East Timor, known locally as Timor-Leste; lies amongst the isles of the Malay Archipelago, north of Australia.


Courageously gaining independence in 2002, its people are now working to reduce poverty and build a sustainable economy. Although Timor-Leste is considered the poorest nation in Asia, its riches lie in culture and community.
Lospalos is 248 kilometres to the east of Dili and is the capital of Lautém District. Internationally, the city is incorrectly called Los Palos, suggesting that its name is of Spanish origin. In fact, it is derived from Lohoasupala, its name in Fataluku.

"In the rural areas, an estimated 80% of East Timor’s population live outside the cash economy. Strengthening the rural economy is a key to both avoiding further crisis and encouraging young people remain in their communities."

A Window into Timor-Leste

Map Timor-Leste Map Timor-Leste


Declared and Independent nation on May 20th, 2002

National Language: Tetun/Tetum

Landmass: Approx. 15,410 km2

Total Districts: 13 districts, each with many sub districts

Population: 1.143 million in 2011

Majority: 43% of the population are aged between 0-14yrs

Climate: The wet season is from December to July with estimated rainfall of 160-270cm, and a mean temperature of 24oC. Access is limited as roads are impassable during the wet season. There is no significant rainfall during the other months. The months between August and November are hot and dry.


Tradition and custom have survived centuries of colonization and war. One such tradition is the practice of hand-weaving cloth known as Tais. This important practice brings generations of women together, reflecting the strong sense of community still alive in Timor-Leste despite decades of violence, oppression and extreme poverty.

Tais are integral to other sacred practices which aim to sustain village life and maintain ecological balance for future generations. In traditional Timorese society, the shape and structure of a building represents qualities such as strength and balance. It pays homage to nature, the environment, to animals and to the ancestors, all of which are essential to life itself. Maintaining balance occurs through ceremony and specific social practices such as the Tara bandu and systems like Fulidai-dai in Iliomar.


Tetun Prasa is the national language of Timor-Leste. Tetun or Tetum, was developed in Dili under Portuguese influence as an adaptation on the traditional language for the region, Tetun Terik, which is one of approximately thirty of Timor-Leste’s traditional languages. The language itself varies widely depending on what part of Timor-Leste the person is from, their age, job and personal preference to dialect.

Majority of East-Timorese are muli-lingual. The schooling system currently teaches children, Tetun, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia and in many districts their ‘Mother Tongue’ for the region. Keeping mind that with 13 districts in Timor-Leste and over 30 traditional languages still in circulation, the language a child learns at home is often different to the ‘Mother Tongue’ taught in schools.

Timor-Link provide face-to-face courses in Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane

For more resources and learning guides visit our Resources page

Current Challenges

However like many emerging nations, consumer culture draws youth to the cities. This drains the collective capacities of communities and makes life even more difficult as community member’s age. In some rural areas, there is a movement to revive and maintain traditional practices. The belief is that traditional culture and local enterprise offers a more sustainable future, as employment opportunities in the formal economy are minimal.

In the rural areas, an estimated 80% of East Timor’s population live outside the cash economy. Strengthening the rural economy is a key to both avoiding further crisis and encouraging young people remain in their communities. Local enterprise steeped in culture achieves two major things – poverty reduction and cultural maintenance. Within this context economic development projects engage in the perseverance of culture and provide young people with opportunities to build a more resilient future.

Visit Timor-Leste

Flights run from Darwin or Denpasar in Bali. Visa on arrival. Local travel is pretty easy; buses are reasonably reliable (although the waiting can be a killer) and there are plenty of 4WD hire companies in town. For more info, visit Tourism Timor-Leste.

Be sure to head to Lospalos and visit the LO’UD Cooperative, where your delightful and endearing hostesses will treat you to local food, traditional weaving and dyeing workshops and lots of laughter. Contact us for more info.

The remote Illiomar; Lautem

Map Lautem


The beautiful sub-district of Illiomar is situated high in the mountains on the south-east coast of Timor-Leste. In 2010, the population was 7,201 (3,440 men and 3,761 women) with a median age of 16 years. The main spoken language is Makalero a Trans-New Guinean/Papuan language.

Iliomar is one of 5 sub-districts of Lautem. Travelling the 272 km east from the national capital of Dili takes about 11 hours by bus. The 46km journey south west from the Lautem district capital of Los Palos takes about 4 hours by bus. With a rugged and rocky land area of 302 sq km (16.67% of the country’s total land area), most people live in one of six small villages separated by an average of 4 km. The area is highly undeveloped and the one road leading into the area is in poor condition and impassable in the rainy season between December and June, with estimated rainfall of 160-270cm, and a mean temperature of 24oC.


The tourism experience in Iliomar is amazing. There is a small guest house in the village of Caenlio and home stays can always be organised through ETWA’s key partner, the LO’UD Cooperative. The landscape is diverse and stunning and the locals are warm, although often a little shy. There’s monkey forest which is a decent walk from the centre of town. You’ll pass through some spectacular virgin forest and cross rivers which rise rapidly in the rainy season. If you’re looking for an authentic, remote village experience, Iliomar is the place to visit. Be mindful that the community is often engaged in traditional ceremonies, so respecting these processes is essential and only participate if invited.

Visiting IliomarTo find out more about tourism in Iliomar, contact LO’UD Cooperative or visit the Timor Adventures website.

The Reality

The months between August and November – known as the “hungry months” due to food shortages – are hot and dry. Eight in ten families are engaged in subsistence farming activities and only 39% are engaged in economic activity, compared to the national average of 46.4%. Even this economic activity is not the same as paid employment. Life in these communities can be really difficult. Between June and July it gets quite cold and as most people live in small, damp and drafty houses and very few have mattresses or blankets and respiratory illness during the cooler months is rife.

Importantly, official statistics demonstrate the burden that poverty places on women and girls in the area. Only 19% of women are engaged in economic activity (compared to the national average of 31.3%). The difficulty of accessing the closest hospital seriously inhibits good health; for example, only 43 of 1,565 births (3%) occurred in a hospital in 2010. One in four women are illiterate, less than 3% of girls are enrolled in secondary school (compared to the national average of 17.9%), and half the female population has never attended school at any level. Of the 1,420 houses in Iliomar, 83% do not provide sufficient protection against the elements. 96% of families still cook with wood. Only 23% have sanitation and only 17% have electricity.

Current Challenges

ETWA’s key partner, the LO’UD Cooperative has member weaving groups in the villages of Lospalos, Cainliu and Fuat. Although separated only by a short distance and a narrow valley, the villages of Fuat and Cainliu are very different geographically. Fuat sits atop a grassy, wind-swept mountain plateau overlooking the ocean, while Cainliu is located on a hillside, with houses sequentially scattered on cobbled streets surrounded by tall coconut palms. During the wet season, Fuat is cool and Cainliu is warm and humid.


Traditional ceremony and processes known as ‘adat’ are practiced widely in Iliomar and women are often busy weaving tais for specific ceremonies. A major ceremony occurs when the bones of resistance fighters killed in the jungle during the occupation are returned to be laid to rest in the village. Family, friends and leaders from all over Lautem and beyond attend and the festivities last for days. It is critical to these communities that the bones of the dead be returned to their rightful place.

According to village leaders, another traditional system known as Tarabandu is being revived, particularly in the area of traditional justice. Tarabandu is a traditional mechanism used to acknowledge, process and forgive a wrongdoing. In a ceremony which an etwa member attended, a village member had offended representatives from the government. The whole village accepted responsibility for the offender who provided meat and local palm wine for community leaders and elders to share during the Tarabandu ceremony. Leaders from all over Lautem participated, including the local Catholic Priest. The process involved a formal, facilitated meeting where leaders spoke about the impacts of the crime and why forgiveness is important. The offender’s name was never mentioned as the responsibility is accepted by the whole community.


Socio-cultural systems play a key role in maintaining village life. Fulidai-dai is one such system specific to the Makalero people of Iliomar. A living socio-cultural system, handed down through the ages, Fulidai-dai is an important part of community and individual consciousness and is critical to maintaining harmony and unity. Fulidai-dai at its core, fosters greater cooperation, mutual aid and voluntary contributions (in a specific cultural sense). Its primary purpose is to encourage individuals to act and contribute for the greater good of the community, not for the betterment of one individual. Principles include reciprocity, solidarity, collectivity, sharing and mutual aid.

Fulidai-dai in practice brings people together to support one another in most tasks necessary to maintain village life; turning the land, planting and harvesting, building a house or preparing for cultural ceremonies and festivals. Community members are givers and receivers, offering assistance when required in exchange for assistance at a later date. This cycle of reciprocity increases productivity and decreases the burden of completing the range of diverse tasks necessary to maintain village life.

"Local enterprise steeped in culture achieves two major things – poverty reduction and cultural maintenance. Within this context economic development projects engage in the perseverance of culture and provide young people with opportunities to build a more resilient future."

A unique & Wild experience

Timor Adventures

We love East Timor and we know you will be exhilarated, amazed, amused and at times deeply touched, no matter what style of tour you choose. All our tours are adventures and take you to remote areas of untouched natural beauty. Travel in a 4wd on our Community & Cultural Tours or ride a Motorcycle on our Adventure tours. We also design Custom and Special Tours in 2016 these include, Light up Timor Leste (July & October) in partnership with the Alternative Technology Association installing solar systems in remote communities and a Women’s tour . Contact Dave & Shirley Carlos

Timor Adventures

Women’s tour

The annual Women’s tour, offers a unique experience. Partnering with local women’s organisations such as LO’UD Cooperative to offer Women’s Tours with a focus on – yep – you guessed it WOMEN! As well as visiting beautiful places, we spend time with the women, supporting their economic endeavours including weaving and their village-based accommodation.

Women's Tour

Hear what others say:

“I was fortunate enough to go on the recent women’s tour of East Timor, run by Timor Adventures. This tour took us to many women’s groups and co-ops in Dili as well as remote villages all over Timor and sought to provide income for these local groups and enterprises. I met many inspiring and amazing women, saw spectacular coast and countryside, as well as terrible poverty and a country struggling to recover from colonisation, invasion, war and genocide. If you are someone who is looking for a different travel experience – who would like to support Timorese people rebuilding their communities and lives at the grassroots and would like to see a beautiful country at the same time, then I urge you to make the effort to go. It will be the experience of a lifetime!”
“Shirley’s thorough research and connections within the local community enabled us to see the ‘real’ Timor Leste, travelling the countryside with knowledgeable Timorese guides who taught us much, drove safely and professionally and were fantastic company. The sights, sounds and sensations of Timor Leste were at the same time breathtakingly beautiful, heartbreaking, and profoundly inspiring. Most excitingly for me, the Women’s Tour provided a glimpse into the lived experience of the East Timorese women who so generously welcomed us into their homes, guest houses and Women’s Co-operatives, cooking us traditional fare, demonstrating weaving and sharing life experiences. These times, along with the meetings with Alola Foundation staff, proved to be highlights of my Tour. Viva Timor Leste!!!”
“Thank you so much Timor Adventures for an amazing journey through beautiful Timor Leste. We took on the roads, dodged the critters, travelled through some of the most amazing country side I have ever seen and were welcomed everywhere with the biggest smiles and open hearts. It was hard to leave such a wonderful place and I am already planning my next adventure back there. A special thanks to Shirley Carlos and Mana Vanna for providing such a well organised and fulfilling safe journey! I’ll be back for sure.”