Over the Easter weekend, we went with a group to Atauro Island – the large island dominating the view to the north of Dili. Despite getting a lot of “stick” from my crook tooth, I decided that suffering in Atauro was probably going to be little different from suffering at home here. (Note : no medical or dental services were expected to be available in Dili or Atauro over Easter.)
Atauro is 30kms to the north of Dili and covers about 140 square kms. As I read the Lonely Planet guide, Atauro (unlike TL itself) is more Protestant than Catholic. The biggest village Vila (where we stayed at the Eco Lodge) has an Assembly of God church and we heard regular singing coming from that general direction.
There is a short narrow 4km stretch of bitumen road from the small wharf at Beloi (where we were deposited) to Vila. My guess is that the island has about 3 or 4 motor vehicles and maybe 10 motor cycles.
We took a fast “dive” boat to get from Dili to Beloi which took about 1 hour 15 minutes across the Wetar Strait. We saw none of the hoped-for whales or dolphins on the way, but many flying fish. Wetar Strait is well over 3kms in depth at its deepest points and is said to be popular with submarines making their way from the Pacific to the Indian oceans.
The Eco Lodge is about the only formal accommodation available. It is straw huts by the sea, no refrigeration, limited lighting and no sign of radio or TV. Simple beds with mosquito nets were provided and 3 meals a day at around US$15 per day plus the US$24 per day accommodation. They provided some quite respectable long-drop toilets (with toilet paper) and a quite nice mandi (ie large water basin with pitcher for washing purposes).
The sea is only metres away and most of the time, as hot as a warm bath.
The standard means of getting around is by foot and one of the planned activities was a hike up to the top of Mt.Manucoco (995m). Of the larger group that set off for the top, only about 1/4 made it all the way. It took them 9 hours in 35 to 40 degree heat (4 hours to the top) with insufficient water by any measure. I was the last of the pikers to pull out after 2 hours walking uphill on small rough mountain tracks. My pathetic excuse was the general malaise caused by my chronic tooth problem. The other half was a member of the small group that made it to the top.
As for cost, 2 nights plus all food and transport came in at around US$125 per head. The only way to do it cheaper would have been to take the once a week ferry from Dili each Saturday. Private charter is the only other option.
And the sunset that greeted us on our return to Dili harbour was one to die for.
Although it was a couple of days away from AC, it was extremely relaxing and stress-free. No newspapers, radio, TV, traffic, noise … it was also a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of Dili. Hey, did I just say that ?