x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Practical Traveller: Even news travels slowly in Kiribati

Chris Guillebeau writes about his experiences in the remote land of Kiribati

Chris Guillebeau, 34, is the author of The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Startup. He in on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world and is on number 189.

 

When it comes to faraway lands, there's the remote and, then, there's unheard of. To reach the small islands known collectively as Kiribati, I first had to make Australia, then fly to Fiji, board a 4am flight to Tarawa, the capital city - though to call it a city would be a stretch.

I was excited about my three days in Kiribati because it was the 189th country I've visited. After this, I'll have just four countries left to go in my quest to visit every country on Earth. A previous trip to Fiji took me to Samoa and Tonga, but I didn't realise I could only get to Kiribati from Fiji, so I had to backtrack.

This trip came with a layover at a decent hotel, a short drive from the airport. Kiribati presented a lower standard of travel, but one that felt more authentic.

Exploring Tarawa didn't take long. I used the only transport on the island: a series of minivans that picked up and dropped off passengers all along the main road for US$1 (Dh3.67) per ride, and you could hop off wherever you like.

Along the way, I met a young student who was going to Japan to study. We'd be on the same flight back to Fiji a few days later and she had never left the island before. "Does Japan have big buildings?" she asked. I told her yes, she could expect more buildings in Tokyo than in Tarawa. "Are there more cars in Japan?" she asked. I said yes, I was certain that nearly everything was greatly scaled between one of the most densely populated cities in the world and one of the most remote islands deep in the Pacific.

Someone else tapped me on the shoulder in one of the minivans. "I heard the man who invented the iPhone died. Is that true?" Steve Jobs had died more than a year ago, but apparently it takes time for news to reach this part of the world.

Despite the credit card logos on the guest house's website, the manager told me they only accept cash. "We've never taken any other payment. Someone in Australia made that website and they thought it would look good to have a picture of a credit card on it." Thankfully, I had enough cash to settle my bill.

There's only one way off the island - the twice-weekly flight to Fiji. Departure day arrived, but Air Pacific wasn't ready. At the tiny airfield, after a two-hour delay we were told that due to a maintenance issue, our departure was going to be delayed.

I moved back to the guest house and sat on the solitary chair in the windowless room. Food options were limited on the island and I hadn't eaten much in the past three days. On my second morning, the guest-house staff sent up a box of cornflakes and UHT milk. I supplemented this with a tin of peanuts and a jar of instant coffee from a stall down the road. Then, I took a nap.

A few hours later, I was informed that the plane was en route. I packed up, hopped in the back of a sedan with the young woman who was eager and nervous about her adventure away from the island.

The plane was eight hours late, but that hardly mattered. I was heading home, planning to continue my journey again next month, and my new friend was setting off to see the world beyond her small island for the first time. All was well.