There is a lot to do while I’m here in Tarawa, but – lazy cow that I am (?!) I grabbed the opportunity for a day off yesterday. By a “day off”, I mean an opportunity to stop, think, and clarify before hurtling on regardless. I suppose you’d think I’d had all the time in the world to think while I was rowing – and I did – but I always do my very best thinking when I have my pen in hand, blank page of my journal in front of me. And ocean thoughts don’t always make so much sense on dry land. It was time to get real.
But first let me tell you a bit about the sheer pleasure of being back on dry land. One of the best things about spending long periods of time out at sea is that it makes me appreciate the simple things of land life so much more. To wake up in a comfortable, clean, soft bed… to feel the warmth of the shower jets on my skin… to open a fridge and take out a bottle of refreshing cold water…
So it was with an immense feeling of wellbeing that I woke up in my hotel room yesterday morning. I lay on the floor to do my morning stretch-and-breathe routine, trying to remember how it goes. I went to sit out on the balcony overlooking the lagoon, which is actually very polluted, but from a distance it’s a gorgeous light blue, so different from the deep blue of the open ocean.
I flipped through my trusty spiral-bound notebook while I ate a breakfast of granola bars. I am a great maker of lists and notes, and it was half-full of the lists I’d made in the month or so before my departure from Hawaii. I felt the need for a fresh start, so I tore out the used pages, neatly trimming away the perforated edges before archiving them. Now I had a book of blank pages, ready for the next chapter of my life.
Continuing my theme of simplicity and fresh starts, I next cleared out my backpack. I’d been shocked when I took it off the boat, safe in its drybag, to feel how much it weighed. Did I really used to carry this around on my shoulders all day, every day?! No wonder I’m getting shorter! I found all kinds of junk that had accumulated in its many pockets – useful junk, put there “just in case”, but now some cases seemed too unlikely to justify the weight. Simplify, simplify, said Thoreau. So I did.
Feeling fresh and organized and ready to face the day, I joined up with TeamRoz and we got going. We headed over to the office of David Lambourne, the Solicitor General, to use his relatively good internet connection so Nicole could post the press release and Conrad could upload his video footage of my arrival for the media. The poor guy had been up all night editing 6 hours down to 6 minutes.
David, originally from Australia but now a permanent resident of Tarawa is fast becoming our local angel, as well as being a local mover and shaker. His wife, Tessie, is the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Kiribati. Somebody (oops, could it have been me?) made mention of massage, and he said that one of Tessie’s relatives does a great traditional Tarawan massage. A quick call to his house, and it was arranged. It was definitely one of the more unusual massages I’ve ever had. I was introduced to a multitude of David’s wife’s relatives, sitting in a row of small shady thatched cabanas on the lagoon side of the island, whiling away the hot hours. Two of them tended to me, while a small audience of aunts, sisters and children watched nearby. I sat on the palm matting under the thatch while I was rubbed down with oil and water, and my aching back muscles soothed with long, gentle strokes. Then I was sponged down with a wad of coconut wrapped in muslin and dunked in hot water. Coconut milk ran down my skin. A gentle breeze wafted in from the lagoon. It was all very nice indeed. I smelled like a pina colada.
My masseuse and I chatted as best we could across the language barrier. She is the same age as me – 41 – but has 8 children and 3 grandchildren. Her eldest child is 26 and the youngest is 7. Her husband died of cancer 4 years ago. What different lives.
I spent the rest of the afternoon communing with my journal in the cabana, covering several pages with thoughtful handwriting while the relatives around me chatted amongst themselves in the melodious language of Kiribati, played dice, crocheted, ate and snoozed in the shade. A litter of new puppies slept in a furry heap underneath the cabana. A pig lay in its pen, also comatose. Island life.
Towards dark David’s wife Tessie came home, and David himself arrived with Nicole, Hunter and Conrad. We sat in the cabana drinking toddy, the diluted sap of the palm tree. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted, but very delicious. It smells strangely of hot dogs, but tastes much better – sweet and fresh. David told us they gather it by climbing to the top of a palm tree and shaving the bark at the site of a new palm frond to get to the rising sap beneath. As you drive around the island you can see the jars they attach to palm trees to gather the juice.
After sunset we sat on the beach under the palm trees, watching the moon rise over the lagoon as we ate a dinner prepared by the relatives. This is how their household works – David and Tessie work to support the relatives, in return for which the 20 or so members of the extended family provide them with cooking, cleaning, and massage services. Everybody’s happy.
The food was the best I’d had so far on the island. There is nowhere on a coral atoll to grow vegetables, so they are in scarce supply. Cabbage is about the only fresh veg available. So we had coleslaw with local tuna and chicken, and the ubiquitous white rice, washed down with coke, cold beer or a very nice New Zealand Pinot Noir according to choice.
Conversation was varied and interesting – including a lot of talk of climate change, which is very much on the minds of the Kitibati government. But more of that later. This blog is too long already. Ciao for now – more tomorrow. We have to go to the airport to collect Ian, who is arriving from San Francisco to help with the boatworks.
[Note: All travel by members of TeamRoz is balanced by carbon offsets to maintain our carbon neutral status.]
Just so you know… I still have very limited internet access. Tarawa is progressing fast, but its infrastructure is still a way behind US levels. David’s office has the best data speeds, but it still took Conrad 7 or 8 hours to upload his 6 minutes of video footage. I’m still having to post blogs via email, and Tweets via my satphone, and it’s not easy for me to see comments and other responses. So please forgive me if I seem a bit remote from the online dialogue. A more normal service will be resumed once I leave Tarawa in a couple of weeks.
Some facts on Tarawa – as gleaned by Nicole from the internet:
Latitude: 1° 25′ North, Longitude: 173° 00′ East
Tarawa atoll is the capital of Kiribati, previously capital of the
former British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.
Tarawa is not a single town but a group of 24 islets (of which at
least 8 are inhabited) surrounded by a coral atoll. Apart from the
south where causeways link the islets, one needs a boat to
navigate around the main features.
The largest islet (South Tarawa) extends from Bonriki (southeast
corner of the atoll) along the entire south side of the lagoon to
Bairiki. A causeway now connects Bairiki to Betio (Japanese causeway).
The largest town, Bikenibeu, and the only airport on Tarawa, Bonriki
International Airport, are on the southeast corner of Tarawa.
Betio island, the chief commercial center of the country, is a port of
entry. The main hospital is located at Bikenibeu. The central
Government offices, Parliament building, President’s Office and
Residence, Central Post Office, Telecommunications Services Kiribati
Limited (TSKL), Library and Archives, and various other official
buildings are all on Bairiki islet.
The population is mainly Micronesian. Tarawa was occupied by the
Japanese (1941-43) and fell to U.S. marines after a bloody battle. In
the early 1990s the southern part of the capital, particularly Betio,
had one of the highest population densities in the world, leading the
government to resettle residents on less crowded islands.
They are 2 hours behind Hawaii Standard Time. (ie when it is noon in
Hawaii, it is 10 am in Tarawa)
Flights: The only flights into Tarawa (TRW) are Air Pacific flights
from Nandi, Fiji (NAN). They leave twice a week, on Tuesdays and
From Honolulu (HNL), there are a few more carrier options. Air
Pacific flies from HNL to NAN as does Qantas, American, United,
Hawaiian and Air New Zealand.
Ships: Supply ships occasionally go to Fiji and Tuvalu.
There are a few options for lodging on Tarawa but we are staying at Hotel Otintaai. It is the main hotel in Kiribati. Fully owned by Government, the hotel is on South Tarawa with a good view of the lagoon. It is about a 10 minute taxi ride from the hotel to the airport. They have a restaurant, running water, clean rooms and