The hazards of the road

The chicken wandering across a dirt road, the skinny dog scrounging for tidbits, the runty looking pig – these are surely third world cliches.  Every movie set in any third world country will feature each of these three creatures at some point, whether the action is in South America or South-East Asia.  And of course cliches become cliches for a reason.  I can’t speak for South America or indeed for most of the developing world, but in Timor Leste the chicken-skinny dog-runty pig triumvirate reigns supreme.

Timorese chicken

There are quite a few hazards on the roads waiting to trap the unsuspecting cyclist, especially in an event like the Tour de Timor.  All the other cyclists for a start.  Especially the Timorese cyclists, who don’t seem to have the same ideas of bunch riding etiquette, or sometimes much idea of where their bike actually is on the road.  They swerve and brake unexpectedly, they surge and fade regularly, and riding beside or behind them might not be your safest option.

Skinny dog

There are the potholes of course, and the washed out sections of road, and the steep drop offs.  There are the great horizontal trenches across the road, in some places every hundred metres or so, a legacy of the Indonesian withdrawal after the referendum of 1999.

Runty pig

There are the rocks, the loose scree, the steep climbs and the precipitous descents.
But these all pale to insignificance compared to the livestock.  From out of nowhere a dog will wander across the road, perhaps lazily looking for somewhere else to lie down for a while.  Or a chicken will step purposely onto the road in search of bugs to eat.  Perhaps followed by its friend the pig.  No road sense at all.
There are cows, water buffalo and goats as well, but they seem to behave a bit more predictably, and in any case, they tend to be easier to see from a distance.
I met a rider in East Timor who lives about half his year in a village in West Timor, and the other half of his year in Rye, on the Mornington Peninsula.  For the purpose of narrative simplicity, rather than referring to him as “that man from West Timor slash Rye”, I’ll call him George.   Since his name actually is George this will help him to find reference to himself if he happens to be reading my blog, and will differentiate him from all the other expat Aussies who divide their lives between Rye and a small island off the coast of West Timor.  In a former life he had a successful business and a love of surfing which led him around Indonesia and its islands looking for good beaches, and now that his business is sold he’s decided to make a life (or half a life) in the spot that he liked the best.   I figured he would be the guy to ask for information about the local chicks.  (You know which ones I mean.)   Turns out that they are all for eating, and not for laying eggs.  Getting fresh eggs is hard apparently, at least in West Timor, where they are shipped down from battery farms on Java.  George likes his fresh eggs so much that he has funded a 100 chicken egg farm in ‘his’ village and now enjoys beautiful cackleberries on a daily basis, and no doubt makes a bit of money on the side.
By the way, if you think a weekender off the coast of West Timor sounds good, spare a thought for the process of just getting there.  From Melbourne George can fly direct to Bali.  Fine so far.  From Bali he can fly to Kupang in West Timor, from where he has a bus and then a ferry ride before getting to Roti.  Look it up on google maps if you care to.  I think it takes him a couple of days of serious travelling just to get there.  So “weekender” it ain’t.  When I left Dili last week George and his son were busy trying to negotiate a Microlet ride to the border, where they would have to find another Microlet (minibus) to take them across the bumpy bumpy bumpy roads that lead to their home.  Probably a couple of days of hard travelling lay ahead of them.   But I digress.
The chickens wander freely about the village, and everyone knows which chicken belongs to which house.  Somehow.
Furthermore, although they appear half starved and have more ribs than a catwalk during fashion week, the dogs don’t eat the chickens.  I imagine it’s because they first met the chickens when they were just tiny pups, and the chickens have been bluffing them ever since.  I can’t think of a better explanation.  George thinks it’s because the dogs know that they’ll get a good whack if they go near the chickens, but that doesn’t seem enough for me.  Hunger is hunger, after all.
The pigs don’t look starved, they just look runty.  Squat, hairy little grey-black things that look more like a wild boar out of an Asterix book that any of the wild boars I saw in Europe ever did.  They wander around wherever they like, including across the road, and do as they please.  But again, everyone knows which pig belongs where, and more surprising, so do the pigs.  Someone will stand up and whistle, and his pig, and only his pig, will come running for a feed.   Then I suppose one day they whistle the pig and rather than a bowl awaiting there is some cutlery.  In the mean time they seem much happier than any pink pig in any Australian pig farm that I’ve ever visited, and that oughta count for something.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra Smith
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 13:49:17

    A menagerie of wholesome fun somewhat!


  2. Heidi
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 17:45:54

    I’m assuming the dogs don’t eat the pigs either. Amazing!


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