Nauru has no natural harbour: its smooth potato-like shape does not offer the world any nooks or crannies to slip your vessel into. So like in Tarawa when some git has bagsied the only parking space, we have to park our craft out to sea. But unlike Tarawa, once you’re clear of the coastal shelf here in Nauru, it’s 300 metres straight down to the sea floor: so we can’t drop anchor.
Instead there are set up a few mooring buoys. That’s pronounced ‘boys’, not ‘boo-ees’, America! These float on the surface like people who crossed the Don and have big long metal chains which fix them to the bottom of the ocean. There are two possible mooring positions in Nauru: one is for the phosphate ship that comes in very close to the coastal shelf and then has the phosphate poured into it by a rather impressive cantilever that swings out over the shallows.
The other is for container ships like the good ol’ Scarlett here. It’s a bit further out and we’re only moored to two buoys, not four like the Phosphate one. This is not a problem so long as the wind doesn’t change. At night powerful lights from the ship project onto the mooring lines, and the engines are constantly on standby just in case we need to propel ourselves back away from the island.
You could theoretically have 2 ships moored alongside each other, but the huge variables involved mean that this never happens – it would only take a single line to snap for one ship to go barrelling into the other and then we’d all have pumpkin pie all over our gormless grinning faces.
You see, we’re moored out in open ocean here. Our position relative to the island gives us a little bit of a buffer from the worst swells coming in from the north-east, but that’s not saying much. If there’s a storm, we start to roll. Even when there isn’t a storm we’re still constantly bobbing up and down. And in the midst of all this madness, we have to unload cargo.
The are but two cargo barges here in Nauru, and they each take just one 20’ container at a time. Getting a box into a barge is rather like playing Operation with a swinging crane instead of a pair of tweezers, a metal box that weighs over 30 tonnes instead of a tiny plastic bone and a patient that’s lying on an inflatable lino in the wave pool of Rhyl Sun Centre. Like Sarah Jessica Parker’s face, it is at once hilarious and yet utterly terrifying. Especially when you’re on this damn tiny barge waiting to go ashore and a container-shaped wrecking ball is slamming down onto the piss-weak metal cage above your head, much in the manner of a T-Rex trying to get into a upturned jeep populated by incredibly annoying children. Eek!
Once ashore, I wanted to do my own thing so I tried to hire a motorbike to trundle around the island. Usually this is no problem, but at the moment the population are on petrol rationing, so you can’t really be letting a ginger rapscallion like myself loose on your 50cc.
So I ambled along to the garage down the road, a graveyard of twisted and mangled wrecks like you’d see on a don’t drink and drive ad. They apparently ran a car-hire business as well, but they were not immune from the petrol rationing, so no dice. I was advised that if I see a kid on a push-bike I should ask if I can borrow it. Sod that for a lark, it’s way too hot (and I’m way too unfit).
So instead I met up with Bese and Peni from the ship. Bese wanted to go internetting, so I thought I’d treat Peni to a beer (even though he doesn’t drink) at the Menem hotel. We hitched a ride with some nice Nauruans to the other side of the island. When I came here yesterday with Chet, we didn’t stop, which was probably for the best. The place is a mess: litter everywhere, the pool is empty and forlorn, the brown-windowed restaurant (when the hell was brown glass EVER a good idea, architects of the f—ing world) looks abandoned and – worst of all – the bar closed at 2pm. It was 2.30.
So we started walking back towards the ship. After a bit of a hike a car stopped ahead of us. The lady driving asked where we were going, I said that we were on our way to see the parliament building. Get in, I’ll take you. I like places like this. Here name was Mary and she told me something I wish I had known months ago: there is a cargo ship that goes Marshall Islands > Nauru > Marshall Islands. It also takes passengers.
If only I had known…! Oh well. I know now and I’ll be putting that fact into my upcoming book ‘How To Visit Every Country In The World Without Flying In One Year Without Making All The Silly Mistakes That I Did’.
After dropping us off, Peni and I needed to walk across the airstrip in order to get to the parliament building on the far side. The building itself is a bit so-so, but at least they have used native timber in the building of the main debating chamber – a chamber that only has room for 18 members, and that includes the speaker. EIGHTEEN PEOPLE running an entire country. At first it sounds nuts, but then when you think about it, there’s probably only about eighteen people running any given country. How many people are in the current cabinet in Westminster? How many members of Obama’s staff can you name? Eighteen? You’re doing well.
And that kids, is how the Iron Law of Oligarchy works 😉
Peni and I then hitched a third ride back to the port. We were met by Bese and Patrick. As we waited for the barge to come and pick us up, I suggested that I go to the shop to get some soft drinks. Patrick came with me, but what I didn’t know is that he had a secret assignment: to get some kava for the boys. What should have been a five minute trip to the shops turned into an hour-long hike looking for kava, stopping only to play a game of ping-pong with the local kids along the way (Patrick lost, by the way, I chose not to embarrass myself).
Eventually, with the sacred kava in hand, Patrick and I returned to a happy ship. The unloading process was all but complete and tomorrow we’re just going to take as many empties on board as we can until it gets dark, then we’re packing up the circus and high-tailing it back to Noro in the Solomon Islands.