TIMOR-LESTE 2011

Victor Valley College Tropical Research Initiative
Herpetofauna of Timor-Leste
Phase V

Dili to Com, Lautém District

Map showing route from Dili to Com, Lautém District

Our plan for Phase V was to concentrate on the far eastern district of Lautém, Laca's home district and an area we had largely overlooked since visiting Lospalos, Loré, Tutuala and Tutuala Beach during Phase I (2009). Our impetus to return to Lautém was also in part due to the interesting specimens Laca and his fellow Jets had collected towards his own honours thesis, near his home village of Raça.

Conveniently the Com Beach Resort, which would serve as our base for the duration, is owned by the same company as the Timor Lodge Hotel.

The drive from Dili to Com is only about 205 kms but it takes between five and six hours due to the state of the roads and the need to drive with caution, even on the relatively good stretches where large potholes are commonplace.

A digger removes a rockfall from the road outside Dili

On our journey there had been some subsidence causing partial road blocks, and trucks were depositing great piles of hard-core to file the potholes, except these piles were left on the road, blocking one side and causing drivers to wind around between them.

 

 


 

The route follows the north coast road through Manatuto and Baucau Districts and the drive along the north coast is always very scenic and invariably involves numerous stops to take panoramic photographs of the wild coastline, the mountains and the sea.

A panorama along the north coast, looking eastwards
Click on panoramas to enlarge.

 

A 180 degree panorama of the paddifields and hills inland from the north coast

On the way there are also occasional stopping points where hungry or thirsty travelers can replenish supplies. The stop below is one we always make on the out-ward bound journey, at a place called Behedan in Manatuto District. Careful examination of the trees here, if you have eyes like Laca, will reveal Emeral tree skinks (Lamprolepis cf. smaragdina) and Timor flying lizards (Draco timoriensis).

We stopped at a popular road-side service area at a place called Behedan where Marissa, Hinrich and Caitlin stocked up on snacks and Laca went lizard hunting

The habitat along the north coast is often very arid, with river valleys reduced to stoney gulleys and narrow streams during the dry season, but irrigation of the lowlands also results in extensive lush green rice paddies. These paddies are where we would expect to find snakes, ranging from the Dog-daced watersnake (Cerberus rynchops) and Macklot's water python (Liasis mackloti) to the Island pitviper (Cryptelytrops insularis), but we were not lingering long enough to find them this time.

A panorama of the paddifieldsand coconut groves on the north coast

 

A panorama on the view east of Baucau

 

That is not to say we did not stop, the north coast road offers numerous photographic opportunities.

Planting rice What better way to turn the soil than a herd of water buffalo?

But still we headed east, towards our goal, Lautém District, over hills, across rivers, through paddies, mangroves, woodlands, shrub and scrub, grassland and villages.

A panorama of the more arid northeastern coast large rivers are reduced to trickling streams in the dry season

Crossing numerous bridges, we glancing down for the sight of a crocodile.

The Jets sighted a crocodile here a few weeks ago

We checked out a location where the Jets saw a crocodile a few weeks previously - but he was not in evidence when we passed by.

We we also stopped for road-kills!

A road-killed specimen might mean little to many people but to field herpers it is a useful source of data and, if it is not too 'ripe,' DNA and even a possible museum voucher specimen if not too damaged.

On the drive to Com we had encountered only one, a Timor monitor lizard (Varanus timorensis) on the road at Laleia in Manatuto District, near where we collected a similarly killed specimen of the same species during Phase III.

 

A road-killed Timor monitor lizard,
Varanus timorensis near Laleia,
click on the image to see what can be done with a fresh roadkill, an embalmer would be proud!

 

The Gates to Lautém

But eventually all good things come to an end, and after a long but interesting drive we finally arrived at the Com Beach Resort which was to be our home for the next week. This resort, 5-6 hours from Dili, is owned by the same company as the Timor Lodge Hotel, so we knew we were in good hands.

We checked in, unloaded, unpacked, and had a beer!

Eventually we reached the Com Beach Resort, our base for the following week.