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Timor-Leste: Mount Ramelau

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Mount Ramelau > Timor-Leste > Asia

[Visited: November 2014]

The adventure of climbing Mount Ramelau starts as soon as you turn off the main Maubisse-Same road. While that road is in a bad condition itself, with an endless amount of potholes, trenches, curves, stretches of disappeared asphalt, freely roaming cattle, dogs, and chicken making the drive feel like a continuous slalom, the stretch to Hatobuilico is a different story. For starters, there is no traffic, and the road deteriorates quickly after turning west. Even a good 4WD bounces up and down the stones, rocks, boulders, steep stretches, and past landslides making the road just wide enough to pass without tumbling into the abyss. The sun is heading to the horizon, and we thoroughly enjoy the views of the mountains and small villages of thatched huts surrounded by carved out terrace landscapes. When we arrive in Hatobuilico, it turns out we needed more than one hour and ten minutes for the 17km stretch. After arranging a room in a guesthouse, we take a leisurely walk through the village. The air is fresh; we are at around 1900m altitude. Looking west, we see the peak of Mount Ramelau soar high above us - it certainly does leave an impression. Called Tatamalau, Grandfather of All, in the local language, it is the highest peak of Timor-Leste at 2968m, the highest of the entire island of Timor, and was considered the highest peak of Portugal when it was still a Portuguese colony. A dinner barely sufficient to make us feel properly filled, is followed by an early sleep which even the noisy Brazilian neighbours cannot disturb.

Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Mountain ranges of Timor-Leste seen at sunrise from the summit of Mount Ramelau

They wake up at 2am, and even though our alarm clock is set at 2:30, they are so noisy that we are awake, too, without a chance to fall asleep again. Our guide is not there at the appointed time, and we wonder whether to wait for him, or try climbing without guide. Then, he does show up - and proves utterly useless. He walks behind us, and we lead the way into the darkness. Or, well, darkness: it happens to be full moon, and there is more than enough light to walk without a torch. We have decided not to drive to the parking lot, but to walk all the way; when we arrive at the official starting point, the contours of Ramelau looms high above us. The first part is easy: just stairs. By this time, I decide to push on alone, because I calculate that we might not be on the summit in time to catch sunrise. To my surprise, I soon pass the Brazilians; now I know that there is no one ahead of me, and I have the find the way myself. The going is easy, but the summit is behind my back, which makes me a little restless. When I see what appears to be a turnoff to the right, I take it. Before I know it, the trail disappears, or I miss it somewhere; I now walk in the eucalyptus woods. The moonlight does not really penetrate through the forest, and I work my way up, pulling branches, treading on soil I cannot see. At regular intervals, I can see the summit above me, and I now aim directly towards it.

Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): The summit of Mount Ramelau is adorned with the statue of Virgin Mary

So it is that, what is supposed to be an easy climb, turns out to be a more difficult one than I anticipated. Going back is not an option: I am too far into the woods to ever find the official trail again. I just hope that I will be OK. There are times when it seems like there is a trail, but they all turn out to be false. Then, I reach an opening in the woods, and see a tower with a blinking red light quite close, with the summit behind it. Indeed, when I push through another patch of forest, I reach a broad trail, and before I know it, the white statue of Virgin Mary with opened arms welcomes me to the summit. She was placed on the summit in 1997 by the Italians, and makes the mountain a destination for pilgrims. When I walk the last steps, I suddenly realize that I have reached the roof of East Timor - and it has taken me one hour from the start of the official climb. I also feel a very strong wind, and while I was climbing in just one layer of light sweater, I now put my jumper and windstopper jacket on as well, with the hood over my head. I make sure to keep on moving, put my hands in my pockets, but they still get cold. I never imagined I would need gloves - but they would be very useful here. Sunrise is still one hour away, and I watch the moon in the west, and the signs of the sunrise in the east. Slowly, very slowly, the black turns blue, some yellow comes in, orange, and finally, red. I can still see the stars behind me when the sun pops up above the horizon. With the help of daylight, I can now see valleys, some filled with clouds, mountains, and the plaques on the summit. But the cold stays; it is only when I start descending that I finally feel some warmth in my body. While hiking down, we see the point I turned from the main path on my way up. When we turn around at the base of the mountain, we can still see the white statue of Virgin Mary, guarding the mountain.

Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): View towards the west from the summit of Mount Ramelau, with shadow of the mountain on the left
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Dawn is breaking with a starry sky still over Virgin Mary and Mout Ramelau
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Sunrise over the summit of Mount Ramelau and the Virgin Mary statue
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Sunrise seen from the top of Mount Ramelau, or Tatamailau
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): View from the mountain pass on the road to Hatobuilico
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): A statue of Virgin Mary is erected on top of the summit of Mount Ramelau
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Traditional house on the way to Hatobuilico, the gateway to Ramelau
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Mount Ramelau on the left, and agriculture fields on the right
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Agriculture on the folds of the mountain and the foot of Mount Ramelau
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Terraced mountain side on the way to Hatobuilico, the gateway to Mount Ramelau
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Trail to the top, with the summit of Mount Ramelau just ahead
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Small wooden chapel on the way to the summit of Mount Ramelau
Picture of Mount Ramelau (Timor-Leste): Plaque under the statue commemorating the countries that participated in the UN mission in Timor-Leste

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