The island of Atauro is clearly visible from Dili and, like a magnet, exerting a pull on those who see it. The crossing does not take long, and after the dust and noise of Dili, the tranquillity of Atauro envelopes you as soon as you set foot on its sandy shore. Question is: what to do here? Question number two: is it really necessary to do anything at all? But of course, our curiosity wins, and we go for a snorkel right away. Part of the treasures of Atauro are hidden under the sea, and from the boat, we could already see how transparent the water is. We see coral, and plenty of fish totally unaware of the world above sea level. In the afternoon, we go for a walk on the beach towards the north, turn on the main road, and walk through the village of Beloi where we are greeted by the villagers idling at the roadside. Walking back on the beach, we see the sky turn orange and pink before the clouds turn grey and the night settles. Of course, being on the east side of the island, sunsets are behind the mountain range.
Sunrise is a different matter, and we make sure to be awake in time the next morning to watch the sun rise from the sea. We are not lucky: there are clouds, and we walk the track leading to the other side of the island. We briefly see the big orange disk in the sky, before it hides behind more clouds. I now continue walking up, find several shortcuts, and soon enough, I am high enough to enjoy wide views of the mountains and the sea below. The trail is easy to follow, and when it joins the main track again, I am in the central part of Atauro, and cannot see the sea anymore. I meet several people on the way to the eastside, probably living in one of the small settlements on the west. At a small bridge, a trail leads into a narrow valley. Here, I find trees, caves, and steep cliffs on both sides. After a while, I realize that I will never be back to the westside in time for breakfast and other plans, and turn around. I miss one shortcut, end up walking through a herd of cows, but when I finally am on the right track again, the way down is easy.
Later that morning, we go out to the reef off the coast, which turns out to be one fantastic area to snorkel on. It looks almost completely untouched, rich, and teeming with all kinds of tropical fish. Some village boys are spearfishing here. Eventually, we have to get out of the water simply because we get cold, but we could have stayed in for a long time. The next morning, we are up in time to see the sun rise, and reflected on the water before our eyes. Now, there are no clouds to spoil the view. I get on a bike, planning to cycle up north. There are some short, steep climbs before I reach the village of Pala. I continue riding the track, which now climbs above the village, and leads further inland. It is steep, the going gets tough, and I struggle to stay on the bike when my wheels are slipping away under the power I put on the pedals. I end up climbing to around 350m above the sea, when I realize that this road is not going north at all, but now veers towards the west, and the other side of the island. Back in Pala, after a descent where my rear wheel seems to be trying to go faster than the bike itself, I try to find the wreck of a Japanese fighter jet that went down in 1942. But people look with surprise at my gestures, trying to imitate an airplane, so I end up cycling back to Beloi without succeeding. Then, a closer look at the map reveals that I have been utterly stupid: I have not taken the map, which clearly shows that there is a bike trail all along the coast towards the beach and fishing settlement of Akrema. The plane wreck, and pristine beaches, can be found following that track - not the hard road I took. There is no time to go back: my body needs liquids and breakfast before the boat takes us back to Dili.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Atauro Island (Timor-Leste). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Atauro Island. Read more about this site.