Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Massage Me Like a Pina Colada

There is a lot to do while I'm here in Tarawa, but – lazy cow that I
am (?!) I grabbed the opportunity for a day off yesterday. By a "day
off", I mean an opportunity to stop, think, and clarify before
hurtling on regardless. I suppose you'd think I'd had all the time in
the world to think while I was rowing – and I did – but I always do my
very best thinking when I have my pen in hand, blank page of my
journal in front of me. And ocean thoughts don't always make so much
sense on dry land. It was time to get real.

But first let me tell you a bit about the sheer pleasure of being back
on dry land. One of the best things about spending long periods of
time out at sea is that it makes me appreciate the simple things of
land life so much more. To wake up in a comfortable, clean, soft bed…
to feel the warmth of the shower jets on my skin… to open a fridge and
take out a bottle of refreshing cold water…

So it was with an immense feeling of wellbeing that I woke up in my
hotel room yesterday morning. I lay on the floor to do my morning
stretch-and-breathe routine, trying to remember how it goes. I went to
sit out on the balcony overlooking the lagoon, which is actually very
polluted, but from a distance it's a gorgeous light blue, so different
from the deep blue of the open ocean.

I flipped through my trusty spiral-bound notebook while I ate a
breakfast of granola bars. I am a great maker of lists and notes, and
it was half-full of the lists I'd made in the month or so before my
departure from Hawaii. I felt the need for a fresh start, so I tore
out the used pages, neatly trimming away the perforated edges before
archiving them. Now I had a book of blank pages, ready for the next
chapter of my life.

Continuing my theme of simplicity and fresh starts, I next cleared out
my backpack. I'd been shocked when I took it off the boat, safe in its
drybag, to feel how much it weighed. Did I really used to carry this
around on my shoulders all day, every day?! No wonder I'm getting
shorter! I found all kinds of junk that had accumulated in its many
pockets – useful junk, put there "just in case", but now some cases
seemed too unlikely to justify the weight. Simplify, simplify, said
Thoreau. So I did.

Feeling fresh and organized and ready to face the day, I joined up
with TeamRoz and we got going. We headed over to the office of David
Lambourne, the Solicitor General, to use his relatively good internet
connection so Nicole could post the press release and Conrad could
upload his video footage of my arrival for the media. The poor guy had
been up all night editing 6 hours down to 6 minutes.

David, originally from Australia but now a permanent resident of
Tarawa is fast becoming our local angel, as well as being a local
mover and shaker. His wife, Tessie, is the Minister of Foreign Affairs
for Kiribati. Somebody (oops, could it have been me?) made mention of
massage, and he said that one of Tessie's relatives does a great
traditional Tarawan massage. A quick call to his house, and it was
arranged. It was definitely one of the more unusual massages I've ever
had. I was introduced to a multitude of David's wife's relatives,
sitting in a row of small shady thatched cabanas on the lagoon side of
the island, whiling away the hot hours. Two of them tended to me,
while a small audience of aunts, sisters and children watched nearby.
I sat on the palm matting under the thatch while I was rubbed down
with oil and water, and my aching back muscles soothed with long,
gentle strokes. Then I was sponged down with a wad of coconut wrapped
in muslin and dunked in hot water. Coconut milk ran down my skin. A
gentle breeze wafted in from the lagoon. It was all very nice indeed.
I smelled like a pina colada.

My masseuse and I chatted as best we could across the language
barrier. She is the same age as me – 41 – but has 8 children and 3
grandchildren. Her eldest child is 26 and the youngest is 7. Her
husband died of cancer 4 years ago. What different lives.

I spent the rest of the afternoon communing with my journal in the
cabana, covering several pages with thoughtful handwriting while the
relatives around me chatted amongst themselves in the melodious
language of Kiribati, played dice, crocheted, ate and snoozed in the
shade. A litter of new puppies slept in a furry heap underneath the
cabana. A pig lay in its pen, also comatose. Island life.

Towards dark David's wife Tessie came home, and David himself arrived
with Nicole, Hunter and Conrad. We sat in the cabana drinking toddy,
the diluted sap of the palm tree. It's unlike anything else I've ever
tasted, but very delicious. It smells strangely of hot dogs, but
tastes much better – sweet and fresh. David told us they gather it by
climbing to the top of a palm tree and shaving the bark at the site of
a new palm frond to get to the rising sap beneath. As you drive around
the island you can see the jars they attach to palm trees to gather
the juice.

After sunset we sat on the beach under the palm trees, watching the
moon rise over the lagoon as we ate a dinner prepared by the
relatives. This is how their household works – David and Tessie work
to support the relatives, in return for which the 20 or so members of
the extended family provide them with cooking, cleaning, and massage
services. Everybody's happy.

The food was the best I'd had so far on the island. There is nowhere
on a coral atoll to grow vegetables, so they are in scarce supply.
Cabbage is about the only fresh veg available. So we had coleslaw with
local tuna and chicken, and the ubiquitous white rice, washed down
with coke, cold beer or a very nice New Zealand Pinot Noir according
to choice.

Conversation was varied and interesting – including a lot of talk of
climate change, which is very much on the minds of the Kitibati
government. But more of that later. This blog is too long already.
Ciao for now – more tomorrow. We have to go to the airport to collect
Ian, who is arriving from San Francisco to help with the boatworks.

[Note: All travel by members of TeamRoz is balanced by carbon offsets
to maintain our carbon neutral status.]

Other Stuff:

Just so you know… I still have very limited internet access. Tarawa is
progressing fast, but its infrastructure is still a way behind US
levels. David's office has the best data speeds, but it still took
Conrad 7 or 8 hours to upload his 6 minutes of video footage. I'm
still having to post blogs via email, and Tweets via my satphone, and
it's not easy for me to see comments and other responses. So please
forgive me if I seem a bit remote from the online dialogue. A more
normal service will be resumed once I leave Tarawa in a couple of weeks.

Some facts on Tarawa – as gleaned by Nicole from the internet:

Tarawa Overview

Latitude: 1° 25' North, Longitude: 173° 00' East

Tarawa atoll is the capital of Kiribati, previously capital of the
former British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.

Tarawa is not a single town but a group of 24 islets (of which at
least 8 are inhabited) surrounded by a coral atoll. Apart from the
south where causeways link the islets, one needs a boat to
navigate around the main features.

The largest islet (South Tarawa) extends from Bonriki (southeast
corner of the atoll) along the entire south side of the lagoon to
Bairiki. A causeway now connects Bairiki to Betio (Japanese causeway).
The largest town, Bikenibeu, and the only airport on Tarawa, Bonriki
International Airport, are on the southeast corner of Tarawa.

Betio island, the chief commercial center of the country, is a port of
entry. The main hospital is located at Bikenibeu. The central
Government offices, Parliament building, President's Office and
Residence, Central Post Office, Telecommunications Services Kiribati
Limited (TSKL), Library and Archives, and various other official
buildings are all on Bairiki islet.

The population is mainly Micronesian. Tarawa was occupied by the
Japanese (1941-43) and fell to U.S. marines after a bloody battle. In
the early 1990s the southern part of the capital, particularly Betio,
had one of the highest population densities in the world, leading the
government to resettle residents on less crowded islands.

They are 2 hours behind Hawaii Standard Time. (ie when it is noon in
Hawaii, it is 10 am in Tarawa)


Flights: The only flights into Tarawa (TRW) are Air Pacific flights
from Nandi, Fiji (NAN). They leave twice a week, on Tuesdays and

From Honolulu (HNL), there are a few more carrier options. Air
Pacific flies from HNL to NAN as does Qantas, American, United,
Hawaiian and Air New Zealand.

Ships: Supply ships occasionally go to Fiji and Tuvalu.


There are a few options for lodging on Tarawa but we are staying at
Hotel Otintaai. It is the main hotel in Kiribati. Fully owned by
Government, the hotel is on South Tarawa with a good view of the
lagoon. It is about a 10 minute taxi ride from the hotel to the
airport. They have a restaurant, running water, clean rooms and
Internet (ish).