Surprise! I was one of the few, very lucky adventurers to join Tasi Travels on their very first Travel With Purpose trip to Timor-Leste last month. And boy, was it a magical journey!
I first learned about Travel With Purpose when I came across Tasi Travels last year while doing my regular search for Australian ethical clothing brands. As an advocate for both conscious fashion and sustainable tourism, I was immediately in awe of Tasi Travels and signed up to hear about their new Travel With Purpose initiative.
When Jess, founder of Tasi Travels, sent an email out in May, offering up a last minute spot to join them on the trip, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Timor-Leste!
For me, this trip meant not only meeting some like-minded and fresh faces, but it also meant challenging myself, expanding my passion for sustainable travel, and truly making an impact.
The feeling of physically making a difference is something I tend to miss out on in my digital job. So, it’s almost imperative for my mental, emotional, and even spiritual state to take some time every few months to connect with the world on a more tangible level.
I’m so glad Jess accepted my desperate plea because this trip was pure soul food – it was so refreshing and highly fulfilling.
Tasi Travels’ Travel With Purpose initiative is all about travelling responsibly and supporting ecotourism. It means creating a journey with the perfect balance between epic adventure and positive contribution (and I think our trip nailed this on the head!).
Our group spent most of our time in Timor-Leste on the remote island of Atauro, soaking up all the goodness of the landscape. We explored slowly, both above water and below, and successfully completed a couple of beach cleanups. We also spent some really valuable time connecting with families on the island – sharing stories, laughter, and advice.
The trip was not only so rejuvenating for me personally but I feel that it also made a real positive difference to people on Atauro and to the environment as well.
When we flew into Timor-Leste, we immediately jumped on a boat and chugged across to Atauro. We spent most of our time at Barry’s Place on the East side of the island. While a legitimate eco-stay, Barry’s Place is also actually run by Barry!
Our little thatch houses were adorable – comfy beds and a relaxing porch with our very own hammock, perfect for afternoons spent drifting away in thought.
The separate bathroom block was a picture from every eco-tourists’ dreams! Complete with “VIP composting toilet” and mandi shower, the bathroom facilities get 5/5 stars for sustainability!
However, if you ever visit Barry’s Place, beware of the resident rodent! We found it would creep in during the night and munch on everything from bamboo toothbrushes to lip balm!
Even with our furry friend included, I truly loved staying at Barry’s place. We were only steps away from the water and had all meals catered for us (mostly rice and veggies – a dream come true for this little vegan!). Barry was so helpful with providing us the means to sort our beach cleanups and helped us to connect with other volunteers on the island. It was a real feeling of community.
We successfully completed two beach cleanups on the stretch of beach outside Barry’s Place. As Tasi Travels explained in their own blog post about the trip, we managed to collect exactly 2709 pieces of rubbish including 402 plastic drink bottles, 355 bottle lids, 756 pieces of hard plastic, 407 pieces of soft plastic, 221 pieces of rope, 163 straws, and so much more.
As a kid who grew up in the Australian outback, and then later moved to the relatively pristine beaches of Perth, the sheer amount of marine debris in Timor-Leste was a bit of a shock to me.
I found myself questioning my impact on only the second cleanup. I had to actively remind myself that even though we couldn’t clean up the whole island, we were still making a huge difference.
While I love being about to make a positive environmental impact in my everyday life and travels, I’m as deeply passionate about supporting people and communities. Lucky for me, Atauro has its own gorgeous shop run by Timorese NGO, Empreza Di’ak (meaning ‘good business’). The store partners with local communities and artists while selling products from across the island.
If you want to learn more about how Empreza Di’ak supports traditional arts and crafts and works to fight poverty, to empower women in Timor-Leste, and to build better lives, visit their website here.
Betel Nut Festival
Our very lucky trip to the Betel Nut Festival at the top of the Atauro Island really connected me with the spirit of Atauro.
The Betel Nut Festival is only held once a year around the time of the full moon in July. So, we were really lucky that this special event coincided with our trip as it was definitely one of the highlights.
On the morning of the festival, we jumped in the back of a truck with a bunch of strangers and enjoyed the hour ride up the rolling hills of Atauro.
We were greeted by the wonderful Thomas, our host, and guided into a busy forest.
We spent a good chunk of the day relaxing on palm leaves and filling our bellies with rice and fruit. Every now and then, crowds rushed to a section of the festival to watch cock-fighting. I stayed on our palm mats with Thomas. He told me that he makes a bet on the fighting but can’t bring himself to watch because of his heart. I smiled, nodded, and told him, “yes, my heart, too”.
Later, our group stared in awe for the most spectacular part of the festival! Skilled climbers scaled palm trees all over the festival to harvest the betel nuts. Some bunches were even bought down in under 60 seconds. I was amazed!
When we left at around 5 pm, the real party was only just kicking off. There would be music, drinking, and dancing until sunrise the next morning – it would have been a sight!
Instead of partying on, a bunch of us wandered back down the hill while the others rode in the truck. It only took us an unintentional 4 hours until we met back up with the rest of the group back at Barry’s Place – oops!
On the last few days of our trip, we walked over to Mario’s Place on the West side of the island (correction: Super Mario’s place, as he hilariously renamed himself!).
Super Mario’s was pure paradise. We relaxed under the canopy, sipped on coconuts, and enjoyed the diverse waters on this side of the island.
I realised that this was the first day in my life where I had watched the sun rise over the ocean (at Barry’s Place) and, on the very same day, watched it also set over the ocean (at Super Mario’s Place). How cool is that?!
On our final day, we took a small boat back around to Barry’s Place and then a chugged back to the mainland on a larger boat from there.
Sailing away, I really felt as if we were paving a path for all the journeys to come. No doubt Timor-Leste is going to attract many more tourists in the future and I hope we have set a great example of just how helpful, respectful, and committed Australian travellers can be.
When we made it to Dili, we visited the famous Cristo Rei statue and had a blast chatting with our taxi drivers while making our way around the city. I’m glad we spent this time in Timor-Leste’s capital but I will forever be grateful for the serenity of Atauro island and the incredible souls I met along the way.
I’m sure I’ll be back next year, Timor-Leste. Until then ♡