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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

A Sinking Country

TUVALU | Friday, 26 January 2024 | Views [105]

Pun intended, I'm having "fun" here in Funafuti, the largest and main atoll of Tuvalu. As one of the world’s lowest-lying, least-known, and least-visited countries, Tuvalu is seriously at risk of going under...not due to poverty, famine, wars, politics, or many of the other problems that face various countries, but due to rising sea levels. The name means “group of eight” but there are nine islands in the archipelago. Of all the sovereign countries, only Vatican City and Nauru have smaller populations and land area. Very few visitors make it to Tuvalu and, as there is no air transport to the other islands, Funafuti is often as far as they make it. A trip to the outer islands is only possible if you have a lot of time to spare (and really good sea legs). Two small things that make Tuvalu unique are that the internet domain code is .tv and the airport code is FUN. It’s always hot and humid here, and that’s evident as the extreme humidity slaps you in the face as soon as you step off the plane. Very few places have air conditioning, and it was nice to cool down as I stepped into the Telecom office (one of a handful of places that has AC) to get a Tuvaluan SIM card. Much like coins, banknotes, and postcards, I've racked up quite a collection of SIM cards on my travels as I have them from at least 20 different countries. Tuvalu uses Australian banknotes but local and Australian coins circulate simultaneously. 

Most people who visit Tuvalu tend to only stay for two nights but I’m staying for five. A few years ago, I read an article that Tuvalu is described as the most boring country in the world but I’m sure to find stuff to do. It is true, however, that tourism is all but nonexistent: there are about three or four (very basic) hotels and a handful of small Chinese restaurants. There is absolutely nothing in the way of fishing charters or dive operators but there’s always the option for a swim. To raise the land, they're dredging sand and then creating a barrier with bags of sand shaped like pillows.

There are no active CouchSurfing hosts in Tuvalu but through Facebook I arranged a stay with a lovely couple named Uashioa and Gano, and their four sons: Kilifi (aged 11), Polau (10), Ruben (9), and Glen (2). Uashioa works for the maritime police and Gano works at one of the local supermarkets. I’m sleeping upstairs in an area they recently constructed, and it’s perfect for me. I get the breeze through the louvers, and the only sounds I hear are the occasional barking dog or crowing rooster.

Tuvalu has to be the only country in the world where you can sit, play rugby, walk your dog, go for a run, have a picnic, etc. on the runway.

Come evening, the runway is the island’s social gathering spot where everything happens from playing volleyball to blasting boomboxes to falling in love. With only three flights per week, it’s not like the runway must be fenced off the entire time. A few minutes before the plane lands, a siren is sounded to warn everyone to get off the runway. Tuvalu suffers many of the typical issues of other Pacific islands. Just about everything except for coconuts and fish is imported and almost nothing, from vehicles to laptops to air conditioners, lasts long due to the salty air, heat, and humidity. Spent vehicles, machinery, batteries, and plastic detritus are a blight. Processed food such as white bread, tinned fish, sugar, and cooking oil are common in the small shops, but stuff can be hard to find if the ship is unable to offload supplies. 

Today I accomplished one of my long-time travel goals, and that was to meet an active world leader. This afternoon I had a great chat with the Honourable Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu.

We discussed stuff from his meeting with Joe Biden at the White House to the potential sinking of Tuvalu. He explained to me that during “king tide” in February, the runway can be underwater, and planes can’t land. Tuvalu could surely and truly be the first country to be swallowed up by the ocean; Australia and Fiji have offered to adopt the population if that happens. The prime minister’s son asked, “what do you plan to accomplish here?” wondering if I was with CNN or Fox News but I satisfied his curiosity when I explained that I do many extraordinary things when I travel, and that Tuvalu would likely have been my best chance at meeting a world leader. In Fiji it’s not possible to visit the Government House where the president lives. Officially I’ve now met three world leaders, as I’ve also met Toke Talagi of Niue and Charlene Warren-Peu of Pitcairn Island. Now I must meet a well-known world leader such as Joe Biden or Anthony Albanese. Elections are going on at the moment, so Mr. Natano's term may not be for much longer. 

Tuvalu is my 74th country visited. In a couple of weeks I’ll be going to Nauru, and then I’ll be running out of Pacific Island countries to visit. In the South Pacific I only have Kiribati, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands to visit. For the next few days I'll be exploring Funafuti with the aim of not getting too hot during the day and strolling along the runway at night. 


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