Tarawa, Kiribati

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November 8th 2009
Published: November 7th 2009
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Thursday 29th Tarawa, Kiribati (The Gilbert Islands)

We had to leave at 2.15am to get to Nadi to get our flight to Tarawa, Kiribati. After a 2 hour 45 minute flight on Air Pacific we arrived at Bonriki Airport on Tarawa. It hadn’t changed in 26 years since Liz was last there. Children were running along side the runway waving at the plane….the odd pig was also trundling alongside the runway too!

As we walked across the tarmac to the Arrivals lounge the heat and humidity hit us…..it was 30 C with 100% humidity and only 8.35am! It felt like the oven door had been opened and not been shut! We got our luggage and found our transport in the minibus to the Otintaai Hotel (pronounced O-sin- tie). Again driving past the fish farms and the villages Liz thought nothing had changed since 1983. We arrived at the hotel and got our deluxe lagoon view room (with a view over the security fencing around the hotel grounds). Liz also thinks the furniture and décor in the room hadn’t changed since 1983! Except for the addition of a fridge, phone, kettle and TV! Luckily the room was air-conditioned! As soon as you stepped outside you were sweating like crazy!

We got some lunch and then headed to the local ANZ bank to get some Oz $, the local currency, and pop into a local shop to get drinks and crisps (the crisps are all from Malaysia…and very nice…like NikNaks but chicken flavour - Liz was happy!).

Next we decided to try and hail down a local bus/minibus and head to Bairiki. The first one to come along was one sponsored by the EU and was private but the driver said he was heading to Bairiki and so would give us a lift. Very kind.

We drove over 3 causeways, going past Scout Island (where Liz went on a Brownie trip in 1983) and past lots of villages, schools (the new ones were Mormon run now), and churches, and lots of little shanty stores. There have now been speed bumps put in the road in various places and the emergency services have sirens now (Not back in 1983) as the island’s population has grown massively due to migration from the outer islands for jobs, and so there are lots more vehicles and accidents. The lagoon looked very much the same - a beautiful milky turquoise colour.

Arriving in Bairiki Liz noticed the new Australian High Commissioner’s house and tennis court on the ocean side, together with the Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese and Cuban embassies.

Getting dropped off in Bairiki Square, Liz saw the big tree she used to climb and do pea shooting from! The library, post office and ANZ (was Westpac bank in the 80s) bank were still there. Then we went in search of Liz’s old house. We found it and it had been fenced off and the grounds landscaped. There were jet skis outside and boats and a car with a CD number plate. We have since been told it is now the NZ High Commissioner’s house.

We then went to the Kiribati radio station next to the library and Liz asked if a message could be put out to say she is here and if any of her old school friends from Rurabao School were around then she would like to meet them etc. One of the guys at the station said he would give us a tour round in his car so that is what we did next. Went over the
At the Kiribati ParliamentAt the Kiribati ParliamentAt the Kiribati Parliament

Liz in centre right. Right of Liz is the Speaker in white top and his wife, Eliza.
new causeway to Betio and saw the new sports centre funded by the Koreans in exchange for fishing rights. The wharf at Bairiki where we used to get the ferry to Betio was now dilapidated as there was no need for it due to the building of the causeway.

There was also the new Kiribati parliament built in 2000 half way along the island.
Liz found out that her old next door neighbour was now the Speaker at the parliament and so the plan was to visit there on Friday and try and track him down (Thomasi Iuta).

We got back to the hotel and had dinner and crashed out early as we were pretty tired.

Friday 30th

We chilled out at the hotel in the morning and then in the afternoon we got on one of the little minibuses and headed to the parliament. A guy there showed us where the Speaker’s office was and we spoke to his PA. The Speaker said he would see us. So in we went and he was wearing a shirt and lava lava (wrap around man’s skirt) and asked us to have a seat. We introduced ourselves and showed him some of the photos we had bought. He remembered us, Ritchies vaguely….remembered my Dad the most. After chatting for a while he said his wife, Eliza, was arriving soon and if we waited outside we could then meet her too. So we did and Liz remembered her face. We were then told there was a staff function that evening at the parliament and would we like to come along. Of course we said ‘Yes’.

At 7pm after another eventful bus journey we arrived at the parliament - and we were the first to arrive! The Speaker arrived 10 minutes later, and over the next hour 15 more guests arrived and a couple of children too. We then had singing, the ladies on one side and the men on the other, and us and the Speaker in the middle. First the ladies sung a local song, then the men sang, and then to our horror we were asked if we would sing a song…..we said we were bad singers compared to them and so wouldn’t want to put them through such an ordeal….so the Speaker said he would sing. He got up and wandered over to his wife….and said he would now embarrass her…so he started singing ‘ I love you my darling……..I love you my darling’…..everyone roared with laughter! It was good to see the Kiribati sense of humour still there. Each of the guests had bought a different dish of food and we were then invited up to eat…us first (bit embarrassing), followed by the men and then the women, last. Liz had forgotten this. The dishes on offer were, rice, noodles, salad, grilled fish, raw fish, grilled chicken, pandanus fruit (which Andy quite liked) and mini bananas (yum!).

We ate our food listening to them chatting in Gilbertese and looking at the stars in the sky above. Eventually at 9.45pm we were asked if we wanted to head back and that the Speaker’s chauffeur would drive us back….so we accepted after taking a couple of pics, and saying ‘Tiabo’ to them all.

Saturday 31st

We spent the day relaxing at the hotel and Skyping (intermittently) the folks back home. In the evening we had local lobster, fish and chicken and watched a children’s birthday party in the main hall next door, whilst chatting with a couple of ladies from New Zealand who are here with work for week.

Sunday 1st Nov

We went on a boat trip with 2 guides and 3 other ladies (the two from NZ and one from the Soloman Islands) across the lagoon to an island on North Tarawa, called Biketawe. It is a private island owned by the hotel (which in turn is owned by the government, which is financed by $60M of aid per year). The only people living there is the caretaker and his family. There were lots of little huts to chill under on the island, a shower/toilet unit, and some swings, which Liz had the pleasure of testing to see if they still worked!

We first had lunch, chicken curry and veg, with VB or Coke or water. Then Andy and I went for a walk around the island. We saw hermit crabs, white sand crabs, lots of interesting shells including a giant clam shell. There were also some teenagers fishing with nets in the sea. After circumnavigating the island in 25 minutes we went for a snorkel across to another island. We saw some fish, and also experienced some very warm water (like a hot bath)….and there were areas as we crossed the lagoon, where there were jets of hot water (due to the current). We then chilled out and ate pandanus and the tour guys went and climbed coconut trees and got us each a coconut to drink and the crack open and eat the flesh inside - very nice.

At 6pm we got on the boat and headed back across the lagoon as there was a fab sunset…..really beautiful. By the time we were across the other side it was pretty dark and the guys couldn’t find our hotel, initially, and then they had to top up the fuel in the boat. The boat then wouldn’t start as the guy still had it in gear, and when it did start we shot off at top speed….the other guy nearly fell off the boat…it was scary and funny at the same time. The moon was full and was leaving a beautiful silver path across the lagoon. When we got back to our hotel eventually everything looked very wet and it seemed that whilst we were enjoying the sun on the island we had missed a big rain storm that had happened in Bikenibeu.

Monday 2 November

Today we went to Liz’s old primary school, Rurabao. It was interesting to go back. The classrooms hadn’t changed much but the number of students had more than doubled and so some classes now took place under the main maneaba (hall). When Liz went there they had 80 students and as the population has grown significantly there are now 200. There was a new library area with TV and video and computers in, which was good to see. We meet the headmaster, who is Gilbertese (and all the teachers and students are too) who said it is still an English school. They have assembly on Fridays and have a closing ceremony at the end of the school year where they perform at the new sports centre on Betio. They also had a school exchange with Japan in May. We filled in a visitor’s book and gave a donation, and then had a walk around the classrooms, which Liz remembers well. The students seemed very happy to see us and we took some photos, and chatted with some of them.

After the school we also walked through the stadium and sports ground and onto Bairiki’s old wharf, and then into the library, which also hadn’t changed much (except all the magazines were to do with China). Then back to Liz’s old house for one final look. As the gates were open we wandered in and having knocked on the door met the grounds staff there, as the New Zealand consul was away working. It was strange being back there, and it all seemed much smaller but the house size was the same, with the kitchen still to the right of the front door and the lounge area still in the middle.

We then caught the bus back to the hotel to chill out.

Tuesday 3 November

We were leaving Tarawa to go back to Fiji in the afternoon and so we spent the morning packing and chilling out at the hotel as it was very hot and sunny. We flew off from Bonriki airport at 16.10 in the afternoon. It was quite entertaining as they sound air raid sirens 5 minutes before the 737 lands to clear the runway of people, vehicles and pigs!

We landed in Fiji and stayed one last night there at First Landing Resort.

Additional photos below
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2nd December 2009

hi from new media
Looks amazing guys! Very jealous indeed seeing those photos A few more of Andy in his 'mankini' would be good though? ;0 cold and wet here although the flooding seems to have gone now :) fin is growing fast - nearly 4 months old now. I'm taking him swimming now although he tends to scream his head off currently... take care x mart
7th February 2010

Andy and Liz's blog and photos of Bairiki
We were there in 1962 when the Rurubao School was established by Margaret B. Loved your blog and the photos which brought back many memories. Many thanks.

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