It’s easy to overlook this part of Dili. With stunning beaches in the east, visitors flock the other side closer to the city centre and where accommodations are available. No wonder I was the only foreigner (not that there are many tourists in Dili) in Tasitolu Beach when my friend showed me around the area.
“Tasitolu” means “three seas” in Tetun. The three salt lakes are guarded by hills and ocean waves and surrounded by simple houses of Tasitolu villagers. It is near the border between Dili and Liquica and a quiet escape from the city centre. In 1989, Pope John Paul II visited Dili and now there’s a statue and a chapel built in 2008 on top of the hill to commemorate his visit. My friend told me that there’s no regular mass there but those who can afford choose this location for weddings.
Fish thrive in the lakes. I saw children with sticks and buckets fishing from them. Migratory birds also arrive here annually adding charm to this beautiful landscape during the winter season in the northern hemisphere.
Behind its natural beauty, Tasitolu hides a tragic story below its placid lakes. During the Indonesian occupation, the military disposed the bodies of its victims here. It is now the resting place of probably thousands of Timorese who resisted the military regime of Soeharto, Indonesia’s then president, and fought for Timor-Leste’s independence.
Ironically and because of these, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao planned to develop it into a Natural Reserve and Peace Park but plans were stalled. Nevertheless, it remains to be a painful reminder of the past, a peaceful refuge from the city today, and most importantly, a glaring example of what needs to be done.