It’s on the drive back from Balibo I decide that, while Pat might take a local bus eight hours into the mountains to visit Nilthon, Leslie Godfrey is not up to the task. By hour two of our three hour trip back to Dili, my arms are sore from clutching Little America’s “Oh Shit Handle.” Bill decides to pull off the road for a break. We enjoy the view, take a few group photos, and enjoy a coca-cola from Bill and Derva’s cooler. I look back at the road we bucked down moments ago to find a large truck grinding its breaks. Approximately fifty Timorese and a goat ride atop its roof.
“Oh, look,” Bill says, “that will be you riding the local bus to Mount Remalou.” The rumpled pile of humans atop the truck smile and wave cheerfully as I lift my camera lens.
“Yeah, a few months ago, a bus had a break failure around one of these curves on this road and fell into the sea.” Derva tells me. “So sad, so sad. Everyone died.”
“Awful,” I say, scowling at Andrew, hoping he understands the obvious conclusion.
Upon our return to Dili, we learn our Indonesian Social Visa is ready and waiting for us to pick up. We complete some grocery shopping, gather our visas and passports, then text Nilthon to break the news. He’s disappointed, but would like to meet up before we leave. We invite him to meet us for pizza and cokes at Moby’s. Nilthon nervously presents us with a Timor Leste flag, our parting gift. Per the usual, it’s hard to say goodbye to our new friend. We up anchor and sail overnight to Oe Cusse, a Timorese enclave nestled between two areas of West Timor, Indonesia.
We have not a single breath of wind for an entire twenty four hours, so we motor 90 miles further West. As we near Oe Cusse, the early morning light peeks above sheer mountainside and slants through a haze of woodsmoke. Pilot whales breach the water surface just off in the distance, making our approach mysterious and beautiful.
We lay anchor, unfold Grin, and row ashore to find a long stretch of beach.
A few paces to our right is a cafe, nestled beneath a giant shade tree.
We sit back in two blue plastic chairs, reclined just slightly for comfort, and look out at Sonrisa bobbing in the anchorage. We watch the cafe buzz with a crowd of young ExPats enjoy a round of expressos, cigarettes, and boisterous laughter.
They make the expressos look so good, we have to order one for ourselves.
Note: the word “Expresso” has always been one of my pet peeves. Like the word “expecially”, I thought it did not exist. It is “especially” and “espresso,” people! I had to sail almost half way around the world to learn my own error. “Espresso” is the Italian word for strong coffee in a tiny mug. “Expresso” is Portuguese for strong coffee in a tiny mug. #nowyouknow
Soon enough, the crowd leaves and the cafe falls silent. “Where did they all go?” I wonder. We circle about town and find infrastructure under construction. There are four lane roads, divided by an island of trees. Fresh, black asphalt is smooth under my flip flops, not marked by a single pock. The sidewalks are cobble brick construction with trenches dug beneath them. Every square provides a slit into the drainage trench that will allow water to drain away during the rainy season. We even find a newly constructed hospital. A bridge to the right, a bridge to the left. As the sun sets, florescent street lights brighten the city to a strange white daylight.
We explore the ruins of the Portuguese King's Oe Cusse home, more angels. Andrew sneaks in and steals my cool picture of Sonrisa through the windows. Stinker.
We meet local kids, drawing water from a well. We watch a gentleman balance a load of branches on his scooter like he’s driving a truck. We visit a church, locals in progress of setting up flowers for a mass. As night falls, light peeks through the open air blocks of the cinderblock and cement houses. Locals sit on the islands in the middle of the road, strumming guitars. Teenage boys sculpt each other’s hair into cool shapes. Using a straight edge razor, they sculpt patterns in the short shaved sides.
Later that night, we find the ExPat crowd again at the second cafe just steps from the beach. We’ve heard there is live music, so we arrive around 7 p.m. to grab a table and enjoy. Happy hour beers, a shrimp pasta and salad for me, a ham omelette with salad and fries for Andrew. The band is good, playing “oldies” like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana on electric guitars.
“Green Day!” Andrew calls out, hoping the band will take requests. And they do!
Halfway through the night, a somber procession passes just outside on the street. Timor Leste flags and flickering candles. I scurry out to grab a picture, not knowing what the procession is for.
Andrew and I stretch our attendance out until the band packs up and heads home at midnight. Our cue to hit they hay, we pay our bill and head out to the road.
“Where are you going?” A blonde, curly haired Ex Pat asks us as we walk out into the street. We point to Sonrisa. “Oh, you should come with us to the dance club.”
“Dance club?” This seems an unlikely place for a dance club. “Are you going now?”
“No, no, in an hour or two.” She says, as though it is noon, not midnight.
“You mean you aren’t even getting started until 2 a.m.?” I say, sounding as if she’s put a bug in my stew. She looks at me like I’m off my rocker. Andrew is leaning away in horror, looking as if he might bolt any second.
“Yeah! Around 2. It’s great! We dance until sunrise and then go for a morning swim in the ocean.”
Andrew rocks onto the balls of his feet, I can smell the sweat of his panic. You see, I love to dance, and we so rarely get the opportunity... He’s not weighing in on the topic, but I can see he’s not much into pulling an all nighter after our previous night passage (or ever, for that matter.) We bow out, to the gal’s obvious disapproval. Who wouldn’t want to go to a club at 2:00 a.m.?
From Sonrisa’s bunks, we can hear the music from the club play with a latin flare. The club lights the beach up with a florescent blue, almost a mile away. Andrew dodged that bullet.