My life has settled down into a comfortable routine: I walk to work, I’m sorted with places I like to eat, I’m meeting people, long walks before it gets too hot on weekends, I know where get fresh eggs ‘from the districts’, and am on friendly terms with the woman who sells vegetables near my house. When she is asleep under her stall, I know to leave $1 and take a perfect little stack of tomatoes.
I’m better at recognising when an attack from Mister Busa is imminent, and I no longer freak out when crabs wander on in under the door in the evening. I no longer tread in the puddle or let out the guard dogs when I heave open the heavy gate at my compound. I’ve made friends with the security guards who now obligingly cart my big containers of drinking water. I’m faster at recognising when I’m lost on a mikrolette, and I’m just generally a bit better at existing in my new life.
I like it here. I’m content.
I jumped at the chance for some congenial company and a seat in a 4WD for a 4.5 hour, 100 km, drive to Baucau for lunch and back again. The population of Timor-Leste is 1.2 million – I was surprised by how sparsely populated the coast is.
It’s Palm Sunday, the traffic is light as congregations swell out of churches and fill the roads.
My goodness, this land is spectacular. Champagne-glass shaped beaches with soaring rock formations and steep hills rise up to mountains. Occasionally, a valley with rice paddies or salt farms. It’s rice planting time, the paddies are immaculate. One or two are densely packed with buffalo, just noses and ears peaking out of the mud. Goats everywhere. Happy beasts indeed.
Reports on arable land range from 10% to 20%, with only 30% being used. It is clear why this is the case: steep hills rise sharply, close to the coast. Hills that have not been de-forested are dramatically lush. De-forested hills show acute erosion, loss of top-soil, and landslides.
November to February or March is called Summer or Winter is some places. Here it is called the hungry season. Tempu rai hamlaha.
The population is extraordinarily young: 39% are under 15 years old (twice as many as in Australia). The number of dependant children and elderly to working-age adults is 90%. Of working adults 60% are subsistence farmers. 41% of people in Timor-Leste are below the poverty line.
Baucau is a hill town with vistas of the ocean. Our happy little possie heads straight to the Old Town, to the Pousada de Baucau, and it is lovely. Built in the 1950’s in Portuguese style, the flamboyant pink, the gardens, and beautiful buildings are a joy to visit.
As with every building in this country, the Pousada de Baucau had dark days during the Indonesian occupation, serving as a prison and headquarters for the Indonesian Army Secret Service. Some say it was a torture centre. This region is symbolic in the fight for independence: it was the home of a famous guerrilla warrior, and a founder of FRETILIN, Vicente dos Reis. Following the 1999 referendum, much of the city and surrounds were destroyed or damaged by pro-Indonesian militia.
Today, the town is calm and prosperous, famous for the best tomatoes in the country and the swimming pool fed by a spring. I’m looking forward to returning, my friend in Baucau already has a guest room made up for me.
Description of Baucau, with a bit of history
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