BAUCAU TO TUTUALA
This is the stretch that is going to make East Timor famous - see it now before the developers get to it. The first town along the coast after Baucau - 20 minutes or so - is Laga. Itís essentially a group of fishermenís houses strung along the shore, all built in the traditional Macassae style and all fronted by gardens stuffed with flowering shrubs. While the men fish, the women tend rice paddies that flow right into the ocean - a lovely sight. Facing inland, Mount Matebian provides a stunning backdrop to a series of low foothills from which a ruined fortress glares out over the coast. There are some perfect, deserted beaches as you continue eastwards towards Lautem, the district capital, and even better ones beyond - although this last segment of the road leaves much to be desired (eroded and rocky). Muro is the northernmost village in East Timor and worth a stop.

UNESCO is funding the restoration of two traditional sacred houses in Muro which shelter the lulic, holy treasures, of the regionís clan, the Fataluku. These include talismans made from the feathers of rare birds, centuries old gold and silver pieces, antique woven cloths and old firearms. A little way uphill from the houses is an alleyway formed by massive banyan trees growing over a number of freshwater springs. The conjunction of water, trees and sunlight makes this a sacred place for animist devotees, and the trees have been hung with amulets such as such as the skins and skulls of animals (birds, buffalo and deer). Artistically deteriorating Portuguese buildings near Muroís (beautiful, white sand) beach harken back to its days as a resort town in the 18th century. Also of interest are the townís Dong Son-style houses. These eccentric-looking tall, narrow and carved dwellings are scattered in pockets throughout the eastern tip of East Timor, and are taken as evidence of ancestral ties to northern Vietnam, where the Dong Son culture originated.

Itís a very nice walk from Muro to Com, the largest town along this stretch of coastline, passing through a palm forest and scrub inhabited by long-tailed macaque monkeys and several species of birds (watch for eagles flying over the reefs). The earliest settlers in Timor are believed to have landed roughly in this area, and a heap of stones known as the Sacred Boat is revered in their memory.

Com is a coastal town with houses descending the hillside to a (beautiful, white sand) beach which boasts some of the best snorkelling in the country. The Com Beach Resort gives some idea of what lies ahead for this area, and although somewhat pricey it is the only accommodation outside Dili that can be booked over the internet.