Following a morning full of hiking/hitch-hiking, lunch was my first priority, followed by accommodation. The only restaurant in town, with the cheapest meals I had come across so far, also had the most expensive accommodation I had encountered in Timor-Leste. The rooms were nice, and they even contained a proper shower, but again it was only cold water.
Once I had removed my wet clothing I jumped under the covers, even though it was only 3 p.m. The rain hadn't stopped, the fog hadn't lifted, and I all I cared about was getting warm.
An hour later I emerged from my cocoon to find the rain had ceased, so I ventured out for a walk around town. A large market filled the main street, with vendors all offering the same vegetables under the same rainbow umbrellas. Behind these were concrete huts or tin sheds that functioned as convenience stores. These too sold products identical to each other, and I'm pretty certain that most of their stock hadn't moved for years.
On a small hill in the middle of town was a pousada, which I had heard mentioned several times in my research of the town. It was originally used by the Portuguese elite, so they could sit above the commoners and not have to mingle with them. The main building was beautiful, set in flower-filled gardens with views of the surrounding landscape on three sides. Clearly it hadn't been open for a while, as the grounds were overrun with weeds. The building itself was also starting to look a little worse for wear. The views were amazing though, easily the best in town. I stayed up here for quite a while.
Dinner was served on the sheltered balcony of my guesthouse, which turned out to be exactly the same as lunch (soup, rice, greens) but with five small pieces of fried potato sitting on top of the rice. Clearly, they weren't a fan of variety. As soon as I had finished eating I made a beeline straight to my room, where I did my best to fight off the cold.
My sixth morning in Timor-Leste was the first day I didn't need to set an alarm. I still woke up at 6.30 a.m.
Just after the sun had risen above the horizon, I once again walked up to the pousada. The skies were clear and, surprisingly, I wasn't cold at all. I stood entranced as the town and bordering mountains gradually become bathed in morning light. Other than the incessant crowing of dozens of roosters, it was tremendously peaceful.
Breakfast was laid out by the time I returned. When I saw the bread rolls I was reminded of yesterday’s dry, bland offering in Hato Builico, but this time I was ecstatic to see peanut butter as well. And instead of cassava, I was given purple sweet potatoes, fully cooked and served with chili sauce. A couple of condiments can make all the difference.
While gazing out from the pousada earlier, I had spotted a mountain behind Maubisse with a gigantic cross on the summit. I figured if they got the cross up there, then surely there was a trail to reach it. I checked my map, found a road leading up to what I thought was the same hill (there were several to choose from) and set out.
It wasn't long before the road became dirt, and then into something I would definitely not call a road. It led me through tiny villages where adults said ‘bon dia’, kids shouted out ‘malae’ and dogs barked angrily at me. After a couple of kilometres the landscape turned into rolling green hills with cows and horses grazing under bright blue skies. It wouldn't have looked out of place in Switzerland. The views back over Maubisse and the nearby mountain ranges were stunning. I wish all hikes were this picturesque.
My map told me the road finished after 3.5 km, which I had hoped would be the top of the mountain. It wasn't. It led to someone's house, well below the summit. I backtracked until I found a rough, if-you-squint-you-can-see-it path going up towards the cross. I lost this path several times, and various others crisscrossed over it. At one point I emerged from the trees to find I had completely overshot the cross and was going down the other side. By this time I was extremely worried about not finding my way back due to the lack of a clear trail, so I cut my losses and started heading down.
That was when I found the actual path. It looked well-trodden and seemed to be going exactly where I wanted it to go. I immediately jumped onto this trail and slowly climbed up the mountain, watching the cross get closer and closer. Finally I hit a clearing, which allowed me to walk straight over to the base of the cross, where a huge sign informed me that I was standing on Mt Balibo. I couldn’t believe I had made it. From here, I was given 360-degree views over distant mountains dotted with colourful villages. White clouds lined the horizon, but overhead the sky was bright blue. At almost 2000 m above sea level, the outlook was somewhat hazy; I probably had better views on the ascent. But I didn’t care - I was just elated to reach the top.
Now I had to tackle the minor problem of finding my way down again. Luckily my GPS watch had a breadcrumb feature, which showed me the route I took to get here. By following the dotted line on the screen (minus the detours), I was able to get back to the dirt road I had started on in no time. I was incredibly thankful for modern technology at this point, as it would have taken a lot longer to descend if it wasn't for this.
Somehow I missed a couple of turns coming down the hill, but the local villagers pointed me in the right direction. By late morning clouds had started coming across, which made me glad to have started early in the day. My planned hike of 7 km ended up being 10 km, but it was definitely a highlight of my trip. The hike itself was one of the best I had done in a long time (Mt Ramelau having a superb endpoint but not the most scenic journey).