It’s pay-day weekend! Restaurants were full, and so were the pubs. The minibuses of South Tarawa (also Kiribati’s only public transport system) were busy with iKiribatis shopping and merrymaking. This was the time of the month, as warned by many expats, when pubs overflew with drunk iKiribatis and when the normally reserved iKiribati people gets violent. (I was told that iKiribatis tend to get subdued and depressed as the month passes and they run out of cash.)
I escaped the potential mayhem in Tarawa with four Australian visiting consultants. We headed for the idyllic Biretawa Islet (in North Tarawa) on a small boat arranged by the hopelessly dilapidated state-owned Otintaai Hotel (pronounced “Osintai” as the iKiribati “I” is pronounced as “s”), supposedly the only full service hotel in Kiribati. (Privately held Mary’s Motel is officially only a “motel” though highly regarded by frequent visitors to Kiribati. Otintaal’s reception looked as though it had been the scene of a gunbattle, or a historic relic from WWII.) What a beautiful scene!
Swaying coconut trees; crystal clear waters with fish and sea horses; Kilometers of white fine sand; Even the mudflats were picturesque. The sand, channels and lagoon was transformed into a kaleidoscope of varying shades of blue, white and yellow. We swam and rested, before visiting a sleepy traditional village and its simple, mysterious ancestral shrine with a wild-haired bare-chested local guide who looked like a Man Friday straight from the set of Robinson Crusoe.
As the high tide resumed in the lagoon, we returned to the boat – whose channel was now cleared again. A family of three dolphins competed with our boat for a distance, gliding along in the blue waters, occasionally even jumping out of the sea. The captain slowed the boat, to encourage the dolphins to pass, so as to prevent the repeat of an incident last month during which two dozen dolphins ended up in cooking pots of local villagers, after bleaching shore as a result of following too close to a pleasure boat. Fortunately, no such disaster occurred and we ended the fabulous day cheerful and relaxed.
Fiji is next, on transit to Tuvalu. 12,000 people on 26 sq km of tropical coral atolls merely 5m above sea level...Tuvalu is one of the world's smallest and most remote nations. It is also most likely to disappear underwater with global warming. Till then, good bye.