Fish on a stick

Last Sunday, Pat and I went snorkelling at Back Beach behind the Jesus statue, as we’ve done on many a Sunday morning in the last two years. Later, we wandered around to the next bay. A high stone wall has appeared on the cliff edge. It won’t be long before the view of Atauro Island is commandeered by whichever ema boot (big-wig) is building a house on that beautiful spot.

The beaches and hills of Dili have soothed our souls during our two-year stint.

The beaches and hills of Dili have sustained us during our two-year stint. You can see the Jesus statue (Cristo Rei) at the end of the point, and Atauro Island in the distance.

Behind us work had begun on a five-star tourist resort; across the water, new dirt roads zigzagged over the hills, heralding more exclusive development. We agreed that we’ve been lucky to be in Timor at this time. A time of optimism, in spite of all its problems. A peaceful time, sandwiched between the turmoil of the past and the creeping inequality that casts a shadow over the future. Continue reading

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Matebian, mountain of souls

The climb to the top of Mount Matebian is the toughest day walk I’ve ever attempted – lucky I didn’t know that when we started. The name of Timor’s second highest mountain means ‘Mountain of Souls’. It’s a sacred place where Timorese believe the spirits of their ancestors reside. Pip’s Tetun teacher warned her that terrible things might befall us if we ‘greeted’ any animals or pointed out the scenery.

Sometimes Matebian is referred to as the Mountain of Death. Japanese forces, who occupied Timor during World War II, created a vast system of caves and tunnels in the area for their camps and arsenals, and killed many people there. The Indonesians did the same when the mountain became the stronghold of Falintil, the Timorese resistance movement. After the Indonesian invasion in 1975, around 20,000 Timorese took sanctuary on Matebian, among them the parents and grandfather of a workmate. Staying on the lowlands meant accepting Indonesian rule, he told me. But after three-and-a-half years, hunger forced his family down off the mountain.

With this history in mind, we set out one weekend in October with Kiwi couple Paul and Liz Fitzmaurice, and Abrau, a Timorese student who I’ve met through teaching English. Click on the photo gallery below to find out more.

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