My tour of Kiribati was the first of two Pacific Island Nations I scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California to complete my visits to all the countries in the UN. The trip was a set tour by Advantage Travel; they called South Pacific Islands Explorer. I was traveling with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Bob Ihsen whom I have taken many trips with in the past. In January 2014 Bob and I roomed together on my Sub Anarchic Expedition, Cocos (Keeling) Island, Christmas Island and Vanuatu trip. I just traveled with Lynn and Mary in April 2014 on my Sri Lanka, Maldives Islands, India and Bangladesh trip.
Kiribati was the 192 of 193 UN member countries for me to visit.
Monday, June, 09, 2014: Fly LAX to Honolulu, Hawaii
My flight to Honolulu was scheduled for 13:00 so I was able to get a normal night’s sleep and eat breakfast with Judy. My car service arrived a few minutes before 10:00. It was the first time I had ridden with the driver. He described himself as an Armenian Persian who left Tehran, Iran when the Shah left and grew up in the US. As we approached the connection between the 101 to the 405 the traffic stopped so he turned off at Haskell Avenue and drove Sepulveda Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard before he entered the 405. It was an interesting trip down memory lane since I used to drive that route when I worked in Culver City in the early 1990’s and had rarely driven the route since then. It took us forty five minutes to reach the airport.
Check in and Security processing was a breeze. The scheduled gate was next to the United Lounge and I waited in the lounge until noon. They boarded the plane at 12:15 and I settled in my seat with a woman and her daughter sitting next to me. They lived on the big island and were returning from a visit to their former home in Boston. The plane was a former Continental B-757-300 with Direct TV which meant that I would have to pay $7.99 to watch TV, a movie or even listen to music. I can’t tell you how much I dislike that configuration.
As the departure time of 13:00 approached the Second Officer announced that the departure would be delayed because the Captain was flying in to LAX and his plane was delayed. I sat there watching CNN with no sound, just reading the captions streaming by on the bottom of the screen. When the pilot had still not arrived at 13:30 a Flight Attendant announced that the Direct TV fee would be waived for the flight. We still had to swipe a credit card to activate the service but they would cancel the charges when we landed in Hawaii.
I tried to activate my screen to no avail I used every credit card in my wallet and one a flight attendant had. The unit would not read a card so I switched to reading. I had not caught up on reading my Time magazines and Sports Illustrated from my April trip and had brought them along.
The Captain finally arrived at 14:00 and announced that in addition to his late connecting flight the flight plan for our flight had not been filed correctly and he had to spend time getting that straightened out. I had just read that morning an article in the Wall Street Journal about how United was still having problems integrating the old United and Continental systems and crews. I could see why they were ranked near the bottom in customer satisfaction.
After we finally took off at 14:30 they served lunch which was not free. The flight attendant that had tried to get my TV to work gave me a free lunch and beer.
One of the features on the United Hawaii flights was the “Halfway to Hawaii Game”. Passengers are asked to determine the exact time the flight would reach the geographical midpoint using flight plan information provided by the flight crew. I decided to play the game. After takeoff the Second Officer announced that the distance in the flight plan was 2,299nm with airspeed of 468kts and a headwind of 29kts. We had taken off at 14:31 and they wanted the answer in Hawaii local time. I estimated the halfway time to be 14:07 and the actual time ended up as 14:04:35. I was announced as the winner of the Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii. It was fun to think I still remember how to do basic dead reckoning navigation. As a former winner of Navigation Competitions in the USAF I would have been embarrassed if I hadn’t won.
We landed exactly an hour late which played havoc with my seat mates and others connecting to flights to the other islands. United dropped the ball on our arrival by not announcing our luggage area. I wandered around the terminal with a group from our flight before we found someone to direct us to the United baggage claim area. Once I found the correct carousel my bag was one of the first off and I proceeded to call my hotel and get the instructions on where to meet their shuttle bus.
I checked into the Airport Honolulu Hotel, unpacked and decided to visit the Navy Exchange about a mile away. The taxi cost me $10 for the short distance. The items I was hoping to purchase were not available at the Navy Exchange and it was too late in the day to take a taxi to the USAF exchange, so I walked over to a strip mall near the exchange and visited the Verizon store to get help in the Global features of my new Samsung Galaxy 5 smart phone. After they found that Kiribati and most of the other locations I was going to visit on the trip would not have cell coverage I elected to not purchase the Global Data Plan.
When I left the Verizon store I stopped in the Subway next door, ate a tuna sandwich and decided to walk back to the hotel. I watched the Interview of Hillary Clinton by Diane Sawyer, and wrote in my journal and waited for my roommate on this trip, Bob Ihsen, to arrive. I went to bed at 22:00 and was asleep when Bob finally arrived a little before mid-night. His flight, also on United, was delayed four hours because of maintenance problems.
Tuesday, June, 10, 2014: Fly Honolulu, Hawaii to Christmas Island, Kiribati
I awoke from a sound sleep to my alarm at 06:00. I showered and let Bob sleep a little longer. We went to breakfast at 07:00. We ate with Lynn and Mary and returned to the room at 08:00 to finish packing. At 08:30 we took the shuttle bus to the airport. We were a little early because Fiji Airways did not start checking in passengers until 09:00. Due to last minute schedule changes by Fiji Airways I had lost my assigned seats but was able to get an exit row aisle seat all the way to Nadi. Originally I was scheduled to change seats at Christmas Island so I felt pretty good about the new assignment. My bag weighted over the 50lb. limit so I removed my snorkeling gear which was in a carry-on bag anyway and hit the limit.
At the Security check point I passed through a full body scanner but I had neglected to remove a large container of sunscreen lotion from my snorkeling gear and it was confiscated by the TSA Agent. The assigned gate for my flight was a very long walk from the Security check point and as I took the walk I was surprised that none of the airport shops sold suntan lotion. When I reached the gate I called Judy and Cathy. Cathy was having problems with the computer that access the airline network and gave me instructions on what we should do if she can’t complete the re-issue of all our tickets.
We boarded the aircraft on time and departed for Christmas Island, Kiribati. My exit row seat didn’t turn out as good as I expected. I had a very heavy man sitting next to me wearing a tank top and had a little underarm order at my nose level. I could not store my day pack under the seat in front of me and I asked the flight attendant if I could move to a row where I could stow the day pack with all my reading material in it under a seat. She stowed the day pack under the seat in a vacant row several rows in front of my seat and after takeoff I moved to that row for the duration of the flight to Christmas Island.
The movie they showed was the Lego movie so I skipped it and read my Time magazines. They served a meal which had no meat in it and free drinks during the three hour flight.
Wednesday, June, 11, 2014: Fly Christmas Island, Kiribati to Nadi, Fiji
It was the same time but Wednesday when we landed at Christmas Island. I couldn’t find a way to set my watch so I kept it on Honolulu time. My camera was even more confused.
After we landed, the passengers flying on to Nadi were told to stay on the aircraft but Bob Ihsen talked the flight crew into letting the four of us get off and take pictures of the terminal. It marked country number 192 for me of the 193 UN countries.
When we departed Christmas Island I had to return to my exit row seat but this time the heavy set man had switched places with his wife and was sitting by the window so he could take pictures of the island on climb out. They were a couple from Sidney that had visited friends in Honolulu and we had a pleasant conversation about travel, especially around Australia.
The movie was not worth watching and I was able to read some more magazines. It was almost a five hour flight and it was full of workers from Korea and Ecuador that work on the fishing boats in Christmas Island.
When we landed in Nadi we encountered a very long line at Immigration. A wide body flight must have arrived just before our flight. Eventually we got though at the same time our bags were coming on the carousel. My bag arrived just as I wheeled a trolley up to the belt. I exited Customs and asked where to get the hotel shuttle bus and then waited for the others and led them to the pickup point. The hotel was a short drive away, actually just across the road from the airport entrance. Bob and I were assigned a two room suite. I took the room that had an outlet where I thought I could use an extension cord to plug in my power strip for my CPAP machine and cell phone.
After dumping our bags we went down to the restaurant and ate a salad. Lynn and Mary skipped the meal. I discovered that Wi-Fi was not free and I purchased an hour. It was too late to call Judy so I planned on using the hour in the morning to call her and receive email.
When we returned to the room I attempted to hook up my CPAP machine. My adapter for the Australian style electrical outlet kept falling out of the outlet. I tried taping it up but it eventually would drop down enough to lose the connection. I was getting frustrated so I went down to the front desk to see if they had an adaptor. The desk clerk couldn’t find one but gave me an extension cord. I returned to my room only to find that the end of the extension cord was recessed so I couldn’t plug my adapter in. I returned to the desk and gave them back the extension cord and they told me they has found an adapter and gave me that. Using an adapter I still couldn’t maintain a connection and determined it was a faulty outlet. I returned to the front desk and got the extension cord back and with the extension cord I carry and their adapter plugged in to the coffee machine outlet in Bob’s room.
I finally retired about 23:00.
Thursday, June, 12, 2014: Fly Nadi, Fiji to Tarawa, Kiribati
I had set my alarm for 04:00 with intention of using my one hour of internet time before we had to go to the airport at 06:00. I woke at 03:55 and turned off the alarm so as not to wake Bob. I showered and packed and connected to the Wi-Fi at 04:30 only to find the band width would not support Vonage calls.
I wasted so much time trying to connect on Vonage that I didn’t have enough time when I switched to my laptop to send a message. I wrote one to Judy and received a message on the screen that my connection had timed out. A porter came to take our bags down to the reception and I finished up on my laptop and went down. The gang had already boarded the van before 06:00 so I quickly put my carry on in the back when Lynn discovered he had left a bag in his room. When he went back to get his bag the front desk came out to inform me I hadn’t paid for my internet service. We resolved both issues and were soon on our way to the airport.
When I checked it I asked to see a manager to obtain a voucher for our Sunday night stay in Tarawa due to their moving our Sunday flight to Monday. He told me to obtain the voucher from the Tarawa Station Agent. We still had a voucher for breakfast at the hotel so as soon as we checked in we returned to the curb to find the hotel shuttle bus arriving with another load of passengers. We jumped in and returned to the hotel for breakfast and then caught the 07:00 shuttle back to the airport.
At Security they objected to my having a can of insect repellant outside a sealed bag. I had a bag of toilet paper and wipes in a plastic bag in my day bag and stuffed it in there to make them happy. The silly rules imposed on us since 911 really annoy me. That reminded me to purchase some sun screen. I couldn’t believe that in neither the Honolulu nor Nadi Airport no shop sold sunscreen. After visiting all the stops I wandered to the gate just as they decided to call the flight so I was the first one on board and discovered it was the same aircraft we had flown on the day before.
We didn’t depart on time because flights to Tarawa required a certified mechanic on board and the one assigned to our flight was late getting to the aircraft. A fact I found unbelievable. It was not like he had to fly in from another location since Nadi was the headquarters for the airline. Anyway we took off thirty minutes late. I was asleep when we took off and didn’t wake until they served a meal an hour after takeoff. After the meal I attempted to read but fell asleep again. My naps made the three hour flight appear short.
We arrived in Tarawa at 11:30 and found only two Immigration Officers processing our flight. It took a while to have my passport stamped but then I had a very long wait for my bag to arrive. The others in the group were waiting in a non-air conditioned bus while I waited for my bag to arrive on the last cart from the aircraft. They were six customs agents and they were being very thorough checking bags for foodstuffs. I had indicated I had some snack bars in my bag but they passed me without opening the bag.
The road to the hotel was full of pot holes and caused us to drive slow and bounce around. It took about thirty minutes to reach the Otintaai Hotel. It was not what I expected. The entrance road had rather nice two story structures facing the water but the reception office was in a small building across the road from the rooms. I discovered later that the building between the buildings with the rooms was being remodeled and that was where the reception used to be. Behind the old reception area was the restaurant.
Our assigned room had a double and single bed. An outlet was next to the head of the single bed so I took that and let Bob have the double bed. There was one desk and a small table. I had the maid bring us another small table that I set between the two beds to hold my CPAP machine. After we arranged the room and did some unpacking Bob and I went to lunch. We ordered fish and chips and while waiting I retrieved my Lonely Planet guide and we read about the island.
The description of our hotel recommended the fish and chips. They were good! It also mentioned that we should not swim in the area because of sewage runoff. Diving and snorkeling was reserved for an area you have to take a boat to get too. Another caution was not to drink the water.
The islands are mostly 33 scattered coral atolls with a population of 104,488. The history of Kiribati (pronounced Ki-ri-bas) dates back to the string of islands known as the Gilbert Islands and became a British protectorate in 1892 with Tarawa as the capital. In 1900 high grade phosphate was discovered on Banada then named Ocean Island and it was added to the protectorate and made the administrative capital in 1908. The phosphate mining provided a great source of revenue to the protectorate. In 1915 they were granted colony status. And in 1919 the Christmas Islands and the rest of the Line Islands were joined to the colony. The Phoenix Islands were added in1937.
In December 1941 the Japanese bombed Banada and Tarawa, captured Butaritari, Makin and Tarawa, the three most northern islands. The Japanese built an airfield on Betio, Tarawa and a seaplane base on Butaritari. They held a strategic position to attack US supply ships sailing from Hawaii to Australia, the Solomon and Vanuatu Islands.
In November 1943 the US Marines attacked the airfield on Betio, Tarawa using amphibious tractors (Amtracs) to storm the beach in a bloody battle that cost the lives of over 1,000 marines (about one fifth of the landing force) but resulted in a US victory.
After the war the administrative capital was moved back to Tarawa and the Gilbert Islands were granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979 under the new name of Kiribati. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Island groups in a 1979 treaty of friendship with Kiribati.
Commercially viable phosphate deposits were exhausted at the time of independence from the UK in 1979. Copra and fish now represent the bulk of production and exports. The economy has fluctuated widely in recent years. Economic development is constrained by a shortage of skilled workers, weak infrastructure, and remoteness from international markets. Tourism provides more than one-fifth of GDP. Private sector initiatives and a financial sector are in the early stages of development. Foreign financial aid from the EU, UK, US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UN agencies, and Taiwan accounts for 20-25% of GDP. Remittances from seamen on merchant ships abroad account for more than $5 million each year. Kiribati receives around $15 million annually for the government budget from an Australian trust fund.
After lunch we tried to contact Molly Brown, our local guide recommended in the Lonely Planet, to let her know we had arrived and schedule a time for our tour the next day. The number we were given had been disconnected. It was the same number that was in the Lonely Planet guide. Fortunately the reception clerk knew the guide’s daughter and told us she would contact her for a correct number. We then had the clerk contact Fiji Airways to get the Sunday night voucher. They told her we would have to pay for the room and get reimbursed when we returned to Nadi. I found that unacceptable since we were only in Nadi for two hours and in transit to Suva which meant changing terminals from International to Domestic and would not have time to find someone at Fiji Airways to pay us. I tried to call Cathy and could get through to her but she couldn’t hear me. I also tried to call Judy and couldn’t get a good connection. It was going to be a frustrating four days with spotty Wi-Fi connection.
The receptionist told me the Fiji Airways office was just a short walk from the hotel so I decided to talk to the manager face to face and get him to resolve the payment with corporate. The clerk told me the Fiji Airways office was across from the gas station.
I took off walking and didn’t see a Fiji Airways sign or a gas station for quite a distance. A car stopped and asked if I needed a ride. When I told him where I was headed he told me I had passed it so I reversed direction and again didn’t see any sign. As I got close to the hotel entrance I stopped to ask a man if he could direct me to Fiji Airways and he pointed to across from where we were standing to a Travel Agency and Café. There was a large pile of sand and a collapsed concrete structure behind it that was once a gas station. He said the Fiji Airways office was in the new building next door behind a chain link fence. I walked into a nice office and Café and asked for the Fiji Manager. They had me sit down and after a while a woman came up and told me they didn’t work for Fiji Airways, they were just their local agent. They would try to contact the Station Agent and get back to me. I thanked them and as I left I noticed they advertised Wi-Fi for $5 per thirty minutes.
When I returned to the hotel the receptionist told me she had gotten in contact with our local guide. We and the Lonely Planet had an outdated number. She planned on meeting us at 17:00 to go over the next two day’s schedule. I reported that to Lynn and Bob and then went to the bar to purchase a bottle of water. I also had a refreshing cold beer. No one else was around. The hotel looks as though it was pretty nice but had fallen into hard times. Many of the tiles on the floor of the bar which was a very large area were missing like the area was once under water. In back of the building are rooms were in there was a row of picnic tables with a shade structure. They were all tipped on their side. A high chain link fence ran along the edge to the water.
Back in my room the maid knocked on our door to inform us that our local guide had delayed her visit to 19:00. I wrote some in my journal and attempted to connect to the Wi-Fi with spotty success. At 18:00 I went to the reception area to try to connect to the internet with a stronger signal. I was able to receive some emails and apparently Cathy had heard some of my conversation when I had connected on Vonage and heard we were having trouble reaching the local guide so she contacted the guide by phone and email.
I was still trying to process email and attempting to contact Judy on Vonage when Bob arrived a few minutes before 19:00. Shortly after he arrived the receptionist told us we had a phone call from Molly. She was suffering from the ‘trots’ she speculated that was caused by dust kicked up by road construction in her area. She apologized and told him she would not be able to meet with us until the morning.
We informed Lynn and Mary and went to dinner. I had fried fish and a baked potato. After dinner I returned to the room and retired early.
Friday, June, 13, 2014: Tour Tarawa, Kiribati
I awoke a few minutes before 06:00 when my alarm was set to ring so I turned it off and took a cold shower. The Wi-Fi was spotty but I was able to get some emails and received a disturbing email that my son-in-law Robert had been attacked while jogging in a park along the river in Sacramento and had received a gash in his right arm that was so severe he lost the ability to move his fingers. I jumped up from the breakfast table, we had ordered our food but it hadn’t been served, and ran over to the Reception Office to see if I could connect on a call. I was able to contact with my daughter Wendy but she didn’t have much more to report other than he was being operated on in the hospital.
It took forty minutes to serve our breakfast so I was back at the table before the food arrived. I had a fried egg, bacon, sausage, three pieces of toast and a slice of papaya. I made a sandwich out of two pieces of toast, the egg and the bacon. It was tasty.
Molly arrived just after eight. She handed us a schedule for the next two days. We gathered our raincoats, hats, sunglasses and cameras and departed at 08:30 in her Toyota Harrier station wagon. Leaving the hotel gate we turned right to head west to the village of Betio at the very end of a chain of small islands connected by roads and causeways. The islands were not very wide (north to south) and we could often see both the lagoon to the north and the ocean to the south at the same time. The road was terrible. Molly explained that Wednesday night a rare violent thunder storm hit the islands and left large puddles of water and downed trees. The puddles further enlarged the pot holes in the road. On the lagoon side the sand came right up to the roadway in many places. It was very picturesque with the blue lagoon, palm trees and white sand. But the thatched covered huts sometimes added to the picture but the bumpy road and many rusty wrecked vehicles pulled me back to reality.
We passed the Parliament Building which was scheduled on the next day and after a forty minute drive stopped at the Catholic OLSH Convent in Bairiki, the last island before Betio. The side road to the convent had several trees and broken limbs down. At the convent Molly scheduled a time for us to meet Sister Margaret Sullivan keeper of the World War II archives and an authority on the history of the Gilbert Islands and the USMC ‘Operation Galvanic’ that rid the islands of the Japanese.
After Molly scheduled our visit we stopped at the ANZ Bank in Bairiki to change money. I did the exchange for the group and it was an interesting process. Only one teller in the bank handled Foreign Exchange and she also processed withdrawals. There were four rows of three chairs in front of her window and I was instructed to sit in the first unoccupied chair. Every time someone was waited on we got up and moved to the next chair. Eventually I got the money and we continued on to Betio.
We had to pay a toll to cross the causeway into Betio. On the south side of the causeway we saw several concert Japanese bunkers and large guns. Over two hours after leaving the hotel we reached the Betio War Memorial erected by the Australians on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese killing a group of Coast Watchers and local foreigners in October 1942. The people were killed in retaliation to the US bombing the island.
We walked around the area which was designated Black beach in ‘Operation Galvanic’. There were still a lot of rusty war relics, metal pillboxes, square concert bunkers and ammunition storage bunkers with dome tops, and guns pointing out to sea. The Japanese thought that any invasion would come from the ocean on the south because it would be difficult for invasion ships to pass through the narrow opening to the lagoon on the north side. There were several 8inch guns along the beach that ironically were manufactured by the British and moved by the Japanese from Singapore to defend Tarawa. We spent about twenty minutes walking the area. Molly told me the paved road we had driven on to the Memorial was once one of the Japanese airfield runways.
We continued riding west to Green Beach which was the west facing end of the island and the location of several 8 inch guns. Next we stopped at Red Beach 1 facing the lagoon. The Red Beaches was where the main invasion took place. The USMC used the Amtracs to drive over the outer coral reef and across the shallow lagoon to the beach. There we walked across the flat and coral sand through puddles to the remains of Amtracs and tanks. In one of the remains we discovered a CD. I didn’t realize the Marines had CR players in their invasion vehicles. The label had worn off so I couldn’t tell if it was Glen Miller or Bing Crosby.
We returned to the station wagon, stopping to wash our feet in a village. Molly then took us on a tour of another village which had built their houses on top of bunkers. We saw how the villagers washed their clothes and took pictures of young girls giggling in a hammock and little naked boys and girls running around the village. The area behind the village was Red Beach 2 where there was a rusty landing craft and a Sherman Tank buried in the sand up to the turret. Molly had taken one of the decedents of the men that had escaped the tank on his visit to Tarawa several years ago. He told her that most of the crew lost their lives on Iwo Jima. The tide was low and we could see the hulls of large ships rusting on their side out in the lagoon. It was a depressing sight and hard to believe that it had been cleaned up in 70 years.
We walked back to the station wagon through a settlement of huts. It was lunch time and Molly drove us to a Chinese Restaurant. We walked in and saw no tables and a young man came running from the back to tell us they were closed for a party. Molly then drove us to Aboy’s Kitchen, another Chinese restaurant where I had a delicious lunch of sweet and sour pork, the best I had tasted in a long time.
After lunch we stopped at the Japanese War memorial which had a fence around it and Molly told us the care taker had lost the key so we couldn’t get close. Next to it was the Kiribati Customs Service building.
Our next stop was the American War Memorial on the grounds of the Sports Complex. It was not as impressive as the one on Guadalcanal. On one side was a plaque to the people of Kiribati below a larger plaque that read:
2nd Marine Division
United States Marine Corps.
BATTLE of TARAWA
November 20, 1943
To our fellow Marines who gave their all!
The world is free because of you!
GOD REST YOUR SOULS
1,113 KILLED 2,290 WOUNDED
The Central Pacific Spearhead
To world victory in World War II
On the side was a red plaque from the Second Marine Division Association on the 65th Anniversary of Operation Galvanic, dated November 2008. On the back side was the United States Navy memorial plaque that listed 30 Killed and 59 wounded. Below that was a brass plate sealed on Nov. 20, 1987, Camp Lejeune, NC to be opened Nov. 20, 2143. With inscription: From our world to yours: Freedom above all.
We then rode over to the local police station to see next to it the Japanese Armory bunker. Across a courtyard from the bunker was the jail and we observed two policeman talking to one of the prisoners. Back in the vehicle we rode to the Japanese Command Bunker. It was a multistory square concrete building with many holes blown in its side which showed had thick and reinforced with steel it was. Over 300 bodies were found in the building after it was captured by the Marines. In one of the large holes a young man was sitting and laughing. Molly suspected he was high from sniffing benzene he had in a bag he kept sniffing.
We rode back to the beach and stopped at an 8 inch gun which was in good condition. Four boys were climbing and playing on the gun. Down the beach from the gun were the rusty remains of the temporary bridge used to ferry vehicles and materials ashore across the beach. Our next stop was behind a warehouse where Molly showed us the remains of an aircraft cockpit and propeller. The instrument panel was there and the hose to the oxygen mask.
Molly then took us to a friend’s house to view a DVD video on the battle. Unfortunately the DVD was so scratched it wouldn’t play. It was time anyway for our meeting with Sister Margret Sullivan.
Sister Margret was in her eighties and had been assigned to Tarawa since the 1950s. She had an interest in history and started to study and record initially the Catholic Church’s activities in the Gilbert Islands and then expanded her studies to the people of the islands and the country of Kiribati. Since WWII had such a big impact on the history of the islands and the people she became the world authority on the Japanese occupation and the US invasion. Many veterans and military history buffs have visited her and provided her with books and papers on the war. She has edited several documents for accuracy herself. She gave us a briefing that included a Power Point presentation and videos on the war and her activities. It was by far the highlight of the tour and may go down in my mind as the highlight of the trip. She was a fascinating individual and a credit to the Church.
It was after 17:00 when we left her fascinating meeting. It was a long, eventful day and we had dinner at 19:00 and retired at 22:00.
Saturday, June, 14, 2014: Tour Kiribati
It was party night at the hotel. I was awakened several times and especially around 05:00 when someone was laughing continuously and a motor was being gunned. I finally got up about 05:50 and showered. There was still no hot water and this time when I tried with just the hot water faucet on the water stopped running so I know they have a serious problem. After getting dressed I attempted to connect to the Wi-Fi to call Judy. I was not successful but I was able to receive some emails Facebook which had a picture of Christine with Robert in the hospital and he was smiling so I guess he was on the road to recovery.
I joined the gang at breakfast. There was no waitress around and another guest went looking for her and found her. We ordered about 07:05. Lynn announced that he was not going on the tour. He said the rough roads made the riding so unpleasant he was going to stay at the hotel and have Mary report to him what we saw. I then tasked him to bird dog the hotel about the hot water situation. At 07:50 our breakfast finally arrived and the orders were not correct but we went with what they delivered.
I finished up rather quickly and again attempted to call Judy on Vonage I was able to connect for a few minutes and then the line dropped. About that time our guide arrived so I returned to the room and got my day pack and a bottle of water I had in the freezer. That time I also packed a rain jacket and umbrella.
We departed the hotel about 08:30 and headed east towards the airport. Our guide stopped to at the museum manager’s house to find out if it would be open. I don’t think she got a straight answer and we continued on. A few minutes later we came upon a wrecked car. Since the road is so full of pot holes the drive had to be very drunk to even get up to the speed that would cause the wreck. People were transferring items from the wreck to another vehicle. I am amazed at the number of wrecked vehicles I had seen on the island. Of course there were hundreds of broken down vehicles that could be attributed to the bad roads but the wrecks I didn’t understand although there were stretches of smooth roads that drivers, probably out of frustration of the slow pace would speed up to create a wreak. Someone in the wreck, most likely the driver got hurt since the windshield was smashed on the driver’s side.
When were reached the airport we asked our guide to stop so we could meet with the Fiji Station Agent that I was told was not going to pay our hotel for Sunday night. The terminal was locked up but our guide was able to talk to a man through the fence that opened the Departure Terminal and told us that the Fiji authority in Tarawa was at the Tobaraoi Travel agency that I had visited on Thursday. We were getting the run-around! There was nothing more we could do at the airport so we got back in the car and continued the tour of Tarawa.
We continued on, driving up the runway toward North Island. Bob questioned if that was safe but our guide told us she did it all the time and she could see in the sky that no aircraft were approaching the runway. We were then headed north and soon reached a military style steel bridge where our guide stopped.
Tarawa is shaped like a backward letter L or a letter Z with the top removed. The bottom land is called the South Island and it is a narrow strip running east to west. The airport is at the extreme east end and the battlefield at the extreme west end. North of the airfield the land is a series of small islands linked in a northwest direction and called North Island.
The bridge we stopped at connects the south island to the north island. Our guide told us that they used to use a ferry to cross the narrow channel. Then they used a causeway constructed of sand bags. It was still there just northeast of the bridge. The water was flowing over the sand bags in places and a group of boys were running on the causeway and sliding on the water covered surface. They appeared to be having a great time with some sliding on their feet and others on their stomachs.
On the southwest side the channel flowed into a large shallow lagoon. The tide was out and we could see people out on the mud flats walking, digging for clams and catching fish trapped in the pools of water. There was a point of land with some huts on it. Our guide told us she was going to take us out there so we got back in the car and crossed the bridge and turned into a small group of huts and parked careful not to be under a coconut tree. We walked through a settlement of huts toward the hut on the point.
Along the way our guide pointed out the living conditions, cooking and kitchen setups. One “kitchen” had a large bunch of bananas hanging from a rafter, a two plate Bunsen burner and a sink for washing dishes. They used a lot of buckets filled with water, many for washing clothes. The settlement had two large meeting pavilions. The first one we walked through had a grass roof and a small stage with three microphones hanging on a rack. I guess they sing karaoke. There were men and teen age boys sprawled on the floor sleeping off the night before party. We encountered one young man that was climbing the coconut trees with a knife but for the most part we only saw women awake. Another “kitchen” had a large pizza style oven and in another hut a woman was frying flat bread in a large skillet over a wood fire. The bottom line was there was a large variety in the setup of the huts and cooking areas.
The settlement also had a small store with cans of spam, corn beef, and fish on one shelf and soy sauce, catsup, curry powder, oil, vinegar and noodles on another shelf. We continued on to the hut on the point. Just before it there were a half dozen grass roofed huts around one cinderblock building.
At the point we encountered a group of young boys that posed for pictures with silly faces and hi-fived us. Inside the hut which was a platform about three feet off the ground, corrugated metal sides and roof with several old tires to keep it from blowing off in a storm was the old Grandpa. He was in his eighties and was happy to see us and pose for a picture.
Our guide explained the living arrangements and cooking setup. We then started back and encountered the Grandma and her daughter returning to the hut. They stopped and talked to our guide and posed for pictures. As we walked past the cinder block building we saw that it was under construction and next to it was a large meeting hall with a corrugated metal roof and a tile floor. Both men and woman were sprawled on the floor passed out or sleeping in very uncomfortable positions. In a corner of the structure was a small altar with a Happy Birthday banner, a statute of the Virgin Mary and a row of flowers. It must have been a wild party from the condition of those lying about the settlement.
When we reached the car our guide told us she had made arrangements for a young man to show us how he husked coconuts. He used a strong pointed piece of wood stuck in the ground and pushed the coconut down tearing off the husk. When he reached the nut he opened a small hole and handed it to me to drink. I have drunken a lot of coconut water in my travels but that was about the best and the most I have found in one coconut.
We returned to the car and drove back over the bridge to the airport. That time we did not drive down the runway because a military C-130J had just landed and was at the ramp. I couldn’t see the side markings but the tail was plain so it wasn’t a US military aircraft.
Just past the airport we visited a fish farm and a young man threw flour in one of the fish holding areas to attract the fish so we could take pictures. They were Milkfish about eight inches long.
Our next stop was the chicken farm. There we saw three large buildings. Two of the builds were full off chickens free to walk around with feeding circles in the center of an area. We entered the third building where a man was grading eggs. He would bring the eggs in from the chicken houses and lay them on a table placing the eggs in waffle cradles and entered data in a large ledger.
From the chicken farm we rode to the village of Bikenibeu and stopped to tour the Catholic Church. It was decorated with colorful balloons because a wedding was being held inside. The church had no pews, just an open floor where the people sat. Next to the church was a pond our guide called the Virgin Mary pond. It had a statue of the Virgin Mary with a large star on top on a platform in the center of the pond.
Leaving the church we rode a short distance to the Bikenibeu Chinese Restaurant for lunch. I ordered sweet and sour pork again and found it not as good as the lunch I had the previous day. The museum was next door and our guide thought they were going to open it for us at noon but it was locked and she called someone who told her that it was not going to be open that day.
We then continued on and stopped at the Tobaraoi Travel agency to meet with the Fiji Station Manager. He was very pleasant and told us he was aware of our situation. He took some time to find the correspondence authorizing the hotel to bill Fiji Airways for our Sunday night stay. He finally gave us a copy of an email message he sent to the agent at the airport to pay the hotel. Since the Tobaraoi Travel agency was next door to the hotel we stopped for a bio break and I gave the copy of the message to the hotel receptionist.
When Mary returned to the car she reported that Lynn had been told the hot water system was beyond repair and a new system was on order but not in time for our stay.
Our next stop was to tour the Ambo Aquarium which was a project of the Taiwanese to raise fish and clams. A young man gave us a tour. Starting with a large concrete pool of mother fish where they collect the eggs and have them hatch in other tanks. It was fascinating to see a tank full of fish that were a quarter of an inch long. Next he showed us a tank of clams that were very colorful. Most were purple but some were gold and green.
A short distance from the Aquarium was the Parliament buildings. We stopped to tour the outside. Several buildings were in the compound. In front was a large oval circle with a map of the nation’s islands and atolls set in concrete. The Equator and boundaries for the various island groups were marked and each island group which included the Gilbert, Phoenix, Northern Line and Southern Line Islands had their islands/atolls labeled. In my mind it was an impressive display. Behind the circle was the Parliament Main Chamber building with a triangle shaped roof. Its entrance was flanked on both sides by in their words canoe shaped (in my view sail shaped) display buildings. The circle which was tilted so the map could be seen and the three buildings behind was an impressive site. Behind the main chamber and on both sides were the Cabinet and other administrative office buildings.
We circled the complex and rode on to the Handicraft Market. The handcrafts on display were mainly necklaces, ear rings, broaches and other items made of small sea shell. They were very attractive if you like that type of jewelry. There were also some very good wood carvings.
That was our last stop for the day. Molly told us she would meet us at 08:00 on Monday to take us to the museum. We bid her farewell and retired to our rooms. Lynn reported that he had investigated the lack of hot water situation and was told the system was busted and a replacement unit was on order but it was going to take some time before the hotel would provide hot water.
Bob and I wrote in our journals until dinner at 19:00. We invited the other Caucasian guest to dine with us. His name was Edward but goes by Ted. He was from Australia, a school teacher, administrator and consultant under contract to UNESCO to assist third world countries with their education systems. He had lived a colorful life and his daughter had followed in his footsteps, working in foreign countries for IMF. We had great conversation. He had been to the island several times but had not gone on formal tours like we had taken so he was interested in what we saw.
After dinner I walked over to reception to try to get a stronger Wi-Fi signal. I met the owner of the hotel and during our conversation learned he was a member of the Most Traveled People (MTP) and that several TCC and MTP members have stayed at the hotel to visit Kiribati. His name was Emil Schutz. I looked up his MTP record and he had recorded visiting 72 locations out of the 875 locations listed.
I returned to my room and retired at 22:00.
Sunday, June, 15, 2014: Tarawa, Kiribati
I set no alarm and the partying didn’t make too much noise, so I was able to sleep until almost 07:00. Bob and I went to breakfast at 08:00 and afterward I was able to connect briefly with Judy via Voage but she couldn’t hear every word I was saying so we terminated the call.
I returned to the room and wrote in my journal until noon when I carried the laptop to reception to get it updated. The connection was so poor I wasn’t even able to delete all the messages in the Delete folder so I returned to the room and Bob and I went to lunch. Lynn and Mary passed but Ted joined us. We ordered sandwiches. I had tuna and Bob had a grilled cheese.
After lunch I put my laptop in my day pack and walked over to the Tobaraoi Travel agency to see if I could purchase some fast Wi-Fi time. Carrier, the Fiji Manager did not appear to be around so I walked back and sat in the Reception office for over an hour slowly processing the emails on my laptop. It was really frustrating and time consuming but eventually I cleaned them up. When I returned to my room I wrote in my journal.
At 18:00 we met at reception to calculate our bills. Since I had beer with some of my meals and Bob had sometimes two cans of soda, a simple 50/50 split was not fair to Bob so I analyzed each charge slip to determine a fair accounting for Bob. We were surprised to learn they were charging us for breakfast because Cathy had stated in her document that it would be included.
After the meeting we went to dinner. I ordered the crumbled Chicken which had a coating more like KFC than the harder crust they had on their fried chicken. Ted joined us and we talked about his report. One of the issues he needed to calculate was the percentage of literacy in the students and on the island in general. He felt that the way the Kiribati government calculated literacy was over stated based on his analysis of student enrollment and test scores. He thought the only accurate way would during the census that a simple test be given each person that would score their ability to read and write. He said Kiribati was not alone in overstating the literacy in his analysis in other third world countries. Ted was an interesting dinner companion.
After dinner I called Judy with great difficulty but was able to briefly connect. When I returned to my room I started packing for the trip the next day and retired at 22:00.
Monday, June, 16, 2014: Leave Tarawa, Kiribati
I woke to my alarm at 05:00, showered and packed. Just before 7:00 I went to the reception area and called Judy on Vonage and then went to the restaurant to order breakfast. As usual it took about forty minutes to be served. I had the same breakfast as the last three mornings: an egg, bacon, sausage link, and toast.
We finished just before 08:00. Molly was waiting for us outside the dining area and we departed at 08:10 to visit the Culture Center and Museum. It didn’t have a lot on display. I liked their display “A chronology of key events: Kiribati Timeline” and the warrior armor constructed from coconut fiber. The helmet was something to see with sharp prongs sticking out.
We returned to the hotel before 09:00. I went to reception to coordinate our ride to the airport. The clerk on duty called Fiji Airways and was told we needed to check in between 09:30 and 10:00. I questioned why we needed to be at the airport over three hours before the scheduled departure of 13:05. The clerk then told me check in was not at the airport it was just next door at the Fiji agent’s office. I scheduled the bus for 09:40 and informed the rest of the group. They couldn’t believe we didn’t have to go to the airport to check in but Molly was still there and confirmed it was done at the Tobaraoi Travel agency. We said our ‘good-bye’s’ to Molly and went to our room to get our bags.
It only took a few minutes to ride to the Tobaraoi Travel agency. There we lined up on the porch and the check in station was setup next to an open window. It was a little confusing and when I checked in they told me my carryon was too heavy. I transferred my laptop and Lonely Planet books to my day pack and cleared the weight. I was given a baggage tag and then had to go inside to the café to get my boarding passes. They charged $3.00 to take our bag to the airport and another $3.00 US exchange fee. I got the others to pool our baggage fees and then only one bank fee would be needed.
They couldn’t find Lynn and Mary’s reservation at first so I went searching through my correspondence from Cathy to find their ticket number. They finally found their record. They were told that for $7 per head they could get a ride to the airport. Carrier, the Fiji Manager, told me that usually the hotel takes its guests to the airport because they need to meet the arriving plane and he would call for them to pick us up when it would be time for the Departure Terminal to open at the airport.
I purchase thirty minutes of Wi-Fi and called Judy and only used half the time. Carrier told me I could use the rest at the airport. The hotel bus arrived and we rode to the airport. There we processed through Immigration and had to pay a 20 AUD departure tax. My bags had no trouble at the security but they gave Bob some static on his bag’s toilet articles and Lynn and Mary had to be checked twice.
We finally boarded the aircraft at 12:45 and departed at 13:15. The flight was not full and I moved to a row where I had no one in the middle seat. The hassle at check in left me a little exhausted and I slept on the most of the flight. They served a nice chicken stir fry lunch.
My visit to the country of Kiribati was over. I only had one more UN member country to visit to reach my goal of visiting every country in the UN.