Birthday Conundrum

Our next port of call was Tabuaeran, Fanning Island in Kiribati.   Tabuaeran is the same as Fanning Island in Gilbertese, an official language of The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribash).   Needless to say, by the time we tendered into port I was already confused.   We got the information overload from a Mr. Fanning himself after whose ancestors the island was named.  It was a delight to travel with him and his charming wife and to attend his most informative lecture.

Fanning Island is like Pitcairn Island, out there in the Pacific Ocean almost in the middle of nowhere.  A beautiful atoll, a ringed shaped coral islet surrounding a central lagoon, and shaped like a foot. In fact Tabuaeran, means ‘hallowed footprint’.  There is no electricity, no piped water, no mountains and no jungle.  It is low lying just above sea level so global warming is a definite threat to its existence.   It would only take one big tsunami and pfftt, no more Fanning Island.  Residents number less than guests on ship (1900) as it is estimated there are only 1200-1500 people living there.   Its land area is approximately 13 square miles. The lagoon is 426 square miles, 7 miles wide and 50 ft. at its deepest.

Canned meats are considered delicacies.  We were met by a singing, dancing troupe of both men and women dressed in grass skirts.  There were a few older people dressed in original coconut fibre clothing reminiscent of the similar sartorial choice of Nuku Hiva.   The most significant crop and export is copra so coconut palms abound.  They appeared to be wearing coir welcome mats including headgear.  This analogy is quite appropriate as they are very friendly with a welcoming smile.  I took one look at the dress and immediately felt scratchy and HOT.   Employment and another export come from large seaweed beds owned by a conglomerate that sell the seaweed to spas and health and nutrition companies worldwide.

Diet is fruit, a few root vegetables, fish, pork and sometimes chicken.   Breadfruit is a staple, and we were introduced to a plant from which sugar is made by boiling the sap.

There are three nurses on the island to look after medical needs including dentistry and should there be a serious illness it is a long boat ride to Christmas Island 160 miles away for the nearest medical Centre.  Supply ships come every four months and if you should get really ill after one has just left then it is likely you will die.  The children seem well cared for and happy. 

We did the grand tour, crowded on three wooden benches in the small and only diesel truck on the island.  There were lots of shell jewelry and carvings for sale.

Now to explain my birthday conundrum:  Prior to 1994 The International Date Line (IDL) ran right through the middle of The Republic of Kiribati. That was a problem as the East and the West were on different time zones and if you woke up at 7:30 a.m. in the East, the next atoll over would be waking up with the same sunrise but it could well be 26 hours later or prior? It also meant that business could only be done on four days of the week. The Governor declared the IDL would be adjusted to bring Kiribati into one time zone.  That declaration resulted in the Eastern half marking Friday, December 30, 1994 and waking next day on Sunday, January 1, 1995.  This explains why Kiribati is the first place to celebrate New Year’s Day, and why the IDL jogs far right at Kiribati.  Help!

But that’s not all.  These islands also sit at the equator, so as the ship cruised along to stop at Fanning Island and carry on our South Pacific sojourn it just so happens that my birthday fell right in the middle.  So there was one day I celebrated my birthday, and soon was celebrating my birthday again and of course, there was the Neptune/Poseidon ceremony as we asked the God of the Sea to grant us safe passage and permission to cross the Equator.  Oh what a mess!  Oh what fun! Oh what a conundrum!

On my birthday we crossed the Equator so I was in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.  We crossed the IDL twice so I was in the East, West, North and South of the world on my birthday.  While I tried to wrap my head around the puzzle my Bert just happily went about asking the ship’s staff what time and what day it was according to ship’s time.  He found it amusing and had no intention of figuring out anything.  It would all right itself somehow, he knew.  Sure it did, but five passengers had birthday celebrations two nights in a row neither older nor younger than a day prior or later?

The Meander:  There were times we looked at our travel account and felt we should put it to better use. Such thoughts died immediate deaths. Travel always won. We would not have it any other way.  On these cold days, I miss it so much but the memories are alive and well in my head, my heart and my travel journals.  We are grateful. No regrets!

11 thoughts on “Birthday Conundrum”

  1. Wow, I just love reading about your travel adventures. I have never heard of this place you went to. To be honest, reading it had me a tad confused. I hate to admit that but it was. I just love how much you love traveling as much as me. Boy do I wish I went to some of these places with you both. What an adventure we could of had. So many incredible memories you have. So so many. That’s what you hold on to. And wow, what a cool Birthday you must of had out there. That’s the most unique way to celebrate I have ever heard. Again, just incredible. This is just me, but if I were you, I would write a book. With all your travel adventures, it would be an amazing story to share. I know I would buy it. Something to think about.
    Again love love this post.

    1. Your enthusiastic reply made me remember more birthdays and gave me another happy shiver as I recalled more of this trip. There was another birthday where it seemed I celebrated three days, all the same date. That happens in the South Pacific. Yes, these memories help me during these wintry days. I am so grateful for them and that we did travel when we did. There are places now that we have been that I would not think of visiting today. We were very lucky.

  2. I’ve spent money and regretted it – but never money spent on travel! Good call, and a lovely memory, Paula. Wendy xo

  3. Hah! The wonderful vagaries of travel. The possible impact of global warming on Kiribati is another whole story that I would prefer not to contemplate.

    For most of us who have crossed the International Date Line, only one shift in time takes place but what a mental trauma that can cause in its own right. My first time, I ended up being over the Rockies watching the dawn of the day that I had just left. That unsettled my stomach for days. Your shifts back and forth inside one country is way beyond the pale. lol.

    1. Oh, I can so relate. I wish I was like Bert who just ignore the whole thing, but I seem to have to know if it is yesterday or tomorrow and all it does is scramble my brain a bit more. Then again he was a sailor so did not bother about day, date or time, just went wherever his ship was going.

      Our first time to Fiji was a riot. We were cruising and had a wonderful celebration of Easter. We were all looking forward to shopping next day but of course everything was closed because it was Easter…again! Only Jack’s was open so chintzy souvenirs were the order of the day.

  4. Thank you for the geography lesson. What a place to have found!
    You made me go look it up! ha!
    I found it interesting that there are that many people living there.
    And I hope they have contingency plans for when water elevation comes.
    But what a fun memory!
    thank you.

    1. Of course you would look it up. It is what I do when I get a new cruise itinerary and there is some place unfamiliar. I do worry about the low-lying islands. Fanning Island is not the only one in danger.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *