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!