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Tourism

Respecting the Earth

Eco-tourism takes shape in Timor- Leste and attracts a global clientele

Timor-Leste Coastline
Barry's Place Barry's Place

Barry’s Place, a sprawling collection of earthy bungalows that sits across the stunning Timor Sea in Atauro Island, isn’t your average profit-driven lodge. And,that’s the point,says co-founder and operator Barry Hinton.

Barry’s Place is part of a small but growing trend of eco-tourism destinations in Timor-Leste. Ecotourism aims to minimize thenegative impacts of tourism for local communities and environments.

Barry Hinton Barry Hinton

Like many other eco-tourism initiatives that feature environmentally-friendly practices, this modest but popular location caters to tourists who demur the fancy hotels in favor of bungalows with natural lighting, compost bathrooms, vegetarian cuisine and an authentic cultural experience.

At Barry’s Place, just north of the pier on Atauro Island, there are nine rooms across five huts with different bedding arrangements. For example, one bungalow that rents for $105 per night can accommodate as many as four adults or two adults and two children. Single travelers and backpackers can also find accommodations for $30. Travelers can also pitch a tent or have one provided for a fee of $25. Meals are included.

“We are not here for the money,” Hinton said.

Honoring the local culture

Hinton’s love affair with Timor-Leste began about a decade ago when he left his native Australia to teach English to Timorese youth. He married a woman from Timor-Leste and decided to stay. After his first wife died in child-birth, he remarried and his in-laws gave him a block of land on the Atauro Island along the edges of the pristine Timor Sea.

He and his family built the lodge using local materials and have been living there since 2005 with their two children. On most weeks, the lodge averages 25 guests. Hinton is quick to point out an irony of eco-tourism: He has a successful business, but he wants to keep it small to stay environmentally responsible and respectful of the local culture.

Atauro, he says, is an unspoiled island, where “time is nothing” and “money doesn’t matter.”He prefers to spend his days chatting with the guests and locals and reading.

“If you look at Australia or America, everyone is worried about money,”Hinton says.“It’s very freeing not to have that problem.”

Barry’s Place has attracted visitors from across the world who understand and appre- ciate the lodge’s mission of stewardship. Another attraction: Inexpensive snorkeling. Barry’s Place offers snorkeling for $10.

Robyn Dusting arrived from Victoria, Australia, with her retired husband, who works on the grounds.They believe in environmentally-responsible vacations.

“Eco-tourism is something that should be embraced by more people in the world,” Dusting said.

The visit was their second to Timor-Leste, and Dusting says she is open to returning to Timor-Leste but is content to spend her days reading, lounging along the coast and snorkeling.

“It’s a wonderful place,” Dusting said. “I’m spoiled.”

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