Saturday, 24 December 2016

A few days in Tarawa Lagoon - a Leisurely Lunch and a U-Turn! (Part 1 of 2)

[Part 1 of 2]


I left you in my last letter shortly after we woke in the Parliamentary anchorage in Tarawa, having had our first proper sleep in a week.

The previous afternoon, while Max and I had been getting the low-down on the various anchorages in Kiribati from Rod on "State of Mind", Victoria was at work in the galley. Having asked me in detail about my favourite meals, she perused the "Boat Galley Cookbook" (a gift from, and a daily reminder of many happy memories with, our friends on "Exodus") until she found a recipe that suited her purposes, and created a very tasty Creamy Chicken Basil Pasta, followed by Banana Cake with coloured glaze; I think she wanted us to feel that we were dining in a waterfront restaurant :) I especially appreciated the little note she brought to me ("READY") when the meal was prepared so we could wrap up our visit without rushing. Knowing what it feels like to carefully prepare a meal that doesn't seem to be appreciated *immediately*, we quickly thanked our guest for his insights, explained the situation, and suggested a continuation of the conversation the following day. He was quick to invite us to come over to his boat the next evening.

It was a night for company. We had hardly finished our meal, when "Island Girl" came by with bananas from Tuvalu. They had just arrived in the anchorage (and in fact were anchored quite far away because by the time they motored over after clearing customs, the light was too poor for them to make it into where we were, and they had stopped at the first shallows) and had a stalk ripening all at once (which is what bananas invariably do). Having just used the last of our stalk of Tuvaluan bananas in the cake, we were only too happy to receive some of their fresh bounty. Of course, we offered them two pieces of Victoria's cake, which they seemed to think was a fair trade :)

After this this rare lovely, quiet, flat, calm, peaceful, non-dragging, non-squally, social evening, complete with a beautiful full moon, we found ourselves in an extraordinary oasis of green water and blue sky the next morning with only two things on our agenda: the rectification of the issue with our head (toilet) that we had been living with for almost a week, and an expedition to Immigration to collect our permission letters to visit the outer islands. We assumed that the head would be a nasty, all-day affair, and that while Max was up to his neck in plumbing (not his favourite boat-maintenance discipline) I would go ashore with some TBD number of children.

As it turned out, the problem with the head was not only easily identified, but easily fixed (both are rarities; the combination especially so!) A flapper valve at the first layer of disassembly had become loose and had twisted away from alignment between the bowl and the top of the piston pump; a quick moment with a screw driver (and a new spring, just in case, as the old one seemed warped and would no longer enable a proper seal) was all it took to have us "back in business". If only all head maintenance was this easy!!

This quick job meant that we were all free to go ashore, so we decided to make a family excursion of it. Thankfully, there was a channel between our boat and the dock, as we were at the lowest of low (Full Moon) tides. We were met at the dock by three security guards, who in a friendly, but expeditious way, led us to the front gate of the parliament buildings. Parliament was still in session, so they were apologetic that we weren't allowed to use the parliamentary bar for the moment. Neither of us could imagine dinghying up to any other Parliament and nonchalantly leaving our boat at the dock while we traipsed through the property with our three children. We knew we couldn't ask for better security surveillance of our boats while we went ashore!

We crossed a smoothly paved road and waited for a short time under the shade of a medium-sized tree (we found out later that the roads had only just been paved within the last year). Benjamin was equally interested in the leashed pigs sleeping there and the little girl waiting in her mother's arms. English is an official language of Kiribati, but we have found its use to be sporadic; by keeping our statements simple, we managed to ascertain that we were at the correct stop to catch a bus to Immigration, and that if a bus didn't have room, it would beep its horn but not stop. In Tuvalu, most of the vehicles were gently-driven scooters and motorbikes, while in Tarawa, the road was a frenzy of cars, trucks and mini-buses, as well as motorbikes and bicycles (shoes optional; helmets non-existent). Before long, we were being ushered into a surprisingly modern minivan. Most of the seats were already full, but there was room for each of us to have our own seat (we understand that it is not unheard of for someone to sit on your lap). For some reason, Kiribati has maintained more of a tradition of using thatch to build roofs and fences than other places we have visited, so I enjoyed seeing the patterns of weaving on the houses we passed.

We had time to look around the two-storey shopping complex where we were dropped off before heading to a restaurant for lunch and then to Immigration. The most unusual thing I noticed about the Mall was that it had a escalator installed. The next most unusual thing was that it hadn't been used as anything other than a fancy staircase in recent memory: the hand rails were off, some of the gears were visible, and it seemed to stand as a monument to some long ago investment of foreign money. We found a new variety of canned meats in the department store on the ground floor and some shoes for Johnathan in the office-supply store on the second floor. In a moment of timely coincidence, the Crocs (originally bought for my use) that he had been wearing since his shoes were left on a beach in Tuvalu a couple of weeks ago fell apart while we were in the mall. The shoes he found ($8) with soccer balls on them seem far more suited to his feet than either the expensive shoes I had bought him in NZ or the ones I had loaned him. I love it when things work out smoothly like this :)

The town of Bairiki was busier than anywhere I had been recently, but it was much less crowded than Betio, where Max had done his errands the previous day. After picking up a few cans of Curry Chicken, Spicy Pork, Beef Stew, and pre-cooked Ham, we walked to "Mary's" restaurant and hotel. We were pleasantly surprised to see two large tables of diners already there, with food before them that looked quite appetizing; as it turned out, we had plenty of time to admire our neighbours' food, as it took about 90 minutes for ours to arrive!

We passed the time looking at each meal as it was brought out in turn and watching the cartoon TV channel that was playing on the wall above our heads. We had come a long way to watch Scooby Do, the Pink Panther, and Mr Bean !! Even the local I-Kiribati were enthralled and laughing at the on-screen antics :) Eventually, we tried the sure-fire trick for making the food arrive of sending Max to the Immigration office; by the time he walked there and back, my starter had shown up. The good news was that we had no further admin stops to make: the Immigration papers were all we needed, and we did not need to go back to Customs to get paperwork for them as well. This revelation easily saved us two hours, and took all the stress out of our day. In due course (after the big Christmas party beside us had received all their meals, one at a time - it turned out that they had arrived just ahead of us), our meals were served. The beef burgers that had been recommended lived up to their recommendation. Victoria ate the entirety of a burger that was just about as big as she was (when it came, I thought she might manage half, and when I looked again, it was all gone!). Shredded cabbage in the chicken burger made Johnathan's lunch a little less appetizing, but Max and I enjoyed our Beef and Tuna steaks, and Benjamin enjoyed everyone's french fries.

In the small-world way that things happen when we are travelling, we were just about to pack up kids and gear and head out in search of a 3G chip for our iPad, when we met a fellow Canadian - he was in Kiribati to provide under-water videography on a sanitation / coral restoration project. It turned out that he was from Vancouver, and his two colleagues were living in the Marshall Islands, so I left Max chatting with them, Benjamin watching videos, and the two big kids reading their books, while I went back in the direction of the Mall to obtain connectivity.

Mission accomplished, somewhat efficiently (1.4 GB of data good for between 7 and 20 days for $20 AUD), we stopped to pick up a few more essentials (beer, fish, and bread) before flagging down a bus and returning to the boat, a little later than planned, but still in time to join Rod and his wife for drinks. They started cruising the year Max and I joined the military, and this is the third boat they have built and cruised; they have a fourth in their sights after they return to Australia. It was inspiring to speak to them about all they had seen and the lessons they had learned. Max was also grateful to receive tracks and SAS Planet data for places they had already visited.

[Part 2 of 2 to follow]
At 2016-12-21 2:52 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.50'N 172°47.09'E

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