Approaching Tuvalu from the air gives a good perspective of the Funafuti atoll that could not be had in any other way: narrow strips of land emerging from the enormous mass of water, roughly forming a huge circle with a lagoon in between. Just before touchdown, the plane flies low over huge waves crashing on the coral; just a little later, you are on the ground. Much of the Fongafale islet is inhabited, and after exploring town, it seemed obvious to explore both extremes of the island. Walking either way, the islet tapers off and gets so narrow that in the end, you can see the impressive waves of the Pacific roll in on one side, and the gentle waves on the lagoon side arrive at the beach on the other.
I first walked south, past the old lighthouse, and while there are houses virtually all the way, the narrow road does get quiet near the end. Palm trees are shaped in odd ways, some sticking out horizontally over the sea and then curving straight up. Often, there are hammocks strung between trees, and people relaxing right at the seaside. At the far end, there is what looks like a restaurant, even though I got the impression it had last opened doors years before; here, I took a short trail to the Pacific side where I walked the coral beach to the tip of Fongafale islet. Right across, I could see Faatato islet, apparently completely covered by trees; in between, the big waves of the Pacific hit the modest ones coming from the lagoon, and eventually die down. I sat down, and just watched the waves crash into each other, the sound of the coral as the water washed over them, the birds looking for something small to eat - low tide was setting in, exposing snacks that had formerly been hidden from them by the sea.
The next day, I went north; walking past one of the many lagoons formed when the Americans used the soil to build the airport during World War II, until I reached the wharf of Fongafale, where several ships were docked. Walking on the islet, it was easy to see how its inhabitants heavily rely on goods shipped in: there simply is very little terrain to grow vegetables and fruit; then there is the eternal problem of garbage: every square metre counts in usage of the islet land. I saw a pen with pigs surrounded by what looked like a plantation; next to it, a fuel tank. A little further up the road, a pile of rusting computers, TV screens, circuit boards, and cables, with a big collection of tins on the other side of the road. Close to it, the car dump of the islet; a surprising amount of cars, one on top of the other. But there were also more idyllic spots: a narrow stretch of sand beach on the lagoon side, small cemeteries with tombstones or just small slabs of coral, breadfruit trees, and the inevitable palm trees. I reached a point where there are no more trees and the island is hardly wider than the road I was walking on; at high tide, the water washes over it. I had to decide to go back here as there was no time left to walk all the way to the end of Fongafale; I would return the next afternoon with someone else from the lodge I was staying at, and we reached the infamous garbage dump which was actually less bad than I had anticipated, followed a trail on the ocean side to the far north of the island, where the ruins of a bunker stick out of the sand and you can see Amatuku islet just a few hundreds metres across the sea. The tide was too high to return on the beach, so we walked the same trail back; and after we had passed the first lagoon filled with rubbish, we crossed over and walked the beach as the tide was dropping, sometimes wading through the water. We deserved a drink, and found a bench from which we waited for a spectacular sunset over Funafuti lagoon.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Fongafale islet (Tuvalu). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Fongafale islet. Read more about this site.