"Arctracer" Letters

Nonouti Atoll, Kiribati, Nov 2003

After spending nearly two weeks in the lagoon at Abemama, we sailed south to Nonouti, crossing the Equator again into the southern hemisphere. This was not far, but with the wind mostly in our face we spent two (fairly peaceful) nights at sea before finally dropping anchor in a new lagoon. Where Abemama was about 13 miles long, Nonouti is 22 with islands along almost all of its eastern side and a broken reef on the west. This big lagoon is full of shallow coral heads and sandbars, so we had to pick our way carefully between obstacles for ten miles to get near the villages. We saw several outrigger canoes sailing on the lagoon, and that still seems to be an important way of getting around and fishing here. We are anchored in water that is less than eight feet deep at low tide, but have to row about half a mile across the sand flats to reach dry land. It is hot and the breezes have been very light, so we have mostly stayed in the shade and consumed a great deal of water.

The village we visited yesterday is called "Matang," the same name the islanders use for "European" people, because this is where Europeans first landed on Nonouti Atoll. The village looks much like those we saw in Abemama with traditional houses of thatch predominating, but here there are a few big buildings of cement with tin roofs. Big tin roofs are probably better for collecting rain (very important source of drinking water in a country without any streams) but they don't look very pretty and must be hotter than thatch. There are the usual tiny shops with a few canned goods, but people must live mostly on fish and coconuts. There are some breadfruit trees and vegetable gardens here, but not so many that there is a surplus to sell to boat people. We found a big school with normal-sized classrooms containing two-person tables with attached benches and chalkboards, but classes were over for the day so Nina wasn't able to visit. People seemed friendly, but most are not very used to talking in English so they act a bit shy. We were invited to play Bingo at the maneaba (village meeting house), but Jerry wasn't keen on that. We met four fishermen who went out all last night and came back this morning with a big cooler full of reef fish. They stopped for a look at our boat and gave us a "rainbow runner." That fish will be our "Pacific Turkey" for Thanksgiving dinner today.