I went on a afternoon trip to Maubara this weekend. Maubara is about a 1.5 hour drive west of Dili. To get there, you take a winding road that hugs the coast, bumping along through potholes, squeezing around piles of rock left by landslides, avoiding buffalo, goats and chickens that are all taking their sweet time to cross the road, tempting fate.
You pass sites that are haunted by the ghosts of the country’s past. A town where some 300 were massacred during the Indonesian invasion. A lake filled with bad spirits where bodies were dumped, the crime long hidden under the water’s shiny veneer. A towering pulpit on the outskirts of Dili where Pope John Paul II spoke when he visited the country is now a spot where young guys loiter on the stairs catching shade and the infrequent breeze.
You pass chirpy Liquicia, with its mix of freshly painted bright green buildings and crumbling colonial relics. You pass broken bridges and kicked up dust. Potholes big enough to lose a Camry in and a new church painted the colours of a candy cane. You pass fish for sale on the back of a motorbike, accidentally slow roasting in the hot afternoon sun. Salty bushes and mangroves and half-built boats. Shaggy-haired huts the same colour as the sand. Afternoon naps and lazy palms.
Finally, when you reach Maubara, the cheery market (the main reason we had come) stands bold against the blue sea. The women sell baskets, woven floor mats, purses, tais and bags died bright pink, purple, blue, yellow and red. So many wonderful things, carefully made by hand.
Across the road from the market stands an old Portuguese fort. From the outside, a canon is barely visible and the imposing wall just looks like a history lesson. But inside, there’s a lovely shady garden and a cafe where they make their banana smoothies with buttery palm sugar and fresh coconut milk.
And then you buy one last pretty little thing from the market and then its time to go back to the city once more.