Mauri from Tarawa!
Right now I’m sitting in my room at the Otintaai Hotel, watching the sunrise. It’s a bit surreal being here. I’m about as far away from…well…anywhere, as one could possibly be. I’ve lived all over the world and traveled to about two dozen countries, but for the first time in a long time, I now feel like I’ve really gone somewhere. These days when you travel, you can expect to see more or less the same things that you have at home. Experiencing something truly different these days takes quite a bit of effort. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to see Tarawa; low-lying islands and atolls in the Pacific don’t have much time left. Most estimates say that by 2050, places like Tarawa will be uninhabitable…they’ll be under water. Standing on terra firma here now and meeting the wonderful people who call this home, makes that even harder to wrap my head around I’m so looking forward to what the next couple of weeks have in store for us.
Let me back up a bit and fill you in on what transpired yesterday. Hunter, Conrad and I boarded the 737 jet in Nandi, Fiji and were surprised to see that it was packed full – who knew so many others were heading in this direction? The 3 hour flight was smooth and uneventful. I had a window seat and every once in a while, I’d look down at the glittering blue expanse of open ocean. It can be mesmerizing and certainly humbling… The last 30 minutes of our flight provided jaw-dropping views of tiny little islands and atolls scattered like marbles across the sea. I’ve just never seen anything like it.
The moment I stepped outside the plane, it was very clear we were on the equator…it was stiflingly hot and humid. There was a pretty strong breeze, but it didn’t make a lick of difference. As Conrad said, “this is the first time where I’ve felt wind that just doesn’t help.” We were greeted at Bonriki airport by our new friends, John and Linda. John is from New Zealand and has lived here for 14 years with his wife Linda, who is I-Kiribati. They’ve been a tremendous help to Team Roz – they booked our hotel, a rental car, and are helping us secure a filming permit as well. They drove us to the hotel last night and after we dropped off our things, they joined us outdoors for a drink and we plied them with questions. We’ll be meeting up with them again today – we are so grateful for their help! And thank you Maarten Troost for the introduction!
To give you a little more context about Tarawa, the following are a few brief excerpts from Maarten’s book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific:
“Located just a notch above the equator and five thousand miles from anywhere, Tarawa is the capital of Kiribati. Kiribati is a country of thirty-three atolls scattered over an ocean area as large as the continental United States.”
“To picture Kiribati, imagine that the continental U.S. were to conveniently disappear leaving only Baltimore and a vast swath of very blue ocean in its place. Now chop up Baltimore into thirty-three pieces, place a neighborhood where Maine used to be, another where California once was, and so on until you have thirty-three pieces of Baltimore dispersed in such a way so as to ensure that 32/33 of Baltimorians will never attend an Orioles game again. Flatten all land into a uniform two feet above sea level. The result is the Republic of Kiribati.”
“The total landmass of Tarawa is twelve square miles. This figure is illusory, however, for it creates the impression of a block of land, and this Tarawa is decidedly not. Its twelve square miles of coral are divided into elongated slivers, narrow islets crowned with the tufts of palm trees, prevented from becoming a unified whole by myriad of channels linking the ocean with the lagoon, and stretched out over a reef extending nearly forty miles. The reef itself is shaped like a tottering inverted L, with the western side open to the ocean.”
“There are, simply, too many people on South Tarawa, particularly on the islet of Betio, which has the world’s highest population density, greater even than Hong Kong. Unlike Hong Kong, a city in the sky, there is not a building above two stories on Betio. Some eighteen thousand people, nearly a quarter of the country’s population, live on Tarawa.”
Roz will be posting the next update, and will continue to do so from now on. In the meantime, Team Roz will be busily preparing for her arrival some time next week. We have to scope out locations for her to come in safely, and meet with a few people we’re told might be able to help us arrange for an escort boat to see that Roz navigates through the reef safe and sound. Today is going to be a big day…we have lots to do. Wish us luck!
[photo: A bird’s eye view of one of the many atolls in Kiribati]