Baucau & north-east East Timor
This area was actually the first one I headed for on my 8-day round trip of East Timor
in August 2014. Baucau
, as the second-largest town in the country, was the natural base for excursions in the north-east of the island.
The original plan had been to go south from Baucau to some places closely associated with Fretilin/Falintil activity during the occupation by Indonesia
, as this had been a stronghold of resistance (see history chapter
We were to see Quelicai, a place heavily bombarded by Indonesia's air force during the occupation, and where a “resettlement” camp for captured Timorese used to be. Furthermore we were to travel to a waterfall in the foothills of Timor's “holy mountain” Mt Matebian, whose slopes were also a last-stand battlefield against the Fretilin/Falintil command in 1977. Apparently you can still see secret hideouts they had dug into the mountainside here.
However, as it turned out, we were not able to do any of this – mainly because my guide was informed that there was some sort of “unrest” or “trouble” going on in the relevant areas that we would have had to drive through. Apparently police enforcements had been sent to restore order.
So it was decided we had better stay away from this area. My guide instead took us on a road trip along the northern coast all the way to the end of the road at Com
. It was very scenic but had far less dark-tourism relevance, of course. Such changes to planned itineraries, however, have to be reckoned with in a country such as East Timor
, which still hasn't fully settled down after its rather recent turbulent history.
One of the places I stayed at, the Pousada de Baucau, had originally had its own association with that recent history, namely in that part of the back wing had been used as a prison by the Indonesians. However, instead of preserving this cell block for its historic heritage value it was instead decided to demolish it. When I was there it had already gone and a new modern wing was under construction that was to replace the ageing 1960s-style guest rooms of the Pousada (guest house) next to the main building. This older main building, however, still oozed a lot of colonial atmosphere and charm and this will (hopefully) remain so in the future too.
One relic of a different period of dark history that I did see, on the other hand, was a system of caves
dug by the occupying forces from Japan
Despite the changes of plan, the trip to this part of the country was an excellent introduction to East Timor
– and provided insights into how varied the scenery on this island can be. What I saw later along the coast around Liquica
west of Dili
or in the mountain territories south from there, was very different in look, vegetation and general atmosphere. So I'm glad I made it out east after all.
The Pousada de Baucau was also without doubt one of the most characterful places I stayed at during my time in East Timor, and as such is worth the trip alone, despite its loss of historical heritage and even though the old rooms do indeed need some refurbishment (but they were still well above average for outside Dili).
The restaurant at the Pousada was charming too. OK, their menu was largely a work of fiction, with only a fraction of the advertised dishes actually available, but it was still a chance to sample some genuine Timorese cooking … and get a bottle of top-quality Portuguese wine with it. No wonder many of the Australian aid workers stationed in the country use this place for a bit of respite from the much rougher village life in rural Timor.
The place is also popular with higher-ranking officials, though – and when I got there our reservation for the first of our two nights was not honoured, allegedly, so it was rumoured, because some top army official was visiting. So a simpler (but decent) guest house down the road had to step in for the first night, but for the second the Pousada was available again.
Associated with the Pousada is also East Timor's only public swimming pool – though I did not get a chance to use it. But it was a very unusual sight to behold in this corner of the (Third) world.
Baucau itself is only about 60-70 miles (100 km) east of East Timor
's capital city Dili
, but that's as the crow flies. The winding coastal road, though good by East Timor standards, takes about two hours to drive. The Pousada is in the upper part of town.
The Japanese caves are to be found by the road south towards Fatulia, ca. 15 miles (25 km) south of Baucau itself.
- 01 - Baucau
- 02 - Pousada de Baucau
- 03 - new wing under construction where the prison cells were
- 04 - very 1960s
- 05 - only public swimming pool in the country
- 06 - amazement
- 07 - East Timorese colours
- 08 - Japanese caves
- 09 - Japanese tunnels
- 10 - tunnel entrance by the road
- 11 - kids playing on a wreck of a truck
- 12 - fallen
- 13 - ruins
- 14 - ruin and flowers
- 15 - coastal village in the north
- 16 - bay of Com
- 17 - Venilale school
- 18 - north coast
- 19 - coastal road