A Timor Adventure by David Carlos
It’s four in the morning at Darwin Airport the gateway to the world’s newest destination and launching pad for our big adventure. There’s me, my mate and his ridiculous $2 shop bright blue plastic crate. The crates already cracked, it’s been dropped and stood on in the struggle to extract passport and photo ID while balancing his helmet on the counter that’s just too narrow.
‘Whadaya mean I can’t take it as hand luggage?’
Lesson one, check and double check the fine print. My mate, doing everything he can to consolidate his profile as a terrorist is struggling to stuff his helmet into my spare day pack so it can be safely stowed. The cue behind rapidly grows. Do I sound smug? Well maybe a little, having done my research I’ve got a self designed compact bike luggage system stored along with my helmet and small number of carefully selected indispensible items for the ride around East Timor.
The hour long flight is over before my mates finished bitching and its “Bondia” Timor Leste, the eagle has landed!
We’ve got just over two weeks and a small half island to conquer. On our left there’s the petrol station as promised. We jump out of the beaten up taxi, and shout a hearty “adeus and obrigada” to our first new mate in Timor and race towards our much anticipated mighty Honda Mega Pro’s. Oh all right I confess the thought of an ugly little Indonesian built Honda 160cc had not set our hearts on fire but as we stare at them face to fuel tank I have a feeling that these ugly little workhorses might just be the best way to tackle the roads we’d been warned about.
Leg one: The East Coast.
Navigating our way out of Dili early the next morning proves a little more difficult than anticipated. I have never seen so many four wheel drives and one way streets. Eventually we leave the diesel behind and are rewarded with a sweeping aquamarine panorama as far as our red sore eyes could see. This is what we’d come for. The road from Dili to Baucau is 135km of ocean hugging hair pin ends. The mighty Mega Pro’s were in their element.
Baucau turned out to be a contradictory mix of ugly new road side markets and a crumbling old town. The deserted and half ruined Portuguese market place stood as a silent reminder of the unspeakable horrors of the recent past. The aptly named Hotel Flamboyant a proud pink flamingo of a building we discovered was a great place for a relaxing beer and steak. Wandering down an ally way the next morning I was drawn to the squeals of kids who I found mucking around in a natural spring while women went about the more serious business of doing the family washing.
The local police had told us that the road to Com was fine. True enough it presented few difficulties apart from the odd chook and a mongrel that was disinclined to move off the road. Lunch in Com was our first gastronomic surprise. Just when we had given up and my mate was digging around in the blue plastic crate for a jar of Vegemite our host appeared with two freshly caught fish, lunch was to be served.
Now if you have heard anything about East Timor you will know it has a pristine marine environment and we were about to experience it first hand. There was only one problem the “road” from Tutuala to the beach. This is where my mate came into his own “Come on ya big Nancy girl get back on ya bike”. It took us the best part of an hour and twenty minutes to slip and slide down that steep excuse for a road with the constant nagging thought that unless we took up residence on the beach below we’d have to get back up! Let me reassure you, we did make it and Jaco Island, just a short boat ride away, was one of the highlights of our trip. It was the stuff that picture postcards are made of absolutely gorgeous, not to be missed.
Leg 2: The Mountains.
It was in the main drag of Ainaro that we encountered our first East Timorese road sign in the form of a log poking out a hole in the middle of the road. Later I saw another one that had been there so long it had taken root and sprouted. The road out of Ainaro wound upwards and occasionally opens out to reveal tantalizing glimpses of trellised rice paddies and traditional villages with smoke billowing out of palm frond huts.
We were hot on the trail of our second must see must do highlight, East Timor’s most sacred and highest mountain Mt Ramelau. To get there we had a 15 km, one hour ride over what felt like huge cobble stones. Of course we made it, surprised ourselves by climbing the mountain without either of us having an asthma attack and made it back to Maubisse for a beer at the Pausada, another relic of Portuguese times.
It certainly pays to be in town on market day. The next day my mate was delighted to find a pair of replacement jeans that would actually fit him and clearly made the local stall holder’s decade, it was pretty obvious he’d never thought he would off load a pair of jeans that big.
Leg 3: The West Coast.
We’d met a guy from the Australian Army who gave us some great information about places to stay and things to see out West. It turns out his information was spot on about the good bits as well as the not so good bits. We saw some amazing hot springs, visited the infamous town of Balibo, and went to a great market, stayed in a curious hotel that only had four rooms available because the keys to the other six rooms were nowhere to be found.
We’d ridden many km’s of bad roads when finally after a long tough day of riding we reached our real destination, a reward that every motorcyclist seeks, the best road in the country. Built by the Japanese just a few years ago, it winds its way from the coast to the mountains, a smooth surface with sweeping bends. I threw caution to the wind and opened up the throttle and unleashed all 160cc’s of power at my disposal. I can’t remember if I hit 64km’s or 65km’s per hour but regardless I had smashed my previous speed record for the trip and then I thought, what’s my hurry? The trip will be over soon enough after all, it’s not the destination but the journey that’s the thing.
Would I do it again?
Dave was so inspired by his ride and the magic of East Timor that he has set up the very first motorcycle tours to operate in East Timor with his wife aptly named ‘Timor Adventures’.
We’ve also interviewed Dave’s wife, Shirley about Timor Adventures which you can read here.