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Last year Luke and I decided to venture to East Timor for our next holiday. Having lived in Darwin for a couple of years, we had heard some great things about East Timor and were keen to experience it for ourselves.We arrived early one morning in late September, quite unprepared but optimistic that we’d be able to pull off our one-week adventure! The flight from Darwin was short but gave us a spectacular view of first Timor’s mountainous landscape, then a sweeping view of Dili and the famous Jesus statue as our plane took a steep turn before landing.

In short, our stay in Timor consisted of:

Day 1 – Dili – Mt Ramelau
Day 2 – Mt Ramelau – Dili
Day 3 – Dili
Day 4 – Dili – Bacau – Tutuala
Day 5 – Jaco Island
Day 6 – Tutuala – Bacau – Dili
Day 7 – Dili

Day 1
Luke and I checked in to our hotel soon after arriving in Dili, and we ventured upstairs for breakfast in the beautiful eating area at La Esplanada. We sat down, breathing a sigh of relief that we were now in East Timor and started planning what we’d do for the day. Luke spotted a guy sitting just behind us, who looked like a friendly enough fellow-Aussie. We went over and introduced ourselves with the intention of just getting some tips on what to do (and not do) in Timor, and that’s how we met the lovely Jason! It turned out to be a turning point of our holiday – not only did Jason give us some great advice, but we ended up spending quite a bit of our week together. But for now we had a quick chat and then let him get on with his breakfast.

About half an hour later as we were leaving the hotel to explore Dili, we heard someone call our names – it was Jason! Since we’d left him, he and a couple of friends had decided to do an overnight trip to Mt Ramelau, the highest peak in East Timor. Luke and I had both read about Mt Ramelau, but hadn’t planned that it would part of our trip. But when the option came up we thought ‘why not?’ – this guy seems pretty nice and normal, and what a great opportunity to piggy back along with some people that actually know the country!

We packed our bags for the night ahead and walked to Jason’s house. Along the way we walked through back streets, encountering a range of animals and some curious stares from children and adults alike. When we arrived, we stepped inside and met the two girls who were also coming – Jo and Jess. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we knew Jess through a mutual friend – the first of many coincidences we found in Timor!

The drive to Mt Ramelau was long, windy, steep in parts and very bumpy. Luke and I quickly realised that in Australia, we certainly take smooth roads for granted! The 70 km road took hours to travel along, but it was a great opportunity to get to know Jason, Jo and Jess and quiz them on Timor. As the day passed we drove through the beautiful Maubisse and on to the furthest point we could drive. The most treacherous part of the drive was right towards the end… I remember looking over my left shoulder and seeing a sheer cliff face underneath us (nice work on getting us there alive Jo!)

As dusk approached and we were winding towards the mountain, we saw a motorbike ahead with two people on it, bumping along. As we got closer Luke and I realised they were Tim and Lara, friends from Darwin! It was amazing that we should bump into the here, in such a remote spot! From this point on we became a convoy and added two more to our little troupe. We arrived at the beginning of the walking track after dark and set off on the journey up Mt Ramelau.

We walked for 2-3 hours in the dark, up the mountain to our destination, a couple of huts about ¾ of the way to the top from our cars. We eventually arrived and, once we had cooled down from the walk quickly realised how cold it was!

Day 2
After a chilly night huddled together in a one-man tent, Luke and I got up before dawn to start walking up Mt Ramelau. The group of us walked for about 30-45 minutes to the top. We were not only greeted by breath-taking views, but at just under 3000m above sea level, the top of Mt Ramelau delivered the the coldest, whippiest winds I have ever experienced! As we watched the sun rise, our surroundings come to life with the light but the wind and cold didn’t ease at all! I will always remember seeing the shadow of the mountain as we all stood around huddled in blankets.
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The drive back to Dili was much as the drive there – long, windy and full of pot holes! We were all a little rugged by the time we reached our hotel that night. But Luke and I had been in Timor less than two days and we had already done a lot, and made some great new friends.

Day 3

Luke and I opted for a quiet-ish day exploring Dili itself. We tried to find our way around, and after a few hours of wandering and looking ended up at the Jesus beach (Cristo Rei) for the afternoon. We hatched a plan to travel east for the next couple of days, as we had heard that Jaco Island was an amazing spot. By this stage we had also discovered that the Timorese had a particular knack for making frothy coffees, which was a welcome surprise!Day 4
We got up early, hired a car and bought lots of provisions for our trip. Surprisingly, one thing we couldn’t find was a map – in hindsight this was something we definitely should have brought with us! We eventually found a map of the whole of Timor, showing a road that looked to go toward Tutuala – but not with any great detail!

We set out along the beautiful cost east of Dili. We drove along for hours, dodging pot holes, passing through little coastal towns, and eventually arrived in Bacau for a quick lunch stop. By this stage it was mid afternoon and we knew we still had quite a bit of driving ahead. After a few false starts (going the wrong way) we were on our way again. We were still driving as the sun was setting and then it got dark… and eventually we rolled into a town that we thought must be Tutuala! We could smell the ocean so knew we were close… but again we took a while to get on to the right track to take us to Walu Beach. The road down was quite crazy! There were still heaps of kids coming up from the beach, a long walk in the dark! It was a steep and slippery drive, and I have to say I did have doubts that we’d make it up again. Eventually we got to the bottom and found what we were looking for, the little huts and fishermen right on the beach. Our hut faced right out onto the ocean. We cooked our dinner on a little fire we made on the rocks and settled in for the night.

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Day 5
Day 5 was such a memorable day, as we travelled over to Jaco Island by boat and spent the day on the beautiful island. I will always remember stepping on to the beach, and spotting a turtle first thing! I dumped all my gear and jumped in the water, and the turtle was the first thing I saw under water! This was so amazing for me as I’ve been snorkelling in quite a few places, but turtles have always been the prize find, and something you don’t come across very often!
The fish and coral were among the best I’ve seen and the water was divine – Jaco was a wonderful place to visit and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Timor who has time to make it out there. It’s a long journey but definitely worth the effort!
The next morning we started the journey back to Dili, with two new friends we had met, Alex and Flo. Believe it or not, Alex lived in the same suburb that I had grown up in back in Adelaide! We made lots of stops on the way back, including a quick stop at K41, one of the dive sites closer to Dili.Luke won’t be happy about me sharing this next story but… We needed fuel for the hire car as we passed through Bacau on our way home. The old fuel pump Luke picked up said unleaded… but unfortunately he missed the benson and solar signs above and started pumping diesel into our unleaded only Rav 4!

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Luckily the petrol station had it’s own pit, and before long a crowd of enthusiastic men, young and old, were crowded around the car trying to work out a solution. Our stop was longer than planned, but in the end Luke and the crowd worked out how to drain the fuel and one boy triumphantly got to keep the mixture of petrol and diesel! We were on the road again and luckily, had no more hiccups!
Our last day in Timor was spent in Dili. We also visited the Pope statue in the morning, and tried snorkelling on the beach just below but it was a bit dirty. We spent the afternoon fixing a flat tire on our motorbike, trying to get back to the beach and testing out the street food in the evening. For our last night we caught up with the friends we had met in Timor, Jason, Jo, Alex and Flo at a pizza bar/pub where an extremely rowdy expat party was taking off.We had a short but great time in East Timor! Overall we found the people so friendly and willing to help, even with a language barrier. Everyone we can across was shocked that we were travelling in Timor as tourists (rather than working or volunteering there) and really went the extra mile to help us.

We would love to head back soon for a longer stint. East Timor has a lot of heart and there is so much more there to explore and take in!