I am not sure why I mostly enjoyed myself on the road today. On paper, there was really not much reason for it. Maybe it was going well prepared, or the lighter bike, or just that the worst pain from the sunburn has worn off. The goal for the day was simple enough: Head 106km into the mountains and be there early enough to have a good long rest for a nightly hike up Tatamailau.
The first obstacle was an easy but annoying challenge to get through morning rush hour Dili. To get to the foot of the road going south into the mountains, we had to pretty much go through the city centre. Sweating but unscratched, we arrived at challenge number two: The entire first 800m climb is currently an 8 km long road works. Don’t get me, roads are in dire need of works, but they remain in full use while being torn to shreds.
The seal is gone where they work on the roads, leaving a talcum like dust with rocks strewn in between in its place. All is constantly churned up by the lorries and busses going along, seldom compacted and moderately slippery. That is until it is combined with water – then it becomes a soap-like mud. To keep the dust down somewhat, the road is of course watered. To add some fun to this mudslide, the road itself is an obstacle course of workers, concrete, building materials, lorries, houses, people, gaping holes and a good dose of pure anarchy. At least, everyone is reasonably polite about it.
The mountain road from here to within 20 km of Maubisse allows for great views (and gaping drops) but is of moderate to bad state, with the seal gone from 5-10% of the surface in ever changing pot hole and gap patterns. With little traffic it is mostly an exercise in “find the continuous seal” slalom, but every so often one has to come off the seal, 5-10 cm drops included, and then “bump-bump” back on again.
Before Maubisse, there are another 20 km of road works. These feature much the same, but somewhat less chaotic, which is appreciated. Even the dirt and gravel surface seems mostly compacted, except in the corners where the lorries made a powder of it again. In Maubisse (70 km from Dili) we stopped for lunch at a guest house and restaurant next to a big old church / nunnery. The food was good, affordable and they even got me good strong coffee at the end.
The last 50 km would take us another 2.5 hrs. First along the inter-district road south, again much the same as the road to Maubisse, maybe a bit worse. Here, on a steeper section where the seal has been washed out I stalled the bike going over a boulder and we dropped it, sliding a bit downhill afterwards. Nothing much happened, but I am thinking about reinforcing the Touratech pannier mounts where they bent a little.
The final obstacle of the day was another cracker. Turning off the main road, we would go up the mountains to a village / valley called Hato Builico. 18 km on a side road. In its defence, the road was not in too much disrepair – it just has always been terrible to begin with. Basically the entire length, it is a cobble stone road made up from about fist sized jagged rocks. Even with some air let out of the tires, going over 20 km/h would have shaken us and the bike to pieces. So we went, 18 km in first gear up the mountain, over passes 2120m high. My only worry was the clutch at some points, getting used extensively when even 1st gear was too much.
And thus we arrived, at 3pm, after a day of riding. To give you a little perspective on the roads: In New Zealand, our average speed in motion was 72km/h, in Australia it was 85 km/h (both including gravel sections). In Timor-Leste, it has been 32 km/h!
We booked into a guest house at the foot of the mountain we are keen to climb. Ronaldo, called Aldo, the 12 year old son of the shopkeeper was our English interpreter. We got a room, a very basic dinner and a guide for tomorrow. Mountain here we come!