Least Visited, Day 5: Attempting to Meet the President of Nauru

December 31, 2018

Today is our first full day in Nauru. It’s a small country, but we’re spending the most time here on our trip with the logic that we will probably never make it back here ever again.

The weather is rainy all day, which becomes a theme on this leg of the trip. Fortunately for us, there aren’t a lot of touristy things to do, which makes killing time on long bus rides feel productive.

First, we head off to the airport, where people can top up their phone credit to get data. While some of the group head into the phone shop, I head into a couple stores nearby.

One of many shops along the ring road

Nauruan stores are…interesting. They make me curious as to what customer they are attracting for each, however, they also are somewhat similar to the shops in Port Vila that sell a little bit of everything. One of the phone credit stores sells USB drives and memory cards and cameras and…pillows. And BBQ tongs. The store next door appears to be a mini grocery store upon first glance, with a few soft drink coolers in the front and a few rows of canned food and snacks. But in the back, they sell tires. And toys and swim trunks.

Government Offices

First president of Nauru and...Santa

We go to the government offices, which is of course where the president works. Beside it is the parliament building. We ask to arrange a meeting with the president, but despite our innocent curiosity, I think the office assumes we have some sort of agenda. Besides, he is off the premises, so we can’t even see him if we want to.

Parliament House

Plaque outside the Parliament House

We explore the offices, peeking in windows and such, but it’s a quiet day, presumably because it’s just before New Year’s Day. In general, there’s just lots of random looks by the staff. While it is the least visited country in the world, they do have occasional visitors for work. However, a group of 21 of us raises eyebrows.

In the Parliament offices


Meet David and Gareth, your new Minister for Finance and Prez of Nauru

When we poke around the parliament building, a woman who works there in admin offers to give us a tour of the actual parliament meeting room. We happily oblige. It’s an appropriately official room, with a chair for the president and all the regions of the country represented by a chair and a wooden placard with their name carved in them. A few of us ask if we can take a picture in the president’s chair, and the woman doesn’t seem to mind at all. We happily snap away. As we exit the room, someone talks to her in Nauruan, and she tells us she’s just been informed that we actually can’t take pictures in parliament. Oh well.

She leads us upstairs where there is a parliamentary lounge, which looks kind of like a tropical-themed man cave, with giant wicker chairs covered in tropical print cushions lining the walls and a bar in the corner of the room. There’s no assigned seats here, she tells us, because in here, they are all just regular Nauruans.

Parliament Library

She shows us a library upstairs before leading us back outside. She was happy to give the tour, and I assume it’s just simply because she never sees travelers in groups this large.

A memorial for the Nauruans lost in WWI and WWII

As we leave, we hear the president will be arriving, so we can’t linger on the front steps. Security leads us to the side, and we wait and wait, hoping an SUV will roll up with the president inside. Eventually it’s a letdown, as the security gets sick of us taking up space and kindly asks us to leave.

Everything you could ever want from your local post office

Paul likes supermarkets!

We go to the Civic Centre next, where there’s a bank, a grocery store, and a post office. We all wish to send postcards, so we rummage through a giant cardboard box of them. It’s impressive there is some variety without the presence of a lot of tourism, and the postcards vary from pictures of people wearing traditional Nauruan clothing to the exterior of the hotel we’re staying in.

Shaman's Magic and Indian Dreams

We stop at a Chinese restaurant for lunch. It’s attached to one of the three hotels in the country Od-N Aiwo. Afterwards we head into the bar next door, which is part of the hotel, and filled with pokies. Seemingly, every race is identified in an outdated, themed game.

Near all of this is a cantilever loader. I know this doesn’t sound thrilling, but just wait: Nauru had a major business boom in the 90s when they discovered the land was rich in phosphate and could be mined for millions of dollars. During this boom, they built tons of factories and phosphate ore handling terminals (like the aforementioned cantilever loader) to send out the supplies onto ships. Then, when the bubble burst, lots of the conveyors and other materials used in the process went into disrepair. We suspect this particular loader was destroyed for scrap metal, due to its current state.

A grocery shop in town

In the course of the day, we explored the entire perimeter of the island by car. Gareth commented that we’d probably make several laps around the island, so we best start count.

Hotel shop

I stop in the hotel shop before dinner, and as I mentioned earlier, stores are interesting. I’m not sure if this store exists for people staying in it or the staff working in it, as a large chunk of the offerings is industrial cleaning supplies, buckets and mops. There’s also some candy and snacks, alongside some ingredients that no convenience store normally carries, like red food coloring, corn syrup, yeast, and tomato paste. There are no kitchens on the grounds that I’m aware of, and even if they were, I don’t think anyone is making bread from scratch in them.

I wasn’t too hungry for dinner and order a platter of mini samosas. Dinner takes forever, and while we arrived and started ordering at or before 8pm, we are still awaiting food well after 10pm, when it’s supposed to close. David, unfortunately, never gets his food. Mind you, like the other night, we are only occupying a quarter of the restaurant, and it’s otherwise empty.

We head outside to the patio area, and the hotel manager informs us that the party is set up for hotel guests near the pool. Where we are sitting is near a curtained separation to the staff holiday party, and I guess they don’t want us mingling with the staff. The staff are sitting eating dinner, but their speaker system is blasting music, to which a chunk of our group begins dancing. Besides, we looked at the pool area and the manager was still setting up chairs and music, so it was dead over there. This is where the party was at!

As we danced, one of the cleaning staff came over and gave us a bag of peanuts and told us we were welcome to dance with them. It was a bit confusing, as all the others were sitting at the dinner table on their phones.

Eventually we made our way to the pool area with our bags of booze and mixers. Alcohol hasn’t been on sale since we arrived because alcohol can’t be sold on Sundays or holidays, but some were able to buy bottles from the bar at a premium. I didn’t really want to spend 70aud on a bottle of vodka, or even a quarter of that on a quarter a bottle, so my NYE drink of choice was a one liter bottle of lemonade that cost two dollars.

There were other guests present, some of which were from Fiji and New Zealand, who were here for work. At the far end of the pool, a half dozen Fijians enjoyed kava in their own private party. Near them was a long table of kiwis who occasionally danced, but for the most part kept to themselves. In our corner, half the group sat quietly drinking while the other half, including myself, danced the night away on the broken brick floor beside the pool.

Calvin DJs

Calvin DJ’d for us, but he took it very seriously and it quickly became a full time job, with him only getting brief windows to dance before needing to run back to the booth to change the song. He played all requests, and worked them into the flow very well.

At midnight, someone took the mic and did a countdown, and a handful of people jumped into the pool. Calvin jumped in, and was surprised the water was extremely salty instead of chlorinated. After the diving, a couple of men did the hake on dry land, and the dancing continued afterward. The staff who gave us peanuts earlier started scooping up water from the pool and throwing it at people, saying it was “Fiji style.” Eventually she drunkenly fell in the pool, but decided to stay there for a while because presumably it was warm.

Third NYE I've spent with this guy

I was exhausted from the long day, and headed to bed shortly thereafter, when Calvin’s playlist turned to “90s bar mitzvah” theme with a long string of the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.