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Kiribati: North Tarawa

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North Tarawa | Kiribati | Oceania

[Visited: October 2012]

The water was dropping when I left the southern tip of Abatao in the far south of North Tarawa; the sun was already casting its powerful rays on my neck, and I was happy that there was plenty of shade towards the north from the tall palm trees lining the track. When I learnt of the steep price asked for a boat to take me to Abaokoro, I was now happy with my decision to stay one more night on Abatao; walking here with all my luggage would not have been pleasant. I passed one traditional house after the other, people waving and saying "Mauri" to me. I wondered about church: it was a Sunday, and I was used that on Sundays in the Pacific, life virtually comes to a halt and centres around service. Once I reached Tabiteuea, the next island north of Abatao where I had started, I did see a few people dressed in white, and assumed they were on their way to church. When I stopped at a family place on the seaside, with a large leaf-roofed hut, I was invited in. Behind the big hut, they had a small structure which was the kitchen, next to it, people were chatting under a tree. One of the beautiful yet simple woven palm tree mats was brought to me, and I sat with the guy who had invited me in. They took down a huge coconut, I shared the juice with the guy who only wanted a little bit, and gulped down the delicious milk. Right on the beach was another wooden structure which turned out to be the room of the guy and his wife. The women had started frying fish, and the family tried to make me stay for lunch, but I told them I was heading north, and had to use the low tide to be able to reach it.

Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Tide dropping over transparent, crystal clear water

Soon after my break, I crossed the second broken bridge; with waters full of fish, I now started to reach the smaller islets, and after a few minutes on fixed ground, had to cross yet another channel connecting the Pacific to the lagoon of Tarawa atoll. In some of them, the water still reached my hips, and I was happy with my dry-fast pants and amphibian shoes. The light blue and green colours of the water were in perfect symphony with the bright green of the palm trees standing high above the mangrove that was so common here. I enjoyed the walk a lot: while it was easy to follow the trail on the islets, wading through the water still made it feel like an adventure. I crossed Nabeina, and reached several uninhabited islets after what with wider crossings, until I reached a beach that was very wide because of the low tide, and reached Kainaba from there. A sizable village, the people were a little more surprised to see a foreigner here; at the same time, it was the first time kids asked for money, but were easy in accepting my denial - instead, they asked me to take their picture. Crossing a few more channels, I decided it was time to turn around; I still had to walk all the way back to Abatao, and do so before the tide would be rising. Some of the islets are pretty wide here, and since I never like to take the same road back, I managed to find alternate trails on my way south, even if sometimes that meant walking right through the mangroves. The water was still very low and the crossings easy, but I started to feel a little weak as I did not have anything to eat and there are no shops around. When I reached the second broken bridge, I felt like having a swim, and under the watchful eye of three kids, swam right under the bridge, but the water was still too low to be able to really swim. The oldest girl disappeared and came back with four coconuts, as if she guessed what I needed; she tore the hairy stuff around the coconut with her teeth. I felt invigorated by the lovely coconut milk and the soft flesh, chatted with the kids for a while, and continued my way south. Passing the family I had stopped at that morning, I was invited into the cabin above the water, and before I knew it, we were having a very late lunch. The guy told me he had slept ever since I left and skipped lunch, waiting to have it with me. All they wanted in return was to have their picture taken - which I happily did. I now had to walk pretty fast to be back before darkness.

Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Temporary extension of one of the islets of North Tarawa at low tide

The next morning, my destination was Abaokoro, through South Tarawa; I took the small outrigger boat shuttling between Abatao and Buota islet, walked back to the bridge marking the divide between North and South Tarawa, and took a bus to Bairiki. Reconfirming my onward flight turned out to be a drama that took more than three hours without any solution, but with the knowledge that my flight had been cancelled. The boat to Abaokoro had left hours before, and I needed time to look into alternative plans; I made sure to be on the big orange outrigger canoe the next afternoon, after seeing someone at the Australian High Commissioner who proved to be the angel I just needed in these difficult times, offering me just the kindness, help and support I needed. The canoe would take me to Notoue, from where I planned to walk to Abaokoro; the mayor of Abaokoro was also waiting at the dock, but wanted me to pay 10 litres of fuel where I knew the price was five bucks. Once all the cargo had been loaded onto the boat, it was pushed further out into the sea so the few passengers could board. We basically sat on top of the boat without much to hold on to. Far away, I could see heavy clouds with rain; my idea of a peaceful ride across the protected lagoon of Tarawa atoll soon proved totally wrong: the captain steered the brightly coloured boat against the choppy sea, waves often blowing over the entire boat. We hit three heavy rainshowers that drenched all of us, we used the big cover mostly to protect our luggage, not ourselves, except the old lady sitting in front of me, who disappeared completely and transformed into a small plastic mound. The tide was too low to get close to the beach and we had to jump into the water and walk the last bit. Abaokoro was easily reached, the clerk easily found, and since the boat ride had not taken one, but nearly two hours, the day was already coming to a close, and I wanted to explore the islets. Where I had planned to stay three nights, I now only had 1 left because of the mess caused by the airline that would not take me to Nauru after all, and I wanted to make the most out of the little time I had. The first bicycle proved in too bad a condition, the clerk then suggested someone drive me on his motorbike, which sounded like a good idea to me; but then it turned out that the motorbikes in the village were all broken. In the end, his assistant turned up with a blue bike that did not look too bad, and when I cycled off, I felt very happy. However, the chain skidded off the blades twice, and when it happened a third time, I did not see any chain anymore when I looked down: I found it 50 metres back. Luck was with me: just at that moment, a truck full of people passed, and I shouted at them to stop. Riding it proved a lot of fun since the girls in the back were laughing all the time, especially when I pointed my camera at them, and even though this was not at all what I had in mind for the afternoon - I very much wanted to see the northern part of the island - I just gave in to the sensation and started to feel better after the shocking experiences of the day before with the more than unhelpful airline staff. The ride back actually took longer than my bike ride on the way out; I dumped the chainless bike, and decided to walk south to where I had to turn around a few days before when coming from the south. It was crazy: less than an hour before sunset and I was walking as fast as I could over a bridge, and through Marenanuka and Tabobibara to finally reach an area which seemed like a vast plain because of the low tide. On the way, I met two guys carrying a heavy load of pandanus leaves, which they were to sell to the mayor who would then sell them with a 50% profit on the other side of the lagoon in South Tarawa. The mayor turned out to be a smart guy, using his boat as a moneymaker. The landscape I was in now, I had not seen two days before, and I was surprised it looked so different; the views gave me the impression of a desolate, forgotten land, topped by a menacing sky of enormous clouds behind which the sun was now going down quietly, and without any fiery spectacle; muddy soil almost reaching the horizon, with small dots of mangrove trees dispersed over it. I continued walking until the heavy rustling leaves of the palm trees in the distance gave me just enough warning to protect my stuff for the heavy rain that started to batter me just seconds later. Most of the walk back was in the dark, and I was lucky the clouds sailed off and the moon shone on the track leading back to Abaokoro where a worried clerk and family were eagerly waiting for my arrival for dinner. The ferry the next morning would leave earlier than I had hoped, and I had to abandon my plan to go to the north very early next morning. But even though I had not seen all villages and islets of North Tarawa, I was more than happy with those that I did visit.

Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Looking towards the lagoon with traditional style Kiribati hut, strip of sand, and channel
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Trail on North Tarawa lined by tall palm trees
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Low tide exposing the land of a mangrove area with palm tree
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Reflection of mangrove trees on the water between to islets of North Tarawa
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Channel running between the Pacific Ocean and the lagoon
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Low tide over one of the islets of North Tarawa
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Traditional maneaba or community hall with thatched roof in Kanaiba in North Tarawa
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Mangrove tree at low tide at the lagoon side of North Tarawa
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Broken bridge between Tabiteuea and Abatao islets in North Tarawa
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Typical thatched hut in traditional village in North Tarawa
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Small mangrove tree exposed by the low tide
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Small beach with palm trees just before sunset
Picture of North Tarawa (Kiribati): Rising tide reflecting palm trees at the end of a day on North Tarawa

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