So Tourist and I headed off bright and early on Friday morning on our bikes, well, that is after paun and coffee, so I estimate about 7am. Which, I can attest, is already quite hot when biking across a grassy plain, surrounded by school kids who seemed to want us to fall off our bikes!
The way to Fuiloro we had done the previous day, and was nothing too strenuous. From Fuiloro to Raça (don’t ask about the name, I have not figured it out!) it was a euphoric feeling, that Alentejo or Texas “wide open spaces” feeling, with expansive views across the grassy plain to Mount Matebian.
Horses grazing on all sides. Very peaceful. I realized why so many deportados (Portuguese exiled political prisoners) seemed to have settled in Lautem before World War II.
At Raça, everything was nice, winding through palm glades, until we ran into a group of rather unpleasant young men at the other side of town. They were sitting on the road, as is the custom. The road they were sitting on was sloping upwards and I was getting tired. They made some smart ass comments about how I wouldn’t make it up. People can be really mean spirited. Not all, but some. I was forced to hop off the bike and walk it up, all the while listening to their talking smack.
So I just turned and told them off from the top the best I could. Otelo had tried to teach us how the girls respond to constant cat-calling from the boys on the side of the road in Lautem. In Fataluku, the local language, they say, “What do you guys think you are doing here? Just selling watercress?” Unfortunately I had not memorized the phrase in Fataluku.
The way down from there, and the Timor Telcom tower, was beautiful, a winding road through jungle, with views cutting to the south to Matebian, and soon the blue water of the Taci Feto, the north coast on the other side. The bird song was beautiful out there. And we hardly had to peddle for like 10 km.
We reached Lautem, the coastal crossroads, at about 9am. We had gone 30km in two hours. Not bad, we thought, considering we are very out of shape! I calculated we could reach our destination Com, which was 15km away, by the still cool hour of 10:30am. So we set off.
I hit “the wall” in the dry, hot palm glade at about kilometer 5 from Lautem. I decided that we could take a nice snack break at kilometer 10. The goats kept us company in the shade. Back on the bike and soon I was lamely peddling, really hot from the sun. It was past 10am. I realized these last kilometers would be extreme. We had hills in front of us.
We walked three huge hills, coasting down them. I felt light-headed on hill two, but pressed on, thinking of how Queen would probably already be in Com. By the last five kilometers we were out of water. But we could see the crystalline blue water of Com below, like an oasis in the desert and we coasted down enthusiastically.
Angelo, of Angelo’s Guesthouse, a tasteful traditional house on the beachfront, had found us a little after Lautem on the road, and convinced us to stay with him. The “malai” place, this gigantic “beach resort” built by Australians, was way too expensive, he said, and I believed him. (A couple of years ago they were charging $15 for a bunk bed, but I heard they had expanded, and were more “luxurious” than ever.)
We made it, exhausted and extremely thankful to see how tastefully Angelo had built his place, and that he only wanted $10/night. We sat and stared out at the turquoise water for a couple of minutes, and then went and floated there for about half an hour.
The ocean never felt so good.
The next day, after checking out Portuguese colonial ruins above the port, we rented an outrigger canoe, what they call a “beiro”, to take us to good snorkeling at beaches east of town. Com has a rather impressive deep water port facility, where the Thais are currently basing a three-boat fishing operation out of. The beaches were totally unspoiled. Corals pristine, probably the best I’d seen for snorkeling in Timor. Tourist had never been snorkeling, so he was in heaven!
In the afternoon, after a surreal, windy meal at the Malai resort, we headed out to the pier. To my Portuguese readers, we DID allow for digestion! Don’t be alarmed! (He he.)
The tide was extremely high with the full moon. So we planned a jump feet first far enough away from the pier. The coral was stunning. Pretty big reef fish. Unfortunately we did not have flippers to get deeper. But we were addicted, so we swam back to shore to rest, and then back out to the reef again. It was magical. We should have splurged on an underwater camera.
We talked with Angelo about the tragic collapse of his business with the crisis in Dili. He had saved money fishing for two years, with two other partners, to open the modest, two-room guesthouse. He opened in March. The first months, he said, he had people almost everyday of the week staying there. Lots of backpackers, probably coming with the Lonely Planet in hand. From Australia and Europe.
Not just Angelo, but the people of Com seemed to have really embraced the idea of tourism, in a way they had not three years ago. Women sold us their tais weavings, kids competed to sell sea-shell necklaces, and there were a number of guesthouses and boats for rent. People smiled to us on the street, something I don’t remember from my other visits.
In June, the business collapsed. He’s lucky if he gets people a couple of nights a week. He proudly reported that recently staff of the Australian Embassy stayed with him, saying they would prefer to spend their money with locals than support an off-shore business!
Tourist and I toyed with the idea of writing an article for an Australian magazine about Com.
For one more “extreme” experience, we biked up the hill, taking a dirt path into the back of the village. We were spotted by a gang of labarik. The kids chased after us, trying to touch or catch the bike. The path got worse, rockier and steeper down to the church. We were lucky to make it ok.
The labarik were not far behind! We had to keep moving, past the late afternoon co-ed volleyball game. The villagers were surprised to see us. Some smiled, some didn’t. Maybe we were encroaching on their “private” space.
But we didn’t have much time to think about it, because the kids were in hot pursuit! We cycled back through the village on a dirt road, and safely out to the main road. Mountain biking being chased by children. That should be added to the X-Games.
We rented a Mikrolet bus to Baucau the next day, and because of bus connections, stayed the day relaxing in Baucau, which to Tourist’s delight, has a rather “colonial” Portuguese charm. More so than Dili.
Buffalo head in the market, people swimming in a ditch with a broken water pipe, a rather colonial tea at Amalia restaurant, served in tea cups with the Australian coat of arms.