Recently, my good mate Rohan and I went on a trip to the island of Atauro off the north coast of Dili. It was a place I had not been to before and was keen for a bit of adventure. The good thing about Rohan is that he is very gullible and seems to be able to cope with any disaster that we can fall into. The unfortunate thing about Rohan is that is name is a Tetun word which could be translated variously as “the left over bit at the end”. So it became the butt of a few jokes. We took our boat to get over to the island. It was great to get a bit of use out of it myself rather than packing off other people. Unfortunately, since the roll over, Tobias (the skipper) had not quite got the carby cleaned and the boat konked out close to the southern cliffs of the island. It was a very strong current there which was going in the same direction we were going which was nice and later Ro was able to get the boat into a massive eddy by the cliffs when we thought we should slow down. We sort of fixed the problem with the motor enough to pull into the next village where I got to swim some Bibles ashore – the Bibles faired well but I swallowed rather too much water in the effort. Here the locals showed us a cave. They were way too scared to go in. Down the back of the cavern was a tiny entrance into another cavern where we found a bat colony and a truck load of bat poo which would make awesome fertiliser if only the locals could be brave enough to get it out.
After Tobias put the carby back together we got around to Atekru which would be our base village where Emmy’s dad and mum live. We arranged some canoes here and took off the next day for a paddle down the coast glad to leave the motor behind. These are dugout canoes made from a log with some planks on the side to make it bigger. It has outriggers on the side made of bamboo. We brought a piece of cotton for sleeping which we could use to rig up a simple sail. Atauro is a beautiful tropical island with lovely people. We paddled past a village or two until we found a mostly deserted beach with a few rock caves to choose from to sleep in. Some boys came out of the mountains and got talking to us. They were surprised, I think, that we paddled there in small canoes as most foreigners they’d talked to here were Australian soldiers who came in helicopters out of the sky and landed in the field nearby. They said that they would not offer them coconuts because the soldiers came quickly from Dili and had full bellies and they would soon return. But they figured that Aussies who’d paddled there in a small canoe must surely be thirsty and therefore it was only fitting that they should be given a coconut. Without further a-do, the youngest fellow was sent up the palm and dropped 4 coconuts. It was true we were very thirsty but 4 coconuts was too much but they wouldn’t share in eating them so we saved them for the meal later. It actually meant we had bowls to eat out of which we’d forgotten to bring. We had time for snorkelling, walking and cliff climbing – well, we thought we had time. The sun had other ideas and ran away before we could get off the cliffs leaving us doing the final descent by tree roots in darkness. We returned to Atekru the next day with a stop in the bay to do an awesome snorkel (northern end of bay) along the drop off being pulled along by our canoe and its little sail. That night I got to participate in a small youth conference where the local churches were wrapping up a week of youth events. I had brought a bunch of scriptures for the occasion and handed them out to youth selected by the leaders – it was a bit auspicious, us having white skin and all.
The next day we made an attempt on the highest peak in the island. The island is probably only 10km across maximum but had a mountain of 1000m (3300ft) and we were starting from the sea. We didn’t have offers of guides to go with us as it was considered too ambitious a climb. No worries, Ro and I are old hands with the 1:25000 topo map and a compass. This time we had a GPS too and we tracked the climb which I might show you one day. We got pretty scratched up and a little off track but some Timorese along the way soon found us, supplied us with coconuts (as we must have been thirsty - which we were) and showed us some paths to get us back on track. We made the summit about 2pm and stopped for lunch. The descent was very steep and spectacularly rugged. We dropped into a sharp ravine and followed the beautifully carved rocky creek down the mountain. Soon the sun began to run away and we got out on a ridge to find some desperate farming activity in the dry, rugged conditions. We passed a farmers shack that seemed to suggest severely stunted development especially given the bed inside was barely 4 foot long. Of course, as tradition would have it, the last few hundred meters was done in the dark with a bit of help from the Timorese and we finally met up with Emmy and Tobias who had come around in the boat. We slept there in Maker that night and took off for home early the next morning to recover from the adventure. Thanks heaps for a mate like Ro to enjoy such a journey with.
PS On return I met an experienced hiker in Dili who said he’d made 5 attempts on the summit and still hadn’t made it. Perhaps we just got lucky.