Things to know
Less of a terminal and more of a congregation, Tasi Tolu is the transport gateway to all points west in Timor Leste.
In theory it’s simple: Indonesian-style bemos and mikrolets wait for passengers before heading to Liquiçá, Gleno, Ermera, Balibo, Maliana and beyond. A simple, straight-forward transaction.
The reality can be slightly different. Visitors can be forgiven if they find the terminal, on the outskirts of Dili, a touch overwhelming. It is, after all, controlled chaos; with transport whizzing around as touts jostle for passengers the whole experience can be unnerving.
It can be noisy, too. Indeed, it’s possible to feel a vehicle’s presence, such are the bassy vibrations emanating from their huge sound systems.
Getting in an empty vehicle can be a double-edged sword. There may be space to stretch out but then the drivers will demonstrate the art of keliling as they scour for custom. An hour or so of this can be a trying experience for even the most patient of passengers. Factor in the heavy humidity compounded by a lack of air conditioning and it’s no wonder tempers can fray.
However, this is not to say the process is a negative one. Far from it. As visitors learn a few hacks – be it tapping a coin on a mikrolet’s handrail when their stop appears or getting a feel for when transport is genuinely about to leave – they’ll feel the country opening up to them.
Our advice: enjoy the ride.
Whilst Tetun is not renowned as a major player in the international language stakes, it is symbolic of its mother country, Timor Leste. As one of two official languages in the former Indonesian province – along with Portuguese – it can represent something of a culture shock. It bristles with a kinetic rhythm and can be totally bewildering to any new arrivals; a packed bemo ride around Dili, for instance, with three or four loud conversations happening at once will prove to be a trying experience.
However, once visitors have settled down and locked into the country’s rhythm, the language itself is easy enough to pick up. Certainly those familiar with Portuguese should have no problems. Timor was a colony of Portugal and while the physical remnants of that time are obvious – in terms of architecture, food and street names, for example – so too is Tetun a cultural vestige of the former occupiers. (Streber Editor: Is that clunky? Let us know in the comments below.)
Since East Timor is not a widely travelled country, with the majority of foreigners living there in NGO, charity or teaching guises, it can be presumed a lot of visitors will be familiar with next-door Indonesia and, by extension, Bahasa. The Indonesian language is also spoken in Dili and should be understood by a lot of people, although this is not applicable everywhere; there are many dialects spread around the country. Heading further away from the capital will increase the need to use even the most basic Tetun.
It could be said that Tetun reflects the youth of Timor, which gained independence from Indonesia in 1999 and became a sovereign state in 2002. The country is still finding its feet after the chaotic and violent parting from its neighbour and there is some confusion about the status of the official language. Some are calling for Portuguese, others want to keep Tetun. It is somehow fitting that a country still in flux should have a language with such a disparate etymology.
This list is by no means definitive but it hopefully gives a flavour of Tetun. It was gleaned from conversations around the country and offers an enlightening glimpse into this most intriguing of nations.
Hello – Elo
Good morning – Bondia
Good afternoon – Botarde
Goodbye – Adeus/Hau ba lai
Please – Favor ida
Thank you (very much) – Obrigadu (barak)
No, thank you – Diak, obrigado
Excuse me – Kolisensa
I’m sorry – Deskulpa
How are you? – Diak ka lai
I’m fine, thank you – Diak, obrigadu
What is your name? – Ita nia naran saida?
My name is… – Han nia saida…
What is this? – Nee saida?
How far is it? – Dook ka lae?
Where is…? – Iha nebee?
How much does it cost? – Nee folin hira?
Where are you going? – Bá neʼebé
I’m going (home) – Haʼu bá (uma)
Home – Uma
Market – Mercado
Hotel – Otél
Airport – Aeroportu
I like your nose – Hau gosta o ita nia inus *
Beard – Hasrahun
Bald – Botak
Bald Englishman – orang ingris botak/gundul
I like to (laugh) – Hau gosta (hamnasa)
Laugh – Hamnasa
Play – Halimar
With you – O ita
I like to watch stars with you again – Hau gosta hare fitun o ita fila fali
Happy to meet you – Contenté hasoru ita
See the way (sign of respect when people are leaving) – Haré daran
I’ve spent one week in Timor Leste – Semana ida ona iha Timor Leste
How long have you been in Timor Leste? – Cleorona iha Timor Leste?
Day – Loron
Week – Semana
Month – Fulan
Year – Tinan
Die (death) – Maté
*We defy you to find any better icebreaker in any language on the planet. From Dili to Gleno to Dare to Maubisse to Aelieu and beyond, any time we used this phrase we were met with uncomprehending silence, then a chuckle followed by a lightbulb above the head and finally mighty laughs and broad smiles as people worked out what we said. It was a fantastic way to meet new people and conversations really flowed after that.
(Tenuous Link Editor: Although an interesting language to learn and simple enough to speak, Tetun is not widely spoken. You will, for example, find it spoken on Watabo’o Beach (presuming you actually come across anyone there) but may struggle to use it in England, Sri Lanka or Morocco. However, those last three destinations are plenty pretty to look at nevertheless.)
Visitors will most likely arrive in by air at Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport with the most popular route being from Denpasar (Bali). Return flights with Nam Air/Sriwijaya Air cost around $200. Air North fly daily from Darwin, Australia and there are also twice weekly flights from Singapore.
A taxi ride into Dili from the airport costs between $5 and $10.