x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Practical Traveller: Bidding a subdued adieu to Tuvalu

Chris Guillebeau, is in on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world and this is his penultimate stop

Guinea Bissau was my last African country, but I had another challenge waiting for me on the other side of the world.

Tuvalu, a tiny island nation in the South Pacific with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, was tough to find. With so few visitors arriving - six the week I was in town - flights are extremely limited and often cancelled at the last minute due to lack of demand. More than once I made plans to travel to Fiji, the regional hub, and was foiled by the weather or the whims of Air Pacific.

Finally I made it. Confirming in Los Angeles that the Tuvalu charter would be leaving the next day, I boarded an overnight flight to Nadi, Fiji. Twenty hours later, I stepped off the much smaller plane from Nadi and completed an entry form for the Republic of Tuvalu. But what could I do? How would I spend my time?

Life on Tuvalu is simple. The lone hotel is directly outside the airport, which in turn is adjacent to the governmental offices and the only bank. I carried my bags to the hotel and passed by a parking space reserved for the prime minister (he wasn't in).

I went to change money at the bank and discovered a sign with limited hours: "Open from 10am-12pm, Tuesday-Thursday." No matter. The woman at an open-air convenience store let me buy a package of cookies on US$2 (Dh7) credit, which I dutifully repaid the next day after the bank was open.

In a process that took only an hour on my first afternoon, I walked the entire island. Everywhere I went people were friendly, waving and smiling as we passed each other.

Yet it is a different way of life. Only a few thousand people live on the island. Most educated people leave for better opportunities in Fiji or Australia, and many who remain rely heavily on international aid.

For a lone traveller, there wasn't much to do but reflect on the journey. I had made it to my penultimate country. Only one more to go, and with more than 100 friends and readers coming along to Norway, that final country would be much different.

The night before leaving I went for a run in the pouring rain. I almost didn't make it - the rain was really coming down- but changed my mind when I saw a guy on a motorbike zipping along like it was no big deal.

This was no light afternoon shower; it was a downpour. My clothes were soaked within minutes. Slish, slosh went my shoes as I jumped from puddle to puddle, laughing to myself the whole time. I was on the runway! And I wasn't alone. A group of children was playing football on one end of the tarmac, oblivious to the rain.

I smiled as I ran past them, the rain coming down in sheets. It wasn't the best run, and it wasn't the greatest place to take a holiday, but it felt good to be alive.

Later I hung my clothes out to dry while waiting for the second, final flight of the week to return and take me back to Fiji. I left Tuvalu for good, saying farewell to the runway and feeling forlorn about the adventure.

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