OECUSSI ENCLAVE

The region  One of the attractions of Oecussi is its remoteness. Very few travelers have visited this tranquil backwater.The East Timor enclave of Oecussi Ambeno is an overnight ferry trip west of Dili. Situated on the north coast, all of land borders are Indonesia West Timor. It is 27,000 square kilometers in area, with a population of almost 50,000 people. The Portuguese colonizers first arrived at Timor in 1514 and landed at Lifau, just west of Oecussi town. This was to be the capital for more than 100 years.

THATCH HOUSE BANCIO

Because of its isolation Oecussi suffered greatly during the violence of 1999. With a much smaller population, there were almost as many houses destroyed, and many less rebuilt than in the Dili district. Many houses were dismantled and trucked to West Timor, with the fleets of trucks, Indonesian military (TNI) and militia leaving late in the day and returning next morning, as they were too frightened to stay over night in Oecussi. The local population took refuge in the mountains. Many would return at night to gather food from their gardens, then return to the mountains in the morning.

This continued well after the UN forces had arrived in the rest of East Timor. Many people were killed during this period.

A 17 year old lad named Lafu volunteered to take a message to the UN in East Timor, informing them of the terrible situation in Oecussi. A note was concealed in his thongs. He then walked, with much harassment, through a hostile West Timor and delivered the note to INTERFET. Some days later they helicoptered him back with communication equipment to report the movements of TNI and the militia during the INTERFET landing. Lafu has become widely known as the ‘Oecussi boy hero.’ 

 

OECUSSI MOUNTAINS

Access

The Dili overnight ferry to Oecussi runs twice a week; however there are occasional delays when it gets stuck on the sand bar at the end of the Oecussi pier and has to wait for the next tide. The Nakroma, is an Indonesian built  roll-on  roll-off  ferry, donated by the people of Germany, it is the main link to the outside world. On the trip out from Dili the deck is usually jam-packed with trucks, animals, goods and people. On the return trip there are many people with their produce on the lower deck. It appears that what can be carried on by a person is included in the fare. Most of the produce is bound for the markets of Dili.

Passengers are accommodated in an elevated lounge. Instant noodles, nibbles and a limited range of drinks can be purchased on board. The fare for a foreigner (Malae) is aprox $14.00 one way. East Timorese pay less.On arrival the view from sea at sunrise, of the jagged mountain range thrusting up behind the palm fringed town is dramatic.    9,11”53.51”S       124,21”59.28”EThe only mobile phone service is in Oecussi town. At least three guesthouse/restaurants operate in town. Hotel Oecussi: is situated on the beach road 500 meters west of the pier. Telephone Fernando 77233880 Rao Restaurant motel: telephone Jasintha 7 7235417 Alegria Hotel Restaurant: telephone 77275285Rao and Alegria are a pleasant 15 minute walk from the pier. Go east to the first road and turn right, then walk south past the old hospital over a crossroad and past Fernando’s store to a T intersection. Rao is on the right just before the T. Alegria is located on the high side of the east west road, a little west of the intersection.

Because of Oecussi’s remoteness and lack of visitors there is no organized assistance for malae trekkers,so don’t expect to rush in to town and out to the mountains in a day. The hire of a guide or interpreter can be arranged by ringing. In Dili, Herminio Lelan on 7725 8853 or in Oecussi, Zelia Da Cunha on 7725 0750.

Cesar Da Cunha and Agostinho Anuno were my guides. Herminio speaks excellent English. Cesar and Zelia speak reasonable English. Everybody speaks Bahasa Indonesian. The language of Oecussi is Biakino, which is spoken throughout most of West Timor. Cesar has spent some time in the mountains. Agostino has lived up there and has a network of friends and family in the mountains. He is familiar with the routes through the area.

The mountains are extremely abrupt, made up of a cemented conglomerate rock in various stages of weathering. The locals speak of many caves and deep rainforest gullies. To travel along the trackless ridges would be a real challenge as many of the saddles are actually gaps that may need climbing gear and climbing skills to negotiate.

Mt Maonmuti, although the highest mountain in this region (in the northeast corner of Oecussi) is less than 1,300 meters with a comfortably temperate climate. The village of Cutete, situated three hours walk up over a saddle to the south of Oecussi town, nestles under the main mountain peaks, making it an excellent base to explore the mountains, climb to the peaks, scale some of the rock faces or explore the caves that the locals speak of.

Accommodation in Cutete can be arranged by Padre Dasbach, an American priest who has lived there for many years. The people welcome guests, who initially can be accommodated at the new children’s’ center. If many people visit a traditional guest house will be constructed.

Expect to pay $15 per night per person, a little more if meals are provided. If staying with families, I found a polite way to pay was to suggest the payment is to buy something for the children.

There is excellent pristine diving on the coral reefs, and inland at Bobameto are geothermal hot mud springs.

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