While I was staying at the Tibar Beach Retreat outside of Dili in 2015, I mentioned to my hostess, Doña Alice, that I'd heard of an old Dutch fort further down the coastal highway. She confirmed that indeed there was such a fort, in a place called Maubara. Her husband, Senhor Rui, volunteered to drive me there the next day, an offer that I eagerly accepted.
As it happened, we were a party of 3, the third member being Rui's cousin, Senhor Antonio, who was visiting from Portugal. Alice and Rui are living testaments to Timor's colonial history. Both are of Timorese and Portuguese heritage, but with different admixtures. If I remember what they told me correctly, Rui also has some Goan ancestry, while Alice's family tree includes some Macanese. Rui, Antonio, and I duly set off the next morning in Rui's trusty old SUV.
The coastal highway that runs westward from Dili to Liqueça (the district in which Maubara is located) and then onward to the Indonesian border is schizophrenic in terms of the road quality. Some stretches seem unfinished, some are beautifully surfaced, and one zone has craters that could swallow a car. Rui carefully negotiated the tricky bits and then went full throttle on the nice bits. We first stopped to visit the ruined Portuguese prison at Aipelo (stay tuned for a post), and then carried on through the town of Liqueça, from which it was only a short drive to Maubara.
A nice bit of highway somewhere in Liqueça district.
The fort turned out to be right on the main road, and right on the waterfront. We parked on the seaward side of the road directly opposite the main gate of the fort.
The gate of the Maubara fort. The bamboo garlands are in honour of the national day of Timor Leste.
Now, why is it a Dutch fort when East Timor was a Portuguese colonial possession? As I understand it, Maubara and some considerable territory around in fact belonged to the Dutch first, who swapped it in the 19th century for the island of Flores, which had hitherto belonged to the Portuguese. I suppose it unified the eastern half of Timor under Portuguese control, but the trade seems inequitable from Lisbon's point of view. I've been told, in fact, that the Portuguese governor of the time did the trade off his own bat, probably for a bribe.
Be that as it may, the Dutch started building the fort in 1756. According to the Wikipedia article about it, the walls and guns are all original. There is now only one building inside the fort, which dates from the 19th century and is presumably of Portuguese construction. It now houses a restaurant and shop.
A 19C building in the fort. There is a restaurant and a small shop inside.
The interior of the fort is also full of trees, which look quite old. The result is a lot of very welcome and very pleasant shade.
Mature trees inside the Maubara fort.
We took advantage of the restaurant's services to have some Portuguese beer.
Portuguese beer and wine are plentifully available in Timor Leste.
The guns point seawards. From the emplacements, there are views of the sea and the neighbourhood.
A Dutch cannon points towards the sea.
At the back of the fort is another gate. It was open, so I wandered through. There was a small square leading to a school. Between the fort and the school is a monument.
A monument behind the Maubara fort.
It turned out to be a memorial to one José Nunes, a local chieftain who lived from 1875 to 1952. The Portuguese government recognized a number of regional and tribal rulers, who were called liurai. Like the Indian princes under the Raj, the liurai of Timor were coopted by the colonial administration with titles and honours.
Getting back into the SUV, we bumped up a very uneven dirt road to the top of a hill overlooking Maubara town and the coast. The reward for this bone-jarring ascent was a tour of an old Portuguese villa, then under restoration, not to mention the stunning views of the coastline and the distant Indonesian island of Alor.
The island of Alor is visible from the villa.
The approach to the vila is magazine cover-worthy.
The entrance front of the old Portuguese villa above Maubara.
According to the information posted onsite, this casa forte, or fortified house, was the residence of the Portuguese colonial administrator of the Maubara sub-district. This personage would have been able to survey the entire coast of his domain from his perch on these heights. Strangely, no construction date was given in the info.
In any case, the house was under renovation for use as a boutique hotel. My visit there was in May, 2015, so the hotel is presumably up and running at the time of writing. If you've stayed there, please comment to let us know how it turned out.
On the way back to Tibar, we stopped for a meal and another beer at the Black Rock Restaurant, which was packed with holidaymakers from Dili. My stay in Timor Leste inadvertently coincided with the country's national day. Here, too, there are beautiful sea views.
A dining pavilion at Black Rock Restaurant in Liqueça.
We made it back to Tibar in time for sundowners, a charming custom that Alice and Rui brought back from their exile in Australia.
If you ever find yourself in Liqueça, I highly recommend an excursion to Maubara. Have you been? Please share our impressions in the comments.