Arrival in Tarawa, Kiribati
Trip Start Jul 31, 2011
37Trip End Oct 02, 2011
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Where I stayed
Mary's Motel Tarawa
Read my review - 3/5 stars
Read my review - 3/5 stars
What I did
Checked out Betio
Big Guns, Betio Exploration, Meeting Expats, and a Rugby BBQ.
After spending the evening before dicking around in the pool at Smugglers Cove, Nadi we boarded our 5am flight to Bonriki airport, Tarawa. The flight was pretty uneventful aside from meeting an Australian woman who was a goldmine of info about the country. Once we arrived, we bumped into a staff member from Mary's Motel (named after Mary Queen of Scots) who was picking up another fella, a German, who was here for work, so we jumped in with them and headed to our accommodation for the first week of our time in Kiribati. Handy really as we didn't really have a plan, in fact, all I had was a banging headache.
After years of story telling from our folks and the research we'd done before the trip, we were already aware that things were done somewhat differently here compared to any other cultures we had encountered
Once at Mary's we realised that we'd just completed our first international act of smuggling: 4 large beers and a huge bottle of rum. Not exactly a kilo of cocaine or a box load of AK47s but not bad all the same. I'm just about to crack open one of those beers for a victory drink in fact .....ok, beer open, on with the story. With ourselves checked into Mary's we headed to Betio (pronounced Beso), site of the bloodiest battle of the Pacific WWII campaign. It's a shit-hole, but we did a bit of shopping for food n drink and walked around looking for Captain's Bar, a local expat haunt where we'd been told we could find useful people to talk to. This was good info as part of the reason we came here was to see if we could find some folks who may have known our folks whilst they were living there in the late 70s, and see if they could tell us about their time in the islands. There was no-one there, but then it was the day before payday so no surprise
The next day we went for a proper exploration of Betio and checked out the big coastal guns I'd seen so many pictures of in my folks' photo albums. 8" Vickers guns built in 1905 and brought here during the Russian/Japanese war in the early part of the first half of the 20th century. They're huge! Absolutely massive, naturally I climbed on top of one and got Alicia to take some photos. It was a pretty cool view, sat on the barrel and looking south, out to sea. Still, not as cool as actually firing one of those bad boys, but I don't think they've been fired in over 60 years.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and hunting for war memorials, we only managed to find the one for the Coastwatchers; a group of 12 British, NZ, Australian, and Canadian civillians (I think they were civillians as they were unarmed, pretty crap soldiers if they
don't have guns), the inscription on the memorial reads "This is dedicated to the 12 men of the Coastwatchers who were murdered by the Japanese
US Marines, and the Japanese memorial garden (with Shinto/Bhuddist shrines in memory of the Japanese soldiers who died in the battle), despite walking round the whole island, TWICE. The Japanese memorial garden is supposed to be next to the rubbish dump,
I'm not sure if that's the locals' attempt at humour ;-)
Ok, I'm lying a bit, we didn't walk around the whole thing twice, we made use of some of the local minibuses too.
There are no taxis in Kiribati, minibuses are the only form of public transport; you flag one down, hop on, and just shout "STOP" when you want to get off. Genius. Nottingham City Transport have a lot to learn from these folk. There's a definite 3rd World vibe to the place, and life on the island seems hard at first glance but the people seem happy with their lot. Kiribati is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita. Their main source of income comes from Copra, a coconut product which among other things they refine into biofuel for powering the various vehicles on the islands
On a side note, apparently the I-Kiribati gonvernment's plan to deal with that situation when it arises is to buy plane tickets to Australia for everyone in the islands. I like the way they think,
We eventually wound up back at Captain's Bar where we met virtually the whole expat community; a number of Aussies and (bizarrely) a Welshman named Steve. There's always a
Steve. Unfortunately the only guy that could've been there during our parents' time in Kiribati was actually away in England, ironically. He's back in a few days though so we're going to try and make sure we meet him. We got chatting with the various expats at the bar and eventually got an invite to go and watch the opening match of the rugby world cup (NZ vs Tonga) at one of their houses. We had a BBQ and drinks, all cooked on the biggest BBQ I've seen, seriously, the amount of meat you could fit on this bad boy was unreal. Incidentally, Tonga got thrashed, something like 54-10. It was nice meeting some friendly expat faces in such an out of the way place. Thanks guys!