Sunday Territorian 31 Jul 2016
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SUNDAY JULY 31 2016 TRAVEL FRONTIER 43 V2 - NTNE01Z01MA Escape The sunset view from the beach at Barrys Place JUST off the coast of Dili lies a shape that, at night, could be mistaken for low-lying clouds. But when dawn arrives it morphs into Atauro, a sparsely populated island calling out to wouldbe visitors across a slice of sea called the Wetar Strait that is 3km deep in some places and a playground for pilot whales and dolphins. Floating around 30km north of the mainland, Atauro is closer to the Indonesian islands of Pulau Alor and Pulau Wetar than Dili, but this elongated landmass with its mountainous spine and narrow coastal plains is proudly Timorese, and exceptionally relaxing. Here youll find no streets clogged with traffic and pollution. None of the hustle and bustle of Dili. Just a laidback island community where the biggest drama is deciding where to snorkel. On the east coast, just past popular Barrys Place where you can wade in from the beach to a reef teeming with aquatic life? Or on the wild west coast, near Adara Eco-Resort (more commonly known as Marios Place), where the water is rougher and less protected, but an alluring shelf plunges down into the depths, offering more for confident swimmers, snorkelers and spear fishers? We made Marios Place first stop. Lying in a basic hut, falling asleep to the sound of the waves on the beach, this is like living your own version of Castaway, with a mattress on the floor and a mozzie net. You cant help but relax theres no mobile phone reception here, unless you count one spot next to a tree up the side of the hill that locals use if theyre desperate. Move and you lose signal. No bother, we were here to disconnect and thats what we did for two days, snorkeling, talking with other guests and marvelling from above as a friend free dived below with his spear gun and caught our dinner. Oh, and theres Mario of course. A wide smile permanently on his face, Mario is rightly proud of what hes built on this undeveloped side of an undeveloped island. A scattering of thatched huts, long-drop toilets, and an enterprise to keep friends and family employed. All-inclusive there is nowhere to buy anything on this side of the island Marios Place serves up something from the sea everyday, along with vegies, rice and noodles. Its not fine dining, but its plentiful and healthy its possible to detox in all sorts of ways here. Its also fun helping workers catch what they serve. Plucking wads of seaweed from the ocean revealed groups of tiny fish no one had enough English to tell us what they were taking shelter beneath. As an employee of World Fish, Mario would have known, but he was away so we just tucked in when the catch of the day arrived fried on the dinner table. There are few roads on Atauro and none straddling its mountainous middle, but with a mud map from Mario we set off along the beach before turning at the big rock to head to Barrys Place. Climbing up and over a valley, terrific views from the top were followed by plantations of corn and beans clinging to the hillside, before we stumbled upon the magical mountain village of Arlo. Here we spent a happy half hour playing shop with a couple of villagers as we filled up on sugary treats and water to get us through the next part of the trek, which lead to the dirt road to Beloi, and spectacular views of azure waters, rolling hills and a sandy beach. It was tough going on an unnaturally hot day according to locals but it was more about the heat than the terrain. After basic living at Marios, Barrys felt like five-star luxury, complete with mini fans rigged up above the beds, sophisticated drop toilets with actual seats and meat on the menu. Tinned hot dogs never tasted so good. Barrys is an institution in Timor, for good reason. Built and run by Australian Barry Hinton and his Timorese wife Lina, its popular with expats in Dili and large dive groups, so book early. Its the kind of relaxed place where no one rushes but everything gets done; where you help yourself to drinks from the fridge and note down what youve taken on an IOU sheet of paper, then settle your bill when you leave. The resort has been built to a permaculture design, and eco-tourism is the driving force working with, rather than against, nature. Thats why Barry is doing all he can to prevent the building of a casino on a hill in the middle of the island, which, if it went ahead, would be as incongruous as constructing Buckingham Palace on top of Uluru. It will ruin the island, he says. Im trying to explain to clan owners that what they have here is priceless, worth more than a quick buck offered by developers. With that in mind Barry has done his best to boost the islands economy, not only by setting up his own resort. Years of living in Timor, first as a volunteer teaching English at Dili National University Barry spent more than 10 years working in remote indigenous schools in Australia then in the NGO sector have taught him the Timorese would benefit most from getting a hand setting up their own, socially responsible businesses rather than selling out to international interests such as the Chinese casino developers. He has more than put his money where his CONTINUED PAGE 44Women work in the shallow waters off the west coast Atauro Closer than Bali, not as crowded, much more relaxing; this island escape is well worth a look, and just 750km away from Darwin STORY & PICTURES LEANNE HUDSON Above: a doll from Bonecas de Atauro, a womens cooperative providing employment and income. Below: helping to catch dinner at Marios Place