Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 February 2020

The Practical Traveller: visiting Nauru, the world's smallest republic

Chris Guillebeau makes a one-time trip to a tiny island nation in the South Pacific.

When I boarded the flight to Nauru, I felt like I was going into exile. The island nation is the world's smallest republic, with a population of just 11,000, all living on a space of just 22 square kilometres.

I had previously been informed by my visa service that no visa is required to visit Nauru. Unfortunately, that fact turned out to be untrue - pretty much everyone going to Nauru needs a visa. I regrouped and made another attempt earlier this year, and that time the visit was successful.

The airline that flies to Nauru is called "Our Airline", which could go down as the most comical airline name I've ever heard. (Runner up: "Jubbah Airways" in Somalia.) Upon searching for information on Nauru, I didn't find much. One article that promised to share "off the beaten path" information on Nauru received this comment from another reader: "Please! You're in Nauru ... everything is off the beaten path."

And she was right. There really isn't much of a path on Nauru, aside from the single ring road that goes around the island. I thought about running the course of the entire island (19km) but was concerned about the climate. During my three-day visit, it never cooled off, and the humidity was 75 per cent or higher for much of the day. Attempting to run the distance of almost a half-marathon in such weather wasn't the best idea, at least for me.

On my second day I had to go to the immigration office to reclaim my passport. For some reason, visitors receive their entry stamps upon arrival, but are then required to report to the actual immigration office a day or two later to finalise the paperwork. It's not like there was much to do, so I didn't mind the errand.

En route to the office, we passed by the tiny airport. I noticed that the bus driver drove all the way around the runway, which was protected by a short fence that appeared to be fairly run down. I also recalled that there are only two flights a week - the one I came in on, and the one I'd be leaving on.

After being reunited with my passport, the afternoon was filled with productive activities, including eating lunch that consisted entirely of Lipton tea and a package of cookies from the small convenience store adjacent to the hotel. The clerk who ran the shop was from China and spoke no more English than I did Chinese. "How are you?" I asked, and he gave me a confused look, watching me as though as I was a shoplifter as I perused the limited shelves.

Lunch was followed by a nap, which was followed by an attempt at sink laundry (Tip: it's all about the drying). Before sunset I changed into as few clothes as possible and ran back along the road. I didn't listen to music but I took my phone with me to take a few photos along the way.

I felt appropriately emboldened as I snuck over the fence, and wondered if I could make it the entire length of the runway without getting caught. First lesson: even on Nauru, runways are long. Especially with the humidity, this would not be a sprint. I set off down the runway and ambled down toward the airport itself.

That's when I noticed I wasn't alone. Far from being a secret activity, it seems that much of the island comes out at dusk to walk or run along the runway. I ran back and forth for 20 minutes, passing a few other local runners, and finally turned around at the parked Air Nauru jet outside the tiny terminal.

Lately, I've been considering two truths about my adventures. The first is that I've known for a while that I'm beginning to get tired more easily. Travelling for a decade, especially with a pace of 20 countries per year over the past five years, is catching up to me. I have less energy and less patience.

I'm not tired of travel per se. I just look forward to travelling with less of an agenda, taking more time in some places and avoiding other places entirely. It will be good to move on when the time comes.

At the same time, I've also been aware that I need to hold tightly to this time, since I'm not sure what comes next. The quest has given me a clear goal to focus on for the past five years. I do more than just travel, but the travel is a big part of my identity. I remember when I went to Easter Island in 2009. At the time, I couldn't think of a more remote place in the world - but I just didn't know much about places such as Nauru, which is far more remote. That's why I try to take the time to appreciate wherever I am, to not let it pass me by.

I'll return to the South Pacific again, perhaps many times. But I highly doubt I'll ever return to this remote runway, which doubles as an airfield and jogging track.

"See you tomorrow," I said to the servers each night at my hotel. On my last night there, I said it again out of habit. As I left the restaurant, I realised the truth: I would probably never see them again.

Chris Guillebeau, 33, is the author of The Art of Non-Conformity, published by Penguin. He is on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world, and is currently on number 184.

Updated: April 21, 2012 04:00 AM



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