Kiribati (Tarawa Area)
Well what to say about this island... It was the scene of a major WWII battle and now it is just pretty much a dump.
OK that sounds a bit harsh, but ask any cruiser that has been and that is exactly what they will say. It was our first
encounter (unfortunately not the last) where the locals toss their trash out anywhere. The favorite method is to toss it on
the beach and hope the tide washes it away to some other country. Unfortunately they also have the same mentality
when they need to use the toilet. Don't make the mistake of walking on a beach here!
The harbor is a dump as well. There is trash floating by all the time. There are many old ship wrecks and not old war
ones, but modern fishing boat, etc. There is a major tuna industry working out of this port and there are many factory
ships and tuna boats supplying them. When you see the spotter helicopters on the decks you realize why you have not
caught a tuna in weeks. It is quite depressing to see all that industry destroying the remaining stocks of tuna. I guess
the desire for sushi is driving demand.
When we visited there had been no rain for quite some time and the place was a smelly, dusty, dirty, and a pretty much
disgusting place to be. I keep laughing at the guys they hire to sweep the trash off the dirt path from the port to the main
road. They did a great job of sweeping the dirt around and keeping the dust up at least.
They do have a lovely mini van system that gets you around pretty cheaply, but then again sometimes you are 20 in a
van built for 8. Not only does that get old, but for some reason the locals love to chew and pop gum so you are listening
to 10 poppers at once and going nuts. People are friendly at least.
We arrived with a minor outboard problem and I stopped by the yamaha dealer to ask about looking at it. They claimed
they could do it right now and be done by afternoon and it would only cost a mere 30 bucks. I was a bit skeptical, but
really we needed a reliable motor so I said sure. They said come back by 2 PM to see what they found out. I figured
maybe a couple of piston rings and a carb. So when we came back at 2 I was a bit shocked to see the motor completely
in pieces! This is a Friday afternoon and the dingy landing is far from the boat in strong winds and I am a bit concerned.
So they said my rings are fine, but my crank shaft is failing (bearing worn away) and the fuel pump was loose. They said
no worries they would have it done by 4PM. Yea sure island time... The next shock was the cost of a crank shaft and the
surprise that they stock one for a 15HP. I also made sure to get new piston rings as well. So to make the story a bit
shorter they don't take credit cards and would not give me the motor without cash up front so the next two hours involved
a bit of card maxing out time. I was in utter shock to see the motor back together and set up for a test run at 4:30. She
has been quiet and smooth after that. So the bill was huge, but the funny part is the labor for 3 guys working all day was
only 60 dollars and the cost of the parts was about what you could find on the internet. Amazing is all I can say.
Now if you are looking for fuel, food, spares, etc. then keep on heading north. The stores are basic and veggies are
rare. There is no major hardware store or much of anything else here. There are a few places to eat out and mostly we
did not get too sick. The asian food is really salty, but cheap. Somehow they manage to find veggies, but often they
used canned ones. Fuel is more of a jerry jug across the road from the landing, so hopefully you don't need much.
We visited most of the WWII ruins. The tourist office offered us a guided trip for mega money so we just took the mini bus
for 60 cents each. Be careful walking around the guns and ruined bunkers. Folks like to use them for toilets and there
are lovely smelly brown piles to be avoided. Oh then there is the graffiti on everything as well. Basically there are a few
bunkers left and some old big guns and two tanks on the beach at low water and not much else. Nothing has really been
done to save anything. You can pretty much see everything in a morning then clear out and go.
We applied for 4 outer island permits and were surprised to get them all approved the next day. Way different than the
So we overnighted south to visit 3 islands. They were pretty much all the same as in nearly 100 % dead reefs covered in
crown of thorn sea stars. I have never seen so many in one place. You pretty much give up after counting the first 100
or so on your first dive. They are quite easy to spot, since they stand out against dead corals. I have no idea what was
left to eat. They still had quite a bit of reef fish, but likely that won't last. We saw a few mantas and sharks, but nothing
exciting at all.
The annoying part was at the first atoll we are taking an afternoon nap when the "officials" boarded the boat looking for
our permit. I have issues with folks coming on the boat without asking first and I really have issues with this guy walking
right into our saloon through the closed screen door without asking! He was nice enough to have brought along 5 of his
friends and family to take a boat tour. At the next atoll we were out diving and come back to find 6 guys on our boat!
Yep yet again more officials. They wanted to make sure we were not fishing or taking stuff. We only take photos and
tried to tell them the reefs were dead here and soon there would be no fish left. They just laughed it off.
At the third atoll we decided to be preemptive and find the police first. We thought just hop ashore, grab a mini van, see
the police, have lunch, find the B 24 plane wreck, and back. That turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than we
expected. First almost nobody speaks english, second there are no min vans, and lastly the police is 30 min away. We
decided to walk and hope for a lift. One guy took pity on us and took us to his house at the church compound and
loaned us his motorcycle! Wow that is one nice guy. So the 30 min ride on the dusty sandy road spinning out at times
was a challenge on a 100 CC glorified moped/motorcycle. The front brake did not work so luckily we did not have to stop
fast. Of course we finally find the police office and it is totally open with music playing and nobody around. There are no
restaurants and only two tiny stores with a few cans and nothing fresh. We finally find the plane wreck after scaring a girl
half to death by asking here where it was. It was a single engine plane and most likely a corsair and certainly not a 4
engine bomber. So much for that lovely free handout the Tarawa tourist office gave us. Their other handout said that
the fisheries office has waypoints of all the dive spots. We spent 45 min on mini buses to find the office to only have
them say what waypoints. Got to love that tourist office.
The last island we visited was just north of Tarawa. We had light winds and anchored by the pass and never got ashore.
Nobody bothered us either so life was good. This reef was a little bit alive and the pass had mantas. Still as a diver just
skip this whole area.
Clearing out turned out to be less painful that expected. Customs did not ask for the 50 bucks like they did from some
boats. It is a bogus anchoring / port fee that really does not apply to small boats. Likely it is beer money for the boss. At
least the customs office overlooks a huge pile of trash. Yes they put a dump right on the lagoon waterfront and in front
of the customs building. Needless to say we were happy to be out of this place.