2010 ended on a hugely positive note for us with our first, desperately needed trip outside Dili. We were invited by Sr. Guilhermina to go with her on her retreat in Los Palos. We were quite the entourage. Besides us there were John Paul and Mary (two children whom she mothers), the driver, Deo and three other young adults. With JP, Mary and God in the car, we knew this trip had to be blessed! Our transport was a 2+2 four-wheel drive pick-up. David and I
sat in the back seat, Sister was up front with God, and the remaining five were in the back with a large supply of food and the luggage. This arrangement led to much “Sit down, John Paul,” and “Are you ok?” from Sr. Guilhermina in the front seat to the rear guard.
The road from Dili to Los Palos is the main road along the north coast and is considered one of the best in Timor Leste. One cannot begin to visualize driving the bad roads after spending almost seven hours traveling over something the size of Sunset Lane (so narrow that there is no on-street parking), the street where we live in East Lansing. Countless S-bends, long twisting climbs and equally harrowing descents, hard braking to a halt to creep through holes and washouts, warning possible oncoming traffic around blind curves with multiple horn toots, and avoiding the seemingly endless array of animals sleeping or wandering on the road. Herds of goats, dogs, hairy pigs and the occasional water buffalo are allowed to roam free in each and every village, and the road seems to offer a particularly appealing bed for them all. We discovered that horn-tooting is key to driving here and have begun to figure out the horn-tooting vocabulary. Depending on the timing, number and duration of the toots, one can signal a greeting, various warnings, and something like goodbye. For example, Deo, our intrepid driver, had great faith that his single toot would move animals out of our path, and considering the outcome, he was right. Timorese animals have a much better understanding of survival than their counterparts in America.
We were able to stop briefly at two Canossian communities along the way, in Manatuto and Baucau, and treated to their now familiar hospitality. For the first time, we breathed clean, cool air in Timor Leste. It was heavenly. Another three hours brought us to Los Palos and the Canossian convent where Sister was doing her retreat. Los Palos, though the largest population center on the east end of Timor Leste, has so little to say for itself, it must be left unsaid. However, we thoroughly loved the freshness of the air, the quiet, and the relaxation which soothed our souls after the chaos of Dili. Although our room had no running water or electricity, the sisters’ warmth and welcome made it as restful as a luxury hotel. The rest of the convent and Los Palos does have electricity from 6:30 pm to 6:30 am each night, which is, at least, predictable. Very surprisingly, Timor Telecom has an office with self-generated power and provides internet access for one dollar per hour (it was a busy place).
The highlight of the trip was a day spent at a beautiful white sand beach, paddling around in the surf with three sisters and the two children. The total quiet, clean water, isolation and tropical beauty have certainly added positive new dimensions to my understanding of Timor Leste. On our return journey, we visited Fr. Paul, a Canossian priest on home visit from Kenya. His family sat in splendor under a large tarp in front of a woven hut and welcomed us most graciously to their gathering. Serving tables covered with sparkling sateen bore cans of juice and cookies for the honored guests. The sense of culture and civility would have matched the finest tea in Wimbledon. We returned on New Year’s Eve with an invitation to lunch the next day from Sr. Guilhermina, always the conscientious hostess. David and I were happy to bring in the New Year in our “Place Sweet Place” with a Christmas gift bottle of vino. God knew we needed this wonderful respite to begin the year of 2011 in Timor Leste. [posted by Rory]