Getting to grips with Island life
Atauro Travel Blog› entry 82 of 86 › view all entries
The morning of my flight the hotel's car was broken down but I hailed a taxi and got to the heliport with plenty of time. I was the only passenger for the flight so I had the big old Russian copter to myself. When we took off the weather was cool as some nice cloud cover lay above us.
The Russian pilot went through his safety briefing in a happily animated way. This was my third flight in as many days and each time I had traveled in a different one of the 4 UN choppers.
I was told we would reach Atauro in 15 minutes and would be flying at a height of 1500m.
Everything went like clockwork. I was met by the 3 Filipino UNPOL whose primary tasks in policing the island was meeting the transport as it came to and from the mainland of Timor Leste; twice a week for choppers and the ferry on Saturday. I would be returning to Dili on the afternoon sailing of the ferry.
We introduced ourselves and they were excited by my request for a tour and to be delivered to a great snorkel spot. They smiled broadly and announced they would join me for a snorkel.
Later they explained Atauro Island has a zero crime rate and as I mentioned, their only duties were the transport duties.
The three UNPOL weren't needed very often by the PNTL (National Police) of which the island has 3, as they were able themselves to handle the infrequent calls to duty.
Island life indeed! Once I was settled into Tua Koin, the Eco Lodge I had booked for my two nights (see review), I relaxed and took stock of where I was and what I had to achieve. On the whole my biggest worries were self imposed so my first "job" was to chillax.
I wanted to recharge my mobile, which meant a 45min walk to the port village of Beloi. The time at this stage was about 10am so I thought I'd wait until it got really hot before I set out. I don't know why, but I seem to have an uncanny knack of ensuring I pick the hottest part of the day to do anything energetic.
The cloud cover had cleared when I finally set out. It was a typical Timor Leste day (about 38C and 82% humidity) with the sun directly overhead ensuring minimal shadow along the road.
I didn't dawdle but I took a few pics along the way and greeted dozens of local kids going to or coming from the schools. I love that about this country. The people here are fantastic and the smaller the place, the more friendly they are.
To my right, about 50-100m was the beach. To my left, about 300-600m was the mountain range that runs the length of the island like a backbone. My accommodation is on the beachfront but I longed to climb the green foothills and up to the mountains. I knew it would be cooler up there and they looked covered in grass, real grass like not seen elsewhere in TL. Cool, green, rolling-down-the-hill like a kid grass! I was excited!
When I got to Beloi I couldn't find the shop I'd been told to look for. I went up and down the three roads that made up the small village -nothing. As I wandered around a couple of locals came to practise their English on me. One was particularly good and we sat and chatted for several minutes before I asked him where I could get a recharge pulsa for my mobile.
He advised me there was no-where here to buy such a thing. I couldn't really believe that I would have been put crook by my host at Tua Koin but this is Timor and communications go astray every day -lost in translation...
I had seen enough and decided I would wander back to the lodge and on the way look for the best vantage point to head to the hills.
Easier said than done! When I finally found a track that cut off at right angles from the road to the hills I turned and went. Within a couple of hundred metres I was starting to bush bash. The path had become an in between season corn field and my trousers were covered with grabby little hooded grass seeds.
I boxed on. Unfortunately I was having to move more sideways than forward and the hills I was aiming for were starting to mock me.
I doubled my effort in the hot sun but I was starting to worry the locals wouldn't take too kindly to this "Malae" (foreigner) bashing through their properties.
Finally a reached the remnants of a stone wall at the foot of the hills. I could see through the tangled trees the hill shot up steeply on the other side and was mostly a jumble of volcanic craggy rocks. What I couldn't see was a way through the trees and over the wall. I had no doubt one touch would collapse the thing and I was sure it would be at that moment the owner would appear with his beloved machete in hand.
I backtracked and tried further along. I had been supping my water steadily for the past couple of hours and the warmth of it spilling down my throat was not offering much respite from the 1pm sunshine. The efforts of bush bashing were also taking the shine off the whole adventure for me.
I boxed on. Then I found a break in the wall and the trees. I clambered through and surveyed the best route up between the rocks. As I paused I became aware, over my breathing, of a high pitched buzzing -I was standing in the midst of a swarm of mosquitos!!
I swatted and bound to my left but the beasts were thick and hungry.
As I tried to find my way back to the road I was still concerned about meeting any unhappy landowner but the truth of it was I had been beaten; not by man or mountain, but by mossie; it was a sad day!
When I finally got back to the lodge I was cooked. I hit the mattress on the front porch of my hut and finished the rest of my warm water. After an hour I was ready to try my snorkel gear.
The information from my host was that there were some nice sights in front of the lodge but the weed and the sea weed lines were problematic except at high tide.
Not to be beaten by nature a second time in one day I got changed, waded into the shallows, donned my flippers and mask and pushed out through the small swell.
Small fish were plentiful.
Next came the lines strung parallel to the beach. They were tied with seaweed and hung suspended above the weed supported by dozens of plastic bottles. I managed to duck and weave my way through and then there were starfish and sea slugs of varying sizes and colours.
This whole area was safely protected by a reef. Over the next couple of days and evenings I watched the activities of fishermen and sea weed harvesters as they waded through the shallows with their nets, spears or sacks.
The reef lay about 700m off the beach and I wondered how the shallows could stretch so far into the straits when they dropped so rapidly in the 25km between Atauro and Dili. They deapth of these waters is 3200m yet behind me Mt Manucoco reached 999m into the clouds and Mt Ramalau, on the mainland stood 2.9kms above the sea.
Somewhere out there is a very long drop!
After spending the afternoon snorkelling and lazing about the porch watching the activities on the beach I was invited to the common room just after dark, when my dinner was ready. I enjoyed a simple traditionally cooked meal of roasted chicken, rice and spinach, washed down with a mug of Timor Leste’s finest roast.
I hit the
sack soon afterwards so I wasn’t sitting with the light on attracting bugs.