I happily jumped off the horrible, dusty bus at the main bus station in Baucau, where I transferred to a microlet to take me to the old town. The microlet dropped me off right in front of the Pousada de Baucau, the most famous attraction in the city. It was built in the 1950s and, like the pousada in Maubisse, was used as a retreat for wealthy Portuguese (until it was taken over during the Indonesian occupation and used as a prison). It was just as grand as Maubisse’s, but this one was actually open to guests. As I wandered around the outside of the pink-coloured building, I spotted several tourists lounging around in the outdoor furniture. They were the first foreigners I had seen in three days. The place oozed charm and tranquility, and it was definitely the nicest-looking hotel I had seen in the country. I'm sure it was way out of my price range.
After exploring the pousada, my next mission was to walk to the beach to see how it compared with Dili's. It took almost an hour on a mostly-paved road that ran entirely downhill. Although there wasn't much to see on the way, the walk was lovely. Lines of palm trees ran along each side of the street and traffic was almost non-existent. As usual, every man, woman and child (and dog, goat and rooster) called out to me as I went by. Some of them were friendly, some not so friendly (I’ll be pretty happy to never hear the word ‘malae’ again after I leave Timor-Leste). For the first time on my trip, all the kids I passed asked me for money. If I had given every one of them a dollar, I would be well and truly broke.
The first beach I came to was fairly small and completely empty. However, the golden sands and deep blue water meant Baucau could definitely take bragging rights over Dili in the beach department. I ventured further south but only found rocky shores, so I tried north instead. The next beach was slightly longer and there were a few people around, but not as many as I expected for a Sunday. From a distance, it appeared the better beaches were further north along the road. As I was short on time, I didn't get the chance to find out.
It was a hot, sweaty climb back up the hill, especially with my backpack trapping all the heat against my back. At the top I found the local swimming pool, free to enter and for some reason one of the main tourist attractions in this town. The pool was old and nothing special, but I guess the forest setting made it feel a little more special. If I had packed swimming gear, I might have jumped in to cool off.
Back near the pousada, I noticed there were worn-out steps leading up to an old shelter of some sort. Of course I had to check out the view from the top. The lookout over the town was minimal, but after hopping along a crumbling wall I found sea views that stretched for miles.
Lunch, for the umpteenth time, was a mound of rice with sauteed greens. I haven't had to worry about getting enough vegetables in this country. Once I had finished eating, I had enough time to wander around the couple of streets that made up the old town, exploring the colonial buildings that were in various stages of disrepair. The main market area, another apparent highlight, was fenced up and closed off, although I managed a peek through the barrier. Overall, it was a pleasant town, but I can’t say it was the most fascinating place I have visited in this country.
The bus ride back to Dili was no more fun than any of the others. Even though the road was paved, we were crammed in like sardines and no one wanted to open a window. There were six of us sitting on a seat meant for five, three guys were hanging out the front door, three out the back door, two clung to the railing on the back of the bus, and there were at least a dozen on the roof. I also had a live chicken at my feet. I’m not going to miss this side of Timor-Leste.