Let’s face it — East Timor has gotten a lot of bad press. Five centuries of colonial rule and 24 years of bloody occupation didn’t help. In my mind’s eye, Timor was all rocky scrub and rubble. How wrong I was…
A few weeks ago, I joined my partner Joe Yaggi and Jungle Run Productions on a circuit around the coasts and highlands of western East Timor. Joe shot footage for Tour de Timor 2010 — a mountain-biking-cum-nation-building initiative launched by President José Ramos-Horta. I helped out, and shot a few stills.
All in all, I was smitten. We made our way over two high passes — 1500 and 1800 meters, one at the base of Timor’s highest peak, Mount Ramelau, topping out at 2963 meters. The rolling, green highlands looked like something out of New Zealand, just add Austronesian architecture.
And the people… Most have a story to tell, and are grateful they’re here to tell it. There was Ferdinand Xavier, the last guerilla commandante from Ainaro, who fought alongside Xanana Gusmao. There was Gaspar Leki, who joined the Indonesian army to oppose Timor’s independence, but was welcomed home when his side lost. And there was Sister Elsa, who speaks of unspeakable massacres, and moves on: “Of course, I have to be peaceful, I have to be joyful, so that I can bring this peace, this joyful in my heart to other people.”
No one practices peace so vigorously as those who had to earn it.