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  • Writer's picturematshakesjones

A long day's journey into night

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

A long day’s journey into night

“Haree dalan”, the young boy said to me smiling while handing my motorbike helmet back. The Tetum expression translates literally as “see road”, but means safe journey. An expression I grew to love in Timor-Leste like many others, as it was evocative of my love of travel, the sense of community in Timor-Leste where strangers want you to be safe, and the journey I had been on since moving here in December 2018. The early evening light showed the raw beauty of my surroundings, a windswept coastline to my right, mountains to my far left, and in front of me, the road which beckoned me to go further than I could reasonably go in a day, to a destination unknown.

The kind young woman who had filled up my petrol and put up with my confusion over how to use the pump by the side of the road said “obrigada” as I started the bike and I smiled and waved at three young boys and her who had gathered around upon hearing there was a malae “foreigner” in town, and felt sheer excitement at where I was at in my life. They knew I was a traveler, they knew I didn’t know where I was going, they didn’t know me but there was a recognition there overcoming the language and cultural barriers – a mutual appreciation of a journey taken to explore this wonderful diverse geography, and a hope that everyone stays safe.

The fresh sea air cooled me as I rode out of Com, a town on the North East coast of Timor-Leste, and I stopped again just outside of town for a cigarette, a sip of water and to take in the scenery. I never made it here in the combined 28 months I had lived in Timor-Leste, and I was making a last minute dash around the country before my flight back to Australia in five days. I got on the bike again and turned up a road which got progressively worse, and headed to Tutuala, where there was a Pousada I had heard about which wasn’t too far from Jaco Island.

On route I saw a boxing gym on the side of the road, past sacred houses, went by large fields, Portuguese ruins, down roads with luscious forest on either side, saw buffalos, horses and lakes. This part of the country, again, was very different to others I had been in in Timor-Leste, a cooler climate once you had ascended the hills, wide expanses of plains, and more evidence of animism in the man-made geography.

I had heard rumors about psychedelic mushrooms growing in this region. But looking around these wide expanses I wondered how anyone would need to take them, given how gripping the landscape was. I rode and rode and rode, my alertness not dimmed by no caffeine to feed my addiction. I was high on adrenaline and adventure but most of all I forgot myself and regressed (or evolved) into a wide eyed sponge absorbing everything external rather than ruminating on what was internal, finding that child like state we all spend the rest of our lives trying to recreate. I stopped hourly for a sip of water and a cigarette but didn’t stop for a walk or to visit sites, I simply rode for a combined seven hours hoping for a photographic memory to remember this incredible panorama one day.

Sometimes you have to confront your fears. For me places have often carried huge significance, my memories that I experienced in them somehow inextricably linked to that place. On a certain level I know that the location is separate to a moment of sheer joy, being in love, grief, anger, or the happy moment I created with a friend who has now moved on to another place. Those memories can’t be recreated, you have to create new ones. But in my mind inevitably I attach certain feelings to certain places, which likely goes against mindfulness and the ability to live in the present but I feel is a common human tendency. I came back to Timor-Leste partly for selfish reasons – to say goodbye. It just took me another 15 months on top of my first 15 months, to find the guts to do it.

Seeing the raw beauty of nature – the immovable mountains, the crashing sea waves, the tropical vegetation and realizing it has remained the same no matter what dramas befall us humans, that it will keep the secrets of our lives, and not judge, even though internally we have attached such importance to these locations that we expect the earth to have moved, the trees to die, the streams to overflow and flood, because of the dramas we are experiencing internally. Isn’t that the beauty of life in some ways? Nature shows us that life goes on and gives us hope – it reminds us that we are an insignificant tiny part of the wonderful universe out there, and understanding, fully comprehending that separateness, is healing.

Timor-Leste has witnessed some of those most barbaric human rights atrocities in human history, many of which were committed within my lifetime. The scale of the destruction was devastating, the stories I heard while working there of that time were shocking. The country is still facing significant challenges that impact the population, and make many people struggle. But as the sun comes up on each new day, the country seems reborn again. If I could take a tiny proportion of that ability to let go and move on my life would be much more blessed.

I arrived at the Tutuala Pousada at dusk, my hands were shaking and my bum hurt. The landlord greeted me in English and I spoke back in Tetum, and he showed me a room to inspect. As if I was going to make it to anywhere else tonight. I dumped my bag in the room, and walked to the edge of the Pousada which overlooked Jaco Island, shivered with the cooler climate and felt more alive than I had in years. Two Italian backpacker women were eating dinner at the same time as me in the small dining room, and asked me to join them, which I did. One had overheard me speaking Tetum and asked “How have you found Timor-Leste?”. I helped myself to the sugary black coffee, smiled, and said, “it’s been an amazing ride”.

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