Atauro Island by Michelle SauterAs I begin the countdown for my final weeks in Timor-Leste, I have been asked to write a piece for a friend’s unofficial travel blog for Timor-Leste. This has provided me with the perfect opportunity to look back at my time here and reflect on my favourite moments in this beautiful country. The only challenge is choosing what and where to write about. So, I have chosen my favourite place in Timor-Leste – Atauro Island.
Atauro Island is located just north of Dili and is visible from the shoreline. I have spent three glorious weekends on Atauro and am certain that I will manage to squeeze in at least one more before I leave. Atauro Island tops my list for a number of reasons – the boat ride there and back, the beautiful scenery, the friendly people I have met there, the fantastic snorkeling and the magical moments I have had on the Island.
The ferry ride from Dili takes a few hours and is filled with chatting, sharing food and taking pictures with our fellow passengers. The ferry is full of locals going to Atauro Island for the day and other, mostly international, visitors going to spend the weekend on the Island.
On Saturday, Atauro Island hosts its weekly markets, with fresh produce and local merchandise. After a quick perusal through the markets, we head straight to Barry’s, where we will spend the next two days hanging out, eating, drinking, playing Frisbee and cricket on the beach, swimming in the clear blue water and relaxing in the gazebos.
There are two distinct memories of my time spent on Atauro Island that I know will stay with me forever. The first one is of a friend and I taking a late afternoon dip in the ocean while watching some heavy rain clouds rolling in. This was followed by a typically strong tropical rain shower; the rain drops significantly cooler than the pleasantly warm ocean water.
The only sound we could hear was the rain falling on the ocean and the mountain range that dominates most of Atauro Island’s landscape was completely covered by cloud. It felt like we were the only two people on the Island, if not the planet.
When we started to feel a bit chilly, we got out of the ocean to have a mandi (an Indonesian bathing method involving tipping water over yourself from a big tub using a small scoop) in the outdoor bathroom. The mandi water was warm from being in the sun earlier in the day and provided a refreshing contrast to the cool rain drops still falling. While this may seem like a fairly simple moment, it’s often the simple things in life that are the best!
The second memory is from a weekend a group of friends and I spent on Atauro Island to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. After many celebratory drinks on the Saturday night, it was decided that a midnight swim was what was needed. After ditching our clothes we plunged into the ocean to discover we were surrounded by phosphorescent particles in the ocean and every movement of our bodies created our own personal light show! I remember looking down into the sparkling water and then looking up at the many stars sparkling in the sky. So beautiful! That’s the thing about Atauro Island – it provides you with moments which remind you of the beauty that exists in the world, if you just spend the time to look!
After our relaxing weekends on Atauro Island, we return to Dili early on Monday morning via a fishing boat. Although I don’t especially enjoy the early start to the day (usually around 3 or 4am), the promise of seeing an amazing sunrise over the ocean and watching Dili come to life as we pull into the harbour keeps us all going and is definitely worth it! We are also joined along the way by pods of dolphins and the sleeping passengers aboard our boat are quickly woken up by our shouts of amazement and joy as we watch the dolphins playing alongside the boat.
There are many things I will miss when I return to Australia and I will be taking many things back with me to Australia, including photos, books, a collection of Timorese wares and an addiction to clove cigarettes. But, my memories, such as the ones I have shared here and the friendships I have made along the way will outlast them all. Viva Timor-Leste!