As cruisers we live in a very privileged world where we are able to visit very remote places and experience their hospitality and generosity. We all carry on board various items to give the villages, such as clothes, educational items, medical items, building materials etc and today we were given the opportunity to visit a local school and give them some of our gifts. The children sang a few songs to us, which actually bought tears to our eyes. They were so excited to have us there and after the singing we were invited to dance with them. They were rather shy continue reading…
Part of the fun of cruising is doing stuff you never dreamt you would do when you lived on land, and part of that fun is the unknown… which is exactly what happened to us today. We were told that we were going to visit a hillside village to see how the farmers lived. After our obligatory coffee we all piled into three utes, together with our police guard (not for safety reason but because of the low crime rate here, it gave them something to do) and an ambulance (!) and headed off up to the village. The journey took about 2 hours, in some horrendous road conditions. When we got to the top – the highest point of Oecusse – we were all blown away at what awaited us. We were then told, that apart from some volunteers from overseas, these villagers had never seen tourists. The kids had not even seen white faces before. It seemed that everyone from around had turned up, all wearing either their traditional costumes or their best outfits. The school kids had all been taken out of school for the day, and that the outer villagers had trekked up the day before, spent the night at the top and would not trek down again until we had left. They all bought their wares for us and they sang and danced for hours. With only 8 of us we were completely dwarfed by the sheer numbers of them, but we were so honoured to be a part of their welcoming ceremony it brought tears to my eyes.
You can see people all over the hillside, an incredible welcome
There were speeches from all the elders, who each have specific roles. We were all asked to introduce ourselves and talk a little about what we did and where we came from and this was translated into Tetun for them.
We walked up the top of the hill, and this was why we now realised we had an ambulance in our convey. It was steep and had one of us fallen, we would have been in real trouble. this East Timorese are truly some of the kindest and most generous people we have met, they looked after us like kings.
I went up to one little boy who started screaming – I don’t think he had ever seen blond hair before!
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!
Atauro is a small island 16NM off the coast of Dili. It looked beautiful on the internet so we decided to go and explore it. Ian spent a while looking up on google earth for any good anchorages but did not find many that appeared really safe. He eventually settled on one and so we set off to explore.
We soon discovered that there was not a good anchorage here, as it was mainly coral with a 200ft drop off 30m from shore. We did manage to drop in about 10 metres in a small sandy spot and then drifted back so that we were sitting over 70 meters! We went ashore and visited the island – a gorgeous little unspoilt place. We had anchored on the West side of the Island due to the offshore wind, which is the unexplored side. The kids didn’t even come running up to us as they were unsure about westerners – unusual in comparison to Dili.
We then decided to go snorkelling. WOW! – what a place to snorkel. The coral gardens we had discovered continued over the 200 ft drop, and it was magnificent to see hundreds of fish, different coloured corals and different colours of the water. Having snorkled in many places in the world, we wished we had been able to dive there, but we decided to put that off until the next day. I even went back to the boat to get the go-pro to film it. By the time we had organised ourselves for another swim, the tide had started to go out, and the wind had gone up to 15-20 knots. Ian took the decision not to stay the night and leave for Oecusse that night. As with so many places we have visited to far – we will be back!!
The sail from Darwin to Dili took 4 days, with great winds and calm seas. It was so good to be back on the water with our spinnaker up and flying along at about 7-8 knots. We headed north and rounded Jaco Island which was where the wind died and we dropped to 1 kt – really frustrating as we could see and smell East Timor on our port side. It looked so beautiful – our first foreign port. We eventually arrived and dropped our anchor by 4pm. We were cleared in and drink in hand at Gino’s bar by 5.30pm. Easy…
Up early with a sore head and straight into a mini bus for a tour. East Timor is clean and safe, but outside of Dili the poverty is evident. Little thatched huts and people everywhere. There is a construction program which is hopefully going to improve their infrastructure but it looks like a long process. We had lunch at a gorgeous little bar and had a swim while the dolphins played in the bay. This is what I signed up for…
We finished the day going to see the Statue of Christ which dominates the skyline of Dili – think Rio. It was quite a hike but worth the view. We hadn’t walked for so long that our muscles ached all evening!
Next day we went on a tour of Dili itself. East Timor has been through some terrible times since they became independent in 1999. They were under Portugese rule from the 16th century until 1975 when after a nine day independence they were occupied by Indonesia. They were under Indonesian rule for 24 years and during this time, they suffered terrible losses and were cut off from the world. A young man called Sebastian Gomes was murdered by the Indonesians in 1991, and at his funeral many timorese gathered to protest at Indonesian rule. A young Australian reporter was at the protest and captured on film the carnage of the troops gunning down these protesters. This footage was smuggled out and the world started to realise what was happening. It was the beginning of the end and full independence came in 1999.
We went to the markets and were amazed that they didn’t take everything in at night. Just covered them up, went home and came back the next day. No theft… incredible.
The next day was the presentation for the rally. It was held on the foreshore and attended by many dignitaries from the Timorese government and rally organisers. It was a full-on affair with dancers, singers and speeches. Somehow we came 2nd which we were really chuffed with.
That evening there was a rally dinner. It was such a great day – we ended up at a club dancing the night away and headed home late.