Oekusi Travel Blog› entry 81 of 86 › view all entries
When the Portuguese ship arrived in Timor they recognised the site as all good travellers do. That landing place is still recognised almost 600 years later with a monument, a cross and a couple of canon. The place is in the Timor Leste enclave of Oecussi, about 14 hours by night ferry west of Dili.
I imagine the historical significance of this discovery is the only reason the Oecussi enclave has been retained by the Timorese rather than allowing it to be swallowed by Indonesia, crouched on 3 of it's sides.
I arrived in Oecussi as most UN staff do, by a big old Russian helicopter from Dili.
My Language Assistant, Paulo, is from Oecussi and I had always thought we would visit the enclave together so he could show off his district to me and me to his family, who are still here. Unfortunately it wasn't to be; I have two weeks of mission left and Paulo is returning for his grandfather's memorial next week so he couldn't have this week off.
So I arrived without fanfare but it wasn't until I returned to the airstrip to fly back to Dili that I discovered I had not yet seen the historical Portuguese site. Fortunately there was time to shoot up the road and take a few snaps.
My guide was local Aussie UNPOL Jeff.
According to Jeff, the Portuguese arrived and set up base for their sandlewood removal. (Sandlawood and coffee were the two main products reaped by the Portuguese from this small island nation.)
Of course the Dutch were also interested in the area at that time and the Portuguese had to use all their cunning to avoid showing the Dutch where they were getting the sandlewood from.
To do this they brought their ships inland by digging a deep trench which allowed them to arrive, load the ships and depart swiftly enough that they kept the Dutch at bay.
There's not much left of the deep canal after the passing of a few centuries but the site's monument has been refurbished and the Timorese government has recognised it again in 2000, after the exit of the Indonesian occupation forces at the end of 1999 when Timor Leste opted for independence fro Indonesia.
Of course a lot has been said, including by me in this blog, about the political history and the destruction of the country as the Indonesian forces exited. No-where was this more obvious than the lone enclave of Oecussi. Far from the rest of their nation this district suffered almost total devastation. As I wandered around the small town over the two days I was here I was saddened again and again by the remnants of grand Portuguese or Indonesian buildings that were raised to the ground by those who felt betrayed.
Once, a few hundred years ago, this would have been a spectacular Portuguese town of beauty and grandeur, crowned by an imposing fortress.
The morning of my arrival I set out to explore the town. The most obvious place to start was down along the waterfront. There were a few statues and monuments to be seen, some more grand than others but nothing to say what their significance was. I just hoped I could take a few snaps and have Paulo advise me when I returned to the office in Dili next week.
wandered I greeted the locals who were, like most people in small towns, very
It was hot, damn hot! At about 1.30pm I decided to return to my accommodation and have a wee siesta. I awoke refreshed just before 5, surprised at how tired I must have been. It was good to have a few days off after so long working at the level I had been maintaining.
to climb the mountains at the rear of the village. Being late afternoon it was cool enough to
set out and the lighting would improve as the sun dropped offering me hope for
some great shots.
The road up the hill was steep but relatively unused. Once it had been nicely sealed and lit with street lamps. Now these things had been destroyed and the surface in a poor state of repair. I wondered what I would find at the top. Something obviously that justified the expense and effort of a road in the past.
end of the road lay a turnaround and a set of steps. Nothing much more than these foundations were
visible until climbing the steps the top of the hill opened up to reveal a
massive area which was dotted with a couple of Portuguese ruins. This was once the city fort. Along one side of the compound were a series
of small room, possibly guard rooms. In
the middle of the compound was a small cave wherein was a Christian scene
dedicated to the Virgin Mary as I have seen elsewhere in the country.
I spent the best part of an hour exploring the ruins but the limestone walls were crumbling before my eyes and I decided if I didn’t get bitten by a spider or snake, I would probably be buried under rubble if I went too far inside the constructions.
I started back down the road as the Oecussi – Dili night ferry pulled out of the dock. It was 6pm. They would not be in Dili until 14 hours had passed.
I could hear crowds cheering. I could
see the town was gathered at the sports fields and were enjoying a volley ball
match. It was still twilight when I got
down to the centre and I joined the crowds watching the sport.
I returned to the hotel, showered and enjoyed a good meal before hitting the hay.
I went to
the station after breakfast. I needed to
confirm I was on the chopper back to Dili today. The use of these machines is a huge bonus but
the flight schedule can be haphazard as alterations are made at the drop of a
At the station everyone made a fuss when I introduced myself. It’s a very strange thing for a kiwi to have a person’s job make any difference to how they are treated. I am often embarrassed by the fuss staff make when they hear my position, so much so I try to avoid telling people who I am but it is often the first question anyone in mission asks.
District Commander made phone calls and discovered the chopper was coming an
hour early. I left him my phone number
in case there was another change and set out to explore the area again. 10 minutes later I heard and saw the chopper
coming in to land. My phone rang 20
minutes after that and I turned back to the station, departure was now 2.
When I was taken to the airfield by the Chief of Operations there was another vehicle waiting there. An Aussie named Jeff had brought someone else to catch the flight. I climbed into his car to allow the Chief of Ops to return to the station. It was then I learned I had missed the most important site in Oecussi, the first landing site of the Portuguese. The rest, as they say, is history.