Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fanning Island, Almost...

After leaving Hawai'i, we turned our noses south and cruised for two days, before we finally fetched up alongside Fanning Island early this morning.

It's real name is Tabuaeran and it's part of the very small country of Kiribati (pronounced "Kee-ree-bahs"). The island is a thin cusp of land around the edge of an atoll (read: extinct, eroded volcano) with a fifty foot deep lagoon in the middle. It roughly forms the shape of a footprint, which is what Tabuaeran means in Gilbertese, the language spoken by the 2000 souls who live there. The highest point on Tabuaeran is only 12 ft. above sea level, which makes it one of the most vulnerable places for human habitation in the whole wide world.

There is no electricity. No public water works. People rely on rain catchment systems. 95% of the folks who live there have never worn shoes, even though walking is the main way of getting from point A to point B. We were told to expect to see grass huts. People farm kelp and fashion handmade crafts to earn an average wage of $10 a month. The grocery store is a simple building. No one goes into it. They simply meet the grocer at the dutch door and tell him what staples they need. He takes the Spam or other canned goods from the shelves and hands them over the half door. The island receives supplies by ship four times a year.

As a result, there are no services on the island for visitors. If we want something to eat or drink, we must bring it from the ship. We can't take what little the residents have, even if we can pay handsomely for it. What good is our money to them if they run out of supplies before the next ship comes?

Holland America brings extras to the island--building materials, school books & supplies, medicines, clothing, toiletries, and dry goods. And with the influx of tourists who will snap up shell necklaces and distribute goodies, the day when the cruise ship comes turns into something of festival with singing and dancing and fun in the sun.

But this morning when the Westerdam arrived, the sky was lowering. Rain came down in buckets and a squall broke over the island, blasting us with 40 knot winds. The visibility dropped to zero. Tabuaeran is a tender port, which means there's no pier for our ship to tie up on. We'd have to board the small tender boats and ride the waves in, pitching and rolling. Instead, our captain ordered the anchor raised and we pulled away without setting a toe on the atoll. He came over the loud speaker and apologized for cancelling the port of call, but the safety of the passengers and his crew is his first priority.

There was a good bit of belly-aching around the ship, but I appreciated the captain for making that choice. Seeing people living as Hawaiians did 300 years ago would have been fascinating, but it's not worth life and limb. Besides, the fact that we sailed away without stopping is much worse for the islanders, who were expecting a windfall, than for us, who were merely hoping for a National Geographic moment.

And anyway, the DH and I had already decided we weren't going ashore. I'll explain why in my "Never Have I Ever..." post.

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