Least Visited, Day 10: Extreme Island Time (AKA the 7 hour journey for a late evening lunch)

January 5, 2019

Our day ends in this gorgeous place for dinner, but what a journey it is to arrive.

It’s happened a few times now where a local will ask me what we’re doing and how long we’re staying. Why are we coming to Kiribati? Because it’s a beautiful place with amazingly friendly people! Today is our final full day in this country, and we have more than a few more sights to see.

Two stories!?! We don't get this kind of luxury in Vanuatu!

Before heading out, we go to Bairiki Supermarket, a massive two-story shop which excites me at first, then lets me down when I see it’s just the usual fare that I see in Vanuatu shops: tin tuna, breakfast crackers, and bottled water. However, near the market is an alley with more souvenir shops. I am entertained by some teen girls who work at the shop who are unoccupied due to the lack of customers and are in the corner of the store practicing island dancing and hula-like movements to the reggaeton playing on the store’s speaker system. Dancing? In a store? In public?! The moment made me smile, since it’s just an innocent brazenness that I would never see in Vanuatu.

The shops, like others in the pacific islands, have odd combinations of products that only make sense when you’re in them. One sells shirts, scoop ice cream, and also motorcycles. One sells furniture like couches, but also you can pick up a kayak there. Several shops have trinkets for every country but Kiribati, including Tuvalu and Fiji necklaces and mugs.

The highest point on Tarawa is 3 meters above sea level.

After shopping, one of our first stops is a village along the side of the road, which is near a reef that has some legends associated with it. As we walk through the village, everyone stares at us with curiosity, Kiribati, after all, is the 7th least visited country in the world, and not a lot of tourists pass through. Everyone lights up when you say Mauri and wave.

Coral "footprints"

We reach the beach and Molly points out some shapes worn out of the coral, telling us how according to legend, these are giants’ footprints. She points out a few more, which have large oval or figure-eight curves with five or six small round cuts on one side, resembling toes. It’s clear Molly understands it’s pure legend and just an amusing natural occurrence. A lot of these footprints I have a hard time seeing, and they only seem to appear if you’re looking for them. For us, it seems like an arbitrary stop. If there was a cool traditional story or legend surrounding them, it would have been nice to hear, since I love hearing about cultural traditions. Instead, we're lead to coral, we take pictures, and leave.

Map of Kiribati in front of parliament

We head off to parliament, where there’s a massive map of Kiribati painted on the ground in front of the flag pole. Kiribati’s land mass totals that of India, but it’s spread across almost 1.3 million square miles. There are over 30 islands, only 20 of which are inhabited, according to Molly. Kiribati is spread out across all four hemispheres, and because of weird date lines drawn around the country, its existence and the proximity of other nearby islands cause there to actually be three days at once here on earth.


The ocean behind parliament is a gorgeous milky green under blue skies

Molly tells us that parliament only meets three times a year, because transportation is both expensive and inconvenient for them to meet more frequently.

After exploring parliament, this is when the day grows long. Molly takes us to some uninteresting sites, in my opinion, including some fishery and some agriculture center, both of which are run by Taiwanese expat who give us tours of the space.


Some of this vacation, I am excited to take pictures for my own collection, some I am taking to share with friends and family back home, and some I am taking to share with my nivan friends to compare and contrast with their local culture. Here at these locales, I take pictures just to take them, in case I regret it later, but I highly doubt I’ll be looking back on pictures of baby milkfish swimming in a giant tank to repopulate the seas or whatever the purpose of it is. I hop on the bus shortly after arriving at each destination, skipping whatever information is being said about plant nurseries and such. I am bored.

Trip highlight was the sign between the restrooms at the Taiwan Horticulture Project facilities that read "No Smoking & Sex"

We all were getting antsy and hungry, but Molly kept taking us to more and more sites. Finally, it was “lunchtime” at 3pm. Rather, I should say the journey for lunch began at 2pm.

Get to the North Tarawa bridge. Step one complete.

Our bus drove all the way to the northernmost part of south Tarawa, where it joins north Tarawa with a bridge. The drive to this bridge took us about 40 minutes, where we then had to exit the vehicle because the bus was overweight.

Walk, then hop on a flatbed truck for a short jaunt. Step two complete.

We walked across the bridge, and then continued on for about two kilometers, since Molly said that is where the restaurant was. So we walked and walked and walked on a dirt road through this village, finally coming upon what appeared to be a restaurant. Alistair checked it out, but it wasn’t it. So we jumped on the back of a pickup truck while some walked to the end of the road.

Get on a traditional canoe with a motor to island hop. Step 3 complete.


At the end of the road was a small beach. We all looked at a boat pulling up. A boat? Really? Was this a test? It was a motorized traditional canoe (an odd combination) that could only house about half the group, which meant it required two trips. I was on the first trip, and Molly pointed out the bungalows on the other side of the water as our destination. Once we got off the boat, we lingered around until someone asked Molly again where we were supposed to go. She gestured towards the end of the village along the water, so we started walking, which fortunately this time was a shorter journey.

The village reminded me a bit of my home in Vanuatu the way it was laid out with the dirt paths and homes. There were two women in a clearing, weaving coconut leaves into mats. There were coconut mats on strings along the sides of the homes with stilts, so they could be pulled up to block rain or sun.

Traditional houses on stilts over the water, the view from our restaurant.

We arrived at the “restaurant” which was a traditionally built structure with tables and chairs inside, but I recognized the setup as more of a home stay. Just as the remainder of our group arrived, a teenage girl came up and asked if we would be eating here today, to which we said yes. It was now about 5pm. At that point, if any of the rest of the journey were not an indicator enough, I knew this would be a while.

The girl told us they offered fish, chicken, raw fish, and vegetables. We wrote on a piece of paper how many orders of each, and then we waited.

sour toddy anyone?

As we waited, we were served sour toddy, which is locally known as kaokiki, and made by fermenting palm sap that is collected by hanging bottles on the palm trees. We’re also served Heinekens and sodas and bottled water. There’s a nice beach nearby where a majority of the group jump in and play around in the water. The rest of us hang out under the shelter and wait.

Fish and chicken and veggies and pumpkin and breadfruit chips and coconuts galore

Food arrives around 7pm. This, by the way, is our lunch. It’s served family style except for the two vegetarian dishes, and I’m not sure if it was the hunger or the actual food itself but everything looked amazing. There was roasted chicken, pepper-seasoned fried fish, raw fish in coconut milk, boiled pumpkin, and a giant tray of fried breadfruit chips. Molly said a prayer, as we were in the village and this was a more traditional meal, and then we ate.

After our amazing meal, the slow process to return back began. We have a large group, so that alone can cause the process of saying “let’s leave” go very slowly. We walked back to the beach, where the tide was low and required us to make three trips instead of two because the boat would otherwise be too heavy. Then we hopped on the pickup truck, which I was impressed was right at the shore awaiting us. The truck drove us to the bridge. Then we walked over the bridge where we hopped on our bus, which I was equally surprised was waiting this entire time, and we drove back to the hotel, which was over a 45 minute drive. Finally, we returned to the hotel at 9pm. The seven hour journey for evening lunch was complete.

I stayed in, but some of the group went out to a nearby bar until the wee hours of the morning, where they were entertained by the bouncer literally kicking people out of the bar—kicking them on the ass to push them out the door—before they eventually made it back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we head off to the Solomon Islands, our final stop for the trip.