"Arctracer" Letters

Tarawa and Abemama Atolls, Kiribati, Nov 2003

Before leaving Tarawa for some of the outer atolls we took a 2-hour bus ride to the end of the road in Tarawa, going over a couple of causeways between islands on the way. We saw the airport and a fish farm along with many traditional open houses similar to the ones that we saw in Samoa. Here they sleep on mats, but do have pillows. In Samoa we saw lots of foam mattresses. On our way back to the boat on this bus ride we had the driver drop us off at the cultural museum. Some of the most interesting things we saw there were ambergris (secretion from a sperm whale used to make perfume and the first we've ever seen), a necklace made of human teeth and two made of porpoise teeth, half a human skull used to mix medicines, armor made of sennit, and mats with different patterns. We learned that the patterns of mats vary depending on whether one is married or not.

Another evening we had arranged to meet Tom and Mary Evans from Texas who are working in the Peace Corp on Tarawa for a couple of years. They had retired in the U.S., but wanted to do something interesting, so decided to volunteer in the Peace Corps. They are both doing education-related things, so it was interesting to talk with them. We met a few other Peace Corp volunteers who had just arrived in Kiribati for a 2-year stint. They will be having a 2-month orientation session on an outer island in the Tarawa group together before they go off individually to the outer islands farther away. During this time they will live with local families, start learning the language and start learning about the culture.

More yachts have entered Kiribati this season than last season. Apparently there were only 5 boats that checked in last year. This year we know of 15 others. At one point there were 9 boats anchored near us in Tarawa. One of the boats was from Brazil and we discovered that we had met the young couple in Tahiti in 1998, so we had a nice reunion with them.

We arrived at Abemama, about 100 miles south of Tarawa about a week ago. We had quite a relaxing overnight sail, caught our first wahoo (about a meter long and delicious), and saw a couple of pods of dolphins.

On a 5-hour walk a couple of days ago, we discovered that this island isn't crowded like the main government island of Tarawa. It is amazing how many (especially young) people migrate to the cities. We met a Fijian woman on this island while on our walk. She was spending time on some of the islands here in Kiribati recording information about their natural resources, gardens, etc. Anyway, she told us that 5 years ago they used to grow more food on Tarawa. Now there are houses where there used to be gardens. We guess many of the people work for the government, so they get a salary and can afford to buy tinned food and rice. Here on Abemama the soil is very sandy, but by composting they grow a few bananas and taro. They also have a few papaya trees and breadfruit trees, but the most important and most common tree is the coconut palm.

There is no public transportation here on Abemama, so that is why we walked for about 10 kilometers to do some sightseeing. We ran out of water before our return trip back to the boat. It amazed us that the two stores that we found didn't have any juice, water, sodas, or drinking coconuts for sale. We really felt we needed something to drink for our trip home. After talking to a couple of people near the small government buildings on the island, a local invited us to his home. He cut down 4 drinking nuts. We drank the contents of one of them right away, and put the rest in our plastic water bottles for the walk back to the boat. What a terrific family that was! We hadn't had so much exercise for a long time, so we mostly relaxed the next day. Now we've both read the fifth J.K. Rowling book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

One family near where we're anchored invited us to get "te pun" (shellfish similar to the cockles that we found and ate in New Zealand). Then we went to their house for lunch - curried te pun with onions, rice, fried breadfruit and boiled breadfruit. We asked them about getting some lobsters, but they don't dive for them and thought they might have a cousin that could get some for us. Perhaps we'll go ashore today to see if they were able to contact him. There is only one telephone on the island (about 5 km north of where we're anchored). They told us that they use single sideband radios for most of their communicating among the islands. Many people here have scooters too. They told us we could borrow theirs, but with the sandy roads we thought it might be rather dangerous to have both of us on one. We have two sets of cruising friends who broke leg bones falling from scooters on sandy roads in New Caledonia, and we certainly don't want to deal with that.

The family that invited us to lunch have an aluminum boat with a motor, a generator (hence electricity and even a refrigerator), solar panels, and a scooter. This is probably an exceptional family, but this island definitely has more gadgets than those we saw in Vanuatu last year!

We've finally found time to replace our batteries, work on the electrical system, and do some sanding and varnishing. It sure is good to not have to work as hard on the boat as we did in New Zealand!

From this island we'll eventually be sailing farther south (across the equator again) to Nonouti. Two other boats have stopped here in Abemama this season, but no other boat has stopped farther south. Since it is farther from Tarawa we're keen to see if the people there have as many "modern" things available to them. We just found out that the government officials that were just elected promised to increase the subsidy on the price of copra, so the locals are getting about 60 cents Australian a pound now. Needless to say, lots of people are busy cutting coconuts and drying copra. We saw lots drying on mats when we went on our walk.

(view Abemama photos)