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Baucau - Lospalos

View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.


This morning I have joined David in feeling rough, with a sore throat and a persistent cough. I guess it was inevitable that I would catch it too.

The shower in our fancy bathroom is fabulous – shame there is no hot water.



David bravely makes an appearance in the restaurant this morning, opting for a simple dish of toast and jam, made even more simple when it transpires they have no jam. I opt for egg and bacon, and they manage to provide that.


When we meet up with Danny, our driver-guide, and he sees how ill David is (in addition to the severe cold/flu symptoms, he also has sickness and diarrhea), and the fact that I have caught David’s cold, he gives us several options of what to do today:

1. Go to Lospalos and stay there for two nights instead of one
2. Go to Lospalos for the day and come back here for the night
3. Go to Com and spend the night there
4. Return to Dili
5. Spend another night here in Baucau and return to Dili tomorrow

After some discussion, we decide to stick with the original itinerary and continue to Lospalos for overnight. The road takes us through the countryside where daily life goes on as it has done for years.

Newly planted rice fields

Roadside stall

A small local café

Buffalo crossing a river

Looking for crabs

Roadside cooking

Selling oil (I think)

Most rice fields have already been harvested, and are now brown and dry

On the journey, David mostly sleeps, while Danny explains about the complicated customs surrounding marriage, and the cost of a bride. In his case, two buffalo, five goats, and a horse, thankfully, it is acceptable to pay in installments.


As it is in Sulawesi, buffalo are of great importance here in Timor Leste, and it is thought that the bigger the horns, the stronger the man, so buffalo with big horns are the most desirable to give as a bride price.

The cost of a bride depends on the district where the couple lives, Lospalos, for instance, is one of the most expensive areas, as the inhabitants descend from the previous royal family. Buffalos are also sacrificed following a death, at the average cost of $700 per buffalo. I guess it is not surprising that the customs here are similar to those in parts of Indonesia, given their proximity and history.

Monumento dos Martires da Caridade


The monument commemorates an incident that happened here in 1999, as the pace and fury of attacks in East Timor intensified with the date of the referendum for independence getting closer. At a roadblock, members of the pro-Indonesian militia ambushed a convoy of Catholic church workers returning from a mission after nightfall.


During the massacre, they attacked the cars, raped one of the nuns, as well as another female lay-person, shot all seven occupants (which included a journalist), set fire to the car, and threw the bodies in the lake beyond for the crocodiles to finish them off.


We follow the coast for a while, with blue sea and almost deserted beaches.


Most of the dwellings we pass are simple wooden constructions, or what I would describe as unfinished breeze-block ‘mansions’.



Later we travel through areas reminiscent of an African savanna, with flat-topped trees, thorny bushes, and dry grass. It just needs a few zebra, and this could be the Serengeti in the dry seasons.


Uma Lulik

These sacred totem houses connect the Fatakulu people with the spirits of their ancestors, symbolising a link between the past and present, the dead and the living. Each uma lulik (literally ‘spirit house’) belongs to a specific family, but it also represents all other descendant groups that have formed a bond with it through marriages, between past and present, those who have gone and those who are still here.


Every element of the construction of these buildings is charged with symbolism, the type of material used all have to be natural in order to tie the house with the uncertain forces of nature. The concept of Uma Lulik also includes rituals, ceremonies, and beliefs, a place where the living can communicate with their ancestors.


Kati Guest House

We stop in Com for lunch at a beach restaurant/guest house. Concerned about David’s health, Danny enquires about a room here for overnight, but sadly they are full.


We do have lunch here, however, and very nice it is too.

Red snapper – the fish is lovely: really tasty and more importantly, the flesh is easy to remove from the bones. I hate having to fight with the food on my plate.

Tofu with beans, green vegetables, and spicy tomatoes.

The only disappointment is that they have no Coke or Sprite, only Fanta. One of the workers pops to the nearest store to see if they can find some for us, but no luck.

We spend some time chilling here, watching the goings on, both on and off the coast.

Looking for crabs

Great Billed Heron


Raca Cemetery

While Timor Leste is heavily Catholic, many of the inhabitants still practice animism, or a unique combination of the two religions.


Here the graves of those who have not been baptised are easily distinguished from those who were following the Catholic religion – they have no cross to mark their burial place.


The more traditional family graves are instead topped with buffalo horns, one for each person buried here.


On All Saints Day (2nd November), family members visit the burial places of their dead ancestors, clean the graves, put out fresh flowers, and bring a large picnic spread that they share. An extra plate of food will be provided for the deceased so that they can all eat together.


ADM Guest House

The only accommodation for miles around is the guest house attached to, and run by, the nunnery.


Our room is in an annexe to one side, with a small living area, a bedroom with a small double bed draped in a mosquito net, a desk with a chair, and surprisingly: air conditioning. The bathroom has a toilet with a bucket flush, and no wash basin or hot water.

The first door leads to our seating area and on to the bedroom

The 'lounge'

The bedroom

While David goes straight to bed, I sit in the lounge area for a while, then join David. Entering the room is like walking in to a sauna, and I am a bit concerned about David as he is fully clothed under the cover. I switch on the AC and snooze for a while. It doesn’t last long, however, as my throat gurgles when I breathe, and I have one coughing fit after another. We both have an upset stomach this afternoon, which is not great when I have to bend down to lift a heavy bucket in order to flush the toilet – on the second attempt, I hurt my back!

We sit on the covered balcony for a while, bemused by the health and safety practised by the workmen changing a light bulb in the ceiling.


After a while, Danny joins us – he too has a bad tummy. I guess it must be something we ate.

After a short walk around the extensive property, we get the drone out, which absolutely mesmerises the young girls hanging around.




Lots of other guests arrive this evening, workers from a local bank. We are seated in a smaller room at the rear of the property, just the three of us.


There’s plenty of food, especially as none of us are feeling great this evening.


Chicken, with very tasty skin

Beef in sauce with crinkly chips


We all retire to bed extremely early this evening, feeling sorry for ourselves.

This amazing Grand Tour of South East Asia was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:07 Archived in East Timor Tagged fish rice_fields beach cemetery buffalo traditions com heron murder rape massacre illness east_timor drone undiscovered_destinations traditional_customs dronography timor_leste baucau roadside_stalls grand_tour-of_south_east_asia lospalos monumento_dos_martires_da_carid uma_lulik spirit_houses kati_guest_house raca_cemetery raca traditional_cemetery adm_guest_house feeling_unwell

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OMGosh, so sad to read that you guys still feel awefull! What a day!

by Ils1976

Thanks, Ils, it all adds to the adventure. ;)

by Grete Howard

Oh dear, all three of you feeling ill now! But the spirit houses look fascinating and I was interested to read about the Day of the Dead like practices, on the opposite side of the world to Mexico!

by ToonSarah

With hindsight, I am pretty sure we all had Covid, but we didn't test at the time.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated in Haiti too, where it is called Fed Gede.

by Grete Howard

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