We’ve just returned from an overnight in Maubisse, the sweet spot of TL’s coffee area, still savoring the chill and the pleasure of sleeping under a blanket. Our adventure began when Katerina invited us to tag along with the Flying Turtles on a training ride for the upcoming Tour de Timor. You may stifle a laugh reading that last bit, but let me tell you that we were totally impressed. And not just with their team polo shirts.
This will be only the third year for the national bike ride which extends throughout the entire country and occurs over six days. Katerina and her husband, Rob, have ridden in the previous two and are quite earnest about their preparation this time around. Our friend, Joachim rode the first year, and his stories had already convinced us that this is one challenge that we would not take up. Our job on this ride to Maubisse, a distance of about 70 kilometers, was to ride in the support vehicle with Alfonse and the luggage. The other members of The Flying Turtles are Dan, a fit thirty-something Aussie, their best rider, and Brian, a relatively new arrival from England who is on the far side of his fiftieth birthday and who would concede that he is struggling. He ended up in the truck with us both days and we had a wide-ranging conversation that included British politics (he ran for Parliament) and riding horses in the Sudan. The Turtles’ goal is simply to finish the grueling course, a formidable task in and of itself, preferably in better shape than last year.
The ride has attracted international attention and there are seriously good riders who show up for it. If you have a mind to join them, you will need to wait until next year as registration is now closed. In the meantime, you will have to come up with the $500 registration fee (!) and a credible mountain bike. The Turtles’ bikes all have disc brakes and 27+ gears. Brian was able to acquire one from the organizers for less than $600, discounted from the +$800 list price. Oh, and it would be a good idea to get in the best shape of your life.
Maubisse lies south of Dili in the highest region of Timor. The jumping off point to walk up Mt. Ramelau, the tallest peak, is just 10 km away. To get there by car from Dili, one has to travel about three hours of twisting one-lane mountain roads, pocked with all manner of hazards. These ranged from your garden-variety pothole to fifty meter wash-outs that may well have been impassable in the rainy season. I don’t think there was a straight stretch that exceeded two hundred meters. Maubisse is about 1400 meters in elevation, but one gets to that height only be undergoing many series of knee-busting climbs followed by despairing returns to river valleys. The route passes into the coffee-growing areas, characterized by huge acacia trees which are necessary to shadow the coffee plants beneath. Coffee was introduced by the Portuguese nearly one hundred years ago, and Timor’s arabica beans are now recognized as some of the world’s best.
Our destination was a quiet mountain village in a spectacular setting. Brian, who had visited at Easter, had characterized our target accomodations as a Swiss chalet. We were understandably skeptical but were quite appreciative when we arrived. Though not Swiss, by Timorese standards the arrangements were more than acceptable, and even included toilet paper if you required that. Our rooms were situated across from the local church, a kilometer or so above the village center. We enjoyed seeing what was to be seen, walking down to the village center in search of a cup of coffee. Later we made our way to the posada for dinner after stopping to buy firewood to bring with us. The fare was not all that exciting – a replay of lunch, chicken, rice, and vegetables. Katerina had phoned ahead to order something more exotic, but mystifyingly, none of what she ordered appeared and then they ran out! A situation not calculated to satisfy hungry cyclists! They made the best of a bad deal and we heard no grumbling. We were humbled to see their responses.
Our return was accomplished the following day and featured making the acquaintance of several other expats, including an American Maryknoll sister who has been in Aileu since the 1970s. The twisting roads nearly did in Rory and Brian, and helped them appreciate our eventual arrival in Dili. Even though our front porch was amazingly covered in dust and there was trash to be picked up, we were happy to be back. If ever you find yourself here, we heartily recommend the entire experience as a “must-do”. Katerina had not oversold it when she said it was the best that Timor has to offer. For us, it was a great escape from Dili’s heat, noise, and dust. [posted by David]
*Note: “Loo” is British slang for a toilet.