Most definitely, possibly, maybe leaving Tuvalu
Day 3,424 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).
Prepared to leave paradise
Before coming to Tuvalu, I had the chance to speak to a few Tuvaluans and casually ask them what Tuvalu was like. The answer I received more than once was: “it’s paradise”
Last week’s entry: Nobody knows when we’re leaving Tuvalu
There’s a possibility that we will be leaving Tuvalu within the next few days and head back to Fiji. But truly TIT: This IS Tuvalu. And who can say anything for sure in Tuvalu? Well, I can. I can surely say that Tuvalu holds a great deal of tropical beauty. I can surely say that Tuvalu has an abundance of kind and helpful people. I can surely say that there is a unique sense of community in Tuvalu. It is also fairly certain that Fiji Airways touches down on Funafuti’s magical runway three times a week, just around midday. There are certainties in Tuvalu. There are also many uncertainties. Enough to drive a person mad if they happen to be trying to accomplish something ambitious. But now things are starting to look brighter for this palagi (foreigner) after seventeen days waiting onboard the good ship Tala Moana. I actually received the good news, about when we finally are set to leave, on day sixteen (yesterday) which is interesting because we waited sixteen days in Fiji to join the good ship Manu Folau to Tuvalu. Tuvaluans are generally onboard with the supernatural and some even practice black magic. Perhaps there’s a sixteen-day warrantee on it :)
We lost power along with the phone network and internet for a few days. Some say a cable was accidentally cut. Others say it was because the water came up. We experienced a "king tide" which is an especially high tide. They are naturally occurring, predictable events. Combined with wind they can easily spell trouble for flat and narrow islands.
Most visitors arrive to Tuvalu by flight, stay for a few days, see and say the same things about the country, and fly back out again. It has now been forty-seven days since Manu Folau reached Funafuti and forty-six days since I first set foot within the country. Some would say: “that is a long visit to Tuvalu”. I wouldn’t argue against it. But the long stay has also come with many experiences and far more insight. It has also caused some challenges. My 30-day arrival visa expired but that’s not a huge challenge as Tuvalu Immigration has been very understanding about the situation. I would normally extend it but immigration suggested we should wait and see when Tala Moana leaves. I wish immigration everywhere was like that. Tuvalu isn’t a great internet nation and I have often found the connection to be limiting for my work. There are emails I cannot open, research takes painfully long, social media, video calls, downloading news podcasts…the list goes on. Fiji on the other hand is pretty much the “internet capitol” of the entire Pacific with high speed connectivity, stability, and low costs. In Tuvalu a 2.6GB deal costs AUD 20 (USD 14) which has been a challenge to the budget.
There is plenty of fish onboard the good ship Tala Moana: raw, cooked, fried - you name it. The crew loves to fish.
Money is another long-term issue in Tuvalu for a visitor. As there are no ATM’s and as credit cards cannot be used you need to bring cash – and even if you brought a suitcase full, it will eventually run out. A solution is to have someone transfer money to you through MoneyGram. I downloaded the app and tried to transfer money to myself but MoneyGram would not accept that unless I could confirm my address in Denmark, which I do not have. Ultra-wifey ended up transferring USD 200 to me but it comes with a loss. On that note my bank in Denmark sent my new Mastercard to my last known address which is in Hong Kong (due to the pandemic). When I told the bank I wasn’t in Hong Kong they cancelled the card and asked where to send it. When I provided my bank with an address in Denmark, they were unwilling to send my Mastercard unless I could prove I was living there. In other words: my Danish bank was happy to send my card to Hong Kong but not to an address in Denmark provided by me!? I do not live anywhere due to the constant transit of this unique project. Unique project = unique problems.
A tanker named Media showed up and left. She was heading to Tonga and then Fiji. There are many closed doors in life. Success awaits those who keep searching for doors.
I met Mr. Leota Patiale from Pacific Energy. Tuvalu has a huge consumption of fossil fuels and a tanker regularly comes to fill the tanks at Pacific Energy. Mr. Leota smiled when he told me that his massive tank (TU01) is the highest structure in Funafuti. The church tower on Nanumea is the highest in all of Tuvalu. I contacted Mr. Leota to hear if he could help me get onboard the tanker and while he did his best the tanker eventually left and we never heard back from the owners on the request. Mr. Leota had several questions for me (most people do) and wanted to know what I did regarding money during a long-term stay. I provided him with some deeper understanding about Ross Energy and how they as a project partner are in it for the long run. There are also the kind contributions from the Patreons and through donations. I write some articles for Syre and there is lots of kindness from strangers. Most recently meals and accommodation have been taken care of by the good ship Tala Moana and her brave crew. So, as I was there talking to Mr. Leota I could tell him that I was down to my last AUD 15 in cash and I was waiting to see if I needed ultra-wifey to transfer more money through MoneyGram or if we would be leaving Tuvalu soon? Mr. Leota then handed me AUD 50 and told me it was for extra internet. I refused to accept it but he wasn’t taking no for an answer. You see, a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.
You can spot Capt. Logo singing in the centre.
Captain Logo invited me to join him in church last Sunday and I happily accepted. I have happily accepted invitations all over the world and what an experience it has been to see how people all over worship: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seven Day Adventists, Orthodox, Penta Costal, Evangelists, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Bahai, you name it! I don’t think I’ve ever said no to an invitation and it has been a real eyeopener to see how much faith this planet holds. Far more than I expected when I left home. Some countries take religion more seriously than others. Across the Pacific Ocean they take it pretty seriously. In Tuvalu Sundays are for devotion, prayer, family, and resting. Captain Logo brought me to his church, Assembly of God (AOG), where there was singing and praising which could be heard far above the clouds. I measured the decibel and it frequented 100dB which is on par with a subway train. In comparison loud singing is rated at 80dB and a chain saw rings in at 120dB. It was however a nice experience and following Senior Pastor Sharmu Finiki’s preaching (in Tuvaluan), I was suddenly invited up to the podium to say a few words about who I am and my purpose in Tuvalu. In spite of no media coverage in Tuvalu I have become quite well known as the traveling guy from “Once Upon a something”…so there were several people in the church who already knew me. The Saga has especially gained a lot of attention in Tuvalu across Facebook. So much kindness.
Tuvalu at its best! Community and social interaction is incredible in Tuvalu. People gather at the port every evening to swim, fish, play ball and hang out.
Monday came and the good ship Tala Moana and her brave crew were assigned to free a PNG operated, Singaporean flagged tugboat, which had come loose and had drifted on top of a reef within the atoll of Funafuti. I personally found that really interesting!! A somewhat action-packed adventure within the atoll and an opportunity to see a tugboat stuck on a reef close up! It took about an hour to reach the tugboat which was at the far end of the atoll from Fongafale (the main island). And then we had to wait several hours for hightide. Meanwhile several seafarers went in the tender to inspect the hull and prepare the lashings. I thought we would have been back at the wharf by 5pm but we weren’t going to be back until after dark. There was a worry that the hull would be damaged and that the tugboat would sink as soon as it was freed. Fortunately, the hull was undamaged upon inspection.
The tugboat Christina Maria stuck on a reef. The good ship Tala Moana to the rescue.
While Tala Moana isn’t the largest ship within Tuvalu’s four vessel fleet, she actually has the most powerful engine and the largest fuel tank. That’s a little funny as size wise both MV Manu Folau and MV Nivaga III are far larger. Tala Moana is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing when it comes to that. Another lesson proving that size doesn’t always matter.
Well, instead of writing up how it went I made this soon to win every short film award in the world production for you. It’s about 90 seconds. Enjoy.
Click on the image above or HERE to watch the spell bounding film.
Towing Christina Maria back to safety within the lagoon behind the good ship Tala Moana.
Yes, I memed myself :)
What else? Well, I can keep repeating how frustrating it is not to have control over when I can leave. Actually, let me just emphasize why. The Salomon documentary needs more footage and Fiji is an ideal filming location but I cannot predict when I’ll be there. Swire Shipping is as always happy to help with their fleet and the good ship Rabaul Chief can have me in Singapore around April 14th and ultra-wifey is planning to book a ticket, fly in and be with me for some time. But that is 100% dependent on when we will leave Tuvalu. For someone who has been wanting to go home since 2015 any delay is painful. It is like running a never-ending marathon on tired legs. Most recently I’ve heard that Tala Moana has missed her February 16th window to enter the drydock in Fiji and that the next window might not be until April!! It is more costly for Tuvalu’s government to have a ship waiting in Fiji than in Tuvalu so they might hold her back!! April!!! It is easy to lose heart. Which excuse have I not heard the past two weeks for why we haven’t departed?
Happy birthday dad! Looking good at 75 :) And thanks to DB Schenker in Denmark for getting my box from Fiji to Denmark. It is full of gifts, winter clothing, personal effects, and documentation of the journey.
Well, Chief Engineer Malae of Nivaga III, who will accompany Tala Moana to Fiji, told me that a tugboat connected to the TCAP (Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project) was soon to depart for Fiji. Peau (also on Tala Moana) gave me a ride to the PF (Provident Fund) office to look for Mr. Alan. Mr. Alan was supposedly the man to speak to regarding the tugboat. Alan wasn’t there but a nice lady who recognized me from “Once Upon a something” suggested we spoke to Mr. Tabaeko from HALL Australia (TCAP Project). We found Mr. Tabaeko and I explained who I was and why I wanted to get onboard the tugboat. In the process I mentioned a lot of Tuvaluan names which prompted him to ask: “how long have you been here for??” As it turned out Mr. Tabaeko had received a phone call less than an hour earlier informing him that the tugboat in question was to escort Tala Moana to Fiji. The escort was for safety concerns as Tala Moana was/is at risk of sinking. And all of the sudden there was hope! Mr. Tabaeko said that we would be leaving as soon as weather permitted. The weather was getting a little rough. Good stuff. Peau and I rode back to Tala Moana where we soon left the lagoon to seek shelter from the wind on the southeastern side of the atoll. And here we are, at anchorage outside of the lagoon rocking in in the wind and rain – awaiting new instructions. Because around here anything can change at a minutes notice. But sometimes, everything just seems to work out.
How well would you wash your toothbrush before using it again? Just another day in my life.
I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross Energy / Geoop
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) - redefining grit since 2013
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga