to the consulate.  Seriously?  WTF?  The lady made another call.  They had sent the email again.  Again it hadn’t arrived.  Okay, okay – here’s my email address, get them to send it to you, then forward it on to me, okay?

I can’t fault the lady – she was very helpful.  Her name was Jen.  She was sincerely sorry for all this nonsense.  You could tell by her demeanour that she knew she worked with morons and was doing her level best to make my life easier.  One problem: her email wasn’t working.

Will it be working before the end of the day?

Maybe.

Urgh!  I headed back to Edwin’s and kept on hitting F5.

At 4.55pm, the Authorisation arrived.

Edwin booked me on the 5am bus to Dili.  It’s high time to tick my 183rd nation off the list.

A note to anyone wanting a East Timor visa to enter the country overland: DON’T BOTHER with the online registration malarkey.  Just go to the new consulate in Kupang and get your visa there.  If you’re REALLY nice to Jen, she might even sort you out with one the same day 😉

Day 692: The Moral Landscape

23.11.10:

What’s worse than having to get up at 5am for a bus?  The bus turning up at your hotel twenty minutes early!  And then beeping REALLY LOUDLY, waking everybody in the neighbourhood up.  Well, possibly not, the people of Indonesia have such an amazingly high tolerance of noise, you’d swear they must be deaf.  It might be an idea to ship all those whiney tossers who buy houses on the Heathrow flight path or apartments above city centre nightclubs (and then, predictably, moan about the noise) to one of these 17,000 islands and fill Britain’s noisiest homes with Indonesians.

Completely unprepared, I sleepily threw all my stuff in my bags like Winona Rider looting a Chinese laundry.  I fell back asleep as soon as I clambered onboard and didn’t really wake up until we reached the border at noon – all I can tell you is that my driver drove too frickin’ fast.  The next Brit who moans to me about speed cameras might well get a slap.  Rogering my watch one hour forward, I got stamped out of Indonesia and marched triumphant over the border.

And thus I was in EAST TIMOR: my 50th country of this year.  By jingo, this time last year I had done 124.  Rubbish, Graham – must try harder.  But at least I only have 17 more countries to go.  Shame they are all in THE MIDDLE OF FRICKIN’ NOWHERE.

The trip to from the border to Dili was uneventful, but spectacular.  These windy little roads would be so awesome… if I was driving.  Getting thrown about in the back of a minibus isn’t much fun and makes it impossible to read or write – you just end up thrusting your headphones into your lugholes and staring out of the window, dreaming up amazing stories which would make great films.  Or TV shows.  Or stageplays.  Or books.  Or musicals.

Once this mad trip is over, I’m probably going to disappear off into the outback for a few months with just Mandy, my laptop and a pirate copy of Final Draft.

Arriving in Dili at sunset, I was greeted by Dan, the owner of the East Timor Backpackers.  He had been expecting me since John (who I met on the Batam to Jakarta ferry last month) had arrived and told him what I was up to.  I was exactly two weeks later than I really should have been.  I’m really kicking myself now for procrastinating in Bali – this bungee jump thing in Liverpool had better happen!!

Dan’s a great chap, he’s from Chorley in Lancashire (not far from my neck of the woods) and travelled all over the world before taking on the only Backpackers in Dili last year.  Nice place: bit pricey, but then so is all of East Timor.  They use the US dollar, so conversion is easy (and great for holidaying Aussies at the moment: the Oz/US exchange rate is 1 to 1).  Anyway, it was $12 a night for a dorm room, which is comparable with hostels in Europe. But for that you got the use of western toilets and hot showers, so it was more worth it than, say, Comoros or Angola.

The reason for the inflated prices is clear as soon as you step out on the street: the UN are here.  And when I say here, I mean WOW THEY ARE HERE.  I’ve seen more white UN trucks floating around Dili than I saw in Kinshasa, Monrovia and Freetown put together.  I’m not sure they really need such a massive presence here – yes, East Timor is a very young nation and there has been some political instability in the last few years (culminating in 2008 with an assassination attempt on the Noble-Peace Prize winning President – luckily, he survived), but it smacks of overkill – I guess compared with Kabul or Baghdad this is a quite a cushy posting.  I just wish that this amount of equipment and manpower was being put to better use: Somalia, anyone?

Actually, can I get serious for a moment?  Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years now.  The levels of lawlessness and barbarity are as sickening as they are unreported.

A crowd of teenage boys gang rape, beat and dismember a young woman in Mogadishu in broad daylight.  What happens to them?  There are no police officers, no jails, no courtrooms, no judges.  I’ll tell you what happens to them: nothing.

A gang of Somali pirates hijack a charity ship carrying medical supplies to some of the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa.  By the time the Royal Navy recapture the ship (or the insurance company has paid the ransom) it’s too late: most of the supplies have gone past their use by date.  Thousands of people will die as a result.  The pirates, even caught red handed, have their weapons taken from them and are free to go.  Why?  Cos there’s is no Somali Navy (well, there is, but it doesn’t have any ships),  Kenya and Tanzania can’t afford to take them, neither can Yemen.  The Royal Navy can’t keep them in the brig for the duration of their tour nor take them back to Britain.

A nine-year old girl has her vagina painfully mutilated by her uncle.  While she is held down by her mother, he slices off her labia and her clitoris with a septic blade, and then, his hands covered in blood, he takes a needle and thread and stitches her up, leaving just a small hole to allow menstruation.  It sounds like something from American Psycho, but the numbing fact is that this has happened to 99% of women in Somalia.  It’s not even frowned upon.  This most inhumane of acts is part of their culture.  When a culture is that f–ked up, it ceases to be culture and becomes institutionalised criminality.  By the same token, could we argue that it is the ‘culture’ of the Catholic Church to rape children?

Team America has seriously f–ked up in Afghanistan and Iraq, so any intervention from them is out of the question.  No other nation state really cares about daft military adventurism – their politicians are too busy trying to win the next election, and I’m sorry to say that helping out the less fortune members of our species is something that is frowned upon, not just by the right who don’t want to have to pay for it (more yachts and pies to shove into their fat faces), but even by the left who seem, in the last few years, to have sacrificed their morality on the altar of cultural relativism and a misguided sense of ‘respect’.

There is nothing respectable about what is going on in Somalia.  If you have a shred of feeling for your fellow humans, you’ll agree that this unnecessary suffering  – suffering on a vast scale – must be stopped.  The Somali government can’t stop it, the AU won’t, the Arab league couldn’t give a monkeys, NATO is too tied up in other business and the EU was to lazy to stop genocide on its doorstep in Bosnia and Kosovo, what makes you think it’s going to do anything for some impoverished nation full of religious nutcases?

The depressing but salient truth is that Somalia’s ONLY hope is the UN.  Isn’t that sad?

Because we all know that the UN is about as much use as a KFC on the moon.

The ONLY way out of this mess is if a massive UN force is invited into Somalia by the Somali government (whose jurisdiction currently expends to Mogadishu Airport and Seaport.  That’s it), and operates as Somalia’s army and police force, in a spirit of transparency and accountability (I would embed independent journalists, reps from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty with the soldiers) that was horribly missing from the Iraqi Disaster.  They would have to implement a clear and precise twenty-five year plan to turn around the world’s most failed of failed states.

And anyone who allows human rights abuses, crimes against humanity or genocide happen on their watch GETS THROWN IN JAIL.  Something that should have damn well happened in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur and Rwanda, to name a few.  Listen you twat in the blue helmet, you’re not here to observe, you’re here to keep the peace.  And if that means shooting the crazed maniac with a machete before he butchers a baby to death SO BE IT.

I firmly believe that the UN troops that stood by and watched the last few genocides happen and did nothing about it are just as morally culpable as the Israeli troops that allowed the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps happen in Beirut in the 80s.

In the meantime: we need UN prison ships, set up with the blessing of the Somali government and floating in international waters.  I’m serious.  Catch the pirates, they get a fair trial onboard a UN prison ship and are sentenced, contained and not free to go pirating again.

Or we can ignore the problem and hope it goes away, change the channel and watch X-Factor instead.  I mean, Somalia is a long way away from here isn’t it?

I hear they just caught a 19 year old Somali boy attempting to blow up a Christmas tree lighting event in the USA.  Failed states affect us all.  It’s time we stopped feathering our nests for the fictional ‘next life’ and deal with the real issues are impeding people’s well-being in this one.  Nobody deserves to be born into a life that is nasty, brutish and short.  Nobody.

I’m going off on one here because I just read Dr. Sam Harris’ new book The Moral Landscape and it’s made me very angry about the moral bankruptcy of our national and international institutions.  Read the book, it’s very good.

Day 696: Yes I Awoke

27.11.10:

But only because Dan woke me up.  Groggy and sleep deprived I clambered onto the minibus that would be speeding me back to Kupang.  Bye bye Dili!  The minibus ride to the border was brilliant – there were only two of us onboard so I could sit where I wanted and the seats went all the way back.  I lay down and gazed at the stunning scenery whizzing by: turquoise tinted bays dotted with wooden fishing boats, islands of green rolling hills stretching off into the horizon and fluffy white clouds idly drifting by against a sky of azure blue.

The bus wound its way around the narrow S bends and switchbacks and before long we had arrived at the frontier with Indonesia.  After formalities I WAS BACK in West Timor.  Huzzah!

As soon as I had Indonesian phone coverage, I texted Edwin to let him know I was coming back.  He let me know that the next ferry back to Flores left tomorrow at 4pm.  This was good news (the next ferry didn’t leave until Friday, that would have been a bitch of a wait).

The trip from the border to Kupang wasn’t quite as good as this morning’s – they stopped to pick up loads of people along the way and then when we finally arrived in Kupang they painstakingly dropped everyone off at their houses, even if it meant driving backwards a dirt track for an hour.  I got to Edwin’s around 8pm and pottered around on the internet for a bit, but by 9pm I got the feeling that Edwin wanted to go to bed (Saturdays are pretty sleepy in Kupang, let me tell you).

So I considered going for a walk around town to see if anything was ‘going down’, but instead I thought better of it and headed back to the Lavalon Backpackers and got my head down for the night.

Day 698: The Ende of All Things

29.11.10:

So the ferry pulled into Larantuka port nice and early, around 7am.  Now I just had the small matter of the entirety of Flores to get across.  Cast from your mind any concept of nice straight Roman roads – this is a volcanic jungle baby, and these roads are longer and windier than you would believe.  But, damn what AMAZING scenery.  Vast forests cladding soaring hillsides, valleys of greenest green far below, and when we scoot along the coast the silhouettes of ancient fishing boats rendered by the golden sunbeams glittering in the deep blue waters.

Even better, the stereo on my minibus wasn’t working, so I didn’t have to suffer that dreadful Indonesian musak!  I was also lucky to have a sensible driver – one that didn’t fang it around blind corners whilst overtaking a convoy of trucks.  On top of all that, I managed to bag a front seat so I could plug my laptop into the cigarette socket and write all these lovely diary entries you’ve just wasted a couple of hours reading.  Hee hee.  So it was a extremely pleasant ride to the northern coast town of Maumere and by early afternoon we had arrived.  Wishing to continue stabbing westward, I boarded another minibus down to the south coast, to Ende.

Ende, like all towns in Flores, is a one-horse affair.  It’s claim to fame is that it is Indonesia’s Elba – the (eventual) first president of Indonesia, Soekarno, was exiled here by the Dutch in the 1930s.  It has a handful of pensions and even fewer restaurants.  I ended up walking for an hour just to find some grub, and the place I found (a Chinese gaff – great seafood!) closed at 9pm: I had barely finished my meal.