Com is a beach place. It offers tourist facilities. When we reach Com, it was raining and the only eatery or restaurant available was the resort. Looking at the menu, we could only afford to order a fried rice to share for lunch. We were the only customer at that time. While waiting for the fried rice, little kids came in trying to make friends with us, conversate in English with us and sell souvenir. I looked around the restaurant and saw many pictures of the owner having photo taken with tourist and visitors.
View timor leste route in a larger map
When the fried rice was served, we were offered fork and knife to eat the fried rice. This was not very common for a place in Timor Leste, being part of Asia culture to serve rice with fork and knife. We felt very uncomfortable. Usually only westerners eat rice with fork and knife. Where is our spoon?! Then we realized that we do not belong to this place, especially after finding out about the price of staying for a night.
We went further into the village till the end of the road. We could see the government trying to help tourism industry by setting up signage of other lodgings. Those are like bungalow type of stay by the beach. They were set up by local families as part of their house, leaving another small building with 2 or 3 rooms for visitors. We randomly asked one of them about the price for staying. After knowing the price, without a second thought, we left for the next town.
Having a travel guide book of Timor Leste was very useful as there wasn’t any tourist information in this country. The guide book mentioned the next town that (Los Palos) we were going do not have much to offer but we still want to see the people in this ‘not much to offer’ town. We still believe human still have to live.
The way from Com to Los Palos was ascending, into the thick mountains. There were lots of traditional huts and happy people along the way, especially the students on the road. Not to mention UN vehicles filled with multi nationalities in it, having their daily routine at the same time trying to cheer themselves up.
a church in Los Palos.
The only lodging we could find was filled with UN police. It was a bungalow with 10 rooms. There wasn’t any reception or any one I could find in this bungalow. I went in, walked into the common kitchen and a dark looking black police officer from Zambia (that’s what I read from his arm band) came out and talk to me. I asked if I can have a room here and he shouted:
So, Linda came out of his room and told me that it was US$15 per person.
Linda wasn’t the owner here because when I wanted to pass her the money, she said someone else would collect on the next morning.
Ok, we went in and shower. The common bathroom does not have water. We have to use the ‘public’ bathroom located outside the building. It had a squatting toilet covered, a big pail of water for shower, and a low window where anyone standing outside could witness the show, slimy wooden door, zinc roof and dark cemented floor where I would not shower without any footwear.
Now we are hungry. The road out of this ‘hotel’ was muddy, only passable with a 4x4 or Motorbike. We went along the main street and the only restaurant they had was a multi purpose grocery store. They had chicken rice, rice with chicken and chicken with rice at us$3.50 per person. It wasn’t cheap for local standard. From our Dili experience, us$3.50 chicken rice should be a good serving since they quoted us at a per person rate. After 40 minutes, the chicken rice came:
I felt a little sad about all what had happened, regarding the lodging and food. So I bought some Tiger beer to cheer myself up. The cans of beer lasted me till sunset and we expected electricity to be available at that time. We were waiting to use the fan as it was hot, humid and mosquito filled.
We had to apply insect repellent every half hour on every exposed part of our body. At this time, we were still sitting outside the veranda, which was much cooler. While waiting, we saw Linda, with 2 of her friends that came out of no where, trying to sweep the floor and do some cooking. Linda and her friends were local and they had to serve some people living in this bungalow. Then they had fun and laughter with the UN police, singing and shouting, kind of like playing hide and seek. I guess the UN police were boring here. With the pay they had, they could simply hire some ‘companionship’ to light/fire up their life here.
Sam couldn’t wait anymore and she went back to the room and felt asleep. I was still sitting outside the veranda to have a little more air. Finally someone took a power generator in and the train like generator lit the house. I went back into the room and plug the fan and play with the switches and realized that it was an ornamental fan. We had to open a little bit of the window to allow air to circulate. Both of us sharing a single bed, I tried to think of nothing to go asleep.
In the middle of the night we woke up and the first though that came to our mind was ‘how are we going to survive till morning.’ We were bitten all over by mosquitoes. It was a terrible night.
At last the sun rises. There wasn’t any breakfast (not usual) and a young guy came to collect us$30 from me without being ashamed of the money he collected from me. I took a map and asked one of the UN police about the road to Viqueque which he advised not to take the short cut as there would be broken bridges and bad road.
We challenged the police’s advice and left for the short cut with empty stomach. That was the beginning of hell.
Just the start of the route, we saw a bus heading the same direction with us but they would end halfway in a town called Illoma. I told myself that if this bus could travel this bad toad, why not Hope Too?
Well, not as bad as we thought but we were starving. At 1030am, we stopped nowhere to have a break and ate the remaining of yesterday’s rice. The people around were friendly as usual, waving at us.
1st (Deadly) fall:
It all came when I saw 2 local women walking on the right side of the road toward our direction with some loads on their head. Just across the road, on my left side there stood a horse. Hope Too was traveling at about 25km/hr when I saw the horse was tied with a rope to a tree on the left, creating a tensioned rope across the road at about 1.2 meters height. I tried to squeeze the brakes but it was too late. The rope strangled below by headlight and frond suspension which tore my right side plastic. We fell.
The fall wasn’t bad but the horse panicked and ran back to the tree with the rope still stuck on Hope Too and I was thrown onto the ground. I could feel the rope on my neck. The force of the horse was too quick and the rope pulled my helmet and it somehow had twisted my neck a bit.
I was really lucky that the horse wasn’t on its full power and the rope wasn’t stucked onto Hope Too and my helmet.
This fall wasn’t fatal but it could be very destructive. If the rope was stuck even deeper into Hope Too, it would be dragged like a dead body. If the horse ran behind us, the rope would have strangled my neck and there would be much of interesting news rather than you reading this blog.
Broken fairings, slight twist of my neck, it doesn’t really matter me much as long as Hope Too could still move on. Sam noticed that one of the bungee cords that were hanging on to our shoe bag was broken. We had other bungee cord that could substitute the broken one.
Before moving on, I looked at the horse. It gave me a kind of ‘it not my fault’ look.
Hey, what are you going to do?!
I went near the horse, got the knife and slash.
I cut the rope that the horse was tied to and it’s free to go.
The road to Illoma wasn’t that difficult until the end of the village. Steep gradient with big rocks lay as the foundation of the road. Part of the road had dried up stream running that would trap the wheel and guiding us not going to where we wanted to go. Such struggle was really dangerous. Once fell into the ‘stream’, I had to stop, adjust the steering to let Hope Too get out of the ‘stream’. Don’t forget the ‘stream’ was also made up of big rocks and it happened either on up or down steep slope along the narrow and curvy road.
2nd (tired) fall:
That’s not all. It had been raining for the past few days and we had luck today, which was dry but there lay muddy mud. With the weight we had, I fell once on the mud because I was feeling weak from the hunger, the previous fall and the struggle of the road. Sam and I had to lift this buffalo up. When ever we tried to lift, it slides sideway because the wheels were on the mud. After a few boost of my final strength, Hope Too stood up. I put it on the side stand and it’s our turn to lie on the floor.
3rd (Silly) fall:
Sam and I were panting. The locals do not use this road. There would not be a single soul wandering around. We had to move on after 20 minutes of recovery. I started the bike, went on gear one with Sam standing behind me to lessen the weight and catch me if I fall. Slowly, as I was trying to get out of the mud, the rear tire slided 90 degrees to the left because of the big rocks ahead and the rear tire had no traction due to the mud stuck on it. I fell to the right, twice on the same spot. This time the bike was lying across the track.
We had to use our final reserve strength to lift the bike. It came up; we lie down for another 20 minutes.
Feeling hungry, weak, hopeless, hot, uncomfortable (from the night at the us$30 room), I was so low on morale but had to keep Sam on comfort, giving her confidence that I can do it. No way would we be turning back because the road back to Los Palos wasn’t that good. I had to gamble. Maybe this bad road would end here and there would be paved road in just 100 meters more.
We went on fighting with the road looking for light that would lead us out of this darkness.
The 100 meters never came. We were deeper and deeper into the unknown. The obstacles became harder as the rocks appeared to be rounder and bigger. The slope became steeper and I could hear the chain cranking on every turn. I knew that the chain and sprockets were much worn but could last till home if we are going smooth. Image of the chain breaking came to my mind. I had to go on.
The more I fight, the weaker I became. The deeper we go, the stronger the obstacles.
Finally, we could take a rest when we came to a trench of about 1 meter deep across the road. I came down to do a ground appreciation. At this time, I noticed that we had dropped our shoe bag behind somewhere. It had our walking sandals (Teva Sandals which we had since day one). It had our slippers. (I had a special pair where the left was a blue one from Brasil and the right one was from Australia because each broke at the other side and these 2 made a pair but not with matching colors). It had our brush and kiwi. It had our special security cable. The road was so bad that I rather ‘donate’ it to the locals than to ride back to look for it.
By looking at the picture, the trench doesn’t seem difficult because it was just a picture. The only possible pathway to get over was thro where I stood.
Going down the pathway laid big rocks. One wrong step on the front wheel could send me falling into the water. I had to go down to clear the wobbly big rocks.
When the bike had reached the bottom, I had to maintain the momentum to hit up the slope. If you zoom on the picture you would notice that the first part of the up slope was more than 50 degrees. If I stop at that point, my legs would not reach the ground and the rear tire would have insufficient power to move the bike.
I took out the 2 side panniers to lessen the weight.
I could not afford to make any mistake here. Sam would be walking behind me.
I had a deep breath before going down the trench, hit a few big rocks and the front wheel was turning side to side. I countered the direction and look at the upslope, putting more gas, the front wheel went to where I wanted but I had to come to a stop standing only with my left leg touching the ground when the bike was 50 degrees on the upslope. I put on the front brake but the bike skated backwards. When I gas on to go up, I shouted at Sam to help me to push from the rear. The rear tire spins and had no traction. It was useless. I’m still on the 50 degrees. I looked back, there were 2 locals sitting down watching our performance. I shouted:
Seniõr, boleh tolong tolong? (Sir, can please please?)
They dropped their machete on their hand and came to give Sam a hand. Just in a turn, Hope Too was thrusting out and landed safely up on the road again.
We thanked the 2 local while they were going back to where they were sitting. We walked back to get our panniers, fixed it on and continued riding.
While I was riding, I told myself where did these 2 men come from? Someone answered my prayers when I was hopeless!
4th (devastated) fall:
Traveling for another 10 minutes, Sam noticed that it would be tough for me to ride up a terrible slope so she came down to walk. (She did these more than 30 times). I went on my own and fell again; I was defeated by another rock. This time, Hope Too lay at an angle where I was standing 1 foot lower than him. So when I lift the bike I could not use the full strength. We tried 2-3 times but it was too heavy. We took out the right and top pannier, lifting with our final reserve (final reserve again?) and Hope Too stood up on the high rock. We were terribly exhausted, went to the side where there was shade under the bamboo trees along a flowing stream and sat down on the carpeted grass. After 15 minutes, it seems like this would be a good camping spot. A good night rest would be sufficient for us to go on further.
As the captain of the cruise, I had to take all logistic into consideration. We only had 2 liters of drinking water, 2 packet of instant noodles, 500gm of rice and some small can food. The longer we stay, the more food and water we would use up. With all these limitation, we abandon the camping plan but to rest much longer to recover. Still believing in 100 meters more there would be good road. It was 1pm and we knew that we had covered about 60km and had 70km to go. We were too worn out to eat anything. When we lay down on the grass looking at the cloud, what we could imagine was Mac Donald’s icy coca cola that would make us fresh again. We rested for 30 minutes and went back ‘working’.
While resting, we saw 2 local women and a man with his donkey walking in our opposite direction. If I were to see any local riding bike around or hear noises of vehicle, there would be a high chance of good road nearby. Looking at the local with the donkey, it means that the road would still be the same condition in front.
Bad omen. Bad roads ahead.
We had to move on.
At last we traveled on tarmac, smooth tarmac but that was on a bridge of about 40 meters. It ended with the same bad road again.
We had our last fall an hour later. Took the bike up with all our last last last reserved strength, sitting down under the shade and wait for miracle to happen.
Just as we were to give up, a local on his bike came on our opposite direction, hopping across the stones easily. I looked at Sam and we both knew that miracle would be happening in front.
We got onto the bike, fought the last battle for a few hundred meters and we reached civilization! There were children were on the road, rice paddy was on the side, small stalls selling drinks and most importantly, tar road!!!!
It was about 230pm and we still had 50km to go. The tar road was almost flat but there were many pot-holes and sudden damaged parts that Hope Too had to switch gear every few second and jammed the brakes. Now we would be fighting against time to sunset. We have to reach Viqueque, 50km away before sunset.
We did not stop after seeing the village till 430pm. We stopped along a bridge because it was the only bigger and better road where I could put Hope Too on stand and lubricate the chain. There I was dog-tired and sat by the bridge. We had extreme back ache. At this time, the school children were on their way home and they all surrounded us, talking loudly like in the school canteen. Looking at them, we had forgotten all the pain and the word ‘tired’ began to disappear. I played with them for a while, took a picture with them and we really had fun. They were our miracle.
Can you find me in the picture being tired?
We continued. The pot-hole goes on and on but at least it was still ‘ridable’ and the local also travel on it.
At about 5pm, we finally reached Viqueque. The room was ok, the owner was nice, parking was safe and food was just across the road.
We celebrated the end of our worst day of our trip with 2 can of Tiger beer.
27 May should be a world wide public holiday.