30th Birthday in Tarawa, Kiribati
I already told you about my crazy flag enthusiasm and how that dictates my travel dreams (My Bucket List): Well when living in Australia and turning 30, I had this amazing idea that I’m going to go to Kiribati. Never ever did I think I was going to be able to pull this off and a lot of people were against this idea from the start. But Mr Merry decided to support me on my crazy 30th birthday idea. But he told me that I would need to do all the research and bookings. Mr Research handed the job of research to me so you can imagine that this plan was very crappy. I did research hotel options and flights etc but in regards on what we’d do in the island, I did no research. My plan was to get to Tarawa, Kiribati and see the flag. Solid plan right?
To fly to Tarawa atoll we had to go through Fiji since the airport of Kiribati is tiny and it only has 2 flights a week from Fiji. When landing it really felt like the whole Island was waiting for us there: The Bonriki International Airport was jam packed with people and everyone was looking and waving. Probably the best welcome I’ve ever received when arriving. We didn’t need visas to enter Kiribati and the stamping of passports process was, what you could say, interesting. We were all queuing in this corridor and Mr Merry feels the urge to use the toilet. So he hops through the barriers to outside the visa control area to have a piss and then returns to queue for the stamp. There was no luggage pick up area, unless you call the middle of the floor that, and you just had to get your luggage from the pile of boxes and bags on the floor. We were greeted by Beta, who was our Guest House host for the week. She and her English husband Richard own a DREMERS GUEST HOUSE, which turned out later on to really be the best place to stay in. I cannot higher recommend this place if you’re staying in Tarawa Atoll!!
Kiribati is one of the least developed countries in the World, specially in the Pacific Ocean. To make matters worse, the country is estimated to sink in 20 year or so. So a lot of investment is not going on the islands. When we were visiting in 2016, they were just building the infrastructure (aka the main road through the Tarawa atoll). Houses for many were just huts and often didn’t have windows or proper walls. They were also just then building the waste water system. To put this in understandable language: Many Kiribatians didn’t have toilets and sewage systems: poop etc was chucked into the ocean. I was told this quite quickly after landing that my plans of chilling in the beautiful ocean was a pretty bad plan since that is the local toilet. And there trµly was a lot of floating tins, poos etc around. So Kiribati isn’t for luxury traveling! This place has barely got a hotel which we heard was ok but not as luxurious as we assumed with it’s non functional air conditioning. I felt so lucky that we had chosen to stay in a guest house next to beach. It felt luxurious although it was pretty basic. We had a small breakfast included done by lovely Beta herself. We had a working toilet and a cold clean shower that we were allowed to use couple of times a week (water was collected from rain so you can’t just go all out). Bed was fine and the beach view was the best! Being absolutely next to the beach meant holiday. Originally in our booking it stated that there was internet connection in our room. We quickly realised though that there wasn’t any working Internet. I downloaded a photo onto Facebook to let people know we were safe and fine: It took me 3 hours to download the photo and once it was downloaded the internet pretty much crashed for the rest of the week. But this meant we didn’t pack books for nothing. I’m not a big reader but this was a reading holiday. Hammock + Book + Sun = Holiday.
Very quickly we realised that people don’t really travel to Kiribati for a vacation. Everyone’s always asking you “What are you doing here?” in the sense of “Which project are you working/volunteering in?”. Specially since we knew very little of Kiribati and I had travelled there just to see the flag, we got many bizarre looks. English is the official language of Kiribati but there’s local languages too. Interesting fact about the language is that people teaching letters to Kiribatians decided to leave some letters out of the alphabet to make it easier to learn. So TI actually is a S. Kiribati is actually pronounced ‘Kiribas’. Betio is pronounced Beso. Kiritimati is actually ‘Kirismas’ and therefore so often called the Christmas Island. Kiribati uses Australian Dollars as their main currency. One of the guest house’s guests had managed to get her hands on two old Kiribati coins and gave one to me as a birthday present. These coins could be used as money too. Mine is made into a magnet because finding a tourist office was a bit hard. There was no magnets being sold to us tourists. I had to make my magnets out of small souvenirs. But the internet cafe in ‘city centre’ worked well: They had post cards, stamps, Internet connection, coffee and FLAGS! The one place where I would actually find the Kiribati flag to buy. I had found the flag in a small restaurant before this and they’d been kind enough to give the flag to me as a gift but I bought another one, just in case.
Going around the Tarawa atoll isn’t that hard. There plenty of little crammed vans driving back and forth. They’ll have really loud music inside (Bryan Adams is a big favourite in this island). Just a friendly reminder that if you’re going to Betio, you’re going to ‘Beso’. Don’t do what we did and let several ‘buses’ go past. Betio had a tourist office but it wasn’t really open. Plus they didn’t have a lot of information so we just had to wing it with the details we got from online. During the second World War, Americans and Japanese fought a big battle in Betio. It was called the Battle of Tarawa and it left behind a lot of tanks, guns and other war memorabilia. It was really intreresting to walk around Betio and find all these things and some of it is close in distance. Our guest house neighbour had ‘rented a car’ (more like borrowed someone’s car for a week) so we were able to do these locations by car as well. But I don’t know if I’d recommend renting a car. I loved taking the van buses and meeting locals. Singing along to Bryan Adams’ songs and feeling the heat. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Although this all sounds partially negative and people might want to question why to travel here: Kiribati holiday has been the most amazing holiday we’ve ever had. The people were just absolutely so kind. The country is 80% devoted Christians and we felt so safe in Kiribati. People didn’t have much but they apreaciated each other. Beta would every morning cook us a lovely little breakfast from her own papaya trees and eggs: We will never forget where we learnt the lovely combination of papaya and lime. The fact that our phones didn’t work well, no Internet and not a lot of things to see, made sure that we actually rested. Long days of sitting in the hammock and reading books. Wandering around the beach front and thinking about life. When you get bored, you do what you do.. like have sex on a beach. Why not? No one else around!
Child of the World. Language enthusiast. Wanderlust running in my veins. Making the world Merry.