“I want to live here”. Within minutes of checking into our bungalow I had already envisaged the rest of my life. I knew what business I would create, what it would be called and what coconut tree it would be under. I could visualise living here so clearly that I immediately felt at home.
Rote Island, a short jump from Timor’s south western tip is total paradise.
Rote is a simple island swathed in dense scrub and ringed by a single road. It’s natural, unkept appearance and backwards nature are part and parcel of Rote’s appeal. Around the island, small villages and coconut trees occupy seaside grassy plateaus where farm yard animals are free to roam. In the south, the coast road undulates over limestone cliffs which fall mercilessly into undisturbed turquoise bays. White beaches settle quietly in the corners as the barrelling surf thrashes the inner reef. Further towards Boa, everything changes as scenic mangrove wetlands beckon foraging birds that intermingle with the shallow sea.
I am not the first person to want a piece of Rote, handfuls of foreigners have bought land and are setting up their lives here. We met a group of Aussies who have been escaping their miserable Melbourne winters for the past 5-8 years by coming to Rote to surf the peak wave season for 3 months at a time. Living by the sun, the moon and the wind, their schedule is solely commanded by the waves; You can understand why they keep coming back.
Sitting on our balcony, overlooking the sandy courtyard, time slips away. For the last few hours I have been completely immersed in my book only to be distracted momentarily by the profoundly cute bleeps of the goats who are busy foraging in my neighbours bin. Becks comes strolling up from the beach, her camera slung across her shoulder. Behind her the boys with their boards and zinc painted faces are bantering between themselves about the mornings surf session. I am aware now that it’s high tide, the midday wind has picked up and that it’s lunch time. I think I may have settled quite nicely into this slow pace of island life.
In the early evenings, when the surfers begin waxing up their boards in preparation for round two, the villagers who have escaped the midday heat, come out from their shanties to the waterfront to begin work harvesting seaweed. We are mesmerised. Its Rote’s version of rush hour. Barrelling waves are breaking in the distance drawing a crowd offshore, seaweed is being scooped from the shallows and there are tons of snuffling piglets, whose noses are constantly buried in the sand, happily looking for pipis.
Hours seamlessly slip by as does the tide; The sun slowly sets across the water. Everyone is back on land again, sitting together on the beach, a cold Bintang beer within reach. The sea of puddles which have been abandoned by the fleeting tide are glowing gold and throwing scarlet hues all over the place. The tireless seaweed farmers are bundling up their harvest and carrying them up the beach and all you’re left with is their solemn silhouettes emerging from the water and that’s when you know the day is done.