In a deeply personal post I shared a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Felix and I had taken the opportunity of the long weekend to take a quick weekend holiday to Same, pronounced sah-may, near Timor-Leste’s south coast. It’s a quaint little farming town with lofty palm trees and dense green forests, and we were both eager to holiday somewhere as sleepy as Maubisse without needing the backpack full of jumpers the mountain air requires.
Timor-Leste sleepy south coast
I’ve avoided writing about our touristy trip because I couldn’t figure out how to write honestly without dragging down the mood by talking about my anxiety (if you’ve found this post by googling “Same Timor-Leste holiday?”, the frank description of an unfortunate panic attack suffered a few minutes out of the town that trip might feel a bit jarring).
But now I’ve got that out and a couple of weeks have softened my memories, I’m prepared to rhapsodise on another place I arrived in and instantly declared my favourite in Timor-Leste.
And the whole trip happened by accident.
A photo taken out of the car window as we drove to our beach holiday
Felix and I were having brunch up at the high bench at Castaway Bar on Friday morning, watching the wind whip the sea, eating creamy eggs, and talking idly about the fact that we should have made plans for the long weekend.
“Do you want to go somewhere?” he said. I guess, I replied.
Twenty minutes later, we’ve paid for breakfast and I’m in the supermarket next door sourcing car snacks while he’s at home pushing clothes in a backpack and reversing the RAV4 out of the compound. Barely an hour after breakfast, we’re kicking up dust on the river road, with plans to go to Maubisse.
A tourist stop to see a statue of Manufahi municipality’s former king, who successfully resisted Portuguese colonists
Felix knows the road so well we made the three-and-a-bit-hour drive in barely two, and as we wandered around the grounds of the Maubisse pousada he stared south, over the hills.
“Want to keep going?”
I was reluctant. I love Maubisse, Same seemed far, and the afternoon shadows were growing longer. We compromised: deciding to call Brian, the Australian who runs the luxe guesthouse in Same. If they had a room, we’d go.
Palms in the sky in Same
“Yeah, yeah, we’ve got space,” Brian drawled down the phone line.
Felix nominated me to make the call because although Brian speaks fluent, native-like Tetun, Felix’s English is such that they’d have the conversation in English, and the exaggerated Aussie drawl is near-incomprehensible to a non-Australia. I felt my vowels stretching and slacking as I told him we’d be there for dinner. Na warrahz.
Barely an hour later on an asphalt road so smooth you could lick we coasted into Same and wound our way past sports fields and craggy trees and roadside kiosks and farmers’ palm fences before stopping at the Hotel Uma Liurai. Brian greeted us, showed us to our room, and confirmed dinner plans. Just a couple of hours after we were shivering in the Maubisse mountain air, Felix and I were shoreside on Timor-Leste’s black-sand south coast, watching the sky turn dusky pink with Portuguese bottled beer raised in toast.
Looking out to sea at the south coast
I’m sheepish to admit how little we did in Same. Just like with Maubisse, I arrived full of ideas about swimming in Brian’s pool, taking a hike, visiting the market, and learning local history. Instead, I drank a lot of beer, slept for a long time, read almost an entire book, and spent quality time with Felix (quiet time together before that ill-fated driving lesson, and consolation time afterwards). It was perfect; just what we both needed.
Later, back in Dili, I tried recommending Same to a friend. “What was good about it?” she asked.
I tried to articulate the quiet calm, the warm evening breeze, the deserted beachfront, the pretty little town, the craggy teak trees fringing winding mountain roads. The complete lack of expectation.
“Yeah, but what did you do?”
Bali or Same? Out by the guesthouse pool.
Before the driving lesson we looked at the towering commemorative statute of a former king who successfully threw off the Portuguese colonisers, which sits next to an enormous tree halfway down to the coast. But it wasn’t just that the statue was cool; it was that there happened to be a guy sitting by it, and a sign that labelled the district I thought was called Manufahi as Maun Fahe, literally “brothers share”, and we could ask him what the big tree was and why no one had cut it down and what the real name of the district was and hear that the Indonesians had misspelled the real name and now it’s forever called chicken pig and it’s a place to sit and have a think and a chat.
Mountain vistas in Aileu municipality on the way home.
On the way back out the next day we stopped roadside for a picnic lunch, shivering in the fresh air as we slathered hummus on pita and stuffed in fresh local tomatoes and salad leaves.
This isn’t our picnic. But that reminded me of comforting black tea and margarine bread for breakfast at the guesthouse.
But a picnic and a statue and a book are all things you can do in Dili. Or Maubisse. And that’s what was beautiful about Same. That same slow, magic energy that has me leaving Maubisse feeling restored, that permitted me to do exactly nothing on a weekend away, was there in Same; with splintering palm trees soaring skyward and the warm breath of an afternoon sea breeze.