Friday, August 10, 2012

Oecussi Timor Leste

Oecussi, a taste of Portugal

Oecussi is about 90 miles south west of Dili and it is a strange little enclave of Timor Leste that sits out on its own buffered by Indonesian held land. It is the site of original Portuguese settlement in Timor and our first sighting was an intriguing mix of faded red tiled roofs and white washed arches hidden behind coconut palms and massive banyan trees. The Portuguese influence is strong and I half expected to see some dozing hombres asleep under wide brimmed sombreros and maybe even a donkey shuffling along the dusty streets. Too many Westerns! Instead, what greeted us as we pulled the dinghy up to the beach was a flood of smiling faces and excited giggling from school kids who were wandering along the foreshore on some kind of school excursion, apparently. Couldn’t see any person who resembled a teacher amongst the 100 or so kids and as a teacher myself, kind of marvelled at that the fact that A, there were no iPods, smart phones stuck in ears, B, exercise books were being written in and work was being done and C, there was no silly behaviour I could see.. Try sending students off to the beach unaccompanied in Australia and the outrage would be deafening.
Our first view of Oecussi

Oecussi has a number of places to eat, according to the Lonely Planet Guide, so we set off in search of Aries, a cafe frequented by locals. Diana was putting her newly learnt Bahasa to good use we eventually found it and ordered Nasi Ayem, rice and chicken, both precooked and both sitting in glass cabinets, no refrigeration. I wolfed mine down but Diana was a little more cautious. I think the pile of blackened chicken sitting behind glass didn’t help. We met a UN worker who was helping with the recently held and mostly peaceful  government elections and told us about the Saturday market just up the road. We hailed a Microlet, a kind of mini-bus-taxi and headed off. The entrepreneur at the wheel demanded 5 US dollars for the ride and our UN helper got him down to 2. A local Timorese on board who had good English told me he only paid 10 cents, the usual price! Ah well, you win some and you lose some. To picture the markets,  think Freo markets but then put everybody and everything on the ground , in the dirt and under bamboo shelters. An amazing sight of piles of clothes, simple hardware, fruit and vegetables and all sorts of sellable items lay before us. A true village market.

Putting on my orthotics was a big hit with the locals!!!

  Villagers from the mountains come down with their produce and find a place in the dirt, spread out their few tomatoes, limes and beans and collect maybe a dollar or two for the whole effort. The old women all chew beetle nut and their smiles are broad but blood red. I kept seeing splashes of red on the ground everywhere and thought a cracked gear box or nasty foot wound until I realised it was beetle spray. We couldn’t get a microlet back so we jumped on the back of a motor bike and bounced our way back to the boat (50 cents each). A first for Diana and something I thought I’d never see.

The cotton thread is used in traditional weaving of tais (photo of the year award to D)

Sometimes you set out for a day not really knowing how it’s all going to work and our trip up to Oesillo was exactly that. It was a two hour journey up to the mountain village and then a short hike to an active volcano complete with bubbling mud pools. Now, where do we get a microlet for 7 of us on a Sunday morning and, more to the point, one who is willing and able to negotiate the maze of hairpin corners and four wheel drive conditions up to the village. Not easy as church goes till 10 am and sorry, its compulsory in this very Roman Catholic town. Sitting on the sea wall, next to his Nissan Dual cab, is Laurenco Adelaide, a conflict resolution worker who happens to be on his day off. Diana has skilfully charmed him into helping us find a microlet but really, once the confusion clears, it is he who will take us all in his car if we fill his tanks with diesel. This was done at the local servo, about 5 miles out of town. No gleaming self serve pumps and hot chips on offer here my friends. The deisel sits in plastic jerries and the pump is of the human kind, that is, hose in the mouth and then a quick suck and into the tank she goes.

The personal touch at the bowser

 Half of the crew opt for the open air tray ride and the other half don’t take much persuasion to gab the seats inside. How they survived the trip up and back is a miracle. The bubbling mud pools were nothing more than a cow pat size splash of mud but you sensed this lava strewn crater was just the tip of a sleeping monster.
A baby volcano

On our way up and down the mountain we were greeted with smiling faces and waving hands from the villagers as we flew past in the ute. A smile and a wave or a shake of your hand is the immediate response from strangers in this part of the world and it seems such a civilised way of being.  Peace and pleasantness  surround you here and it makes such a change from the angst and wariness that stalks a lot of western society.
Just two of the beaming smiles we were met with in our time in Oecussi

 We pulled anchor next morning as the sun rose on sleepy little Oecussi and the faded red tiles and white washed arches slowly disappeared from sight.  Rob

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