Tempting the crocs

After too long a time in Dili (a week is enough to drive anybody mad), I headed to Baucau on Monday. One last stay at the Faulty Towers, dashing all over town to try to figure out what documents survived in the church archives.

No luck with the Parish or the Diocese. Nor did I find the teacher named Antonio Vicente, who has published various books on Timor at the Diocese press, and seems to be the unofficial archivist of the Diocese.

Pedro’s son-in-law came to pick me up the next day, and we headed towards Loe Huno, where his hotel is, just above Viqueque town. Loe Huno is a fascinating place, that seems to have been center of a very important kingdom to the Portuguese. Later I would learn that people believe it was the king of this kingdom who helped the Portuguese carve up the lands to the East, the area of my research.

Buibela01

After a quick lunch, we headed down the hot south coast, cutting east past Matahoe and the Bebui River.

After Aliambata, closer to Uatocarbau, we stopped at a fresh water lagoon along the beach. People were boldly fishing in the muddy water. This is a favorite crocodile habitat. A Brazilian doctor working in Viqueque three years prior had told me amazing stories about crocodile bites coming from this area. People seemed totally unfased!

Buibela02

In Uatocarbau, there was some intense house building and Pedro stopped for family business, and I began to chat up the guys building, and charm the kids with views of themselves on my digital camera. It takes them only two days to finish the roofing of the house, as long as they have enough hands. I told them it takes malais years to figure this kind of thing out (thinking of Tom Hanks stranded on a desert island).

Buibela03

I was able to talk with one of my most important liurai informants on the coast. When we came up, it was hot, middle of the afternoon, and he was shirtless. Luckily he was not too embarrassed. At night, we slept in the house of Pedro’s nephew-in-law (does this exist in English?). He was an extremely diligent farmer (badinas, pa according to Pedro), who was finally receiving help from German Cooperation, GTZ. He had three functioning tractors.

The rice paddies in Uatocarbau are gigantic, and have major potential.

I learned that they can compete with imported rice, which is indeed taxed. Imported rice is now selling for about $15/20kg bag. In Uatolari and Uatocarbau, if the surpluses existed, they can sell rice in the husk for $12, and it costs about $1 to de-husk in the machines. The real problem is both scale, ability to farm large fields, which requires more tractors, and roads – the sheer cost of getting surplus to market.

They also told us there is a spot on the coast not far away where crocodiles can always be sighted. Pedro’s ears perked up, because this could eventually be a major selling point for tourists. That and the spectacular sacred springs above.

The next day we made a brief stop at the old post of Uatocarbau, up on the mountain. People up there had finished the rice harvest, and were waiting for the rain to cultivate corn.

We heard there was a gigantic funeral for a nobleman in Afaloicai Baguia that would either make it easier or more difficult to find katuas. It turned out the funeral had ended the day before, and it was unclear how many people would still be gathered there.

I realized that I honestly did not have the stamina to crisscross the valley on foot looking for these guys. Nor were there people to “cook for me” – to look after me and make sure I had rice. I was tired of being a burden on Pedro’s random family and contacts. So I decided to go straight to Baguia with them on the far side of the valley. I would spend some “quality time” with Tio Martinho and his older brother, the old liurai of Afaloicai Baguia.

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