As I first woke on this Saturday morning at about 2am, the world was dark and there was the incessant roar of the heavens, as rain bucketed down upon where we had chosen to lodge for the night.
From that point on I slept fitfully, one ear trained to the outdoors, hoping against hope that these rains would cease sooner, rather than later.
Metiut, where we had (perhaps unwisely) chosen to stay, lay 5km from where we needed to be that morning, the port of Dili where our once weekly ferry to Atauro Island was scheduled to depart.
I secretly cursed the fact that neither Sarah or myself possessed waterproof covers for our packs, and set my mind to the task of finding a best possible outcome to our situation.
It was too early, and we were simply too far out of town to find a taxi, so instead, when we did eventually rise from bed, I urged Sarah to pass me a dry change of clothes from her bag, I did the same from my own, and tied this precious cargo within a plastic bag we had scrounged from somewhere.
It was early, but our bags were packed when we heard the first break in the rain for some hours. We decided to chance it, and be on our way. We were then presented with 2 fresh problems. Firstly I could not locate the key to our room (eventually giving up the search, we were forced to leave with the door left ajar). Finally, we found we were $1 short of the funds we required to actually pay for the room. There was little else we could do, but slink out, and rationalise in our heads that after all, they had shunted us to the room that did not have the working television.
Call it luck, but as we trudged along the road in the pre-dawn light, at no point did the rains return, and as such, those dry clothes were not required as soon as feared.
It was actually a beautiful morning stroll, the rains having cooled the air sufficiently that for much of the journey, we were, despite the burden of our packs, certainly not suffering with sweat as we had the day previously.
With plenty of time to spare, we reached the harbour where already, a crowd had formed, ready to board the ferry to Atauro Island. As we milled about, waiting for the ok to board, another westerner turned up, coincidentally also from Melbourne, and also called Chris!
When vehicle and cargo had been loaded, the green light was given for passengers to board, however this quickly began to translate into a free for all, until a rather burly member of the crew began to throw his weight about, forcing the remaining passengers into 2 orderly queues.
We found ourselves a pair of seats with room on the floor in front for our packs, and settled in for the journey over a calm, glassy sea.
This perfect weather on which to be making the passage, was nevertheless still too much for a few local folk, and in short time, a trip to the railing to take in the view, would also require the careful navigation around a few random patches of vomit.
With such a mass of people in a fairly confined space, it did get warm on board pretty quickly, but it was otherwise, a pretty smooth voyage (the calm Banda Sea and slow speed of the vessel made sure it wouldn’t be otherwise).
By the time the harbour at Beloi was sighted (harbour is a very loose term, but at least there was a concrete pier), we were more than eager to make shore, however it was not a time to be lacking in patience, as getting a boatload of day tripping locals ashore, was always going to take time.
But get ashore we eventually did, and a short walk later we found ourselves at Barry’s Place, one of the few accommodation options on the island. Barry is an Australian, and his place was definitely beautiful. The only disappointment for us was that Barry wasn’t actually present, having recently returned to Australia on a 1 month holiday.
With the arrival of the ferry from Dili the population of Beloi (the small town where the ferry docks) suddenly swells making it a logical decision for Saturday to be market day. People from all of the islands small villagers make their way here to sell their wares, so it was a really meeting point for locals and day trippers alike.
It was also the logical place for us to begin our exploration of the immediate area.
Despite the heat, which saw us seeking the shade whenever possible (we’d even attempted to wander around barefoot, but the sand was too hot), and thoroughly enjoyed the stroll we had. With so few tourists making their way to Timor-Leste, and Atauro being some extra effort again, it truly was a market for the locals and not one full of junky trinkets trying to lure the tourist dollar.
We weren’t required to stray too far from the market before we could see the island at its usual busy state, as aside from the market proper, and the harbour are where a large mass of people pressed against a window at the ferry ticket office, there was very little going on.
With seaweed beds and beds of coral just off the shore, it was not long before we had our first taste of the undersea world on Atauro’s doorstep. With calm waters and minimal current, it was a lovely place for a dip (but more on that later).
The day passed quicker than would be expected through a combination of time on our porch reading, and time in the water cooling, but as the sun slowly dipped behind the islands hills, the temperature became much more pleasant so we could squeeze in a walk before dinner.
Seeing this now peaceful stretch of beach was in sharp contrast to how it had appeared on our arrival. The market was bare, most of the people and boats had gone (with few roads, most of the islanders travel between villages by boat) and it was so quiet.
Dinner at Barry’s is a buffet style affair, and the menu? Well it’s a selection of dishes, based on what has been available at the market and/or caught from the sea that day. Irrespective, I can’t recall us having a bad meal in our time there.
That evening, we were also treated to a performance by local musicians which was thoroughly enjoyed over a few icy cold beers (literally, the beers were kept in several large freezers).