Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Timor-Leste (iii): New Year on Atauro

Atauro Island is a popular getaway about 30km north of Dili, ever visible from the town. It's a 45 minute speedboat ride away and I made the trip on New Year's Eve. Caught a ride with Compass Charter's in the morning. I rode in the stern of the boat, which is greatly superior to riding in the cab. The wind is a great salve for the heat. I was told that there are large pods of dolphins living in the water between Dili and Atauro, but we only saw three.

I met an Australian couple on the ride over. We went snorkeling when we arrived at Barry's Eco-Lodge, where we were all staying, at around 10am. Warm and unbelievably clear, it felt more like floating above an alien landscape than swimming. Barry's is a collection of wooden huts and cabins on the beach with little else. There's no electricity, which meant no air conditioning. This being only my second week incountry, I'd still not totally adjusted to the heat. I spent most of the afternoon sitting under a straw canopy sheltering from the sun nursing a heat induced migraine. The island is beautiful and I had considered hiking up into the headlands, but could barely bring myself to open my eyes.

Later in the afternoon though, I did force myself to get up and take a short walk up a nearby hill while guzzling water to ward off heat stroke. A couple of the local dogs began following me energetically. One of the mutts stayed with me the entire way up and back, save for a 15 minute absence after which he returned chasing a herd of goats down the hill slope towards me. Once at the top, a very subtle drizzle began falling bringing with it an immensely welcome cool. I headed back to Barry's and retired to a hammock by which my new found canine companion sat for another hour or so before running off.

The rest of the evening was spent dozing in and out of sleep, having dinner while a local band played for the guests, and sharing a warm bottle of champagne on the beach at about 10pm with the couple I had met earlier. There are bioluminescent microorganisms that light up if you disturb the water. Like fireflies in the sea. They were too small and fleeting for me to photograph though.

The hut I stayed in was little more than a thatched roof above a tent. It was basically a sauna. Unable to sleep, I spent the night walking up and down the beach where the air was coolest while tiny crabs invisible in the dark skittered away from my feet. I took a few photos of the stars when the clouds had cleared for about an hour. The lights of Dili and freight ships glowing along the horizon. I watched the sunrise on 2014 and it was one of the most vivid, dramatic sunrises I'd ever seen in my life. I had actually ended up falling asleep for about an hour on the beach while it was still dark. I opened my eyes to a deep red sky and tall undulating clouds that looked like sailboats floating just above the water. Spending New Year's about as far away from home as I could possibly get was a quieting experience. Friends and family were doing and experiencing things across the world in my absence. Technology notwithstanding, it was easy to feel disconnected from my life. Then I went back and Instagrammed everything.