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

Dili to Com, Lautém District

Having lost a day due to the ferry debacle and the rain we made new plans, we would head for the far eastern end of the island of Timor, to Lautém District with its large crocodile and turtle infested lake Ira Lalaro, its limestone plateaus and caves and the uninhabited spirit island of Jaco. It would mean a 6-7 hour drive so we would have to repack the Troopies - it is one thing fitting 11 people, their personal bags and all the field kit into two Troopies for a short drive down to the dock, onto a ferry and then the short drive to our accommodation on the other side, it is quite another packing for a long drive in comfort and safety, especially on Timorese roads. Most of the kit and larger bags were packed under tarpaulins on the roof rack of Hinrich's Troopie with smaller personal bags inside with the passengers. Britta, Julia, Claudia, Sven and Kevin rode with me, Franziska, Jay, Laca and Paulo rode with Hinrich.

Loading the Troopies
And the team about to leave
(l-r) Mark, Kevin, Sven, Britta, Julia, Claudia, Jay & Hinrich
(missing from photo: Franziska, Laca & Paulo)

We set out from Dili around 11:00, picking up Laca and Paulo enroute, and drove east along the scenic north coast road, heading for Com, our destination approximately 200 km from Dili. The road has been greatly repaired as far as Baucau, Timor-Leste's second largest town and the halfway point of our journey, but beyond Baucau we could expect the usual potholes, subsidence and mud. It was also noticable in my vehicle that there were some odd sounds coming from the truck. There was an occasional knocking sound coming from the front axle, especially when cornering, but more alarming was the occasional burst of what I can only describe as like the Crazy Frog, that annoying 'ming ming' sound of a very small motorcyle being driven at full throttle as it tried to overtake, undertake, or go underneath us - except there was no motorocyle. Odd noises from hired 4x4 vehicles in the tropics are to be expected though, they are often not what would be considered roadworthy at home, and the bald tyres are usually enough to remind me how important our own British MOT vehicle test is for safety on the roads.

The drive to Baucau was along a much improved road and even with photo stops we made good time.

The scenic north coast road as it passes through Manatutu District
We usually take a short break at this small village and often stop at this store just before Baucau

As expected, the road deteriorated after we had passed through Baucau but it made for a 'more interesting' drive and there was much less traffic on the roads, mostly it was a case of dodging small motorcycles and livestock (not always successfully as it turned out).

There had also been much more rain than we had seen on this drive during previous phases of the project, the rivers were fuller, faster and coloured so we slowed at each bridge to look for Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus). Britta spotted the first one, a 4.0m specimen lying on the edge of a river bank on the downstream side of the Seisal River bridge, Baucau District, Sven the second, a 3.0m specimen beached on a sandbank on the upstream side of the Malailada River bridge, Lautém District, and we probably missed many more. Crocodiles are part of the creation story for the Timorese, and they largely go unmolested.... which is more than can be said for their response to the local population, people are taken with some regularity.

4.0m Saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus
in the Seisal River, Baucau District
3.0m Saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus
in the Malailada River, Lautém District

When we radioed Hinrich, having crossed a bridge and waited for him to catch us up, we learned he had run over a chicken and was now reimbursing the owner for its loss. I can feel another 'Hinrich's Kills' decal coming on - see below for those from previous phases!

Indeed! Watch this space!
previous road kills - a puppy and a piglet!

Just around dark we arrived at our destination, Com Beach Resort, owned by the TLH management, but we arrived in a heavy rainstorm and were quickly soaked. We delayed unpacking until there was a respite in the rain but it rained for much of the night too - not a good sign.

Com Beach Resort