After Jaco Island, I loop back through Baucau and sleep late for a couple of days.
When I emerge from under my mosquito net and venture out to the balcony, my fried egg breakfast is long cold, but still salty and delicious. I’d been initially dismayed to find that a typical guesthouse breakfast in Timor consists only of one egg and a piece of bread; but now I’d come to appreciate that the egg has usually been saturated in enough frying oil to last you through to the next meal.
Also, Timorese coffee is delicious. Robust and full flavoured, never bitter. You dump the grounds directly into a cup, add hot water, stir, let it settle. Drink until you feel the caffeine tingling at the base of your skull.
If you drink it like the locals, you’ll load the coffee with sugar until it’s a heady confectionary. A heart starter for the ages.
I walk down to the Poussada de Baucau, which is a magnificent Portuguese pile of a hotel looking over Old Town and out to sea. It’s now a hotel again – the only fancy hotel in Baucau – but for twenty-five years or so it was the secret police headquarters and prison during the Indonesian occupation. It’s the only hotel in Baucau that caters to foreigners and the only place where I feel like the staff just want me to go away. Still, I like the empty restaurant area, with big fans and polished wood floors; I buy a coffee, or a beer, and write there all day.
I run into a few other foreigners there – a young trio from Melbourne who are bicycling around Timor Leste for a three week holiday, and the pilot, engineer and crew chief from a geosurvey helicopter. Outside Dili, Timor has a bit of a frontier feel to it: whenever you see another foreigner, there’s an instant connection: ‘what brings you here?’ Since there are no obvious assumptions that can be made, there’s a real reason to make that human connection and find out. I rather like it.
The geosurvey helicopter is contracted from Indonesia along with the ground crew; the pilot is Australian, the engineer Canadian. The pilot feels Timor is a dangerous place and the people hostile, which surprises me. I have felt only safe and welcomed; so far, the worst vibe that I’ve gotten is naked curiosity. But perhaps I have an advantage in that I cut an iconoclastic figure: lone woman on a big foreign motorbike. People don’t know what to make of me, but it’s pretty clear that I’m not a threat. I’m not a foreign figure of authority; I’m not a white man marching into someone else’s country with a helicopter, financial backing and an economically motivated mission.
The Canadian engineer has been a few places and seen a few things over the years; he listens and keeps his cards closer to his chest.
The Indonesian crew chief is friendly and seems to think my adventure is pretty cool. Professionally, linguistically and culturally, he is the meat in the sandwich between flight crew and ground crew. He’s doing his best. It seems that the prescribed time for Muslim morning prayers, and the optimal weather conditions to take off in a helicopter, take place at the same time every day. There is an additional question as to whether that particular time of day is also an excellent time for sleeping, and whether that might be a factor complicating the resolution of the aforementioned scheduling conflict.
Although I have nothing to contribute on that question, it is pure delight to have a beer and chat in English. It had been at least a week since my last conversation in English – my local mate Jano has gone to Dili for work – and it’s amazing how you become thirsty for language.
I’ve also run out of books. I have taken to accosting foreigners in the streets, asking them if they have any books they’ve finished reading? None of the guys at the Poussada can help me, but I found a Catholic school group from country Victoria. They were visiting the convent as part of a Catholic schools partnership initiative, and one of the students gave me a teen lit novel about the difficulties of falling in love, producing a musical and coming out as gay in an American highschool. I read it. I even liked it. I will read anything.
They were really nice people too. I assume they’re back in Sale, in country Victoria, raising funds for the Catholic school girls of Baucau again.
Me, I am still a wandering hobo, with a motorbike, looking for some peace. Next stop: Com, Lospalos, and the apparently wild South Coast.