Travel in Tuvalu on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Tuvalu on a Harley (16/11/07 - 27/11/07)
Distance 34 km (500064 km to 500098 km)

This is part of the fourteenth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Fiji

16/11/07 A comfortable two and a half hour flight had us seeing surrounding atolls and with the aeroplane seemingly landing on the water we hit land and travelled the length of the runway looking into water ahead. An incredibly relaxed place the runway is unfenced. The fire truck sounds its siren to warn of approaching aeroplanes, just two a week, otherwise the airstrip is used as a recreation area, volleyball nets come out in the cool evenings and people bring out beds to sleep through the cooler nights, a great social area. We strolled the 100 metres to our hotel, luggage in hand. News of our arrival had preceded us and Sylia, the local shipping agent, also shop owner, aeroplane clearance officer, UPS agent and generally problem solver, at least for our shipment, welcomed us but the news was not good. Customs would require a refundable bond for the motorcycle, but it couldn't be ridden here as it was larger than 250cc, the maximum allowed for motorcycles. It was 1pm on a Friday afternoon when we startedJust two flights a week to this country negotiation and by 3.30pm we had visited the boss of customs, the Minister for Finance, (also our landlord in the small guest house), the shipping authorities, police and the town council. Customs allowed us to ride for two days, but only after the Finance Minister waived the 250cc limit. Shipping authorities booked the motorcycle onto a government contracted boat back to Fiji in five days time, returning empty other than our motorcycle, police authorised permission for the motorcycle to be registered, and the council gave a six months registration certificate for $US10.00. Absolutely amazed by what could be achieved in a short time. I guess that having a country of about 10,000 people where everyone knows everyone else, where ministers are available to on the spot make decisions helps. The only problem we seem to have is the motorcycle is in a container and the fork lift is broken, a bit of a downside to the small population, still we hope to overcome that tomorrow when we finally see the motorcycle after three months and five shipping legs. 

17/11/07 Apparently there were two forklifts on the island. The motorcycle crate was showing signs of its mishandling and the top was bowed in from top loads in the container, pushing down and resting on the motorcycle, otherwise little damage. Uncrated and reassembled theMotorcycle photo on the airstrip apron battery was flat, jump-started with the forklift and it was riding on the 179th country. Much of the cloth items in the bike were mouldy, the moist Maldives air trapped in containers. Our helmets almost destroyed, rejuvenated a little with washing along with clothes. A reorganisation repack for onward shippings and reuniting with a few more clothes. An electrical storm struck the telecom tower here in July knocking out the island's communications for two months, mobile phones are still not working, further indication of remoteness. 

18/11/07 Today is the only full day we can ride as the motorcycle needs to be recrated tomorrow for the two day later sailing back to Fiji. We started to the south in the morning reaching the end of the island quite quickly. A shallow causeway connects to the next islet at low tide. The ring of islands continues around in a large circle, 20 km's in diameter, the rim of an extinct volcano. In fact it was here that Darwin's theory that atolls were the remains of sinking volcanoes was first scientifically tested when in 1898 Funafuti atoll was drilled to 340 metres and showed proof of shallow water organisms. After a morning tea break we rode to the north of the island. It is a long narrow strip often with the road, or airstrip, taking up half of its width. Houses are dotted everywhere. Generally an open affair, raised above the ground the breeze flows through. Pigs areSlowly rusting WWII earthmover the only meat animal kept, although the number of dogs almost outnumbers them. Each family seems to have a couple of each. Being a Sunday most people were at church in the morning and all shops were closed. This is the first capital city we have likely ridden on every road, and all in a day. In the evening a performance of the different church youth groups occurred near the runway. Much of the city's population was out to see the singing, dancing and entertaining skits. At this time of year, end of school term, people leaving to head away on holidays, or ex-pats returning home, there are more festivities than usual.

19/11/07 Few tourists come to Tuvalu, less than a couple of hundred a year. There are however quite a lot of foreigners. Our hotel has a Welsh girl working on short term contract. A young volunteer NGO comes down for socialising from her local accommodation. A New Zealand girl, studying coconut farming for her government, looking at import possibilities. There are a few Australian Naval personal to assist Tuvalu patrol its waters for illegal fishing and another Australian is assisting the government in legal matters. Each of the different religious denominations is represented along with overseas missionaries. Quite a social mix of ex-pat's, staying from as little as a week to a couple of years. ParliamentParliament sitting in their open air building started sitting today, squeezed between our hotel and the airport, in an open air building the breeze blows through cooling the members. There were no metal detectors or security to be seen. Local children played at the tables before the proceedings started and the only visible restriction placed on the community was a road closure to reduce noise. The whole proceedings are broadcast over local radio, live. We also featured on the radio, a brief report of our trip and that Tuvalu was the first country of the Pacific the motorcycle has visited. 

20/11/07 The bi-weekly plane arrived, after the blaring of the fire engine siren and people came out to wave at its passengers, always one member of the large families is likely to be on board. Yesterday's boat didn't arrive and has been delayed till tomorrow, so there is a chance we could miss the connection from Fiji to Kiribati if there are further delays. Sylia, the agent, negotiated shipping charges at a third of the cost to get the motorcycle to Tuvalu. The afternoon internet session revealed that the onward ship to Kiribati from Fiji has also been delayed, giving a four day window to ride the motorcycle in Fiji, hopefully.

21/11/07 The Moana Raoi,Fatele, celebration dinner with whole roast pork the motorcycle's ship to Fiji, arrived late last night, but the one operating fork lift has been taken to another island, so unloading and reloading can't occur until it returns, perhaps a couple of days away. There are also two other smaller island boats at the wharf, all here to ferry school students home at the end of the school year, but they too are awaiting the arrival of the fork lift to unload at the wharf. We dined at the only true hotel on the island, built by the Chinese Government, now showing signs of needing a little maintenance. Most of the foreigners stay here, paid for by their employer companies, and the high price reflects this. A group of missionaries that have been staying in Tuvalu for the last month were farewelled at a traditional fatele, everyone invited. Held in the open air maneapa, or meeting place, the event started with a few speeches, followed by a magnificent spread of food, including a whole roast pig, and followed by traditional dance. A competitive event, two teams, mixed men and women, about forty people in each, adorned with pandanas skirts and fous (head garland of flowers), beat out a song on a hollow wooden bench while some dance, others sitting, all moving rhythmically. Turns are taken, each side politely applauding the other, but after beating to a crescendo a victory twirl is done by those standing and the floor is handedFatele singing and dancing over to the opposition with a "beat that" attitude. The back and forth seems to continue almost indefinitely as older members of the community slowly filter away leaving events to the youth. Ultimately there seems to be no winner or loser, just a fun competition.  

22/11/07 A popular day's outing is across to the islands at the other end of the atoll, 20 km across. Joined by an American, another tourist who arrived on the last flight, we hired a small wooden boat and driver with a 40hp outboard, no oars, radio or safety equipment, anchor just a lump of coral tied on by strong fishing line. The typical postcard view of a tropical island with sandy beaches surrounded by clear blue waters backdropped with coconut palms was exactly what we found. Spent a few hours sitting in the shade of a large tree extending branches over the beach where we entered the warm waters to snorkel amongst corals and fish. Travelling between islands the American trolled a line and caught three decent fish. Drift snorkelled between another two islands and motored slowly past more. On Thursday evenings the country's hotel has a buffet night, attracting foreigners and locals, a floor show of local dancing, greatRelaxing on a tropical island beach socialising. We learnt there that the Moana Raoi is again delayed, likely another two days before departing, further closing our window of a connecting boat to Kiribati from Fiji.   

23/11/07 An enormous amount of foreign aid keeps Tuvalu afloat. Any building of significance has been funded by foreign aid, mostly Taiwan and Australia. The locals seem to have accepted this aid as normal, almost their right. Building contractors and labourers are usually imported. The ones we have seen are Indian descendants from Fiji, more efficient or skilled workers than the locals. I wonder how the average Australian might view the easy relaxed lifestyle of the locals, whilst they work long hours, paying taxes, some of which comes here as aid. It was explained to us that Australia likes to have a "presence" in the region, an influence, rather than allowing other, perhaps less desirable neighbours from gaining too much influence, and that comes at a cost. We spent most of the day at our guest house keeping out of the weather but in late evening Moana Raoi came back to the wharf and started backloading empty containers. A trip to the wharf at 10pm just to convince us that the motorcycle would be loaded, confirmed it should leave tomorrow morning.

24/11/07 Rain pouredSnorkelling above a coral outcrop in the lagoon down early morning in sharp showery bursts. The motorcycle left at 8am strapped to the upper deck of the ship, its only cargo out of the country. A Greenpeace walk against global warming was supposed to occur this morning but the rain deterred participation. People still attended the talks and free meal provided by sponsors of the event. Tuvalu is one the countries that will be most affected by rising sea levels from global warming, an often debated topic here. It seems to us that the underlying cause is that there are too many people in the world, something we have not heard spoken of. Halve the number of people and halve global emissions. Quite drastic but by reducing population growth, we reduce immediate carbon footprints and enormously reduce future footprints. A typical western couple having two children, by average age of 30 years, will have generated a population footprint of 16 by the time they die, assuming 90 years of age. Calculated as the couple themselves plus 2 children at 30 yrs, the couple plus 2 children and four grandchildren at 60 yrs, and the couple plus 2 children, four grandchildren and eight great grandchildren or 16 people at 90 years, or death. On the other hand a developing nation is likely to have a human footprint of 157 at death when just 66 years of age. Calculated at the couple themselves plus 5 children at 22 yrs, the couple plus fivePlaying football on the runway in the evenings children and 25 grandchildren at 44 years, and the couple plus five children plus 25 grandchildren plus 125 great grandchildren at 66 years, or death. Using this method a westerner's lifetime human impact is only about a tenth of a developing nations. Even if the western family directly used ten times as much carbon they would have had no greater carbon impact in their lives than a developing country's family. Perhaps worse is if the 125 new people born to the developing nation, assuming they continue to reproduce at the same rate as their ancestors, will have a human footprint of 3875 in another sixty six years, compared to a developed nation's 112 in ninety years, 34 times of a westerners carbon imprint. There could be a strong argument put that the fastest way to reduce carbon emissions isn't to turn down the air conditioner but is to turn down reproduction. Yes developing nations birthrates are slowing, but so also is the western birth rate. Of more concern is the rapid increase in developing nations use of carbon, perhaps faster than its slowing birthrate. Just a thought as they say!! or a different way of looking at a situation. It is a full moon and a spring tide today and in late afternoon saltwater started seeping up through the porous ground around the airstrip and in low lying areas about town as if to confirm just how vulnerable this place is to rising sea waters. 

25/11/07 A small island Farewell photo with friends and staff country, Tuvalu has a limit of interest for the casual observer, is expensive and time consuming to visit. We have been lucky at this season with a more than usual number of events occurring but are starting to spend more time near to our hotel, local socialising and writing the book. A nice tour might have been to the outer islands but the government boats going there would not have returned by the time of our flight, taking a week on a casual schedule.

26/11/07 Tuvalu has to be rated as one of those countries we would never likely have visited, except in the motorcycle's quest, and we would have therefore missed this fascinating part of the world, and it would have been our loss. We had a great time, with everyone, locals, expats, NGO's, and foreign workers on this family sized country.

27/11/07 Rain came in overnight and with a strong cross wind on the short airstrip. A tradition here is the giving of shell or seed necklaces to people leaving. We received a couple from locals but some people carried more than a dozen around their necks as they walked towards the aeroplane, friends standing near the airstrip waving goodbye. There was no metal detector, bomb scans and with our hand written boarding passes we left Tuvalu.

Move with us to Fiji


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