I once read somewhere, that if you live in the UK your whole life, you will spend two thirds of it in the rain. True or not, it undoubtedly rains a lot, and as a result, the average Briton is well prepared for the dampness of UK shores, and will have to hand an array of anoraks, cagoules, umbrellas, and even a pair of wellies or two for the more torrential downpours. So sitting in the modestly sized departure room of Nausori airport, (departure lounge being far too grand a word for this particular area) looking out at the tropical storm currently battering the collected assortment of tiny planes, I considered my current attire, and concluded that a sulu and Hawaiian shirt really weren’t appropriate for the conditions, and briefly longed for my sensible geography teacher jacket, stashed somewhere at the bottom of my bag.
Fortunately, I soon remembered, that unlike the UK, the South Pacific doesn’t suffer from arctic winds and plummeting temperatures, and so the dowsing we got walking the short distance from the departure room to the plane was actually quite refreshing.
The storm did mean quite a bumpy ride for myself and the other 28 passengers, but a bit of turbulence was nothing to worry about, particularly as the tiny plane we were currently sitting on, was in two hours time, hopefully going to land us on the tiny island nation of Tuvalu – a country recently plagued by epic water shortages, resulting in a state of national emergency, and aid being delivered from a number of neighbouring countries.
Rain is drinking water in Tuvalu, so we were more than glad to deal with the turbulence, and were happy as we landed on the precarious runway at Funafuti international airport, (surely one of the smallest in the world) to see the tropical storm we had left in Fiji, had followed us and was in full force here too, soaking the amassed crowds who had come to see the plane; a twice weekly event that causes quite a stir in the local community.
The crowd which had gathered in the hilariously small terminal building were an odd mix; sunburnt Europeans escaping after a few short days on the island, some Tuvaluan sailors flying to Fiji for work, family members eagerly awaiting food and other goodies sent from overseas, and some locals who had just come to sit and watch the relaxed chaos.
Our soaking wet bags eventually found their way to baggage reclaim, which in Tuvalu is a dark corner with some tarpaulin on the floor, (which, to be honest, could have been someone’s luggage looking at some of the other things being carried from the plane) With all our gear accounted for, and a proud stamp in our passports, we headed outside into the hot rain in the hope that someone knew who we were, and where we were going.
“So which one is Andy and which one is Jay then?” asked a man which I can only describe as 75% beard – turns out someone did know who we were, and where we were going, so we followed the bearded wonder into a taxi, and headed for our home for the next nine months. Driving north down the originally named Tuvalu Road, the main road in Funafuti, (There are only two to chose from) it only took us five minutes to reach our new home, and that was with a stop to pick up the house owner who also happens to be the new secretary of the Tuvalu Scout Association.
Based more or less in the middle of the main settlement of Funafuti, I won’t go into too much detail about our accommodation (I’ll save that for another blog post) but save to say it is fairly basic, but more than adequate for what we need to survive for the next nine months.
Unpacking was an absolute dream! After living out of the top of my rucksack for the last two weeks, it was bliss to be able to take everything out; safe in the knowledge we weren’t going to be leaving any time soon. It was also a relief to find out exactly what I had brought with me, and several items surprised me as they came out of the depths of my bag, especially my running shoes which I had completely forgotten about. No time like the present, especially as I hadn’t done any exercise since leaving the UK, I put my running shoes on and thought what better way to go and explore the area around my new home than by going for a short run.
Twenty minutes later, and my run had officially become the sweatiest activity I have ever attempted, despite it being overcast, about 6pm, and raining. Excessive sweating and a bright red face meant I was fast becoming a great source of hilarity for the locals; and even with my modest grasp of the Tuvaluan language it was easy to work out what people were saying; it seemed that jogging in Funafuti wasn’t to be recommended – not to be put off though I continued with my sweat-fest, and made it back in time to have a shower and boil a pot of water to drink before our taps ran dry. Apparently the tropical downpour has yet to replenish all the water supplies in Funafuti! At least we have boiled enough water to last us for a couple of days, and our bucket of rain water should do well enough for washing.
With the realities of living in Tuvalu slowly coming into focus, we enjoyed a plate of tinned squid kindly brought round by the Scout secretary, lit a mosquito coil, and tried in vain to get rid of the ants which seem to cover everything; before drifting off into a deep sleep and accepting that we had finally made it to that crumb in the Pacific, that place we had been preparing for over the last six months, we had made it to Tuvalu.