We really, really enjoyed Tuvalu, one of the smallest micro states in the world and one of the 5 least visited places. It's definitely off the beaten path. The trip from Fiji to Tuvalu took 4 days and nights and we were boarded by the Fijian Navy on our way out of Fiji. The boarding was non-eventful and after checking our papers and seeing everything was in order and a selfie or 2, we were on our way.
The passage itself was uneventful and we arrived mid day into the Funafuti atoll, dropped anchor and headed into shore to get cleared in. Being a tiny place with only 6000 inhabitants and about 6 miles from end to end meant that everything was close by and the process was easy and fast and friendly. That’s right, only 6000 people live in Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu. That’s roughly half the population. Friendly is as great way to describe the Tuvaluans. Every time we asked someone for directions, they led us to where we wanted to go rather than just point in the general direction. We liked it so much we spent 19 days there.
Funafuti has a nature preserve that you can only visit with a permit and a guide. Getting the permit and arranging the guide ended up being a quite an island faff. First, we had to find the Funafuti Town Council. Since there are no addresses nor signs on most buildings, this took a lot of asking people in the street. After a few minutes explaining what we were up to, they told us to come back in a few days with our money for the fee (did I mention there are no ATMs nor credit cards used in Tuvalu?) We came back as asked but it was pouring rain and we opted to wait until a better day. Our outing ended up being a fun day of snorkeling and beach combing and well worth the effort and trip. We even saw the tracks of dozens of sea turtles who had come ashore to nest!
Another highlight is the combination post office and philatelic museum. Tuvalu prides itself on its stamps and they did not disappoint, and we bought a bunch as souvenirs. When we mailed our postcards, they canceled the stamps by hand even.
The post office is right off the runway which is a major feature in Funafuti. Flights come and go a few times a week announced by a siren and the police clearing the runway. Because the rest of the time the runway is a thoroughfare, playing fields for soccer and rugby, volleyball courts, and a place to hang out in the evening. We spent a few evenings strolling and hanging out and (almost) enjoying a local pizza. The one place on the island that makes pizza makes it with canned toppings, ketchup, and slices of American cheese. We appreciated the effort but gave the pizza to a local family who were out on the runway near us. Just down the road from the post office, next to the airport terminal is a nice little patio bar where we enjoyed getting to know fellow travelers and drinking beer imported from the Philippines. One of them, a flight attendant, goes around the world every year and chooses his stops by throwing darts at a map of the world. The people you meet. In the morning on days that flights come; the local women set up a handicrafts market in front of the airline terminal.
Across from the airport and down the road toward the lagoon is the convention center and park. While we were there, a delegation from Korea was there for a friendship week. We think it had more to do with securing their rights to fish in Tuvaluan waters but enjoyed ourselves anyway. We dressed up in traditional Korean clothing, played some traditional Korean games and took a lot of selfies with the visiting Koreans.
Thanks to a reclamation and climate change mitigation project, Tuvalu had a really nice small boat/dinghy harbor and dock, probably the best we’ve seen in the South Pacific. It made it really easy to go ashore which we did a lot after Shelby figured out there was an ice cream machine in the biggest grocery store in town. Nothing like a cup or cone of cold wet soft serve ice cream on a hot day. Every day in Tuvalu was since it is so close to the equator and the sea water was in the high 80s Fahrenheit. So we enjoyed a lot of ice cream while we were there.
We also enjoyed hanging out with our buddy boats, Pulsar and Lorien, and other yachts on their way from Fiji to the Marshall Islands and beyond. There was a really nice protected anchorage in the north part of the atoll and we spent a few nights with half a dozen boats and went snorkeling and had a nice beach fire one night. Soon it was time to start making our way north again and a bunch of us needed fuel in case we hit the doldrums.
Someone figured out how to get duty free fuel. At least they figured out who we probably needed to talk to and how it might work. After a couple trips to the customs office and some very patient conversations, we got a certificate to allow to get duty free fuel. It wasn’t a huge savings, but every little bit helps and it gave us another chance for an adventure in Island life and bureaucracy. For the most part getting fuel doesn’t mean pulling up to a nice floating fuel dock here. It means taking 5 gallon plastic fuel jugs (jerry cans) in the dinghy to the shore to the filling station and back and then siphoning or carefully pouring fuel into the tanks. 4 boats teamed up to share the loads and in only about 6 hours (insert smiley face emoji here) we were all fueled up and ready to go.
What an interesting and enjoyable time we had living amongst the warm and friendly Tuvaluans and their wonderful tiny country.