TUTUALA AND THE EASTERN TIP
The beaches here are as good they get. Tutuala lies about 6 miles/10km before the eastern tip of East Timor - you may never find yourself anywhere quite as remote again. The village itself is simple but lies within an area that is spectacularly beautiful and positively steeped in ancient history. Caves excavated by researchers from Australian National University at nearby Lene Hara are yielding archeological finds dated to 30,000 years ago. Neighbouring caves, such as O Hi and Ile Kere Kere, also contain 5000-year old paintings of animals, dancing figures and celestial or life symbols. Itís a long, hot trek up to the caves, which of course are not signposted, but once there you get a great sense of how life must have been for these people long ago. On the other hand, you can have a more first-hand experience along the same lines by joining a Tutuala fisherman for an evening under the stars in his dugout canoe - the best of them can reel in tuna by hand.

The holiest symbol of East Timor is the crocodile, stemming from its creation legend: a boy saves a stranded crocodile from dying of thirst by putting him back in the water; in return, and to repent his passing thought of eating his small saviour, the croc turns himself into an island (Timor) thereby becoming the ancestor of all Timorese. The woven textiles of Tutuala often depict the crocodile, as do the sandalwood carvings typical to the area. Another craft form in the area is turtleshell carving. This is unfortunate as the turtles that inhabited them are severely endangered, but the locals have lived off their meat for centuries and try as the wildlife protection agencies may, itís a difficult habit to break. However, there is a carver in Tutuala - the only one in Timor - who has a special sanction from UNESCO that allows him to keep working.

A bumpy road leads from Tutuala to Walu Beach (also spelled Vallou or Waloo), which faces Jaco (or To-Tina) Island across a narrow strait. This is not just another perfect beach - itís a holy place for Timorese, with totems marking the actual beaching point of the first settlersí boats. Itís also a fantastic place to observe sea life without having to go underwater, as the reefs are so close to shore that at low tide you can walk out and look at the wriggling beasts stuck between the corals. If you do snorkel, you have a good chance of seeing any one of five species of sea turtles.

From Walu Beach itís a good trek up to Lake Ila Lalaro, a salt water lake inhabited by crocodiles and a gathering point for many of East Timorís 200 species of non-migratory birds, 25 of which are endangered. Horses and herds of water buffalo graze in the surrounding pastures. Along the way youíll pass through a beautiful mesophyll vine forest, with orchids and ferns clinging to huge canopy trees. Sadly very rare now is the russo Timorese deer which was once plentiful in these parts.

In the vicinity is Mehara, a tiny village made up of Dong Son and other styles of houses traditional to the local Fataluku people. In the 1980s this village provided a hideout for Xanana, long-time Resistance leader and now President of East Timor.