We were all pretty tired after the night before as the heavy wind had kept us awake so we had a little sleepy before lunch. Come lunchtime we woke up starving and practically inhaled
our lunch and headed off north to find Broken Bridge
. Supposedly a two hour walk from the homestay through a couple of local villages and across a few more tidal inlets into the lagoon; Broken Bridge is touted by the guidebooks as a great place to swim and snorkel. It took us a little longer as we wound up taking the longer route, mostly walking on the lagoon side of the islets. It was low tide on the way up to the bridge and the channels we crossed whilst heading north were all dry and posed no problem to cross, save for a few big puddles that I had to detour around as I didn't fancy soaking my already dying trainers so close to the start of the trip. We carried on along the paths, dodging falling coconuts and the hordes of local kids that came to say hello.
Pretty much all the locals we encountered were very friendly, coming out to say hello and asking us where we were heading so they could give us directions. After around 90mins we reached the bridge which was apparently installed in the 1940s (not sure if it was the Japanese or the Americans who put it there) but we saw it lived up to its name as it's now completely shagged (see photo). Now more of a pile of rubble and rebar concrete, you can climb over it pretty easily and probably drag a bike over it, although I don't know why you woulnd't just ride through the water. It'd be way more fun, that's for sure!
We celebrated reaching our destination by going for a swim in the picturesque blue waters flowing through the channel spanned by the bridge
. The water was warm
, and I mean like blood temperature warm, like you were stepping into a giant salty bath tub. Our enjoyment was short lived however when shortly before we noticed a small sewage outlet at the end of the channel, we saw a turd float by about 6 inches from Nicole's nose. I'm hoping that outlet was installed since the guides about North Tarawa were written, that or the writer likes swimming in shit. A shame really, as it was a really nice spot but, "we're in the third world here, stop whining you spoilt western softie". We bailed from our surprise poo bath and decided to head over the bridge and go further north to see if we could find a better place for a swim. Looking west into the lagoon as we were crossing the bridge, there was a little village on a tiny islet where some folks were winding up their fishing nets for the day and getting ready for dinner, looking for al the world like yet another "Man Village" from the Jungle Book, beautiful, especially with the sun starting to set behind it. It turned out that it was the last village on this section of North Tarawa before you have to cross another much larger channel to get to the next islet.
Walking through land between the north side of Broken Bridge and the channel at the north end of the islet, we realised it was completely uninhabited aside from a ton of mosquitos and leeches. No signs of anyone living there at all, ever
. It was a little creepy to begin with as there was such a sudden change in the landscape and plants etc just as you round the corner and lose sight of the bridge. Once you're round that bend, the place turns into a swamp with fallen trees, and what trees are standing are a lot more thinly spaced, even the air seemed different, heavier and more humid than the previous islet, definitely giving the place a bit of a sinister edge. We continued walking through this deserted section of the islet for another half an hour and the scenes that unfolded before us were breathtakingly beautiful in some places; mangroves stretching into the lagoon, coconut palms, and the sound of the Pacific in the background. I imagined it not being too different from how the first British explorers found it when they came here in the 1700s. As such I elected to feel as though I was an explorer myself, which only served to add to the air of mystery the place already had. Hey I can dream, right?
Just as we were about to give up and turn back, the trees opened up to reveal another inlet channel filling with the now rising tide, and a huge Maneaba (meeting house) on the opposite bank. Now being typically English, I resolved that I hadn't walked all this way for nothing more than a swift poo dodge by a bridge, so I jumped in anyway. Again the water was beautifully warm but the channel was a little too
shallow for swimming and the current was getting a bit much as the tide
was really coming in fast by now, I had a quick paddle but we soon realised three things: it was getting on, we still had a two hour walk home, and only about 70 minutes of daylight to do it in
. Bugger. Oh, and also a fourth thing: that all the channels we had swanned confidently across in perfect dryness two hours earlier, would now all be filling up rapidly. Bugger part le deux.
We passed a bunch of kids diving off the Broken Bridge into the channel on our way back who couldn't understand why we didn't want to do the same. Kids eh? I had food to order, and cigarettes to hunt! The next couple of channels had already filled past waist height by the time we got to them so it was bags on heads time as we waded through the water to the other side. By this time it was starting to get tricky to pick our route back and we were having to retreat further inland and take a different route back to avoid the rising waters.
By the time we'd crossed the bridge and a further two channels I was feeling a little cheated that I hadn't got a proper swim out of the day, so I let the others go on ahead whilst I splashed about in the southern channel, watching the fishermen wind in their nets and the birds picking out their dinner from the water to a backdrop of a Pacific sunset over the lagoon.
The twenty minutes I spent alone in that scene is imprinted on my brain forever and is an experience I will carry with me to my grave.
Eventually, I gave in to my hunger and want for a smoke and headed back to the homestay, getting in just as it was becoming too dark to see, dinner was in ten minutes and there was a cold beer waiting for me. Perfect timing Kidda.
The next morning we awoke after our cocnut fish curry/ice cream vodka induced haze and the four of us took a walk along the beach next to the inlet channel to look for a clam farm that was apparently very close to where we were staying. Needless to say, we had about as much luck finding it as we did most other things in Tarawa so we picked our way along the beach, past the giant wooden catamaran being built on the beach, back to the homestay. I found a discarded Halo disc from an Xbox just sticking out of the sand on the way back, I guess the I-Kiribati don't feel the same way about Master Chief as we do in the west. But honestly.....I was surprised to find out that Xbox had made it to Kiribati at all. Que sera.