Towards the province of Liquica.
I tried to book the motorcycle again, the same one that I had used to ride to Aileu. But turns out it was already booked out today by someone else. So, I had to hire a taxi/guide that would take me and a couple of friends at the hostel towards the province of Liquica. At 50 dollars for the whole day, we were excited to set off and explore the lesser known west of Timor Leste.
What we didn’t know was how that excitement would turn to sorrow once we heard the stories of Liquica.
Liquica – A sad memory
We passed through Tasitolu – which I had already checked out when I went to see the Pope statue – and headed more west, towards Liquica.
Our first stop was the Liquica cemetery. And that’s where my taxi-driver – who was happy to double up as a guide – told us about Liquica’s sad past, which we were not aware of. After East Timor announced it’s independence from the Portuguese in November 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor within 2 weeks, supported by Australia and United States – both of whom feared a communist movement in this part of the world. The Indonesian occupation would last for nearly 25 years, and was characterised by mass war-crimes including massacres, extrajudicial executions and torture.
One of the pillars of the Indonesian occupation were the infamous pro-Indonesia militias. These were East-Timor based militia groups who favoured an Indonesian government. Being physically located inside Timor Leste, gave these groups the reach needed to suppress any dissent against Indonesia and carry out mass-scale executions and massacres.
The most notorious of these militias was the Besi Merah Putih (BMP) who were founded in Maubara, and unleashed a wave of war-crimes on the people of Timor. And their most infamous crime was the Liquica church massacre, with nearly 200 people killed in summary execution.
And most of those killed were interned at this cemetery.
But for some reason, the Liquica cemetery was closed down. And there was not a single soul in sight for us to ask or enquire about it.
We proceeded to drive around Liquica for a bit. Many of the houses were razed as a memoir of the Indonesian occupation. Towards the end of their rule, the Indonesian military decided to unleash a tidal wave of death and destruction on Timor Leste. And many of the building around Liquica were torn down.
We found a dry river bed, with a couple of thatched houses, and decided to explore it. A solitary woman sat in front of a few bowls of rice, but did not engage in any conversation with us. When I asked her if it was ok to click her, she mildly nodded.
As if she was in a state of ‘what do I care? I am just happy you are not pointing a gun at me’.
We hung out with her for some time, trying to make some conversation. After a while, we gave up and proceeded to take a look at the black beach of Liquica. There were some decent swells there, and we wondered why Timor Leste has not yet caught the attention of the surfing community.
Maubara – A forgotten Dutch legacy
From Liquica, we continued towards Maubara.
Like Liquica, Maubara also had a dark history under the Indonesian occupation. After all, this was the home base of the BMP (Besi Merah Putih) militia. Just like nearby Liquica, Maubara was the home of multiple war crimes too. When the UN took over Timor Leste after the Indonesian occupation in 2000, there were multiple discoveries of mass-graves. In fact, 16 exhumations were done in just 2 days in this small village!
Before all this Indonesia episode, Maubara was just another colonial trade. While most of Timor Leste was a Portuguese colony for the longest time, Maubara was an exception. Until 1851, Maubara was a Dutch colony, and it became Portuguese only after a trade, where the Dutch received the island of Flores in Indonesia, and turned over Maubara to the Portuguese.
The Dutch did leave an important legacy, which was our first destination in Maubara. The Dutch fort. A historic fort at the entrance of the village, overlooking the sea.
Built back in 1756, the fort itself wasn’t much, and I wondered if this was one of the buildings that were affected by the Indonesian occupation. A solitary door opened out into a small courtyard, with a solitary cannon proclaiming that this was indeed a fort once upon a time. A few bamboo benches were cluttered on one side. There was a poster of some theatre festival, so obviously the fort was also a cultural venue for events.
We went in hoping that there would be some kind of board or notice or plaque providing some kind of insight into the history of the fort. There was none. (This was back in 2014, and not sure if it has changed now)
A woman sat in front of the main building, but was unable to explain anything about the fort. The fort seemed to also house a small restaurant, as we were able to buy a beer from the same woman.
Again, we walked around and took some pictures of the cannon. And then we stepped out to the market outside it.
What was supposed to be a market opposite to the fort, was actually a couple of shops. But still, they sold some beautiful handwoven baskets which were elegantly hung on the walls. Timor Leste being still far away from a touristy location, the ladies who sold the baskets did not even try to persuade me to buy the baskets.
They just chilled, or continued doing whatever they were doing in their shops. And maybe it was this nonchalant attitude that actually made us buy a couple of baskets from them.
After the Maubara market, we had one last stop to see. The MIBA or the Maubara Important bird area. Most of this IBA was actually one coastal lake, the lake Maubara, which was supposed to be home to a varied number of birds like whistlers, bush chats and the Timor Sparrow.
But as our luck would have it, we just saw the lake. The birds were nowhere to be found.
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This post is part of my stories about Timor Leste. Click here to check out other amazing travel stories from Timor Leste.
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