While preparing my visit of Tuvalu, I quickly realized that visiting one of the outer islands would be very difficult, unless I would stay several weeks in the country. There are supposedly two boats a month, so wherever you get off, you would have to wait a month before you could catch the next boat going back. I did hope, however, to organize a trip to one of the outer islands of Funafuti atoll. Initially, it did not seem to be easy to do so, but when everything worked out well and I met the right people, it was actually pretty easy to do. The sun was shining and the tide was high when I embarked on the hour-long ride, passing the southern tip of Fongafale islet that I had seen before, and then several other islets before the atoll curved, and we were heading in a southeasterly direction towards the southern end of the atoll. Where in the northern part, islets are generally quite far one from another, in the south, there is a string of islets with only small channels between them. Speeding towards the small settlement of Funafala islet, I was happy that I had finally made it here; no matter how much I liked the main islet of Fongafale, it was good to have a change of environment. The boatman walked with me to the island chief to ask if I could stay overnight on the island; he turned out to be a cheerful man with a young face and grey hairs, welcomed me to his island, and went on with what he was doing: the permission proved a formality.
The others left, I set up tent, and still had some time to walk around my new place. Sandy beaches all around, just across a narrow channel, Telele islet seemed within stone's throw, with a very small islet with a bunch on trees in between. Around the corner, where the small community held a pen of pigs, the beach continued; the tide was still high, and at some places, the palm trees seemed to grow out of the crystal clear, light blue, transparent water. I heard people talk and laugh, some had music on using the solar power they had generated during the day, but I did not see anyone. Going back to my tent, I had some snacks and an orange I had been able to buy on the main island, watched the sun set the clouds on fire in the sky, the small islands across the lagoon silhouetting against the orange glow. While the sun sank behind the horizon pretty fast, it took a long time for the light to be finally squeezed out of the sky. When it did, it initiated a spectacular show of stars above my head; without any lights anywhere close, the clear sky, heavy with a multitude of twinkling stars, was a sight to behold. I just lied down and let myself be dazzled by the magic of the stars. I went for a swim; the sea sparkled whenever I touched it. I was ready for a long night on a hard ground.
The next morning, I woke up and hurried to the eastern side of Funafala to catch sunrise, but heavy clouds were blocking any possible view of the rebirth of the sun. Instead, stray light across the black clouds fell on the vast ocean before my eyes, making for a different sight altogether. It kept me on the Pacific-side coast where the waves were breaking for quite a while; when the sun finally came through, it made the emerald palm trees shine above the white coral beach. Cutting back through the forest, I arrived at the curved beach where my tent stood; I had started to feel hot and deserved a swim. The tide had started dropping, and swimming across to Telele islet, I realized it was so shallow, I could have walked across. Sitting on the other side, I looked at Funafala islet and the other islets on this side of the Funafuti atoll, walked to the end of the beach, and swam back to Funafala, where I took my camera and walked across. It had been a mistake not to take my shoes; the sharp floor of the sea was hurting my feet, but the walk was worth it. I was surprised at how far the sea was dropping; then I realized that new moon was about to come and the tide actually was very low. A little later, I could just walk across with even having to wade through water anymore: Funafala and Telele were now temporarily united. I walked to what looked like a wreck; a few hours before, it had been well off the beach, but I could now reach it with dry feet. From a distance, it had looked like a submarine, but when I came closer, I could not make sense of the rusty steel I was seeing; I was later told that it had actually been a submarine in days gone by. Fish were trying to survive in small pools of water, and the beach now extended well into the lagoon. Back in the small settlement, I found someone to talk to; it was time to socialize. Hoping to find a "real" local, I met a very friendly guy whose English was virtually perfect; it soon turned out that my "local" guy had actually travelled the world extensively as a seaman and before I knew it, we were talking about the countries he had been and the ports he had visited. It turned out that the community consists of only ten persons, with perhaps one of them born on Funafala. The others were apparently all out to hunt for small shells to use in jewelry, and a little shy anyway towards foreigners because their English was not as good. It was interesting to hear about how the small community functioned, how they relied on the big watertanks I had seen (there are no sources of fresh water anywhere in the atoll), and how they try to grow fruits and vegetables with various results. Before long and way too soon to my taste, my boat came back to pick me up; the friendly couple gave us a fresh coconut which we drank and ate with gusto before setting off from the islet.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Funafala islet (). 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 Funafala islet.
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