TIMOR-LESTE 2012

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

Fatucahi to Maliana, Bobonaro District

Foreigners are warned about "driving in The Districts" and vehicle hire companies such as Rentló have walls full of photographs of the consequences: wrecked 4x4 vehicles, vehicles balanced on overhangs, vehicles at the bottom of ravines etc. Driving in The Districts requires one's full attention at all times, dodging dogs, goats, chickens, water buffalo, children and playing Dodge Ball with suicidal motorcyclists riding 2, 3, 4, or even 5 to a bike (children included). And then there are the inanimate hazards such as tree-falls, rock-falls, subsidence onto the road, subsidence of the road itself, massive holes in the road surface, broken or incomplete bridges, floods, rivers to be forded—the list is almost endless.

Pigs on one side Chickens on the other

From Fatucahi we would go west along the coast to Betano and then turn north towards Same, then a few kms short of the town, west again across a river ford towards Suai but turning north again towards Bobonaro town and then over the mountains down to Maliana near the Indonesian border of West Timor. The drive to Maliana was only 140 kms but it took most of the day and included some of the worst Timorese roads we have driven in seven phases.

A small ford at a downed bridge on the Betano road A great spot for saltwater crocodiles near Betano
The large span bridge is unfinished so we forded the river in the Troopies

 

On the road north towards Maliana we encountered a two-wheel drive bus stuck on a muddy hill. We hung back along with most of the bus passengers while the driver fought to get to the top of the deceptively steep hill, assisted by 3-4 guys who were eagerly, and one would think pointlessly, pushing! But their perseverance payed off, and with rocks under his wheels, to stop them losing ground gained, they eventually made it to the top. Presumably he does this run often and knows what it takes.
We then breezed up in four-wheel drive.

 

Lunch on the road: sardines on crackers The stuck bus

A little further on we came to a stretch of the road which had completely subsided into the valley below. The only way across was to drive slowly and carefully along the rim of the muddy ridge with the right-hand wheels inches from the edge. Looking back we realised that with one more good storm this road could disappear altogether. We wondered how the bus would make out on this section of the road, but did not stay to find out.

Don't look down -
driving along the edge of a subsided road
Now you can look back
- did we drive that?

 

Despite all the road hazards the drive was scenic with stunning mountains and quaint villages.

The mountains of Bobonaro District A hilltop cemetary
A panorama looking back the way we came,
Maliana is to the left, the road-killed pitviper (below) was a short distance to the right

 

And we found one herp on the drive, a road-killed Lesser Sunda pitviper (Trimeresurus insularis) at an elevation of 876 m (our highest record for the species on Timor) on the climb up to our final descent into Maliana, but more excitement was to come........

Lesser Sunda pitviper (DOR)
Trimeresurus insularis

After driving around so much of Timor without an incident, when it finally came it came suddenly! Following Hinrich's Troopie down the long winding hill into Maliana I drove into a huge pothole on the side of the road, I simply didn't see it in time to avoid it. There are times when you face disaster and you have a choice, shut your eyes and hope for the best, or try to do something about it. Initially when we dropped into the hole and the front-right tyre burst I was probably following the first option but as the vehicle bounced along a wall to the right of the road and threatened to plunge into a building I decided to try and do something proactive. So I yanked the wheel to the left and tried to urge the Troopie back onto the road. We may have been airborne again when we hit the second hole and bounced back onto the tarmac with a thump, whereupon the rear-right tyre burst with a bang followed by the hiss of air escaping with force, but being in High-4 and tugging the wheel to the left seemed to have got us back onto the road and we did not flip over. I brought the Troopie to a halt. Andrew, Paulo and I were okay, so we jumped out to put rocks under the wheels and assess the damage.

The Troopie with two flat tyres The offending pot-holes

We now had a disabled Troopie with two flat tyres and one spare, but fortunately we also had Hinrich's Troopie so we called him on the walkie-talkie and he came back up the hill. We took the spares from both vehicles and dug out the jacks, first changing the rear and then the front tyres, to the great interest of the gathered populace.

We needed the spares form both Troopies Jacking up the back
Jacking up the front Paulo and Mark struggle with a stubborn wheel-nut

 

Having used up our spare tyres, we needed to get the flat ones repaired. We were also meeting up with one of our "Jets" - Zito lives and works in Maliana. Hinrich called him on the phone and we agreed to meet him at the roundabout in town. Once there we asked him about a tyre-fitter/repair shop and it turned out we were parked right next to one! The mechanic and his son soon fixed the front tyre but the inner-tube and the lining from the rear tyre were so badly damaged they needed to be replaced.

Taking the tyres for repair The old tyres on the roof should have been a giveaway, this is the tyre-fitter's workshop The tyre-fitter and his assistant
get to work

The mechanic and his family set off to obtain the new tube and lining while we headed for our hotel, ironically called the Hotel Risky, and then a restaurant. We could pick up the tyres in the morning. Although it had only been 140 kms it had been a long day and cold beers and a hot meal beckoned.

The shredded inner-tube The family go for a new inner-tube
Zito and Hinrich