Timor’s strong cup of freedom
“My first ever cup of coffee was in somewhat distinguished circumstances!”, writes Jane Crouch, Intrepid’s Responsible Travel Manager. “It was May 2003 and Timor-Leste (East-Timor) had just celebrated their first anniversary of the restoration of independence, and our Intrepid group was invited for coffee early one Sunday morning to the home of Jose Ramos-Horta – Timor-Leste’s then Foreign Minister.”
“I still recall how spirited I felt all day. Was it the caffeine in that tiny but powerful cup? Or was it the circumstances and the company? No doubt it was the whole combination… and I still feel a tingle down my spine as I recall the day and my anticipation of a brighter future for this emerging independent nation, that had chosen freedom from Indonesian rule and oppression.
Ten years on and many Intrepid Timor-Leste trips later – Timor is becoming better equipped to welcome visitors. If you’re after smooth roads, efficient transport and luxury accommodation, you’re still best to delay your trip to Timor for a few more years. But if you are after genuine warm welcomes without the crowds, adventure, spectacular scenery, history and some very special times engaging with your local hosts, then go soon! It’s nearly the end of the wet season, heralding a great time for visitors and there are 4 action-packed Intrepid Timor-Leste departures to choose from between June and September.
And there’ll be coffee! See it growing along the way as you wind your way up to Maubisse. See it drying by the roadside and being bagged up and weighed, en route to anywhere in the world. Much of it is certified as ‘Fair Trade’ and the highly prized Arabica beans are sought after in international markets. And of course, drink some… no guarantees of invitations to dignitaries’ homes, but there are some great options. Try Kafe Aroma in Dili, where many of the young girls working there are receiving hospitality training and employment as part of the rehabilitation and care they receive at Casa Vida (House of Life), a home for young female victims of abuse. Head inside and you can check out the freshly baked cake options, or outside in the courtyard, relax in the sun or the shade.
There’s much to see in this compact and mountainous land. The first week of Intrepid’s trip includes winding our way up through hilltop villages, an optional pre-dawn trek to the summit of Mt Ramelau, which at 2,986 metres is the country’s highest peak and from where you can watch the sun rise over the land. Our descent over the southern side of Timor-Leste’s mountainous spine takes us through rain forest and verdant fields of corn, rice and sugar, to the south coast and the district of Covalima.
During our day and two nights in the town of Suai, there’s much to see and learn, including the local history, the agriculture, the border post with Indonesian West Timor, local tais weaving and ceramics, the tasi mane, or southern ‘male’ sea and beaches… where bathers beware, crocodiles are common and often lurking in the coastal lagoons. You can even see where oil has bubbled out of the ground – a reminder of possible developments to come.
After a trip back to Dili via the rolling hills of Bobonaro and the small, but infamous town of Balibo, we hit the tasi feto, or northern ‘female’ sea, travelling out to the isle of Atauro. If it’s later in the season, watch out for whales and dolphins along the way! Bathing, snorkelling, strolling through the small fishing villages and meeting the locals, or simply lazing in a hammock with a good book – the choice is yours.
The last leg of our adventure takes us east along a spectacular ocean-skirting road to Timor’s second biggest town of Baucau. There we’ll engage in the local music and arts, potter through the market, visit a beautiful beach to relax or swim, and take a day trip to Venilale, where there’s more varied agriculture to see, historical sights, beautiful lush scenery and delightful people to meet.
Further east we visit Los Palos and a fantastic tais weaving cooperative, the Tutuala region and the nation’s first National Park, plus there’s a chance to visit the delightful tear drop of an island at Timor’s eastern end – Jaco. The waters here are a turquoise so vivid – that you’ll be double checking that your sun glasses aren’t playing a trick on you.
Timor-Leste 10 years on – still much to be done, but there’s much to celebrate – freedom being number one. I can’t wait until my next trip… and the chance to make more lovely Timorese friends and maybe even catch up with old mates over a cup of coffee.”
Photos: Melanie enjoying a local festival and idyllic Jaco Island, by Jane Crouch.