The 1st entry of 2023: Welcome to Tuvalu
Day 3,382 since October 10th 2013: 201 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Tuvalu at last – the Pacific is done
Reaching Tuvalu is yet another major milestone. It has been an uphill battle and we are now left with two countries. But do not make the mistake of thinking we are home free. The road ahead is long.
Last years entry: The final entry of 2022: status, love, and global improvement
Happy New Year and welcome to 2023. Hopefully our last year within the Saga. Forgive me for being tired. 343,770km (213,654mi) is after all no small distance to travel over land and sea. And our more than nine years is no small thing either. A few people have suggested that I should willingly prolong the Saga to ten years as a romantic notion. Those people have no idea and should try this on their own body. The Saga is by far the hardest thing I have ever undergone. But enough about that for now. My first New Year’s Eve in Fiji became my first without alcohol. I joined the celebrations for a few hours at Albert Park and there might have been thousands of people there. The mood was good and most people were calm bordering docile. What I assumed to be radio hosts were up on a stage drumming up an atmosphere and a few hundred people were dancing and jumping up at front. Music was booming from the speakers. There was no alcohol at the event and I didn’t even notice until the next day. Midnight came and so did the countdown. There was some fireworks and a tank truck full of water rolled out into the crowd at midnight, a hose was attached and water was released. Maybe a hundred people danced around under the hose getting soaked. The water was very local and you could easily avoid getting wet. That’s all I saw of the water I’ve heard of for Fijian New Year. No baby powder where I was. It was nice though but also a little lonely. I didn’t run into anyone I knew and I was in bed before 01:00am.
Finally boarding MV Manu Folau. Joji Tamani with the impressive beard!
It was mostly a calm crossing though with a lot of pitching.
The voyage across from Suva to Funafuti took four nights. I decided to use motion sickness pills for the entire voyage which was a good call. I don’t know if it was the pills which made me drowsy or my overall exhausted ness, maybe both, but I suspect I slept 16-18 hours/day while onboard. I was basically only up and out of my cabin for meals and to conduct a Harry Potter marathon of all eight movies (did it). Man they are long! I would often watch about an hour and then decide to sleep instead.
My cabin. Fortunately nobody else showed up so it was all mine. It was unbearable hot the first night. I nearly couldn't breathe. The 2nd night the ventilation was on.
First meal onboard.
On day two I opened the door to this!! Apparently the septic tank had overflowed. It was spilling out and washing about on the floor. The crew was really helpful and quickly fixed it.
The fellow across from my cabin had a huge speaker (see above) and played out music loud!! Lots of music and laughing onboard. Lots of excitement. Unfortunately also late at night and very early in the morning. But I'm happy for those who were heading home.
One evening there was noise from the bow. Apparently the anchor chain had not been pulled up tight enough ex Fiji. So they set out to tighten it.
The guys in the galley. The entire crew was really kind and helpful. Good crew! :)
Funafuti Port. Our friends at Swire Shipping who have put so much effort into port safety would cringe at the stewedores who showed up in beach slippers and some even barefootted :)
Tuvalu at last!!! My goodness. They only really opened up the country from lockdown on December 1st 2022. I reached Fiji back on November 12th. I boarded MV Manu Folau on January 5th. Things are definitely not moving as fast as I hoped for. Before leaving the ferry, we had to deal with customs and immigration. They were friendly and easygoing but it seemed that some of the passengers were hiding from them? There were several announcements calling people to get processed by the authorities. I was standing outside overlooking the port when a woman walked up to the ship: “are you Mr. Pedersen? I got tired of waiting!” It was Tuvalu Red Cross Secretary General Tagifoe Taomia. We agreed that I should wait at the port gate and that she would come back. Manu Folau came alongside at 08:00am and I left the ferry shortly past 11:00am. I passed through a second customs and immigration checkpoint and a health/quarantine team too. Really easy and friendly. No testing for COVID-19. But vaccination was a requirement to buy the ferry ticket. I waited outside the port for about twenty minutes and then Tagifoe returned with a big smile and welcomed me to Tuvalu. The Sagas final country within the Pacific Ocean!
The wonderful Secretary General Tagifoe Taomia at the National Bank.
Tuvalu Red Cross Society became the first National Society to receive me at arrival across the entire Pacific. That makes Tuvalu special. Tuvalu is in fact remarkably special. Tagifoe asked me what I needed as we were driving towards “down town” of the long slim atoll. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day. She parked her car next to the airport building which is at the center of the island. Most things seem to be around the airport terminal: The National Bank, Tuvalu Telecom, the runway (obviously), the Government of Tuvalu, and the Police Station. We first got me set up with a internet. I actually had a simcard which Riza Rasco had given to me after her visit. It was registered in her name but the kind staff at Tuvalu Telecom just reregistered it to me. Then we topped it up an I was soon online. Tuvalu doesn’t have an undersea cable and internet comes through a satellite connection. There’s just one provider. So, it’s neither particularly cheap or fast. But it’s okay. Next stop was the bank where I exchanged 1,000 FJD to AUS. The money was counted and I received a receipt at one counter and then got in line for the exchange at another counter. Done. Super friendly. Tagifoe offer lunch at Funafuti Lagoon Hotel. And then we checked me in at Filamona Hotel. Everything in short walking distance around the airport terminal. What an amazing hospitality I have found in Tuvalu!
It's just nice.
Before disembarking MV Manu Folau I was briefly up on the bridge to ask how much distance we had covered (1,191km/740mi). I also asked when the ferry might return to Fiji? A man told me it might not return at all. But that the scheduled return was set for February 7th. Hmmm…I was hoping for something much earlier. And certainly not the risk of no return at all. As such I headed straight to Tuvalu Government after Tagifoe and I parted. Within the Government building I found my way to Acting Director Nito Lipine of the Marine Department. I had been in touch with Nito via email from Fiji ever since Riza Rasco visited Tuvalu and established the connection. Nito was in his office and delivered a big smile when he realized who I was. He also confirmed that the ferry would return in February. I asked Nito if that was 90-95% sure and he replied that it was 100% sure. So, there you go!! We have Director Nito Lipine’s assurance :)
Acting Director Nito Lipine in his office.
I then proceeded to look for a good location for my “arrival photo” and settled on the runway. The runway is incredibly central to life in Funafuti. Funafuti is the largest of Tuvalu’s nine islands and is home to about half of the countries 11,000 beating hearts. Funafuti isn’t a large island and the 1,524m (5,000ft) runway takes up a lot of space. There are currently three flights a week: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. A Fiji Airways aircraft (ATR-72) lands around 11:00am and takes off again about an hour later. The rest of the time the runway is used as a recreational area with children playing and lots of sports and games. People also just sit down to chat or use their phones. But we are talking about several hundreds of people every day. It is quite something. So the runway seemed like a good place for the photo.
My arrival post did immensely well on all platforms with amazing attention and lots of love from huge numbers.
Almost as soon as I had taken the photo a sadness started to creep up on me. It grew and grew until it was rather intense. It was like a wave of sadness had washed over me and it was hard to deal with. It continued for three days from when I woke up in the morning until I went to bed at night. I should have been happy because we had made it to Tuvalu and everyone was nice but I felt sad. I’ve been flirting with “depression” several times within the Saga. I don’t feel like it’s fair to call it depression to those who are clinically depressed. I have before described it as a road where you are fine at one end and depressed at the other. I have at times walked quite far down that road – or at least so it feels. And relatively easy tasks become hard. Something simple as packing my bags, which I have done thousands of times, became demanding and took much longer than ordinarily. Have no doubt that the self-imposed prison of Once Upon A Saga and its three cardinal rules are a significantly hard ordeal. Furthermore, I am a person who puts the bar rather high for myself. I am also very aware of how long the road is ahead of us. And how demanding it will be to reach the final two countries. We are not a few weeks away for completing the Saga. We are likely six months of effort from doing so. Fortunately, the sadness began to lift after about three (long) days. Ultra-wifey was naturally supportive from afar. “Take a rest” I hear them say. But there is no rest as long as I’m within this. We need to finish the Saga one way or the other.
It is very easy to fall in love with Tuvalu. Tuvalu means “eight standing together”. “Valu” is eight in Tuvaluan. There is much of the language which carries over from Samoan and Tongan such as the greeting “Talofa” (hello), “Fafetai” (thank you), “Fale” (house/building), “Tofa” (goodbye), “Palangi” (foreigner), also several numbers and more. Some of the games they play and the traditional cooking also resembles Samoa and Tonga. It is also well documented that Tuvalu was populated by people from those countries. Originally just eight of the nine islands which supposedly is the namesake. To describe Funafuti as laidback simply isn’t enough. There’s a really calm and friendly atmosphere with few cars but relatively many mopeds cruising about. Meeting anyone feels like engaging with a friend. Many seem to have the ability to smile with their entire body. What a remarkable a unique country. Tiny islands in a deep vast ocean. A tragedy is looming as there is likely no future for this country. Tuvalu is the worlds smallest UN member and holds the 3rd smallest population of the 193 UN member states. You may have heard of the threat of rising oceans and intensifying storms. Sure, that’s definitely a part of the bleak future. Another reality is that there isn’t much prospect in such a small and isolated nation. Nearly everything is import based, there are few jobs, and advanced education takes place in other countries such as Fiji, USA, NZ or Aussieland. Sure – its lovely in Tuvalu. It’s a country which simply might not exists in a not to distant future. What a shame.
Not long ago there was a draught and most water tanks nearly sat empty. It's rain and hurricane season now and the tanks are full again across the board. Tuvalu is dependent on rainwater collection.
For a large portion of my life, I grew up in a small town called Bryrup. It’s in central Jutland in Denmark and was home to about 1,200 beating hearts during my childhood. It is a beautiful town. While Funafuti is supposedly 3-4 times larger in population it simply feels smaller than Bryrup to me. Bryrup has far more advanced architecture and infrastructure and a faster pace. If you were to search a dictionary for “laidback”, “peaceful”, or “friendly” then Funafuti should appear. As such I had one of my biggest experiences in the past nine years when the ATR-72 landed in the middle of everything!! Just the noise of the airplane on its own!!! The extreme contrast of palm trees and lazy dogs sleeping in the shade versus the technical wonder of manned flight!! Since my relatively quiet arrival by sea I had spent 24hrs in what I would describe as a quiet and sleepy village and suddenly a 72 seat aircraft came out of the sky, turned at the end of the runway, parked in the town center and completely dominated the environment!! It was as if aliens had just landed! Dust was shot into the air behind the roaring engines and the sound was simply deafening. And extraordinary experience of contrast!! I was dumbfounded as I stood there and watched just 30m (100ft) away. I cannot explain it better than that. And some 30-45 minutes later it took off again and it all went silent and sleepy again!! Just wow!!
Ultra-wifey will appreciate the many dogs that showed up too.
It is a bit of a spectacle for those living in Funafuti too. At least some people showed up to watch. A siren went off three times before the aircraft landed. Sort of like how they announce the opera is about to begin after a pause. There’s a team that chases dogs off the runway by throwing rocks at them. Some of the groundcrew were in beach slippers and cargo shorts. A firetruck was brought out next to the runway too. It is well organized of course. It just feels so unlikely. I’ve tried to imagine a 72 seat aircraft landing in the village where I grew up? That is just too unrealistic. A 4-6 seat aircraft maybe – but 72 seats? It’s not all that small.
Such lovely people at TRCS - good food too :)
The Tuvalu Red Cross Society (TRCS) is naturally also made up of truly kind people. Kindness, smiles, and laughter is a real theme in Tuvalu so far. They are bright and competent as well. I’ve already interacted with them three times. Secretary General Tagifoe on arrival, the following day she took me to their headquarters and introduced me to their small team, and on day three I was invited back for lunch and a proper sendoff to Assistant Health Officer Beverly Yee who’s off to study for three years in Fiji. It was also a welcome to me but mostly about Beverly. And definitely about food! :) I hope to share much more about TRCS over the coming weeks but for now should know that they were absolutely instrumental in getting some 90% of Tuvaluans COVID-19 vaccinated which in turn opened up the borders which meant that the Saga could move on. It naturally also speaks volumes for the health of Tuvaluans ;) TRCS is naturally also highly involved in disaster preparedness, -prevention, and -response. I’ve even been invited for a wedding through a Red Cross staffer today (Friday). So that will be interesting.
Tuvaluans at the airstrip playing Te Ano. It's simply facinating and involves a lot of laughter from the participants. Two teams hit the ball with their back hand and need to keep it in the air. The loosing team must sit down and watch the winning team dance the "fatale" dance.
On a final note, Tuesday’s aircraft brought in some interesting people. Among them I met three kind Swedes and a nice Lithuanian. One of the Swedes had been to 80 countries and the Lithuanian to 175 plus many territories. We’ve had some interesting conversations. The Swedes left already on the Thursday flight (which was already a less spectacular experience than the arrival of Tuesdays flight) so just two nights. The Lithuanian, Danas Pankevicius, is a heck of an adventurer. Sure, I have compiled enough adventures over the years to write a solid book but Danas might be able to write ten! You can find him as Danas Around The World on FB and IG. He’s flying out tomorrow, Saturday, after four nights in Funafuti. I’m in for 30 nights at least! It seems harsh on Tuvalu to say this but I don’t want to be here for that long! I want to go home and as fast as possible!!! Well, I need to deal with reality and as such I will likely join a domestic ferry on a roundtrip to several of the other islands. Most people do not get to see Tuvalu within their lifetime (it is one of the worlds least visited countries). Most visitors only see Funafuti before they fly out again. I guess I’ll be among the very few who have been to Tuvalu and have visited several islands. The ferry stops should leave me with at least half a day on each of the islands I get to go to (2-4). Departure around January 17th. Domestically the ferries operate much timelier than when they occasionally travel internationally.
Yeah - some of Funafuti looks like this.
Alright, I guess I will tell you a bit about Tuvalu Prison (Vaiaku Jail) and Darwin’s theory on the formation of atolls in another entry. And about running on an active runway in pitch black darkness at night? Please donate to the Once Upon A Saga campaign for Ukraine if you can – I see it has slowed down and I don’t understand why? Donor fatigue? Are you poor? Have you already donated elsewhere? Are you heartless? Is something more important to you? I’m just guessing away…as mentioned, the bar is quite high with me. Are you ready to raise the bar too? No matter what – thanks for your support and have a great weekend. And a special shoutout to Ross DK and GEOOP for their tireless support.
If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - a country closer to home!!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga