It is possible that it was just a coincidence, but today when we get out of bed and have breakfast in the beautiful Lami Bay in Fiji (65 FJD), We decided to take a taxi to the airport some time in advance and check in quickly. We are just a few "tuvalenses", a Chinese cudeiro and a clueless backpacker on the Air Pacific plane that goes to the island of Funafuti.
And we say "it is possible that it was just a coincidence" but the Air Pacific flight whose departure was scheduled for 10'00 took off around 9'15 from the Nausori runway in Suva, leaving behind a passenger not so foresight. !! We continue to hallucinate with the theme of flights! Here, in addition, they didn't want to give us boarding passes. The reason is that they have to verify that it is an optimal time for the plane to land, but it doesn't leave. But it came out!
The journey barely lasts 2 hours and 20 minutes, but as soon as we begin the descent, we begin to see what our shelter will be the next two nights (we touch wood). We are seeing a beautiful boomerang shaped atoll island It seems to contain an inner lagoon. Really spectacular
More than 20 years have passed since we first set foot in Polynesian lands. Then we did it in Hawaii with the parents of Isaac and Miriam, one of the three triangles that delimit this area of the planet. Today we do it in Tuvalu, former Ellice Islands and island country with a maximum height of 5 meters, being, after our dear Maldives (2 meters above sea level), the country with the lowest maximum height.
In addition, it is a sunny day of those who like when we land in the only place where an airstrip could fit, in a small area wider than the rest of the island. There are a couple of red flags on both sides. This means that traffic is stopped and many people are waiting, as if it were a train level crossing. Even some children greet when the plane stops on the runway.
Although it is a bit of a mess, because the airport is not delimited anywhere, they redirect us to the "terminal" to pass immigration and passport control. Here we quickly realize that we will pay everything in Australian Dollars, since they do not even have their own currency.
These islands, like Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, were discovered by the Spaniards in 1568 (of course, by Alvaro de Mendaña and Neyra), although they were already inhabited since the beginning of the first millennium BC and even some slave traders and whalers from Peru visited them frequently.
It was already in 1819 when the captain of New Arent (or Peyter), on a trip from Valparaiso to India, would discover the atoll of Funafuti, the capital, where a group of 14 islands and low sand are now. I would name him Ellice. Later British colonism (they drive on the left again), would join them to Kiribati until the islanders voted in 1974 their seperation of the Gilbert Islands (which would become Kiribati), and their definitive independence in 1978 from the United Kingdom
And where can one stay in a place like this? Well, the truth is that there are not many options, since there are a number of lost guesthouses, one Filamona next to the airport building (which has already become the craft building until next Thursday with the arrival of the next plane a once the one that brought us back took off) and a government hotel called Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, just 100 meters from the runway (I don't think the planes bother us, haha) that has about 16 rooms. This has been our choice.
We are on the side that overlooks the lagoon, in a modest room with air conditioning (! NEEDED! We return to roast like chickens. 30ºC and a lot of humidity), a couple of beds, a cooler and a bathroom (with weather water, not hot). If you have 24 hours of electricity. Enough to fall for the night.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are also served here, so if we do not find where to do it, we will always have to pull the kitchen service, no matter how Chinese style.
The first that what we have done is to locate someone who has a boat and it hasn't taken us long to get it. We have rented you tomorrow for a walk through the conservation area of Funafuti, something that we will not miss for anything in the world.ORGANIZING ON THE MARCH:
Today we will not organize anything. If we leave on Thursday, on Friday we will go to Tonga trying to reach the Vavau archipelago
We have looked at options for Tonga and to try to simplify we have asked the Jonas agency for a price that had to see us as a fool and wanted to tease us, so we followed our travel philosophy and finally we took an internal flight with Chathams and accommodation in One Toni Guesthouse. There was some other option, but that may be reasonable
After that, we went out to kick Vaiaku and the Funufati land area. By bus? There is only one and it does not work. In taxi? There are only 4 in the whole island. As? Well there is motorcycle service at 10 AUD per hour, and bicycles, but we are walkers by default ... so ... to kick it has been said, which is the best way to explore
And the first thing we've found has been the best Isaac could find that collects coins from all countries, the Bank of Tuvalu (open from 10am to 2pm from Monday to Thursday). This country uses the AUD (and !! DOES NOT ALLOW CREDIT CARDS !!) but nevertheless there are Tuvalu coins of several cents and 1 dollar. They coexist with the Australian dollar and are in full force, so a few for the buchaca. What do you not know that has the figure of 1 dollar? !! A turtle!
He walk through the part that overlooks the lagoon It is very pleasant at this time, despite the heat. The water looks crystal clear and transparent, with a beautiful blue that seems to scream for a dip. And we will, later, sure.
In any case, the devastating effect of global warming and the erosion of rising water levels can be observed. There is hardly any beach where once there was one of white sands. We fear that we will see more tragic effects of all this tomorrow.
The small dock in this area, which allows the transit to nearby islets, is currently empty leaving a somewhat bohemian image
We continue to the south side of the island, and we find a small library. There we are invited to spend the girl who runs it, Ane, with whom we have a most pleasant talk. Almost all the documentation of what Tuvalu is and was is there, as well as other types of books donated by different organizations over the years.
It also has a visitor book. Unlike Uepi's, for example, that it had about 6 or 7 pages filled with Australians, here it barely has one and something in what it has been for the year. Tuvalu has been for years the most isolated country in the world and currently remains the least visited with less than 2000. Even Antarctica receives more, with almost 50,000 a year. What really surprises us is to see how a Spaniard, Alex (manifest if one day you read this) has gone today on the plane that has brought us. !! INCREDIBLE COINCIDENCE! Surely they do not return Spanish in years ...
There is an area of the library that does not have public access, but that Ane is proud to show us. Are all the files, many still unclassified (there is a tough task), from the time when Tuvalu was a British colony. Those papers are worth gold because they show the times when the Ellice Islands (their colonial name) were administered by the United Kingdom as part of a protectorate (1892-1916) and later as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Colonia Islands (1916-1974)
We continue along a kind of road and leaving small houses of flat or wood on the sides, until we reach the Tuvalu Philatelic Bureu which has just reopened (has a strange schedule of 8-12'30 and 13'30-16'00). This philatelic office in Tuvalu, at one end of the municipality of Funafuti, is one of the most valuable places in the country and a paradise for stamp collectors. Since 1975, Tuvalu separated from Kiribati, they have generated a series of stamp issues with unique and original designs creating a highly valued catalog in the world. Of course, we get some and postcards (22 AUD)
Here we have also met a "tuvalunesa" who speaks Spanish! The reason is that he is studying Medicine in Cuba and is here these days on vacation and when he hears us, he has quickly come to have a conversation and not forget Spanish.
To the south we cannot continue, so we return along the parallel street that runs near the airport runway. It will be difficult to see another plane around here until ours returns (we touch wood again), and now it is still a mere tarmac where people make their lives. Although it seems absurd, It is the first time that we are on the main landing strip of an Airport. ! Fasten the belts that we are going to take off !!
Hunger begins to show, but here there are not many options to choose from. From what we read, just a place of snacks, one sunsetbar, our hotel and the filamona lodge, the other great accommodation of all Fongafale. As we are on our way, and is next to the airport building, we chose this to eat something.
The food of the country has an important influence of the sea, with seafood or fish casseroles, lots of rice and desserts based on coconut and banana. The options are also not too varied, and in today's menu there is a choice of what we ask, a kind of battered fish and a rice with eggs, and scarcely anything else. Nor is it as expensive as we thought, because the two dishes, a water and a beer barely comes out for 16 AUD.
While we eat we read about the atoll of Funafuti. We are on the main island of Fongafale but around the lagoon there are another thirteen more islands. In any case, the almost 5000 inhabitants live in Fongafale, which is where government offices, most shops and supermarkets and life in general. Boats leave from the main port to Amatuku, Fualefeke and Funafala, the only other inhabited islands.
It is precisely in the Post Office Building of the Government, right next to the Vaiaku Hotel, where we put some postcards with stamps that are worth gold. Who will they go to?
The back of the airport terminal is now the Women's Craft Center, a craft center that offers a small variety of necklaces, baskets and corals typical of the Polynesian culture. Something we get along too, although there is nothing that excites us (4 AUD)
But what interests us most is to know how these people live so isolated from the world, and for this the first thing we do is Enter one of its multiple stores and supermarkets
Perhaps with something more order than somewhere in Africa, but as basically necessities, the "tuvalenses" conceive a business like this type of store. There is no other. There are no watches, there are no bars, there are no clothing stores, there are no shoe stores ... (UPGRADE: More information about why travel day 17)
We are curious to see certain objects. DVD COPIES are rented here for personal leisure, or items as popular as a 2KVA dieses generator are sold. What we see normal, for them is a luxury item
The roads are in very good condition and that especially catches our attention, with what we are seeing around us. Here is a fundamental reason. Has anyone thought what domain Tuvalu could have on the internet? It is indeed .tv, one of the most interesting domains for both televisions and pornographic sites that move so much money. In the year 2000, after a hard negotiation, The Tuvalu government sold the domain management for 12 years to the doTV company (a VeriSign subsidiary), in exchange for 50 million US dollars. These revenues contributed to one of the world's poorest countries to help improve the road infrastructure and provide the country with the roads we see today, although it has led to the opposition of many people, the Christian majority, who sees money as impure .
And, as in all the countries we have visited so far, here Christianity is something deeply rooted, and the fact that many .tv domains are associated with pornography is not well seen.
We see churches of all kinds along our little makeshift route, even some kind of church-churches, where some children make their lives right now
Arriving at the north end of the municipality, we come across the Darwin point, a drilling site where scientists try to prove Darwin's theory of atoll formation. It seems that this theory has proven correct and that evidence of submerged volcanoes was found after drilling at a depth of more than 1000 feet.
We have arrived on the opposite side of the lagoon, where the sea strongly lashes the coast right now. We are a few meters above sea level, and just thinking about the effect that the elevation of the water could cause brings fear. Keep hitting hard, and a coke with some sugar will suit us (1.30 AUD)
We have seen the Bank, the Philatelic Office, the Women's Craft Center, the dining options, the shops and supermarkets, the other uses of the airport, some churches, some coconut plantations, some buildings of different uses such as the Wester Union, a Hospital, a satellite transmitter and the house of the ombudsman, and back on our route we ended up seeing an International Red Cross center and the Town Council, where we get some more information about the country
And there is no more. This is Tuvalu. But then, What "carallo" do the "tuvalenses" in their lives?. For now the men to little thing, because the only thing we have seen are women in charge of the reception of the hotel, the government building, the library, the philatelic office, supermarkets and food places.
The vast majority of the inhabitants of this curious country "boomerang" are dedicated to ride a motorcycle all day. Here there are only motorcycles and a loose car.
Everyone has a motorcycle. In fact, in our hotel we have spoken with a sweety representative of a motorcycle brand, to which they have sent to the adventure to see if any cntrato was brought from here. And you may get it, because another reason for the enormous obsession that we see its people, is that even the housewives do not take a step without taking the motorcycle to do their errands. Who says sport?
Who does not ride a motorcycle, It is dedicated to open business. Which? The only one on the island, a supermarket. Some even dare to put up "capitalist" competition posters, haha
To the kids, which is known to not let them drive yet, they are the only ones seen up and down the street. Everyone greets with a "talofa" (hello). They are a sweetie. Meanwhile, we have found men. All houses have huge hammocks (some have been taken to bed outside). Tuvalu's men could perfectly be the laziest on the planet ...
Another thing that creates great curiosity, is to see how in each house there is a corner with some flowers, and even in some huge memorial lipids. Many locals They bury their relatives at the entrance of their house! Do not ask us. We can't get to understand it
We intuit that one of the great entertainments of the inhabitant of Tuvalu, from what we have already seen, is to watch PIRATEED movies. We have found a store with a DVD recorder, which sells copies of the exposed films.…
We also noticed some concern about tobacco, with many warning signs about what it produces in people. Even some quite significant
Although poor, the houses do not lack anything. They have their water tank, their small garden, their electricity 24 hours, their bins (we assume that there will be collection, as it is very well distributed) although they still do not have drinking water, the one they have is from the rain. !! One less bill to pay !!
Finally, with so much motorcycle and so much need to generate energy, we have been interested in looking for one of the only two gas stations in the municipality and we have found it. It is run by a tuvalés that has eaten another (as big as it is). The prices are not as exorbitant as we could expect, since the liter of Diesel, for example, is between 1.80 and 2.00 AUD, with the difficulties they have to obtain it.
Who knows us, especially Isaac, knows that for us A DAY LIKE TODAY is the best I can hope for as a traveler, An authentic country, not adulterated. It is possible that there are no great attractions, no great visits, no great monuments, no great museums, but just being able to explore, investigate, talk with your people, greet your children, kick and discover for yourself without any guide I told you NO POSSIBLE PRICE
The day has to end, where it had to end ...
... and it's hitting us that deserved dip in that turquoise blue lagoon in which only those white sands of other places are missing.
Coming to Tuvalu has not been an accident. Tuvalu has been for years the most isolated country in the world. Is the fourth smallest country also after Vatican City, Monaco and Nauru. Is the second on the planet at risk of disappearing due to its low height with respect to sea level after Maldives. Is the least visited in the world, just some clueless traveler. It is the country of .TV. It is the country, for some, most boring in the world, without cinemas or other leisure or places to escape or space to almost live ...
That is why, and because of the beautiful moon that accompanies us tonight, illuminating its lagoon, for which we feel so fortunate to have been able to get here. We will not leave if we will be able to achieve it, but for now, today has been one of those days that will take a long time, MANY TIME to forget.
Isaac and Paula, from Funafuti (Tuvalu)
EXPENSES OF THE DAY: 65 FJD (approx. 29.55 EUR) and 47.30 AUD (approx. 15.04 EUR) and GIFTS: 26 AUD (approx. 22.61 EUR)