Reaching for Fulan Fehan

Kayla is approaching nine years old soon. I thought we could embark on another adventure together, the three of us. What would be the furthest travel that we could take from Kupang I wonder. Fulan Fehan! I have been reading and fascinated about this place for a while. Fulan Fehan is an open grazing area located up in the Mount of Lakaan in Belu district, a bordering region with Timor Leste to the east. The place has been quite popular in recent years with the annual festival of traditional ceremony and dance, called Likurai, performed by thousands of people. Likurai is originally a dance to celebrate blessings after the harvest.

Travelling from our place, Kupang, to Fulan Fehan would take about 8 – 9 hours, it would be too tough for Kayla, a senior dog. We therefore planned for an easy ride. We would go to SoE, stay overnight, continue the travel to Atambua for another night, then go to Fulan Fehan, early in the morning, return to Kefamenanu, stay the night there and then finally return home in the next day. It would take about three nights in total.

Route to Fulan Fehan if you go straight from Kupang, but the real travel time would be around 8 hours at least.
Timor Raya Road from Kupang to SoE just before we crossed Noelmina Bridge
Noelmina Bridge, marking the border between Kupang and South Central Timor District. The original bridge was built by Dutch using forced labour and estimated to be constructed around 1920s.

We left Kupang at around 3 PM and arrived SoE about two and half hours later. We were able to catch the sunset before we reached SoE, the capital city of South Central Timor. The view was stunning from a look out hill near SoE. We were getting into dry season, no more lush green view of landscape below. As the sun is setting, the mountainous landscape was bathed in orange colour of the twilight, my favourite time of the day.

A look out hill near SoE

I know there are several beautiful places to visit around SoE, but that will be for some other time. SoE has a milder temperature compared to Kupang because it’s located at about 700 meters above the sea level. The air was fresh. I took a deep breath and savoured the moment. The city looked the same as I could remember. It was getting darker and the streets were getting quieter. Not many people were seen walking around with only a few cars and motorcycles passing by.

Kayla enjoying the sunset, I wonder what she was thinking

The warm feeling of old memories came back of the time when I had to do many travels in rural Timor as part of my work. It was tough back then but I miss those days. It’s amusing to find ourselves longing for old bitter experience from the past. Maybe we miss those days because we realise we made it through and that all those experiences had taught us precious lessons in life, or maybe it’s just human nature, we tend to miss things that we no longer have.

The wind blew really strong that night and Kayla wasn’t sleeping well. I had to take her out in the middle of the night for a stroll. I didn’t put my jacket on. My body shivered a bit as I called Kayla’s name to keep moving. About an hour earlier, people who checked into the rooms next to ours were noisy, talking and shouting. Kayla kept on barking and we couldn’t sleep well, despite such a pleasant temperature there.

We stayed at Bahagia Hotel, one of the oldest and trusted hotels in this city. It has many types of rooms, Deluxe, VIP, Standard and Villa. What a joke, I chose Deluxe room because it has an Air Conditioner. Who would need an AC in SoE? It’s cold! It would have been a better choice to get a villa at a cheaper price but located away from all the other rooms.

In certain time of the year, SoE would be wrapped in thick fog, especially in the morning. Unfortunately, we got up late. My plan to get up and catch a sunrise failed. While my wife was packing all our belongings, I took Kayla for a walk. I couldn’t help but noticed. The city had not changed much.

SoE’s Landmark, Maranatha Protestant Church

The trip from SoE to Atambua, with brief stop in Kefamenanu was pleasant. It wasn’t yet warm and the road was smooth and wide now. I remembered the old days when each travel for me was a struggle as I easily suffered from moving sickness. The road was narrow and winding then that made it all the worse.

Timor Women walking along the road
I miss this view of rural Timor Road
Temef Dam Construction Site

Kefamenanu is a small town in between SoE and Atambua. While SoE boasts its cool fresh air and accessible tourist destinations, Atambua gives you a feeling of a foreign country with people speaking in Tetun reminding you how close it is to Timor Leste. Kefamenanu, on the other hand, is like the odd brother among all the siblings in the family. I honestly can’t recall any tourist destination spot in the region yet, nor the city has something different to offer, except it has now a University on its own. So people tend to just drive past the city, or make a quick stop to have lunch before continuing on to Atambua.

However, I notice something special about the town, its Architecture! If you pay attention, people’s houses around the city still preserve an old design that can take you back to the 1960s or even older times with a great influence by Dutch window type of houses. I was fascinated by this. I don’t know if people in Kefa realise it but the city is basically still frozen in time with all its collection of old design houses. They are beautiful! I’m just hoping they stay the same for a long time.

Sasi Catholic Church
Brick Wall Design with Large Entrance Gate

We arrived in Atambua in the afternoon and looked for a place to stay. After checking on a couple of hotels, we had to accept that no hotel allowed pet. I already anticipated this. We had two or three options left; staying at my cousin’s place (hoping that she wasn’t travelling anywhere), contacting my friend, who happened to be a priest, and stay at any convent or priest dormitory, or head back to Kefa for the hotels in Kefa would still be more flexible. We were lucky, my cousin was in town so we had a place to stay for the night.

You know you’re entering Atambua as you drive through this teak forest of Nenuk

Atambua also has a mild temperature, not as cold as SoE, but certainly much more pleasant than Kupang. My cousin’s house is near the airport, we could just take a stroll and reach one end of the air strip in just 5 minute walk. We got up very early. I thought we could leave before the sunrise so it wouldn’t be too hot, but I had been hesitant whether to push on with the trip to Fulan Fehan. If you go online and search for Fulan Fehan, almost all blogs about it would say that the trip is difficult, the road is rough, you need to hike for an hour or so. We ended up having breakfast, took a morning walk and left for Fulan Fehan when the sun was already shinning brightly.

Kayla enjoying the sunrise with Mt. Lakaan at the background
Mt. Lakaan about 1,500 meter above sea level or about 5,000 ft high.
Fulan Fehan is located near the peak of Mt. Lakaan

Going to Fulan Fehan, you would go out of Atambua by taking the exit at Fatubenao village and keep on driving past Wedomu and up to Maudemu village near Lakaan. I have a fond memory of Fatubenao village. I lived here for about three months doing a field work, one of the subjects we had to take in our undergraduate study. That was another tough moment in my life that left a mark in my memory.

Mt. Lakaan

It took us more than two hours from Atambua to reach Maudemu village because we had to stop several times along the way to take pictures or just to enjoy the views. The temperature was getting cooler as we got closer to the mountain.. In contrast to what I read online. The road was already smooth almost all the way to Maudemu village. There was just a small part of gravel road as you climbed up to reach the open land of Fulan Fehan from the village.

The view there was magnificent. The valley on the right of the road is South Belu, or now called Malaka. Beyond the river is Timor Leste. People came here during wet season or just after the rainy season to see the open green area. We didn’t have the luxury to wait untul the coming rainy season. I”m not sure if I would still be in Kupang by then, so here we were visiting Fulan Fehan during dry season. No more green pasture, but it doesn’t mean the view is less beautiful.

It makes you wonder what it is on the other side of the hill

Fulan in Tetun means “the moon” but it could also mean “the origin”. Fehan refers to the name of tribe for people of Southern Belu. Therefore, Fulan Fehan means “The origin of Fehan people” referring to the place. A local myth said that during the time when Timor island was still under water, the tip of Mount Lakaan was the only land part that was seen. A cool wind brushed my neck. I could feel hundreds of years of the history of the place greeted us. Just like many other places in Timor. People in Belu are one with nature. They know the seasons very well; when the rain would come, when to prepare the land, and when the long dry season would start. They take their utmost respects to the world around them, their ancestors and all the fascinating stories handed over for generations.

“If we see clouds hovering over the tip of Mt. Lakaan and if we notice that more often than usual, we know that the rainy season is approaching,” said Bapa Marten while pointing at Mt. Lakaan peak.

Bapa Marthen who patiently accompanied us

Mt. Lakaan was standing proud draped with such a clear bright blue sky that I have seen, with only a few clouds passing by quickly. It seems it will be quite a while before the rainy season will come again.

Fulan Fehan is home to people in Belu. It is even believed to be the origin of all the people of Belu. The trip that we took to come to this place somehow also helped me reconnect with my origin. I’ve been working away from home for about five years now. I begin to forget how it feels to be home. I’ve gradually come to terms living away from home. Travelling for me would be going to other places, sometimes overseas, not in Timor.

Timor is my home. This trip reconnects me to the place I was born and grew up, where my mother was born, and her mother and all before us. It helped me reconnect with the old memories, that I could feel slipping away along with the years of my age, of the faces and places I used to be familiar with in the past. Now those memories arewithin reach. I’m alright. I am home.

Fulan Fehan, August 28, 2020

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