Friday, February 28, 2014

Fanning Island, an atoll in the middle of the Pacific

Entrance to the lagoon with two ship's tendersFanning Island lagoon with both sides of the atoll visibleFanning Island lagoon with both sides of the atoll visibleShip's tender passing ours, returning to the shipFishermen under a tree with the tender dock and passengers swimming behindIslanders in traditional warrier armour made from coconut husk and shells
Islander men in traditional warrier armour made from coconut husk and shellsKids singingTruck owners offering tours of the islandRusting mechanical debris beside the lagoonIronwood tree, coconut palm, and other large treesWhite spidery flowers
Outrigger canoe and two coconutsOutrigger canoes with the lagoon behindPassengers returning from a tour of the island while islanders watch from the shade of Sarah's Seaweed shedMotorcycles with handmade license platesThatched roof dwellings, one with mat sides and the other corrugated steel

Fanning Island, a set on Flickr.
February 28, 2014 – Friday – Tabuaeran, Fanning Island, Kiribati

We arrive at Fanning Island at 7:30AM. It is 26℃ (79℉), 84% humidity, and a Sea Depth of 2,460 metres. Obviously the ship won’t be anchoring; instead it will remain in position with engines running until we leave at 2PM. This illustrates just how steep the fall-off is from the shores of this island atoll. The tendering is slow, with a couple of hundred people waiting at any one time from the 8AM start. I wait until about 10:15AM and then go downstairs to get a tendering ticket. I’m in the tender and on my way by 10:45AM, so I only had to wait about a half hour. I am on Fanning Island by 11:10AM, which is a long 25-minute tender ride.

The area around the tendering dock is crowded with islanders hawking shell necklaces, singing kids wanting dollar bills to help buy school supplies, and islanders dressed in strange costumes of coconut husk armour (again wanting a dollar or two donation for a photo). There are also a few trucks with seats in the back that take passengers on a drive around the island for $10. The day is beautiful and sunny, but the seas are a bit choppy outside the lagoon. I’m glad I went ashore, even though I returned an hour later after a walk-around.

Living conditions are certainly third world. There is debris all over the island, since the islanders seem to have no plan to manage their garbage. They have no running water, collecting rainwater for drinking, dump their sewage in the lagoon, and have no electricity (other than what a few solar panels provide to individual families). I don’t see any satellite dishes for TV reception, although there is a radio tower on the island, so I assume they can use radio to communicate with the outside world when needed.

The islanders seem happy, but this place appears to have little going for it. Holland America calls a half dozen times a year, but otherwise there is no tourism. The islanders fish the lagoon to feed their families, and harvest seaweed for export. Cargo ships must call, since they have canned food, staples, and fuel to run a few trucks and motorcycles on the island.

The ship sails from Fanning Island a bit after 2PM, so it is more-or-less on time, although I don’t think it matters much since our next port-of-call is Bora Bora, where we have an overnight stay before moving on. It will take us two and a half days to get there, and the captain says we have to average 18 knots. There is no bad weather forecast, so we should arrive on time.

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