|Elevation:||2,963 m (9,721 ft)||Prominence:||2,963 m|
|Ribu category:||Spesial||Province:||Timor Leste (East Timor)|
|Google Earth:||kml||Other names:||Foho Tatamailau|
The Ramelau mountains of East Timor (more than 30 million years old) have great significance as the home of the spirits and souls of the ancestors. In the local language (Mambae) the country’s highest mountain, Tatamailau, is tata (old man) mai (oldest man)lau (most older and first). Timorese from all over the country come here every year on 7 October to thank god and have happy thoughts.This Ramelau region was originally a huge eucalypt forest which the Timorese were frightened to enter. In 1927 the Portuguese organized people into the district to set up farms.Following their invasion of East Timor in 1975, the Indonesian military ordered the people to move to the areas near the town. As the forest was a Falantil stronghold the Indonesian military forced the people to clear it. Open fighting between Falantil and the Indonesian military continued up until 1984 when Falantil tactics changed to clandestine guerrilla operations.The farmers grow vegetables, mainly potatoes, using an unsustainable technique: slash, burn, and move on from exhausted soil. Severe soil erosion and major land slips resulted. A tree planting project has begun but this has no funding or expert advice. Many of the people are now moving back to live on their former remote hillside farms where they can grow crops for most of the year due to the mist and rain.
From Dili a four hour drive south takes you to the central Timor hill town of Maubisse (1400 meters) in the northern foothills of the Ramelau mountains. Opposite the market is a good restaurant for lunch. The journey will take a little longer if you use the regular daily long distance bus service along the main road from Dili.
From Maubisse if on foot, either take a local truck (not many and you may have a few hours wait) going to Hatabuilico, or catch the long distance bus and ask them to stop 10km south on the main road. (Look for a bitumen road that turns off sharply to the right, there is a new rock retaining wall on the south side of the Hatobuilico road and a wood and tin shed in the apex beside a white guidepost.). If you get to the top of the range and see a Telcom tower road on the left you have gone 1.6km past the turnoff.
This broken bitumen road to Hatobuilico is not suitable for conventional cars it winds west through eucalypt woodland, hamlets and vegetable gardens at 1800 to 2000 meters elevation.Travel along this road is by four wheel drive or local truck (there may be a few hours wait for a lift.) The 18km takes one to one and a half hours.
Base town: Hatobuilico
A beautiful hillside and ridge town at almost 2000 meters is surrounded by high mountains.
The guest house run by Alexandre Araujo, his wife Adelaide Barroi and children is 800 meters north of the police station on the low side of the road with the school and soccer field below. The family live next door above the market.
Alexandre is district superintendent of education. He speaks Tetum, English, Indonesian, Portuguese and Mambae. The guest house can accommodate about twelve people. Tariff is $15 per night and for a little more all meals can be provided.
Alexandre can organize a guide for about $15 per day plus all costs. A pony and attendant costs $15 per day extra. Alexandre’s office phone number in Ainaro is 2430010, mobile 7304366. If unavailable please text.
The town power was off during the week of my visit. There is no telephone or mobile phone service; however the police radio is part of a national system.
Ramelau Mountain circuit
A pack horse is useful for carrying your gear up to Mt Tatamailau and along the ridge as far as Mt Deramalue. Beyond this the terrain becomes too difficult for a horse. Start at Hatobuilico police station. You should provide the police with details of your trip and return plans. Ask them to inform the Ainaro police of your expected arrival time there.
Walk back about 100 meters and turn left. Then head uphill along a broken bitumen road at 230d between (on the right) a wooden house and (on the left) a solid concrete house. Further uphill turn around for good views to the left.
After almost one kilometer the road swings left. The left half of the road is missing, having slipped down away into the valley. At two kilometers the whole road has disappeared. This is the limit of accessibility by 4WD vehicles, which can be turned around by backing over the rock filled channel on the right hand side of the road. The view back to Hatobuilico is in line with the steps of the pousada, the old restored Portuguese district administration building. Up to the right is Mt. Tatamailau, at 280d.
Walk over the gutter and uphill for 40 meters, then turn left onto a narrow foot track and walk 50 meters into eucalyptus woodland, with the fall on the left. On entering a clearing head across at 170d. On the left 40 meters downhill is the road slip. Continue across an old soccer field, with abandoned vegetable terraces up to the right. Walk up 10 meters and into woodland onto a 4WD track altitude 2310 meters.)
Turn right, walk uphill, at first at 240d, with the clearing down on the right past a large tree fallen uphill across the track. Zigzag uphill for about half an hour then on the left, is a well made one meter wide fairly level path that sidles around (follows the hill around staying fairly level) with a fall on the left. This is the easy route to the mountain top; provided there have been no recent landslips.
The direct steep route continues to the right at 320d in a direct line to the mountain to where the track starts to disappear, then zigzag steeply up cow paths, aiming to intersect the ridge approximately 200 meters south of the mountain top. Turn right onto the ridge and walk north along a well formed 4WD track to the summit.
Walk east uphill on the easy well formed path that is cut into the hillside with the fall away to the left, for little over a kilometer This track was constructed in 1997, there is then a sharp right switchback. Don’t take this, but continue straight ahead down onto a grassy saddle this is where our track meets the spine of the mountains and is a good lunch spot. Leave packs here for the easy walk up to and back from Mt. Tatamailau.
Tatamailau summit walk
If walking to Tatamailau, backtrack north-east for 30 meters to the switchback. Veer left and walk up a gentle gradient past some hollow tree stumps stuffed with rocks on the left. These are marker cairns. This track leads on to a small plateau among grassy hillocks and gnarled, large eucalypts. In a clearing 400 meters from the lunch spot the remains of a wooden church are on the right hand side (lectern and cross are still standing). Walk up a well-formed 4WD track for half an hour following a gentle ridge slope on a bearing of 40d. This is an easy walk to the highest point in Timor.
The religious monument on top is very exposed with magnificent 360d views. Many people come here to see the sunrise. Retrace the track back to the packs, along the backbone of East Timor. The watershed on the right goes to the north coast and the one on the left to the south coast.
High ridge walk to camp site
With packs set off south west along a well-worn path. Up at first, then up and down along the ridge which is the roof of Timor. After crossing a rocky saddle, ignore the track straight ahead and go slightly downhill at 200d along the razorback ridge. The town of Asabe is visible 1500 meters below to the west. Climb up to the top of Mt. Deramelau. The views from here are superb, including back to Tatamailau and on to the route ahead along the tops of the mountain chain.
The razorback limestone ridge ahead at 240d ends abruptly at an impassable cliff, so backtrack 100 meters and go steeply down at about 300d to get below the level of the bottom of the cliffs. When down to this level turn left and sidle along level with the base of the cliffs, which are on the left. Travel south among large boulders fallen from the cliffs above. Then scramble back up onto the main ridge with the impassable cliff on the left. Turn right and proceed along the ridge at 240d . To the left and below are vegetable gardens and small huts. Straight ahead to the south is Mt. Hatofahi, an abrupt razor-backed conical shaped limestone mountain.
On reaching the base of Hatofahi take the right track that sidles level along the north-west side of the mountain, with the cliffs above to the left of this well-used track. Once past this obstacle walk up past the top of vegetable gardens and back onto the main ridge. Follow the ridge south-west down to a saddle to cross over a well-used track (the map does not show the cross track, only a district boundary going down to the south-east.) The route south-west to the rounded top of mount Laumeta is through exposed stunted eucalypt scrub. Then follow the ridge south-west, and south down to a saddle with a track going across it. Straight ahead to the west is Mount Berebei.
We camped in the valley to the north-west and were able to get water from the small creek. (All creek water in Timor needs boiling for a few minutes, or some other means of treatment to make it drinkable.)
I had intended walking the five kilometers over Mt Berebei, along the spine of mountains south-west over Mt Lebolia and Mt Ramelau, then east off the main ridge and south-east down to Ainaro. However after walking over Berebei, and downhill along the ridge, on a track through beautiful open woodland we reached a cliffy area in foggy conditions. The Timorese guides who had not traveled along this particular ridge before said the route ahead is too rough and dangerous to travel in these conditions. So we backtracked to Lebolia and then Berebei saddle, turned right and headed south-east down toward Ainaro.
Ridge to overnight stay in Ainaro
From this saddle a well-used track heads downhill and south-east into open woodland. Continue across a saucer-shaped valley, passing on the left a small freestone wall and many dead ring barked gum trees. This valley drains through a gorge on the right.Leave the valley just above and up to the left of a saddle. Walk east down through vegetable gardens and fallen trees. Ahead on the left is a small plateau with a thatch house on top.
We pass down below and to the right of this. The track leads up to the east edge of the plateau, where on the right is a house with a stick protruding 300mm up through the apex of the roof. The residents have barking dogs.There are fantastic views here, east down into the deep valley of the Belulie river, and across to the Cablaque mountains. This rugged limestone range is geologically quite young at five million years.
Turn right along the ridge: the track then sidles along with the fall on the right (the main ridge diverges away to the left.) The track crosses rolling farmland to the south-east edge of the plateau. At a large tall eucalypt on the right that has survived ring barking, the track drops steeply along a spur through a forest of large eucalypts. There is a very steep drop-off on the left and occasional huts in the forest to the right.
We stopped for lunch beside two thatch huts on a small terrace on the right side of the track, altitude 2345 meters Approximately one kilometer down, the track emerges into well-grazed grassland. Due to environmental damage by grazing animals there is no single distinct track (and my compass was broken).
Walking downhill with the afternoon sun on our backs we crossed a 100mm galvanized water pipe, walking in eroded cattle ruts, going east-south-east with Ainaro visible off to the right. From here on down to Ainaro this pipe is occasionally visible to the right and at times left of the track. The track takes a sharp right turn and then passes a cave up to the right. The pipeline goes through a small concrete reservoir. Follow the pipe across a small creek and onto an old dirt road cut into the hillside, with the fall away to the creek on the right. Then follow the road down under a bamboo aqueduct. This is Berluli. After the first few houses there is a bamboo water outlet on the left, a good place for a wash.
The road is now sealed but there are no signs of motor vehicle use. On the left is an unusual house roof, tiled with split bamboo. The view straight out left is Cablaque Mountain, ahead and to the right is Ainaro. Pass to the left of a Telcom tower and down to meet the Ainaro–Dili road. Turn right and follow this down across the river and up into Ainaro.
For the overnight stay there at least three guest houses to choose from. The easiest way to locate them is to ask at the police station. At the same time inform the police that you have walked in from Hatobuilico. I enjoyed an excellent meal at the restaurant below the central market,on the left side of the main road.
Ainaro to Hatobuilico
In the main street of Ainaro just above this market catch one of the regular long distance buses or some other vehicle. Travel twelve kilometers toward Dili = north-east, to the hamlet of Lepulau. This is where the river draining the Hatobuilico valley crosses the highway.
Start by walking up behind the school and past and to the right of a small concrete water reservoir, then up into a forest of casuarinas with an understory of coffee plants. The river is about 100 meters away on the right and slowly diverging away to the right.
The track comes out of the bush, turns a bit to the right, passes between two fishponds and under a bamboo aqueduct, then starts to climb steeply to the left. At a T intersection (there is a house just visible on the steep spur to the left) turn right. A waterfall is visible about a kilometer away on the right. The track goes up into more casuarinas, emerges into the open and immediately crosses a 4WD track. Walk up the steep foot track (crossing the 4WD track a few times). When you are on the narrow spur, pass to the right of a rocky creek and small cemetery on the left, then climb up onto a bench cut into the hillside. There is a corrugated iron building on one side, and a limestone monument on the other at 1,530m.
The view over the hamlet just right of the cemetery looks out over Ainaro all the way to the south coast. Leave via the opposite corner of the plateau. Go down about 30 meters, cross over a small dry stream, turn right and continue uphill parallel with the rocky creek off on the right. Aim for a saddle visible steeply up ahead. This track crisscrosses a grassy 4WD track, then levels out a little with about six houses and some farm dams away to the left.
The track leads north to cross a saddle to the left of Mt Sisalio which is up ahead to the right. From the saddle follow the 4WD track down to cross a flowing creek. Head north-north-west. Either follow the road or take a short cut to the right of an earth dam and up along a well-used foot track to rejoin the road at an eroded saddle two kilometers south of Hatobuilico. At the start of town on the left at the base of a huge 100 meter high limestone rock is a spring-fed water reservoir, with drinkable water.
Please sign out at the police station.
Bagging information by John Bartlett of Trekking East Timor
Origins and Meaning
The name “Tatamailau” is of Mambai origin, the local language, and means “Grandfather of all”. (Wikipedia, 2011)
Links and References
Wikipedia. 2011. Tatamailau. Accessed from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatamailau