History begins

Oekusi Travel Blog

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Portuguese landing site

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.
The Portuguese arrive and mark the spot.
  He told me a little of what he had learned about the site in the 3 months he'd been stationed in Oecussi.

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.
Oecussi nestled in the shade of mountains
 
  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.

 

As I wandered I greeted the locals who were, like most people in small towns, very friendly.

Portuguese government office
  One old woman took great pains to tell me how wonderful it was to see “malae” in her village.  I wished I could know exactly what she was saying as she grinned and gesticulated her appreciation of my presence.  I thanked her for her approval and continued on my way wondering what she had seen in her 70 odd years of life.

 

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.

 

I decided 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.

Ruined fort

 

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.

 

At the 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.

Departing Dili night ferry

 

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.

 

Far below 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.

Oecussi sports ground
  A couple of young men wanting to practise their English struck up conversations with me before play was stopped by poor light.

 

I returned to the hotel, showered and enjoyed a good meal before hitting the hay.

 

 

26th……………………

 

 

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 hat.

Sunset approaching
  It had rained this morning and I wondered if bad weather had stopped the flight from Dili.

 

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.

 

The 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.

Watchful eye
5 hours earlier than scheduled.

 

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.




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Portuguese landing site
Portuguese landing site
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The Portuguese arrive and mark th…
Oecussi nestled in the shade of mo…
Oecussi nestled in the shade of m…
Flying in over ricefields
Flying in over ricefields
Portuguese government office
Portuguese government office
Ruined fort
Ruined fort
Departing Dili night ferry
Departing Dili night ferry
Oecussi sports ground
Oecussi sports ground
Sunset approaching
Sunset approaching
Watchful eye
Watchful eye
Portuguese beachfront monument
Portuguese beachfront monument
Market road
Market road
Statue
Statue
Oecussi cemetary
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UNPOL cemetary
UNPOL cemetary
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Misty mountains
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photo by: goezi