Tuvalu 'Cluster of 8'
17 November 2012 | Funafuti Atoll 08 30.823'S 179 11.707' E
The country of Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world. In spite of it's name, there are now 9 atolls/islands. Valu is the word for 8. Tuvalu has been colonized by the British, invaded and occupied by the Japanese during WWII and in 1978 gained their independence. They are now a British dependency with their own government. On our charts it is still noted as the Ellice Islands.
The largest atoll is Funafuti where we're currently anchored in the lagoon. There are 30 islets in the surrounding reef with a land area of 625 acres. The lagoon is about 13 miles long and 10 miles wide. There are 5 passes (breaks in the reef) that allow boats to enter the lagoon from the S. Pacific. The tallest thing around would be a palm tree. Tuvalu has the unfortunate distinction of being the first country that is expected to disappear as the oceans continue to rise.
The island of Fongafale on the eastern edge of the atoll is both the government and population center so there's a lot packed into a very small space. I believe that about 4500 people live here. The language is quite similar to Tongan and the people are very friendly but not as outgoing as we found in Tonga. The standard greeting is an upward nod of the head along with raising your eyebrows! Smiles generally included.
Everyone rides a small, almost silent, Chinese motorbikes (we've seen very few cars). It makes me laugh to see grandma riding sidesaddle on the back with a youngster driving! It also scares me to see mom driving with a baby in one arm and groceries in the other!! No one drives fast though and it all seems to flow right along without a hitch.
The runway, built by the US military during the war consumes a big part of the island (at it's widest point). On Tuesday's and Wednesday's a flight arrives mid-day from Fiji, it makes a great sports venue in the meantime and when it's really hot, the locals drag out their mats and sleep on it to catch the breeze.
Brad's words to sum up Funafuti (I love that word), are small, low and long motorcycle infested. Mine on the other hand are stunning, undiscovered, colorful, hot, humid, squally and happy (to be here).
Look for the book 'Where the Hell is Tuvalu?' by Philip Ells! 'Time and Tide' is also a beautiful photographic book about the islands.