You have snorkelled. You have lazed about in your eco-friendly paradise. You have enjoyed the solitude. So with more time left on Atauro before returning back to mainland Timor-Leste, what will you do to pass the time?
I had come to Atauro smack bang in the middle of the wet season and as a result, blue skies were a rarity. Instead – rainfall was regular, skies were grey and the clouds rarely seemed to disappear.
Now this may sound a pretty horrible beach holiday, but for a girl who would prefer temperatures below freezing than high summer heat, this was a pretty wonderful island getaway.
I liked not having to reapply sunscreen every 20 minutes. I liked that I was the only foreign traveller on the entire island. I loved dancing in the rain.
I spent my days frolicking in the unspoilt beaches lined with overgrown jungle greenery and enjoying the fact that I didn’t have to worry about getting chomped on by a big saltwater crocodile!
It may seem strange that I get nervous about crocodiles and not sharks at the beach, but I assure you, this is for two good reasons.
Firstly, my home base is in Darwin, Australia. The capital city of the Northern Territory is a tropical city and unlike the ocean waters of Australia’s southern cities, the oceans there are connected to rivers that are home to an enormous number of salties.
Calling these crocodiles ‘salties’ or ‘saltwater’ crocodiles is a bit of a cop out – these crocodiles should actually be referred to as ‘estuarine’ crocodiles. These prehistoric predators can live in both fresh and salt water. Crocodile sightings on Darwin beaches are not uncommon, and attacks, though not exactly frequent, happen often enough that swimming at Darwin beaches is considered an ultimate no-no.
Secondly, saltwater crocodiles are sighted pretty regularly along the coast of Dili! While I was there locals were grieving the loss of a man who had been sleeping on the beach and taken by a croc at night. There was no chance I would be getting into the Dili water!
Atauro is a fair hike from Dili and the place is proud to state that it has never had any sightings of these crocodilians. The waters here are considered pretty safe from any nasty marine predators, but a strong cross current about a one hundred metres off shore is infamously strong, and swimming out such a distance is not recommended unless you are a very strong swimmer as returning back to the island in a cross current can be brutally exhausting.
Sunsets on the island were as glorious as one would expect, even with the heavy cloud cover. Cracking open a (semi) cold beer, sitting on the sand and watching day turn to night is a great way to wile away a couple of hours on Atauro.
If you find yourself on Atauro and decide beer just isn’t cutting it anymore, there is only one other option on the island for acquiring booze.
The Beloi Beach Hotel is the other accommodation on the island and is located about a 15 minute walk from Barry’s. Getting there requires a little bit of a hike up some stairs, but such a task is well worth the views from the bar.
Specialising in cocktails, the Beloi Beach Hotel is open to anyone on Atauro – not just guests of the hotel. As I visited in off season, people seemed pretty surprised to see anyone here at all! In fact, i was surprised the place was even open. At this time, there were no guests in the entire place! They were busy at work renovating the front of the bar (putting in an infinity pool) and had chosen this time to do renovations simply because of how few people would be visiting.
I settled in and downed a few of the signature Beloi Beach Coladas (because I am the complete cliche of a person that likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain) while chatting with the lovely hotel manager.
All too soon it was time to head back to Barry’s for dinner. Along the way I walked through one of the local villages on the island. There were kids everywhere – they were all so cute and smiley! Timorese children are absolutely gorgeous!
If you are lucky enough to visit Atauro on a Saturday, there is a weekly market held not too far from Barry’s Place. Here you can find groceries, toiletries and a few local handicrafts. When I visited, there had not been a decent market held in months! Now you may be left wondering, why is that?
Well, access to Atauro from the mainland is rather limited. Yes you can pay the $40 USD to get one of the privately owned boats to take you across, but for most Timorese people, this is a sum of money that one could almost never afford to pay. So if locals want to visit the island, they do so via the Nakroma Ferry.
The Berlin Nakroma Ferry was gifted to Timor-Leste by Germany a number of years ago. Since it arrived it was used to make twice weekly trips to the Oecussi (oh-eh-cue-see) enclave and once weekly trips to Atauro. This is the only form of ‘public transport’ to Atauro and it does not just bring passengers, but also brings valuable fuel, foods and resources.
On this particular Saturday when the ferry did arrive, pretty much everyone was rejoicing! The ferry had been broken down for three months and as a result, the island hadn’t been able to get any fuels or supplies for almost 12 weeks! The fuel had run out about 9 weeks prior, so as the ferry docked the mood of the entire island was palpably celebratory.
This was my last day on Atauro and it was pretty wonderful. The sun came out, coconuts were fresh and plentiful, locals were smiling and there was beautiful Timorese babies and children everywhere!
I absolutely adored Atauro. Without visiting this incredible little island, I would most likely look back on my trip to Timor-Leste with nothing but negativity; but thanks to the wonderful people I met during my island stay, I now remember Timor fondly, and have many happy memories to focus on instead of just one bad one. If I ever return to Timor-Leste, I will most certainly return to Atauro.
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Dili: Flights to the Timorese capital arrive from Bali and Darwin
Getting to Atauro: Access on most days is by speedboat, contact Compass Charters via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to organise
Barry’s Place: One of two accommodation options on Atauro – Barry’s is the best! For $45 USD per night you can get a beach cabin and all meals provided
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens
Nakroma Ferry: Scheduled to leave Dili at 9am each Saturday for Atauro and depart back to Dili at 3pm – tickets cost $5 USD each way
Beloi Beach Hotel: If you are looking for somewhere with more modern amenities (wifi, electricity etc) then you can find these at the Beloi Beach Hotel, BBH also makes great cocktails!
Remember: If you don’t bring mozzie repellent you will seriously regret it!
Don’t forget to add me on Snapchat and Instagram – @wwellend – for more foolishness and travel adventures!