A flight of rocky stairs brings us to the flat top of a small hill, the sacred centre of Suco Liurai or Liurai village. The word liurai refers to a traditional ruler. In other words, Suco Liurai is the ceremonial centre of the region, where the liurai resided. On the hilltop we meet the wardens of the sacred site. In West-Timor a gift of sirih pinang would have been mandatory to break the ice, but here in Timor Leste a 5-dollar bill is equally appreciated.
We are allowed to enter the ceremonial round house. The house is mostly empty, used for meetings, but the walls are hung with objects of a sacred nature. Outside as well are mythical things, see the pictures.
To be honest, Maubisse town itself has not much to offer apart from the cool climate. It is the trip going there and the surroundings that are worth the effort. Our guide of Eco_Discovery brought us inland from Maubisse along a dirt road to Suco Liurai.
The landscape could be on another planet and does not look hospitable. Strange rock formations scatter the area, traditonal conical dwellings stand wide apart, so do isolated trees. One admires the hardiness of the people who survive here. They do not see many visitors, to the boys we were as much an attraction as their village to us.
Maubisse was the mountain resort where Portuguese residents of Dili spent their weekends. Nowadays expats come here for the same purpose. The only accommodation is the "pousada", a building in typical Portuguese style located on a hilltop with a view over the valley in the direction of Dili.
We could have taken lunch here, but because our guide said: "In the SARA restaurant on the main street you get the same food for a third of the price", we opted for he latter.
The most remarkable building of Maubisse is the church. It dominates the view when one approaches Maubisse, and with its half-timbered construction makes the town look like a Swiss village.
The church also provides evidence how much the Roman Catholic religion of the East-Timorese is still mixed up with animist beliefs and practices: the front yard of the church features two "sacred poles".
The Timorese who live in the country-side are hardly touched by modernity.
Here are some examples of houses built with local materials: bebak (palm leaf stalks), bamboo, wood, rock, mud, as seen along the road to Maubisse. Only the corrugated iron sheets have replaced the traditional thatched roofing.
The favourite garden shrub of Timor-Leste is bougainvillea. We saw them in every village we came through and they always were near a dwelling of some kind. They come in various colours and some had grown the size of trees.
Maubisse (also spelled Maubesi) is a mountain resort south of Dili. In colonial times it was favoured by the Portuguese and now it still is for those who can afford leaving town for the weekend - including expats. The town is relatively affluent because it is also a centre of coffee plantations, the prime export commodity of Timor-Leste.
The drive to Maubisse is an attraction by itself. On leaving Dili the road to Maubisse immediately starts climbing, allowing great views of the city. Ever winding it leads through the hills south of Dili, past the historic town of Aileu. On the way one gets to see magnificent vistas of river valleys and hills. Although the distance is only 71 km, the trip may take three hours.
We went to Maubisse with Eco-discovery Timor-Leste, many stops on the way making it a full-day outing, from 8 am to 6 pm. The following tips show the main places of interest of this trip.
A short distance past Aileu we encountered a group of Timorese making a living by digging up rock at the roadside. Their tools were quite primitive, a long chisel only. They sell the rock for building purposes.
The town of Aileu was a base of Falintil resistance in the first few years after the Indonesian invasion. Later relentless assaults forced the resistance to retreat deeper into the mountains.
A monument in the town square honours local Portuguese citizens massacred by the Japanese after their invasion in 1942. The porch leading to the monument has stairs, making the porch a nice viewpoint for a picture. But beware of the electricity cables close overhead, and we are sorry to say that men seem to use the stairs to take a leak.
A new independence monument stands in a corner of the square.
At Laulara our guide pointed us to a traditional sacred house. Although Timor-Leste is said to be a Roman-Catholic country, animistic beliefs and practices are still very much alive.
The caretaker was very pleased to get visitors, and insisted on posing with us. Then he asked to be sent prints of the pictures, which we did by intermediary of our guide.
A memorial site at Dare, at 5 km south of Dili, commemorates the role of Timorese and Australians resisting the Japanse occupation during WW II. A number of Australian companies stayed behind after the Japanese invaded Timor and waged a guerilla war aided by the Timorese.
The original memorial was established in 1969 by the 2/2nd Commando Association to honor the Timorese whithout whose aid their war effort would have been impossible. As recently as 25 April 2009 (Anzac Day!) a small museum and a café was added, funded by Australia's Department of Veterans Affairs. And private donations made it possible to build a primary school on the museum site which is now attended by 300 pupils.
Displays tell the story of the Australian commando's and their Timorese allies. A moving personal touch is the picture of veteran Paddy Kenneally meeting his war-friend Rufino Silva in 2006.
From the memorial site one has spectacular views on Dili and Atauro Island.
The Indonesians built a lot of steel bridges, this one near Atabae across Loes river perhaps is the longest we saw (although, the one upstream between Balibo and Maliana seems not less long).
Clearly this bridge had strategic value during the Indonesian occupation, as Loes river is the first and widest one to cross when one invades East Timor from West Timor.
At the foot of Balibo fort a unprepossessing building commemorates the "Balibo Five", the Australian journalists who were killed by the Indonesian army in 1975. It was in this house that they had tried to take cover. In 2003 the house has been restored and renovated by the Balibo House Trust.
Indonesia has tried to cover up this crime for years with the acquiescense of the Australian governemment. Only recently, in September 2009, a war crimes probe into the deaths of the Balibo Five was launched by Australian Federal Police.
The names of the five are:
Also several East-Timorese heroes are commemorated here. And part of the building serves as a Community Learning Centre sponsored by the Trust.
Although Batugade fort lies closest to the border with West Timor, Balibo fort seems more strategic as it lies on a hill overlooking the sea and the border area.
Not surprisingly at Balibo in October 1975 the first skirmishes with the Indonesian army were fought out prior to the full scale invasion. These skirmishes cost the lives of five Australian journalists, now known as the Balibo Five (see 'Balibo flag house').
The fort is in the same derelict condition as Batugade fort. It is worthwhile to go inside for the views. The inhabitants of the old Portuguese house within the compound do not seem to care.
Adjacent to Balibo flag house are more memorials.
An independence statue towers above everything else. The fence posts around the statue are recycled army equipment.
On a wall are written the names of the East Timorese who were killed by the militias after the plebiscite in 1999.
And several plaques honour the Australian army battalions who served here as peace- keepers.
Avenida Presidente Nicolau Lobato, Dili, East Timor
Good for: Couples
Av. Direitos Humanos, Lecidere, Dili, East Timor
Good for: Couples
Av dos Direitos Humanos, Lecidere, Dili, East Timor
Good for: Couples