East Timor has a coastal enclave in the Western part of the Island of Timor called Oecusse. It is completely surrounded by Indonesian and only has a population of 72,000. It was included in the rally this year for the first time, and so 4 boats, 3 cats and a mono, set off to see this tiny little place. Oecusse has been designated as the pioneer of a structural development plan for East Timor. This includes Schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, water and sanitation infrastructure, national electricity grid, sea port, airport, telecommunications, agriculture, dams, irrigation, tourism, and private and social housing. We had been told that it was a marvel of building construction and that within 10 years there would also be a marina and a boat lifters! Within a year, they have already completed the Power Station, and the irrigation is very nearly completed. An incredible feat…
Our first morning there, we were given a welcoming ceremony. With only 7 of us, we felt very special that so many people had turned out to greet us. We were given woven wraps and treated to dancing and singing. A lovely welcome.
After the ceremony, cars were laid on and we were taken into the town of Panta Macassa the capital of Oecusse. It was incredible to see all the building work, huge roundabouts, roads under construction, foreshore development and they don’t even have a supermarket yet! There are no hotels as such, no tourist infrastructure, no restaurants, no shopping, but within 5-10 years they want to be, and probably will be a tourist hub. One of their goals is to eradicate poverty and unemployment, but many of the small traditional houses are being demolished to make way for bigger roads which is causing concern amongst the locals. Their traditional housing is thatched roof mud brick housing, which apart from being very pretty to look at, is sustainable in this environment. I wonder what the ‘new’ Oecusse will look like.
With all this development, and only a few western volunteers here – we were invited to have a meeting with the President to discuss any ideas we have… I’ve never actually had an audience with a President, and with only 5 minutes notice we were all a bit taken aback to come up with answers so quickly. The meeting was fun though, as we all put our pennyworth in. Paul from Osborne Star told the President how impressed he was that our small boats were given such a welcome and that back home in Australia we have a very different policy on small boat arrivals!