This is probably one of the most interesting places we’ve visited so far. The population is spread across 9 atolls with the majority living in Funafuti (4000 people). The people of Tuvalu have both hardships and blessings…
1) With virtually no arable soil Tuvalu had to have soil shipped in from Taiwan so that it could grow vegetables.
We woke up at 430am on Friday morning to put our name on a list to get some vegetables. At 7am we returned and waited in line to choose our fresh produce. There seemed to be more than enough to go around and we have been enjoying the fresh eggplant, capsicum, lettuce, cucumber, spring onions and papaya the last couple of days. All in all, very impressive! It was a cool experience waking early and walking across the airstrip (yes where the plane lands twice a week) to go and grab our vegies. There is no security around the airstrip so it doubles as an exercise arena in the evenings and early morning (its far too hot in the middle of the day to think about moving, let alone exercising). Classic.
We sailed for 6 days from Fiji to get here, and we’ll sail for another 6 days to get to Tarawa, Kiribati the next closest center. Goods have to be shipped in from Australia and New Zealand and the ship isn’t always on time.
3) The island survives largely on aid money, remittances, and selling fishing permits.
4) A lot of that aid money passes through an extremely bureaucratic government, with hundreds of employees. In fact if you are employed in Tuvalu it is more than likely you will work for the government. The government radio has 20 staff, a NZ businessmen helping out mentoring in Tuvalu told me it could happily get by with 2 staff.
On the flipside from the perspective of yachties, getting into the country couldn’t have been simpler. First of all we didn’t pay to enter, there were no lengthy forms to fill and we weren’t met with 5 burly guys climbing aboard Confederate as in Tonga and Fiji.
5) Waste – also related to number 2, when you are a small remote island dealing with the waste from your many imports is a struggle, however we are told that this has improved significantly in the last few years – a photo just for you S.E Lottie
6) The atolls are surrounded by water abundant in fish life – while this is hardly a hardship, this fish life provides the backbone of the economy and is sold as fishing rights to other countries.
7) At no more than 3 metres high, sea level rise is said to be affecting Tuvalu. This makes the future uncertain, and we did see a lot of houses in low lying areas raised on stilts for periods of inundation.
The blessings – perhaps many of the hardships are blessings in disguise
1) Aid has visibly helped Tuvalu in the form of rainwater tanks which seem to have come from largely from Australian aid, and partly from the European union. There are also some other cool things going on such as the vegie garden and a milkfish breeding project.
2) While some might see those in Tuvalu lacking in opportunity, many have had the experience of working abroad. Many have visited family living in New Zealand.
3) Life is simple and surrounded by the ocean, kids swim every day before and after school.
4) This remote pacific island is much more developed than we anticipated. A generator provides 24 hour electricity, motorbikes are prevalent, roads extend from one end of the island to the other, there is a University, a hospital, a meteorological center, and a state run hotel.
5) As always people are embracing, warm hearted and friendly
We spent time with these lovely folk who are building another church on the island, as well as Seni below who weaved us some awesome native hats to get out of the Tuvalu sunshine. By the way we’re only 8 degrees south of the equator and it is HOTTTT.
6) The southern anchorage in Funufati lagoon is one of the nicest we’ve seen in our travels so far. This is a picturesque spot protected by a wide reef, azure waters, and plenty of fish life. A passage from the lagoon out to the ocean was filled with the largest reef fish we’ve seen.
We visited a small (5 person) village in the southern end of lagoon who graciously gave us coconuts and toddy, a sweet golden syrup like substance made from the only thing available on the island – the mighty coconut.