In 2007, despite mounting civil unrest, Timor-Leste established its first National Park connecting a number of endangered bird areas and encompassing a large section of the Coral Triangle, an underwater zone believed to hold the greatest diversity of marine life on Earth. Emelyn Rude is a Young Explorer studying the balance between environmental conservation and economic development in a nation of newly restored independence.
Like true Young Explorers, we did not rent a car (not that we could afford one anyways, at $100 a day). But without our own wheels, transport in Timor is an adventure on its own. With this pretext in mind, these are the simple steps you too can take to find yourself in paradise.
Step 1: Fly to Timor-Leste
Step 2: Take a terribly uncomfortable mini-bus four hours from Dili to Bacau then poorly barter a ride to Com from a group of teenage boys who play the same Tetun song with pan-flute overlay for fourty -five straight minutes. Relax and regroup in Com for a few days.
Step 3: Ask the owner of the guest house you’re staying at to help you get a ride, hop on the back of his buddy’s flat bed truck, and overpay to be taken an hour up the road to Lautem.
Step 4: Sit on the side of the road and get picked up by an overcrowded truck filled with bags of rice, tied up chickens, and many kindly elderly Timorese headed to Tutuala. Sit on the back getting sunburned while the little old ladies debate about whether you are Australian or Brazilian and how you found yourself on this particular truck.
Step 5: Sit in the overcrowded, rice filled truck for 6 hours, bruising your legs and backside on your seat bench as you are jolted along on the worst roads you have ever experienced and eventually get dropped off at Tutuala at sunset as promised.
Step 6: Discover that the Pousada (Portuguese Inn) you were planning on staying at is closed indefinitely and panic.
Step 7: Buy milk biscuits at the local shop for sustenance and then commence hiking 8 kilometers down a gravel road as the sun sets, following the electric wires in the hopes that at the end will be a place to sleep and that that place to sleep will have available beds for you.
Step 8: Continue walking down this path when it is dark, falling twice and severely twisting your ankle once. Be sure to grab a handy defense stick to arm yourself against the ominous rustling of the beasts (the water buffalo) in the tropical forest at night.
Step 9: Experience elation unlike anything else as you arrive at the Valu Jaco Cooperative and learn they do in fact have room for you to sleep. Eat the most delicious plate of rice and vegetables you have ever eaten in your life and then fall into a deep sleep.
Step 10: Wake up just across the channel from Jaco Island, paradise on Earth.View from Jaco Island Photo: Emelyn Rude