My first experience riding a Microlet in Timor was three days after arriving in Dili I took a microlet from Santacruz to DIT, I’d learnt “Ha’u hakarak ba…” (I want to go to…) and thought I’d give it a go. I arrived at DIT with no change so gave the man a $US1 note, he smiled said thanks and drove off. The next day I paid 25 centavos for the same ride and received a smile and wink for learning quickly. I like microlets; they’re great so here is some information about them. There are ten micro-lets combining to provide what is essentially Dili’s only form of public transport. They are individually coloured and numbered on the front and back from one to ten. Here are their numbers, colours and destinations.
01 – Bright red –> Bekora
02 – Dark green –> Bekora
03 – Bright green –> Maliuana
04 – Dark blue –> Tibesi
05 – Pink –> Manliuana/Lesibutak
06 – Reddish brown –> DIT (Dili Institute Technology)
07 – Lavender –> Ailok Larran – Tibesi
08 – Grey –> Tibesi
09 – Blue –> Bauiru near airport (name unknown)
10 – White –> Tasi Tolu
The three longest microlets are number 10 (18.7kms), 09 (17.9kms) and 03 (17.7kms) 09 and 10 stretch it out with runs going to and passed the airport. 03 does a loop around Largo de Lecidere, Bidau and then heads all the way out to Manleoana, which if you haven’t seen is more populated with corn fields than houses. On the flip side 08 (6.1kms) is the shortest looping around Belide, Matadoru (the UN district) and back to Taibesi.
There is a road in Dili running between Matadoro and Audian which (in terms of microlets) is the most heavily traversed road in Dili. This road is used by the; 01, 05, 06, 07 and 08 microlets. The reason that 50% of microlets use this road is that at the western edge of the Audian, Estadiun (stadium) rotunda (roundabout) is a fairly major microlet terminal. All five microlets stop there and this is where many start and finish. This means they are there for longer than the average brief pickup/drop-off. It also makes a good starting point for people less well versed in hailing and interacting with microlets.
At the roundabout three of the five (04, 07 and 08) turn right and head towards Belide and Hari Laran and end up at the Taibesi mercado. This causes a large overlap. A staggering 84% of the 08 route is covered by the 04. However the 07 travels all the way to Ailok Larran (see map). The small stretch of road not covered by the 04 (a grand total of 960 meters) is almost entirely covered by 07 on its way back to Taibesi from Ailok Larran; opening the argument that the 08 microlet could be redundant. Having said that, there may be aspects to the use of the 08 that I did not learn while traveling and recording routes. In the photo below the colour of 08 has been changed to yellow so display the extent to which it is covered by the 04 and 07.
The case of 01 and 02 is slightly different, both go to Bekora but both have carved out distinctly separate communities in Dili to pick up. 02 travels through Bidau, Rua Maria Marques (city café) and then up to the stadium. Alternatively 01 turns left after the bridge and heads up to Hari Laran, then through maskarina to matadoru (the UN buildings) and then back to Rua Audian where it joins with 02 and together they make the 4.5km trek back to Bekora. Despite their different neighbourhoods 01 and 02 still have a 25% overlap.
Ownership and Management
The microlet drivers that I spoke with either owned their microlet or were driving the microlet of a family member. When I asked about hypothetically setting up a microelt of my own I was told that while I could purchase a microlet, I would not be able to decide my own route but instead would have to visit the department of transportation where a number and route would be assigned. If this is indeed the case, then microlets in Dili represent a hybrid of privately owned vehicles operating under a government mandated management structure. The department of transportation controls the routes that microlets use and the number of microlets that use them.
How much should you pay? The most recent report from the World Bank on Timorse transport states that “Bus routes and fares are at this time unregulated” (http://go.worldbank.org/KVSPYH8GI0) and in regards to fares this is certainly the case, during my time I paid fees between 1 US Dollar and 10 Centavos. I have seen Timorese people pay far too much and too little. The good news is that it is mainly guess work. If you go a few blocks then some silver is fine. When I travelled from Audian to DIT (a little over 5kms) I paid 25 centavos and this was crossing the city. If you pay too little you will be told so and if you should receive change you'll generally recieve it. Importantly act as though you understand the system and know you should receive change.
07, 04 and 08 go to the market in Tibesi but importantly go passed Hari Laran. As such they can be useful if intending to change to angunas (longer distance transport) for further travel to Aileu or other further districts. Unfortunately the differences between numbers 04 and 09(shades of blue), and 02 and 03 (shades of green) are complicated by varying qualities of paint job, so keep an eye out for the numbers which are almost always painted in black on the front and back.
06 goes to the end of Aimutin Road however for the use of Malai 06 usually stops at the intersection of Aimutin and the road leading to DIT which can be very convenient. I had finished at DIT by the time I got around to doing this but had I known the routes earlier I would have also used 03 which passes within a block and a half of DIT on the way to an extensive clothes market near Manleoana. At the time of recording this map (June 2014) Dili was undergoing extensive road works and as such I quickly discovered that routes are subject to change. Aiming for longer term accuracy the map shows the standard routes as described by drivers.
Standing in the Doorway
This isn’t for everyone but I have thoroughly enjoyed my time ‘Sai iha odamatan’ (ride in the door). However while this is fun and a great way to experience Dili, I have a few words of advice.
USE YOUR EYES: While microlet drivers are for the most part very good, praise cannot be given for the way trucks are packed. As stated Dili was experiencing road works and this involved the transportation of large quantities of steel reinforcing which frequently extended a long way over the back. To make a long story short these are dangerous so keep a look out.
STAND AT THE FRONT: It is not uncommon to see three, four or five people all riding in the doorway at this point it is probably better to move inside but even when alone; standing at the front has two major benefits. Firstly greater visibility, secondly Timorese people may feel comfortable holding on with one hand but I certainly didn’t. Standing at the front allows you to use your right hand through the side door and your left hand through the passenger’s window to hold on.
Yes, taxis are cheap in Dili! This is not news, a bit of bargaining will get you across town for $2 if you’re stubborn and $3 if you’re not. And while Micro-lets are EVEN cheaper (25 centavos for the same ride) money is not why I enjoy them. Micro-lets are a fantastic way to see Dili, experience local life, explore some of the more remote areas of Dili and not be such a malai. It can also provide a captive audience to practice your Tetun. Riding all ten gave me a much greater understanding of the geography of Dili and I found places that I would have never discovered before. It also provides an opportunity to be part of the daily Dili commute. You’ll ride with school children, professionals, men and women carrying chickens. You will be at times the centre of attention, an oddity, but smile and make a joke of it and everyone will be happier for the experience.