Starter-kit for Tuvalu
I had always dreamt of going to the South-Pacific, preferably on a boat, but who did I know with a boat? None – but through friends, and friends’ friends, and through their colleagues I managed to land myself a spot on the Danish yacht Rosalina, who happened to be sailing from Tuvalu to Kiribati on her four year journey around the Globe.
Tuvalu, or Ellice Islands as it was known until 1978 when it gained its full independence from the UK, is the smallest member nation of the UN; and with a population of only 10.000 or so, it is a small country in many respects.Getting there:
I have done a bit of travelling, but never have I been as far away as Tuvalu. And getting there wasn’t easy, most travel agents said “Huh?” when you asked them for the price on a ticket going to Funafuti in Tuvalu, most just said “No we can’t" (probably without even trying), some said “We can’t as we don’t have a collaboration with company X”, but then after a week of searching I found a company, mostly used by organisations, companies and the like, when they travel to odd destination, who could help me. But getting to Tuvalu is by no means easy or cheap, the ticket from Copenhagen to Tuvalu and back again from Tarawa in Kiribati, cost a little less than US$5000 and it took me about 50 hours from Denmark, via Frankfurt, L.A., Nadi and Suva to Funafuti. But it was worth it. Out on the town:
If you want lots of action, bars, clubs, shopping opportunities Tuvalu is not for you. Everything on Tuvalu is slow and easy-going; doing something fast is just not an option, partly because of the heat, partly because that is not the way things work there. In Funafuti you can find a few restaurants, one hotel (The Vaiaku Lagi Hotel), some guesthouses and a couple of bars. Shopping is generally limited to what Tuvaluans need that being everything from canned fish, to stamps and the Bible in Tuvalese. You can buy a little bit of handicraft near the airport building, but it is not much. But bear in mind, do you need anything remotely special or odd bring it yourself, the cargo boat comes from Fiji about every three months, so even though the supermarket ought to have it, they could be out of it…when we were there, for instance, rice was not to be bought anywhere and most non-canned vegetables and fruits were rotten.Dress Code:
Tuvalu is a rather conservatively dressing country. The men basically wear what they want from Monday to Saturday, but dress up on Sundays for church. Women most often wear ankle-long lava-lavas (sarongs) and a loose t-shirt with sleeves, and on Sundays they bring out their dresses. As a foreigner you are allowed a little slack in the rules, but it will be greatly appreciated if you, as a woman, wear knee-long shorts or skirts and don’t show too much cleavage.
Swimming and bathing seems like the perfect thing to do when in Tuvalu, and it is, but wearing a bikini when swimming from the shore is not the best thing to do. First off every male within a mile will probably come to watch you, and some might find that you are not dressing respectively, so do as the Tuvaluan girls do, wear board shorts and shirts!
By the way, when talking about water sport. Bring you own! Whatever you need, bring it. You might get lucky that someone has an old, odd pair of goggles lying around, but don’t count on it. There are no dive shops and no rental as far as I saw. Diving in Tuvalu is probably really good, but no one really knows as there are no real divers around to map things out, the locals can probably tell you about places where you might see sharks or great schools of fish, but there are no “real” dive guides, so take a dive, have a look around, you’ll probably see some great colours no matter where you look.Getting around:
Funafuti is not difficult navigate. It is so small that you could, theoretically, walk, but the heat quickly dissuades you. Instead you can either jump on the minibus service that runs along the atoll, it cost about 40c AU$, it runs from around 6.30 am to 7pm, on Sundays however, it only runs in the time before and after church services. If you want a bit more control of when and where you go you can rent a moped for around 10AU$ a day, they are not new or pretty, but they generally work.Travelling around Tuvalu:
Tuvalu is not only Funafuti on Fongafale Islet, though that is what most visitors only see, and it is, admittedly, a little difficult to get to the outer islands. Tuvalu consists of five atolls and four islands, from south to north those are Niulakita, Nukulaelae, Funafuti, Nukufetau, Vaitupu, Nui, Nanumaga, Niutao and Nanumea.
All transport between Funafuti and the outer islands is by boat, as there are no domestic flights, landing on Funafuti feels like the pilot is narrowly missing the waters on both side on the landing strip, and Funafuti is one of the larger islands
There are two boats sailing between the islands, it’s MVs Nivaga II and Manu Folau, each of them typically visiting the outer islands once a month, but these are only guidelines, it’s not regular services. If the boat is needed for other purposes, it will be used for other purposes – when we were there the Tuvaluan Sports Team had to go to Samoa for the Pacific Games, they needed a boat to transport them, so the “commandeered” a boat for a fort-night or so
The boats are not luxurious in any way, and you have to bring your own food and water.
When visiting the outer islands it’s good to bring some extra food and some gifts (such as coffee, biscuits and the like) to give to your hosts as there are no hotels on the outer island, only island council guesthouses.
I only visited Nanumea, the northern most island, and it is something I will never ever forget. It was the first time I ever participated in the Celebration of the Inauguration of the New Police Canoe:-D And the next day went to an 8 hour long party from 7am to 3pm!!! We celebrated women’s’ fertility.
Visiting the outer island will give you a unique insight into what life is like in this part of the Pacific, things take time and what doesn’t get done today can wait to tomorrow or the day after, it is very relaxing
So if you have the time, which is at least a couple of months, you should definitely try to visit the outer islands.What to bring:
See the section about what to wear, pack some of that. Some swimming gear, a rain coat (if you visiting in the rainy season (June to Oct.)), flip flops and maybe a pair of sandals, your normal medical kit, any prescriptions you might need, and a good book (or ten as there are no real book stores).Practicalities:
As Tuvalu is a former British colony almost everybody speaks English. Knowing a few Tuvaluan words, however, will make people very happy, but you can easily get by in English.
A few Tuvaluan words:
Hello – Talofa (the ‘t’ is pronounced as something in between a ‘d’ and a ‘t’)
Goodbye – Dofa (same rule as above)
Thank You – Fakafetai (same rule as above)
At the time of writing you do not need a visa for Tuvalu (but check with your local authorities anyway just to be sure). Upon arrival you will be granted a one-month entry permit, you do however need to be in possession of a valid passport (how else did you get out of your home country?
) and a return ticket and a valid yellow-fever certificate.
A few yachts ventures to Tuvalu, but it is really only a few, so don’t count on getting work on one or a lift any time soon.
On Funafuti there are internet cafes, when the national server works they’re fine, if a little slow, but they can be down for long periods. Internet via satellite is scheduled to some of the outer islands, Nanumea hoped to have it in late 2007, but you never know when it actually happens.
The currency used in Tuvalu is Australian Dollars, supplemented with Tuvaluan coins.
Post cards (there are two to chose between) can be bought at the post office, with limited opening hours, inside the government building. The government building is the largest building on Funafuti, it was donated by The Republic of China (Taiwan) and you won’t miss it!
A good book to by before going to Tuvalu is Lonely Planets Guide to South Pacific & Micronesia, as it has a chapter on Tuvalu, it might not be regularly updated, but then again, some things do change slowly
Bring cash or travellers cheques, as there are no readily available ATMs.
Well, that is just about it for now, but if you have any further questions just write me and I’ll do my best to help you.