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Day 693: A Red Background


Today’s adventures centre around my efforts to get a new Indonesian visa.

Indonesia, being a bit of an awkward sod, only allows you to pick up visas at certain border crossings, and the one from East Timor ain’t one of them.  So in order to get on with the next stage of the journey – overland and overseas to West Papua – I need to totter off to the Indonesian Embassy here in Dili, fill out MORE BLOODY VISA FORMS and wait a few days for my application to be approved.  Ho Hum.

So I get to the Indonesian Embassy bright and early.  I took a visa form and was very careful to fill it out in BLACK INK (blue ink is NOT allowed – they take this very seriously) and then handed it over with a passport-sized photo of my mug – you know, the same one I’ve used to get visas for over one hundred countries and I’ve used for my last two passports.

But no!  Haven’t you heard?  You photo needs a red background.




So it was an expensive taxi ride across town in the scorching morning sun to the photo shop.  There they used my camera to take a shot of me against a bit of red card that had been gaffered to the wall (I guess other bules had gone through the same such nonsense).  The guys photoshop skills were sadly lacking, so I had to step in and crop my own photo.  Soon enough I had a A5 printout of about twenty little pics of yours truly against the damn red background, nineteen of which would be COMPLETELY USELESS as every other embassy in the world demands a WHITE background.

As my History and Politics teacher once said to me: Don’t try to be different lad, you’re not smart enough to be different.*

This process took the best part of the morning and by the time I got back to the embassy it was nearly lunchtime.  I handed in my form (in BLACK ink) and my photo (with the RED background).

Are you living in Dili?

No, I’m a tourist.

Oh, sorry – you have to write a letter.

A letter?

Yes.  A letter explaining why you want to come to Indonesia.




Wow, in 183 countries and 23 months of travel, this was a new one on me.  Not only do you have to be on no terrorist watch-lists and not be wanted by Interpol to visit Indonesia, you have to write them a pretty letter saying how great their country is.  The template they gave me to copy from was hilarious, it just kept on banging on about how great Indonesia is.

I considered writing…

Dear Mr Pain-In-The-Arse, 

I wish to come to your country because I’m trying to get around the world without flying and, by a quirk of geography, your nation happens to be in the way of me getting to Palau and Papua New Guinea.

All the best,


PS. You smell.

But what I really wrote was…

To Whom It May Concern,

I wish to visit Indonesia on holiday.  I intend to travel overland to Kupang in West Timor and from there travel to Flores and visit the world famous Komodo dragons.  I then wish to travel to Sulawesi and enjoy the unique culture and way of life that I’ve heard so much about.

After that I will be travelling to West Papua to visit the Raja Ampat area, which I hear is the best diving destination in the world.

I come as a tourist in peace, love and mutual respect for your people and culture.

Yours sincerely,


And handed it in.  The best thing about a letter is that you can’t hear the sarcastic tone.**

What a palaver!

After that bureaucratic ordeal, it was time for bed.  It was a real dog day afternoon and – maybe I should have said earlier, but I have a couple of REALLY NASTY insect bites on the crook of my elbow which I got a couple of days ago in Kupang.  They could have been done by a spider or, given the way they are spaced out, I could make out that I was bitten by a snake.  Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.  It was a snake!  A big one!!  But at least I got a nice new belt.  I bought some cortisone cream from the pharmacy across the way last night, but it seemed to make it worse.  The skin was broken and looked necrotic and they had produced a large bruise which made moving my left arm excessively painful.


The best thing for all concerned (which was admittedly just me) would be to go to sleep and hope for some magic to occur in the dreamtime.

I woke up in the evening and had a Tiger beer with Dan.  East Timor has no national brewery.  Maybe that could be Dan’s next business venture.

One thing that utterly sucked about my timing in arriving in Dili was that no one but two people I knew were here last weekend and I missed them.  One was a guy called Matthew Lumby who has been following my progress online and fancied meeting up for a swift half.  The other was Rocco, my cameraman and comrade in arms from Ghana to Gabon last year.  Rocco shares the same puerile and inappropriate sense of humour as me and we got on like a house on fire.  Rocco had been working on a film over here.

Happily, though, some of Rocco’s mates were still here, and one of them, Nick, agreed to meet up for a few jars and a natter.  We grabbed some food in a decent (and, more importantly, fairly cheap) Chinese joint and then headed over to the Castaway Bar on the waterfront, carefully avoiding the massive number of UN vehicles parked outside.  The Castaway was teaming with UN staff.  You know, once they leave, the economy here is going to crash like a drunken chauffeur in Paris being chased by the Paparazzi.

*Said by Mr. Caulfield, simultaneously the best and the worst teacher of all time, after I handed in an essay in which my written ‘a’s looked like printed ‘a’s, ie. with the tail on top.  He was right, I wasn’t smart enough to be different.  But that was then…


**Talking of school, I was once given a dressing-down by Mr. Ling for saying the daily assembly bible reading in a sarcastic tone of voice.  True!

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Isabella

    Graham! I love what you do! if ever get the chance, I’ll do it myself, your sarcastic humor is hillarious 🙂

    Saludos desde México 😀

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