How to drive in Dili

DiliTimor Leste

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You know that saying – dance like nobody’s watching, love like you’ve never been hurt, drive like you’ve never heard of road rules? That’s the Timor way.

Here’s some helpful tips I’ve picked up in my first two weeks as a car owner.

1. Veer all over the road. The dotted line markings are not even a guide, they’re just for decoration. Actually driving in a straight line is unpredictable and confuses other road users.
2. Only use your indicators when you need to cut across three lanes of traffic (note — these are obviously driver-created lanes) to turn right when you are on the far left of the road.
3. If you drive a state car, no accident will ever be your fault, so you should try to create as many as possible.
4. Headlights at dusk or at night just waste petrol — let other road users know that you are driving the wrong way up a one-way road that has no streetlights by playing Indopop loudly from your car radio instead.
5. Either drive verrrrrrry slowly (to save petrol, obviously) or verrrrrrry fast. In dangerous or complex driving situations (kids just out of school walking along road, blind corners etc), you should drive fast, while in average driving conditions, you should drive so slowly that the person behind you actually stalls the car in second gear because her car technically thinks its not moving.
6. Take the ‘middle lane’, especially on two-way roads.
7. Be vigilant for potholes! Some of them are so big they could swallow a compact Korean car. If you see one, don’t slow down too much, just swerve into the incoming traffic.
8. If you need phone pulsa (credit) or the newspaper, it’s no problem for you to block traffic while you buy some from the dude standing on the corner.

Obviously I’m being facetious here, but in all seriousness, driving in Dili is pretty challenging. It’s a small town, but it is dominated by one way streets and a chronic shortage of signage indicating which streets are one-way. There are potholes everywhere and some of them are huge and could cause serious damage to your vehicle (especially if you are driving a compact/small car with low clearance). People do just veer all over the road and there’s also bicycles, motorcycles, animals and pedestrians to contend with, as well as the other cars… and the microlets, which will just turn out into oncoming traffic after picking up/dropping passengers without looking. Add to the mix the internationals, most of whom probably should know better but some of whom also come from countries that aren’t known for road safety — plus the fact that a lot of people are driving giant 4WDs that they don’t actually own (the UN and some Timorese civil servants, for example), perhaps reducing the care and attention that they may have if they were driving their own personal vehicles that they were financially responsible for. Drink driving is fairly common on the weekends as well.

Compared to Jakarta, there’s not really any traffic jams (though some people still complain about it), but the main delays are usually on Comoro Road, often caused by the slow driving phenomenon as much as vehicle volume.

And then there’s the neighbourhoods and roads you are supposed to avoid at night so you don’t get a rock through your windscreen.

I’ve driven a lot in my life and it’s definitely up there with some of the most challenging city/town driving I’ve done. It does get much easier though once you learn where the biggest baddest potholes are. But you also never know when a repaired one might re-open!

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