Timor-Leste – A Surprise Package

Timor-Leste – A Surprise Package

*Guest blog by Sue Moffitt

Timor-Leste is full of surprises. Imagine 5-star dining alongside street food; rugged mountains surrounded by rings of beaches; entrepreneurial projects and plantations; museums and attractions depicting the tortuous history and finally the locals, the children, the tour guide and drivers, all of who, just couldn’t do enough for us. We felt special and privileged.

I must also add, the roads have to be seen to be believed – we navigated across a river bed in 4WDs, the wide space looked nothing like a river or a road and the road works were all done by hand. They might have had a wheel barrow! Up into the mountains the roads bend and twist, often potholed and our lovely driver, Jock was always on the lookout for something coming the other way.

The history of Timor is extraordinary with a long story to tell. From the days of Portuguese invasion to WW2 battles to Independence in 1975. It didn’t last long as Indonesia reinvaded and it wasn’t until 1999 that East Timor finally gained independence. Not without a massive uprising from the Indonesians who rampaged and torched the towns causing many locals to hide in the mountains and take refuge. Hundreds of thousands of Timorese were killed during these extensive battles and wars. Delving into the role of Australia, it is sobering to say the least, to see and hear, how on the one hand Australia helped and supported Timor but on the other hand left them to their own perils in the aftermath of Independence. Plus, the story of Balibo in 1975 and the killing of the 5 Australian journalists is horrific. Visiting the area (now a heritage site run by Balibo House in Melbourne) is very sobering.

Driving through Dili (weaving and ducking through the traffic) and winding our way up into the mountains, we visited St Anthony’s School. Super friendly children, looking spick and span in their crisp white shirts, can’t wait to have their photos taken with us. They are thrilled with the books we take over from Australia and are proud of their school, showing us around the buildings, alleyways and classrooms. Not just in the school but everywhere we go the people are so friendly and happy. There are smiles on every face.

Back to the food, the diversity is extraordinary. From street food and markets where fishermen string “the fish of the day” along a long pole to show off their wares and colourful tropical fruits and unusual looking vegies are piled up onto stalls that line the beachfront. Then, at the other extreme a visit to ProEma is a foodies delight. I keep picturing the hollowed-out coconut filled with prawns and my cheesecake that was a work of art. ProEma is an inspiration – a charity created to support and educate vulnerable women who have the opportunity to be trained in areas of hospitality, including all aspects of running the restaurant, learning hairdressing and setting up and running a new café. Unfortunately, I missed the return visit to check out their homemade ice cream!

We were in at the deep end on day 1 with a visit to Agora Food Studio to participate in a cooking class. But first we had to make our own little rice baskets (from palm leaves). I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry – it was so frustrating trying to weave the fine fronds to create something that the rice wouldn’t fall through when cooked. If we gave up, we had no rice. We also prepared a whole fish from scratch and chopped up banana flowers for a salad. Other food delights included lunch at the vanilla bean plantation, dinner at Lauhata Beach Escape as the sun is setting over the sea and a selection of coffees at the coffee plantation in Ermera, way up in the mountains.

Back in Dili, we followed the beaches around to Cristo Rei and, some of us climbed the steep and long steps up to the statue with magnificent views up the coast. Me and a few others lazed around under the casuarina trees on the beach with a beer or ice cream. Most of the museums are in town and it’s worthwhile visiting both Chega (take a guide!) and The Resistance Museum. (A must for Australians is also a visit to the DARE museum, on the way to Aileu up in the mountains)

In town is the Tais Market where traditional cloth is transformed into table clothes, runners, table mats etc. It’s a great place for souvenirs and don’t forget to barter. For a more upmarket gift visit the weaving factory shop in Dili or the Projecto Montanha gift shop also on the way to Alieu.

Many thanks to Manny from Manny Timor Tours and Lisa Malnar from Travel Managers for organising our tour and showing us your beautiful country. Without your help we would never have experienced many of those surprises and hidden treasures.

Sue visited Timor-Leste with 7 of her friends, all from Darwin. She’s an author of four Darwin travel guide books, Darwin in the Wet and Darwin for all Seasons


Lisa Malnar
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