Thursday, August 2, 2012

Autoro Island Timor-Leste


We were thankful to leave rolly and dirty Dili Harbour and were quite exhausted by all the rally festivities and functions, great as they were. A beautiful and isolated anchorage was beckoning.  
Dinghy landing area. Black sand, rubbish and diesel in the water.

Dili was a great initiation to sailing and cruising in SE Asia. It wasn’t too crowded and although noisy and dusty the people were gentle and polite even when I struggled along with my very shaky Indonesian. We started to get into the swing of bargaining and as the currency is US Dollars at least the numbers were easy. We ate great food for $5 for two, and both developed an appreciation for Bintang beer that comes in huge bottles for only $3.50.

Atauro Island is only a 25NM sail north of Dili and as we sailed along its steep sides we could spot white beaches, coconut palms and even some palm thatched huts. I felt that we had made it at last. , We were now actually cruising and exploring foreign lands.
Sailing up to Autoro Island

Anchoring was pretty tricky as the island, being volcanic in origin, has a narrow shelf of rock and coral fringing it which then plunges into a huge drop off into over a 100 metres. After two attempts we dropped the anchor in 6 metres of water over rock, and drifted back into 40 metres. We were hanging over a deep dark abyss, a vertical wall that plunged away into darkness. Ross on a Freedom Express used his bathescope to view our anchor and came back to report the journey that our anchor chain took, meandering around rocks and boulders. He declared that we were secure even though the anchor was just lying on its side over rock. Bringing up the anchor might present some challenges, but we’d worry about that later!

Kokomo and Babar joined us, and together with Freedom Express and Nefertiti we all perched precariously on this fringing little ledge. The water here is famously clear and the seabed can be made out even at 30 metres.

We had the first swim off the boat since Broome and did it feel great. The water was the perfect temperature and the clarity was amazing. There was often quite a strong tide running so you had to be careful to not be whisked away. Much of the time I just hung on to the swim ladder with goggles on, admiring the coral. You could stay in the water all day without getting cold.
Landing party

We dinghied to the white sandy beach with the crew of Babar, and were met by some local fishermen who were lounging around in the shade by their dugout canoes. Language was difficult as they spoke a mixture of Tetan, the local Timorese dialect, Portuguese and Indonesian. We were taken to see their village which was a mixture of tin and palm leaf huts linked by meticulously swept and stone bordered paths. There was an orchard of fruit trees and we were presented with an orange each. A great mob of kids came to stare at us with their big brown eyes. They dissolved into shy giggles when we spoke to them and I felt sorry that I didn’t have anything to give them. They looked wonderful though, healthy and well dressed. The fishermen asked if we had any swimming goggles as they use them for fishing. We had a spare so returned to the beach with them.
Greeting our guests

Three boys wearing wide white smiles came to visit The Doc on their outrigger canoe. They sat on the back of the boat looking at The Doctor with big eyes as we struggled along communicating with a smattering of Indonesian, English and lots of gestures. We did find out that they went to school on a neighbouring island, that their mother had passed away and also that 200 people lived on their island. We gave them another set of goggles and they paddled off into the growing darkness. Hours later they returned with their canoe filled with fishing net and snared fish. They proudly handed over three of their catch and it fed Rob, Motley and I. It was great to see that the goggles that we had given them were on their heads and put to good use straight away. I wonder what the fishermen would have thought if they knew our cat had partaken of their catch. The concept of a pet would be a foreign one over here. When we cleared in to Timor-Leste the immigration officials were told about the cat on board and their response was “To eat?” They are used to the local boats taking animals on board for eating purposes.
Village at Autoro Island
Carefully manicured paths in the village

We spent a couple of days at Atauro, and although beautiful beyond words we felt uneasy due to the precarious anchorage and also the strong bullets of wind that came hurtling down from the steep sided island. We pulled anchor, and luckily it came up without a hitch, and we set sail westwards towards new adventures. Diana

1 comment:

  1. Great to see the pickies and hear about your adventures, maybe us cruisers should all stock up on swimming goggles to take with us.... :-)