Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merpati Madness – East Timor 12th December 2008

We have 3 airlines that fly into East Timor: Air North from Darwin who gives you a ridiculously small luggage allowance for a ridiculously high airfare. Austasia who have recently started a route from Singapore which opens up that market, but also some Europeans who are banned from flying on any Indonesian airlines because of their bad safety record. And finally Merpati to Bali, who are Indonesia’s domestic carrier but charge an international price.

This is soon to change as East Timor is setting up their own airline to fly to Darwin and Bali, which should stop the monopoly. But at the moment you have one airline depending on your destination.

The Merpati experience is one to be endured rather than enjoyed. Every 3 months the price seems to increase, but you don’t have a choice if you want to get to Bali. The flight is functional, you certainly don’t expect any frills, and if there is anything edible in the stone cold lunchbox they give you, it’s a surprise. It’s even more of a surprise if they manage to give you customs card on the plane, unfortunately they were the wrong ones and we had to repeat the form filling process again when arriving in Dili.

Because my working week is more weekend intensive I tend to fly weekdays, so have never encountered the mass exodus on a long weekend. Last weekend was a public holiday so the Merpati flight was full, or should I say overbooked by 10 people. Rather than addressing this at check-in, they waited until everyone was in the departure lounge which is not a pleasant place, with ineffectual air conditioning which had broken completely that day, gross toilets and no water available to buy (plenty of gin and whisky though). After 2 hours Merpati basically told their customers that they were overbooked and had to ‘cull’ themselves! You can imagine how this went down!

Eventually 10 people did give up their seats and the remaining passengers were herded towards the plane only to find their luggage had been unloaded, apparently the plane was too heavy. So one hundred people protested on the runway. This is supposed to be an International Airport!

I’m not sure how it all got resolved but the plane landed in Bali 4 hours late minus some poor sods luggage, and most of the passengers who had connecting flights of course had missed them. So the Customer Service award East Timor style has to go to Merpati this year.

Last week the Dive Centre gained PADI 5 Star status which we were all really pleased about and celebrated with a few bottles of fizzy plonk. To get 5 star status you need to satisfy certain criteria in continuing education, reef conservation and also have a generally nice dive centre with changing facilities, retail shop etc. In the lead up to our application the place had a distinct feel of building site at times, a new storeroom was built, the old storeroom was turned into a toilet and shower and just when we thought the rubble, cement and noise had finished, my boss decided we needed a huge wall sized water feature with our logo on it. It does look fab now it’s finished though.

This water feature is becoming a bit of a mystery though. First the pump worked intermittently which meant we had stagnant water which is breeding ground for mosquitoes. A couple of scientists who were doing research on dengue fever confirmed that we had the dengue larva in the water. An easy remedy is to put fish in the water that eat the larva, so Megan came round with some fish for us. The very next day the fish had disappeared.

We worked out the problem with the pump, due to a slow leak, the water level dropped and the pump works on water pressure, so by topping up the water, the pump works and gone is our dengue problem as the water is always moving. Two days ago one of my UNPOL customers presented me with a present of a terrapin that he had found in a puddle in the middle of the main road. So we stuck the strangely named terrapin, Felicity, into the pond at the bottom of the water feature and an upturned shell so she could sunbathe and hide under it. The next day the terrapin had disappeared!

This morning, John showed me a bucket of fish he had bought to put into the pond, these were more of the dengue larva eating type. This afternoon I returned after lunch and the fish were gone! Now I know we have a lot of stray cats round here but this is getting ridiculous.

We also had another visitor a few days ago, I turned around to see Rita shooing a huge crab through the house with a dustpan and brush, it made me giggle as it kept changing direction causing Rita to run around in circles.

Another mystery occurred on Tuesday when I walked into the office and found one of the security cameras facing the wall. We installed CCTV after the traditional method of the Lulic Man didn’t identify the thief and we decided a more modern approach may be needed. As the camera facing the wall was very suspicious, the whole nights footage was played, nothing at all went on until 8 a.m. when on screen came Zelia with her feather duster and knocked the camera round. Mystery solved.

We have already got into the Christmas spirit here; on the 2nd of December I gave Zelia a long list of shopping, paint, vinegar, pens, toilet roll and a Christmas tree. I was worth it just to see her face light up, she was so excited. I returned back in the afternoon to be presented with a garish, over decorated, multicoloured plastic tree, but the staff like it and that’s all that counts. So we are suitably decorated for our Xmas party and 5 Star celebration on the 16th. Although attendance may be a bit low as everyone is dropping like flies here due to a horrible stomach bug that’s going around. It lingers on and on and the weight loss in people has been dramatic.

There has been a big clean up around town getting rid of the market stalls. The stalls were illegal and in some cases like the Pertamina market, a bit of a safety issue as people would park on a bend to use the market. Apparently the only stalls that are allowed outside official market places are those that are on wheels as they are considered vehicles. So now the vendors have to go back to the official market places if they want to trade. The place looks completely different.

East Timor had a big quake last week 6.3 and the bed moved for me again. I’m getting used to it now.

We have had a load of tourists in recently, real genuine ones that have come here solely to dive, not visa runs or visiting relatives. We had a couple from Holland who were both instructors and had been diving for 27 years and only had enough time to dive for one day here. In all the years of diving, neither had seen a dugong in the water. On their second dive my friendly dugong playmate from a couple of months ago came back to the same spot and repeated his playtime for 10 minutes. It must like visiting instructors.

We have also had loads of squid spawning and a few humpback whales. Although the rain has come early this year and the visibility is dropping. Time to teach search and recovery and navigation courses again.

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