Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tabuaeran: In the Middle of the [Pacific] Ocean...

After days of endless horizons on the tropical Pacific Ocean, the approach to Tabuaeran, an atoll in the Republic of Kiribati, reminded me of Gilligan’s Island. To call it “remote” would understate its location, roughly situated at the intersection of a Santiago-Shanghai and San Francisco-Sydney trade route.

Artifacts suggest that the earliest discoverers were likely Tongan or Polynesians heading from the Cook Islands to Hawaii.  Later, an American captain Fanning became the first “official” discoverer, and this little strip of paradise then wore several identities and strategic influence through the intervening years until it gained its independence in 1979 and joined the Republic of Kiribati.

Tabuaeran—“heavenly footprint”—seems aptly named as the large rolling swells of surf guide our tender into this expansive blue lagoon against the backdrop of palm-dotted beaches.  Even an accomplished painter would be challenged to name all the hues of blue dancing in the water.

The village has only several hundred residents and no running water or electricity. The villagers supplement the coconut and seaweed industry by selling hand-crafted shell-and- coconut-fiber jewelry and hand-crafted knives. Walking along sandy paths, I could hear the gentle rhythm of waves on the shore. Sprinkled throughout the tree-shaded path were hammocks and open-air grass huts with the picture-perfect view of fishing boats and the lagoon. The air, thick with humidity, was tempered by an occasional breeze under the shade of coconut palms, breadfruit, jack fruit, and papaya trees. Happy children played and sang Christmas carols in the single school house while the adults peddled their wares, waving hello and singing.

Sadly, several articles suggest that the rising ocean levels are infiltrating the fresh water supply of the islands in this chain, so the population will need to relocate, possibly to an island in Fiji chain.  I felt honored to share an afternoon in this idyllic place, reminded of the peace found in nature, community, and family.