Maybe we’re never leaving Tuvalu?
Day 3,431 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).
What else can go wrong?
At this point I can barely get my head straight in relation to what I have been told about departure to Fiji since we reached Tuvalu a long, long time ago…
Last week’s entry: Most definitely, possibly, maybe leaving Tuvalu
The good ship Tala Moana began banging harder and harder against the old wharf. It had been raining for a while and the wind was picking up. We could feel the swell entering the lagoon and Captain Logo made the decision to move to anchorage. Normally the lagoon appears far calmer than the deep ocean, but now it was reversed. Back home in the great kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe I would have called such weather a storm. I hesitate to do so while I reside onboard the good ship as there are specific definitions for strong wind, gale, storm etc. I guess it is suffice to say it wasn’t weather for a picnic. We first dropped anchor just outside the atoll near where we freed the tugboat last week. Later on, we relocated to the outside of Fongafale just 200m (650ft) off coast from the centre of the runway. The weekend was upon us and the crew was busy fishing. A favourite spare time activity for almost everyone onboard.
Bait in the rain.
After a few nights the wind picked up and the swell around us had grown larger. Also, we had no power! Since I joined Tala Moana for our departure on February 7th the generator has constantly been running to power the ship with electricity. It was off now and so was the engine. The rain was coming down pretty hard and we appeared to be drifting towards land!! The good ship Nivaga III was rolling in the swell nearby and Tala Moana’s crew was in the tender attempting to deliver one end of a thick yellow rope to her. The conditions were quite rough with the rain, wind and swell challenging the operation. The brave crew from both ships succeeded and Nivaga III was soon able to pull Tala Moana away from the reef. As Captain Toma onboard Nivaga III put it: “Nivaga to the rescue” :)
Nivaga III to the rescue.
When the ships motion and the swell aligned water spilled on upon the deck. It would run off immediately after.
In hindsight what had happened was that the crew of Tala Moana had wanted to switch between the ships two generators to let the starboard generator cool off and possibly do some maintenance as well. Unfortunately they soon discovered that the cooling mechanism on the portside generator wasn’t working and as such they tried to switch back to the starboard generator. However, the starboard generators battery was flat and as such it would not start. Meanwhile the wind had shifted pushing us towards the reef. Without the generator you cannot start the engine so we were helpless had it not been for the assistance from Nivaga III. It wasn’t long before Tala Moana’s crew had procured a new battery and soon after our starboard side generator was running again and the engine was started bringing us back in control.
With the change in wind direction, we now moved back inside the lagoon and cast anchor there. The weather continued and in total we were at anchorage for five days. Around us I could spot Nivaga III, Manu Folau, and Moeiteava. The entire fleet of the Marine Department. A bit of drama but well managed by competent seafarers. I have met a great deal of seafarers over the years and they are a special breed. During the COVID-19 pandemic (which is still ongoing believe it or not), seafarers have been stuck at sea, separated from family, have been ostracized by authorities, and in spite of the adversity they still delivered and kept the supply chains open. As it turns out fishermen are also a special breed. Regardless of the weather or the time of day there would always be someone fishing onboard Tala Moana. Sometimes in a raincoat and sometimes bare skinned. Our cook Peleuila is said to be a highly skillful fisherman and is often seen pulling fish out of the ocean. Outside of this little adventure the mantra onboard to everyone’s frustration is just eat, sleep, eat, sleep, eat, sleep…and then of course whichever duties fall upon the various crewmembers.
Tuvalu isn’t just hard to leave (without flying). It was hard getting here too. I returned to Fiji on November 12th and had to wait until December 1st before Tuvalu reopened its borders. I bought my ferry ticket for the good ship Manu Folau from Tuvalu High Commission, as one of the first, on December 15th.The estimated time of departure was set for December 20th but we did not depart until January 5th. I set foot on Tuvalu on January 9th. There were many who did their best to approach Tuvaluan authorities in order to request special permission for me to arrive ahead of Tuvalu’s reopening. And many have done their best in trying to get me onboard tugboats, container ships, and barges from Fiji to Tuvalu. One such man is my Dutch friend Roel who was successful in approaching Palau’s government and providing me with permission to visit Palau back in early 2022. Roel is behind the Pacific Island Heritage Foundation which focusses on cultural and natural heritage, education, health and well-being, and social and economic development within the pacific region. The Pacific non-profit was just launched this week after more than two years in the making. I hope you’ll take a look.
Once we came back alongside at the wharf it wasn’t long before Fongafale lost power and the phone signal disappeared. It was gone for the next 36 hours. I didn’t even care to ask what happened this time. Meanwhile several sources have told me that last week’s power outage was indeed because someone was digging and cut the cable. This someone then covered up the hole as if nothing had happened and then jumped onboard Nivaga III to Vaitupu (outer island). Apparently, police were looking for this person and Tuvalu Electricity Corporation have had a heck of a time trying to locate the breach of the cable. Regarding internet then I find that internet should be okay Monday-Friday as long as the weather is fine. Rain can definitely be an interference. On weekends the internet is often rubbish due to the weekend offers which many take advantage of. With more people online the network speed drops. So those are the rules of thumb: rainy days and weekends equals slow internet. But sometimes (often) the network speed is just frustratingly slow for no apparent reason. And then on top of that we’ve been without power and network last week as well as this. It’s good to be on the ship as it has its own power supply. But without internet my communication is severely limited and so are many aspects of my work. In addition to that Tuvaluans take the prize as the most engaging audience the Saga’s Facebook account has ever experienced!! Share’s, likes and comments have meant that last month’s posts reached way beyond 500,000 people!! Well done Tuvalu! Small country – big impact! ;)
That is exceptional reach!!
Tuvalu has now entered the top ten list of longest stays within Once Upon A Saga. I redid the list yesterday and discovered that positions 6-10 have been pushed off the list. Those were previously held by: Tanzania, Jordan, Kenya, New Zealand, and Cyprus, ranging from 47 to 36 days. Iceland now ranks as number 10 at 48 days and Hong Kong (better be unbeatable) tops at 773 days. Tuvalu has swooped in on a 9th place with 53 days and is making its way up. As such I once again met with Mrs. Lelani at Tuvalu Immigration Office. I felt that she did not want to force a visa extension upon me as my prolonged stay clearly isn’t my fault. However, the law states that I should apply for a visa extension which costs AUD 100 (USD 67). In the end we agreed to follow the law to keep my affairs in order. I made the payment at the Treasury Department where I have also bought all my ferry tickets for the outer islands. Afterwards I returned to the immigration office were my passport was stamped and I am now permitted to stay until March 9th at which point I should technically pay another AUD 100 (USD 67) for another month. Fair? Well, life isn’t fair and this is the price of making world history.
You may sympathize...but the pain is mine.
As I mentioned to begin with, I’m having a hard time remembering all the guarantees which have been made regarding departure? The initial guarantee was that the good ferry Manu Folau would depart towards Fiji on February 7th. When Manu Folau’s engine broke down it was said that the good ferry Nivaga III would take her place. Then I was supposed to depart towards Fiji onboard the good ship Tala Moana on the 7th – I even have Tuvalu Immigrations departure stamp in my passport! Last week we were told that the good tugboat Katea would escort us to Fiji last weekend. But Saturday Mr. Nito from the Marine Department flew abroad for some training. Captain Aso was requested to take his place until Mr. Nito returns. I knew that Captain Aso was going to join Tala Moana for the crossing to Fiji. I didn’t know the reason why. It turns out that Captain Logo isn’t licenced to ferry a ship exceeding 80 ton into international waters. Tala Moana weighs about 210 ton so it was always the plan that Captain Aso would be in charge and Captain Logo would take another position onboard. It’s not that Captain Logo isn’t proficiently competent – because he definitely is. It purely relates to paperwork. Yes – so we did not leave last weekend, but neither did Katea due to strong wind warnings. Furthermore, I once again spoke to Mr. Tabaeko from HALL Australia at the TCAP Project. He still hadn’t spoken to the captain of Katea to hear if I could join. Within the small project office a man named Jacob took interest and asked me to explain what I needed? Mr. Jacob seemed to be higher up the ranks and I once again explained why I wanted to join the tug to Fiji. Mr. Jakob and Tabaeko once more assured they would put in my request and added that due to strong wind warnings no ships would be leaving Tuvalu this week.
I like Tuvalu Immigration. They make my life easy and and smiles come easy. The extension process didn't involve anything more than the payment. I might need to get this stamp cancelled though.
We need 5-10 days to cross from the day we depart. This may get close!! Hopefully on the right side of the date.
The window of reaching Fiji in time is slowly closing on us people! It is massively frustrating. Especially as I should have been back in Fiji weeks ago. The latest news is that a second tugboat is currently in Nukulaelae (outer island) and once it returns to Funafuti it will escort us to Fiji (if the weather permits). But really: who knows? Would you trust any information at this point? Meanwhile we are doing well with the campaign to raise DKK 50,000 (USD 7,150) for Red Cross work in Ukraine. We are less than USD 1,000 from reaching that goal but I do sense some donation fatigue amongst the Saga’s following. Beth from the UK reached out to hear if it was too late to get a postcard from Tuvalu and after she made a donation to the campaign, I sent her a card. She then requested a second card on behalf of a friend in Portugal and we made the same deal. So, we are inching our way towards the goal. I was listening to a broadcast regarding the situation in Ukraine and it’s estimated that 17 million Ukrainians are in need of humanitarian aid. Our campaign wont even make a dent in that – but the Saga’s campaign to raise funds is far from the only one. Together all the campaigns add up. I think you should donate to THIS campaign because the funds go to the Danish Red Cross in Ukraine, and Denmark is the world’s least corrupt country, giving you a guarantee for your contribution. Also, the Danish Red Cross has been working in Ukraine together with Ukraine Red Cross since before 2014. Those are my two cents worth on the topic.
Before we round this entry up you should know that I routinely frequent certain places on a weekly basis. The Government House to see the Marine Department, Filamona Hotel to check in on Penieli, Ata, the others and have a cup of tea, Tuvalu Telecom to top up my internet, and Tuvalu Red Cross just to say hi. I know a lot of people by now and even more seem to know me. I’m grateful for all the ride offers I receive when walking and all the invitations I receive into peoples homes. Tuvaluans are indeed kind. While I’d much rather be in Fiji now to have some sense of control over the forward process there are undeniably some good things about being in Tuvalu: it is very safe, people are very friendly, and as long as I’m staying onboard the good ship Tala Moana it is even highly costs efficient. Wednesday afternoon I dropped by at Filamona where I ended up meeting five other palagi’s: a U.S. American, an Aussie, a Belgian, a Norwegian, and a Peruvian. Four of them were trying to visit every country in the world. One just wanted to visit Tuvalu. We had a few beers and talked a lot about travel. Tuvalu has by some been declared as “the worlds least visited country” which almost certainly isn’t true but it ranks up there. We agreed that such a title has a draw on some people. We also agreed that many who were chasing every country were waiting for borders to open and now that Tuvalu is reachable a lot of people will head this way. Finally we agreed on one thing: Tuvalu’s gold is its people and how uniquely social they are. Community and joint activities play such an obvious role within Tuvaluan society. And the activities are highly inclusive. That is what makes Tuvalu truly special. In addition, it’s also unique to be in a country which such a tiny population. Everything truly connects. Tuvaluans know each other through family, church, school, sports etc…Tuvalu is unique - and so are the challenges.
Five out of six of us are on our way to every country. Who isn't?
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) - please let the stars align!!!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga