14.12.11: My second day on Kiribati’s main atoll of Tawara started slowly. After having to wait an hour or so for the barge to be ready to go ashore, I (literally) jumped aboard the tug boat and set off for another day of action and adventure.
The war relics here are quite fascinating in a morbid sort of way. When this Japanese command HQ was taken by the Yanks, they found over 300 Japanese soldiers inside, all dead.
I would, at this juncture, like to point out that reinforced concrete is pretty good for building cheap lousy ugly bunkers, but not good for building anything that you don’t want to look like a cheap lousy ugly bunker. Modern architects would do well to bear this fact in mind.
There’s tanks and guns and possibly unexploded ordinance still knocking around the place. In a way, you’d think the Americans would tidy up after themselves, but then again, it makes for a great little treasure hunt.
Red Beach, on the western tip of the islet, looks like the battle took place last year: I guess since the war, more ships have come here to die. I counted rusting hulks washed up on the sand and many more out in the water. The local kids don’t seem to mind.
That evening I met with Sara, a CouchSurfer from Montreal. She was hanging out with another CouchSurfer, Martin from Graz in Austria. We all jumped on board one of the many minibuses that run along the east-west road from Batio to the airport and back and headed to the new Chinese Restaurant near Bairiki. Martin is here on holiday but Sara is working with the Kiribati government as part of her post-grad in international development. She’s been here quite long enough now, thank you very much, and is looking forward to moving on before she ends up tearing her hair out. Ah, island life! It’s fun for a few weeks, but I can see how one can get cabin fever after a while.
After dinner, we hopped another bus to the Captain’s Bar. Compared with last night, the place was hopping. We enjoyed a good few beers and FYI, the Aussie beer here is A$3 a can (they use the Aussie Dollar in Kiribati), as opposed to A$7 in Australia, where the beer is made and not shipped 1000 miles over the Pacific Ocean. Go figure.
Martin, like me, is an aficionado of old buildings, and has actually set up a wiki site for endangered edifices in Austria: which is difficult to say with a mouthful of marshmallows. He’s about the same age as me, which is consoling as our generation has a embarrassing knee-jerk habit of celebrating ugly modern buildings, (what do you expect from people who grew up in the 80s? Taste?) instead of protecting the beautiful old ones.
Sara and Martin caught the last drunk home (I hope they put their safety belts on) and I joined Mattsu, the port agent, who was celebrating with his colleagues in the I-Kiribati shipping industry. Apparently, Swire Shipping (oh they of PNG to Australia fame) have got themselves involved with the Scarlett Lucy, the very ship I hope to take to the island nation of Nauru (it’ll be country number 195) next February. This was cause for celebration, not least because of my good relations with Swire (as well as Neptune, Pacific Direct Line, PIL and Reef, who I think are also involved in one way or another), but also because there was a slab of Castlemaine XXXX on the table.
Plus I got to tell my joke: Why do Australians call their beer ‘XXXX’? Because they can’t spell ‘beer’. Wakka Wakka Wakka!
Next stop: The Marshall Islands!!!