As we pulled out of Dili, the road started a steady ascent into the hills and then suddenly the road became like a corkscrew -- zigging and zagging -- up the mountain. It was only a handful of miles, but the hairpin turns turned it into a 30-40 minute climb through a dense, lush tropical forest.
Once on top, we drove along the ridge line and thick fog -- until the road began to descend the other side of the mountain.
The road is very narrow, hardly enough room to pass, trucks and buses must slow way down to avoid knocking each other's mirrors off. Drivers must also constantly watch for small children who are playing in the roadway or along the edge -- often they are walking along the road -- balancing small sacks on their heads -- heading home from the local market with fruits and vegetables.
It began to rain, and that creates the potential for wash outs -- particularly around bridges. As we travel along, we spot a young girl who has improvised an umbrella with a large banana leaf and a small stick -- it actually looked quite fashionable!
We were bound from Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, to a small town called Same -- pronounced Sah-MAY. It took us about five hours -- at times -- driving through forests of coffee plants -- so thick the road becomes a single lane with coffee plants creating a canopy over the roadway.
Along the way is the lovely little town of Maubisse -- surrounded by mountains with a narrow river valley to the south. My Timorese colleague, who is from Maubisse, told that according to legend during the time of the dinosaurs -- a dinosaur was moving through the valley and died -- blocking up the river and threatening the town. Uncertain what to do, the town eventually convinced a mouse to go find the dinosaur remains -- and eat it. The mouse did so, the water was allowed to pass through the valley again and the town was saved.
Maubisse has an incredibly busy market -- particularly on Sundays after church. We happened to be there on Sunday and checked it out. It is the place to be seen -- people come from all the neighboring villages to shop and chat -- there are so many people -- the road is virtually blocked -- vehicles must creep along at 5 miles an hour to avoid hitting anyone.
On a nearby hillside is the local cemetery that has been used for centuries. My colleague's mom and brother and sister are buried there -- and we brought candles and lit them on the tombstones to honor the dead.
Maubisse has more horses than it has people. They are used to ferry supplies to and from the market -- at one building -- five or six horses were tied up outside -- just like a scene in a wild west movie.
In Same (Sah-MAY), we arrived for a ceremony to celebrate recent renovations at the local Community Radio station. It was pouring rain by the time we arrived -- and we all had to shout to be heard over the pounding rain on the metal roof of the outdoor pavillion. Eventually, the rain stopped and we made our way over to the station. It was renovated with funds from the project that I am working on in Timor Leste.
Two dozen young people took part in the ceremony -- many of whom are actively involved in the station. The local mayor and the chief of police came, too, as did the United Nations police officers -- who help keep the peace -- one was from Nepal and the other was from Sri Lanka. Both had been living there for about a year -- and absolutely love the peace and quiet and the cool air -- it is 15 degrees cooler than in Dili -- with almost no humidity and a lot fewer mosquitoes.
As we made our way back to Dili, the following day, after overnighting in Maubisse -- on a hilltop over looking the city -- in a house where, during colonial times, the Portuguese governor resided, we could feel the heat and humidity returning -- we finished our trip with a visit to Victoria Restaurant -- on the edge of town and at the edge of the sea. We ate fresh fish and tiger prawns -- as gentle breezes kept us cool.