Some weeks ago photos of the natural bridge in Venilale (Ponte Natureza) emerged on Facebook after a few friends went down for the weekend. Since then, a group of us have talked enviously of doing the same, determined to replicate these beautiful photographs.
So with great organisation on Kahu’s part, 14 of us gathered outside Lita Supermarket on 7am Saturday with 2 cars and 4 motorbikes ready for some roadtripping. For Joris and I the early start was a bit of a struggle and we contemplated sicknesses we could feign. We had also lost keenness after hearing that the natural bridge wasn’t going to as pleasant in the wet season because it’s just all mud and water buffalos. However, seeing the whole crew that morning stopped us grumbling and revived our enthusiasm for the trip ahead.
From Dili we departed for Baucau, making a stop at the fish-on-stick restaurants just out of Manatuto. Nobody ordered fish but it was a great halfway point to hydrate and fill up on katupa (small bundles of coconut rice wrapped in palm leaves).
The ride from Dili to Baucau is incredibly scenic as the road follows the coastline and winds around surrounding hills and mountains. Now that the wet season has properly kicked in, it has put the green back in the mountainous landscape, though it’s often a curious fluoro green.
We arrived in Baucau around 11 and checked into our bright orange guesthouse before getting treated to morning tea at Alison and Trevor’s place. Our numbers climbed to 18 as we got back on the road for Venilale (south of Baucau).
First stop was the Seven Caves (Kuak Hitu), a system of caves and tunnels dug by forced Timorese labour during Japanese occupation in World War Two. Entrances to the cave sit right by the road, though easily missed if speeding by.
We reached Venilale to find the Tourist Information Centre closed (naturally on a Saturday), so after seeking directions from the locals and calculating the amount of time we had before dark versus the possibility of locating this bridge, we opted for Plan B – a change of itinerary.
Trevor guided us off-road to the hot springs, unaware what the road was going to be like in wet season. It turned out a rather challenging ride, with multiple steep ascents and descents over rough and rocky road.
The hot spring made for a nice sulphorous treat after the strenuous exercise. Locals also used the spring to do their laundry but they moved on pretty quickly once the malae arrived.
The next part was a muddy mess – stressful and comical at the same time. I was forced to get off the bike at points and sink my very white shoes into ankle deep mud.
It was a relief to move into drier terrain as we climbed higher and higher. Though broken and exhausted, we allowed a couple more scenic photo stops before making a home run.