Ringing in 2019 Kiribati style

I had the amazing experience of attending a traditional new year’s celebration in North Tarawa. There really aren’t many travellers in Kiribati (there are expats working there but not many just on holiday) so I was lucky to meet a friendly European couple who introduced me to the hosts of this spectacular New Years Eve. They picked me up on the boat in the second picture and off we went.

The preparations began in the morning and the feast didn’t take place until after 1am. I helped decorate the maneaba with pieces of palm to make tassles, and of course i was as unco as ever, but I did eventually get the hang of it thanks to patient teachers. The girls wove these beautiful palm mats for the floor, and the boys/men were in charge of the preparing the pig. There were bonfires and sparklers and dancing and singing…copius amounts of alcohol, and an engagement!! There was also a dance troupe who were super talented— and people took turns rewarding them by tucking cash into their grass skirts.There were also lots of speeches, which seems to be the custom in Kiribati. Plus lots of games— freeze-tag, statues…and this hilarious song where you have to pretend to ride a motorbike around the maneaba…. basically, it’s not a culture for the shy!

Kids of Kiribati

One of the things I love most about travelling is interacting with all the curious little kids. I’ve got to say, that over the last two decades and countries all over the world, kids really haven’t changed. They all love posing for pictures, seeing what’s in the view finder, practicing the one or two words of English they’ve learned, and shouting variations of foreigner or white person. In Kiribati, the term of choice is ïmatang:) They also enjoy trying to touch the imatang and then erupting into giggles— it really is the same curiosity everywhere and it always makes me smile. The culture in Kiribati is playful and inventive— and you can catch glimpses of it in these images— a girl with a little pin wheel-fan thingie she created from palm; boys using eskies as make-shift rafts.

first day in Kiribati

Quick snapshot taken out of a bus in South Tarawa. Religion, and particularly Christianity and variants like Mormonism and Seventh Day Adventism are MASSIVE in Kiribati. More on that later.

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and one more just across the street from the lodge where I stayed.

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too tired to do this tonight, but trying to stick to my goal to post something every day until I've gotten through my pictures, thoughts and stories;-)

Getting to Kiribati (and why now is the time to go)

There’s so much to tell you about Kiribati. If I’m being honest, it wasn’t on my radar at all until maybe three weeks before I booked tickets. But I try to seek out places before they hit the mainstream tourist circuit, and I’d heard a few things that made me think now was the time to explore this South Pacific country. First, I read that Kiribati is one of the places on earth most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and rising sea levels. It is low-lying with the highest point just two metres above sea level, and is the poorest and least developed country in the region. It’s literally in danger of disappearing (though I should acknowledge that just like in other parts of the world you’ll meet plenty of people who dispute this).

Second, the current president has said he is investing in tourism and plans to increase international flights. (More on this in a future post).

For now, options are pretty limited. Fiji Airlines operate two flights a week from Brisbane, and Solomon Airways operates one. You can also get a flight on Narau airlines once a week, but none of these are direct. I opted for the Solomons flight because it was cheaper and the Narau one didn’t come up in online searches.

The flight from Honiara to Tarawa seemed relatively empty with only about 25 people on board, and staff say it never gets much busier than that. But they make up for the lack of passengers with crazy amounts of cargo- including literally tons of kava, the local beverage of choice

The flight from Honiara to Tarawa seemed relatively empty with only about 25 people on board, and staff say it never gets much busier than that. But they make up for the lack of passengers with crazy amounts of cargo- including literally tons of kava, the local beverage of choice

There’s chaos to get to your bags, but everyone is super friendly

There’s chaos to get to your bags, but everyone is super friendly

Most hotels and guest houses (maybe all) offer free pick ups from the airport. The entire crew from my flight was staying at the same lodge as me, so we ended up waiting about 90 minutes for the engineer to finish work. Luckily the people watching was excellent:)

Most hotels and guest houses (maybe all) offer free pick ups from the airport. The entire crew from my flight was staying at the same lodge as me, so we ended up waiting about 90 minutes for the engineer to finish work. Luckily the people watching was excellent:)

This is Jane, the lovely person from FEMA lodge who came to greet me off my flight. They don’t carry signs, but there aren’t too many white folks so she didn’t have much trouble finding me.

This is Jane, the lovely person from FEMA lodge who came to greet me off my flight. They don’t carry signs, but there aren’t too many white folks so she didn’t have much trouble finding me.

Drinks with the flight crew! Chris the engineer from the flight and Claudia the pilot! She’s been working at Solomon Airlines for seven years- her first and only job, but she’s joined the family business, as her dad was a pilot too and she grew up in Fiji.

Drinks with the flight crew! Chris the engineer from the flight and Claudia the pilot! She’s been working at Solomon Airlines for seven years- her first and only job, but she’s joined the family business, as her dad was a pilot too and she grew up in Fiji.