Funafuti, Tuvalu

Greetings from Tuvalu, one of the smallest countries in the world! (Its entire land size is only 10 percent of the size of Washington D.C!) It's hard to believe we are here, and I must say, we really feel like we're cruising again. There is so much to share with you since our last email and we hope you find our latest adventures even half as thrilling as we have!

Passage from Fiji to Tuvalu

Leaving Rabi Island in Fiji on October 8th, we were excited about the weather forecast for 10-15 knots of wind; especially since we knew this passage would be with wind forward of the beam. While still in the protection of the islands, we did see 10-15 knots of wind and had a wonderful sail. Once reaching the tip of Fiji however, conditions changed. In perfect Sally and Sam cruising conditions form, 33 miles after leaving the anchorage, we were greeted by tall seas, short intervals and 25 knots of wind forward of the beam. We steered on our course for Wallis and with each pounding motion, one of our cabinet doors would pop open and threaten to launch all of our electronics. Sam and I looked at each other and asked, “What are we doing?” We were sick and tired of getting beaten up at sea. Even when we waited for what we thought to be a good weather window, we were getting hammered! We decided to steer a course for Tuvalu and as we fell off, the motion was considerably better. We both were feeling pretty nauseated that night but our bodies adjusted in the next couple of days. Our 25 knot winds eventually turned to 15 knots for about 12 hours of glorious sailing. Then they petered out all together and we were faced with bobbing indefinitely or starting the motor. We started our engine and 48 hours later, arrived in Tuvalu. During this 522 mile passage we went from Latitude 16 South to Latitude 8 South. Let me tell you that our bodies were in for quite a shock. Approaching the equator things really start to heat up. We found our cabin temperature reaching 95 degrees mid-morning! Without a dodger or permanent awning, we used a large umbrella we had purchased in Fiji to provide us with some respite from the intense sun. On multiple occasions I used our canvas bucket to draw water from the sea to pour over me for some relief.

First Impressions of Tuvalu

We arrived in Tuvalu on Thursday, October 12th, 4 ½ days and 522 miles after leaving Fiji. When Sam checked in with Customs he learned that we were the only boat in the country; a far cry from Fiji. Tuvalu averages about 20 boat visits per year so we are definitely off the beaten track.

An atoll, Funafuti reminds us of the Tuamotus and the Cook Islands. Again, the tallest natural thing on land is a palm tree. The lagoon is crystal clear with turquoise waters and coral sand bottom. Sam and I agree that this is one of the most gorgeous anchorages we have ever been to, if not the most beautiful one! All of the pictures we've seen throughout the years of turquoise waters and sandy white beaches lined with palm trees come to life here. It really is almost dream-like that we are here and experiencing such beauty.

The beauty is not in the lagoon alone. The Polynesian people here are wonderful! We went to a church service on Sunday, and although the service was all in the Tuvaluan language, the singing was amazing! It reminded us of the singing we experienced in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. We all sat on the floor on mats for the service. Upon entering the building Sam and I made our way to the back but sat in the middle of a row. I quickly noticed that the children sitting up front were separated by gender; boys on one side, girls on the other. The funny thing is that it wasn't until half way through the service that I realized that even the adult congregation was separated by gender! It was a total fluke that we sat in the middle and Sam happened to sit to my left. We actually looked like we planned it so we were sitting on our appropriate sides but also sitting next to one another. We were thankful for being saved the embarrassment of sitting in the wrong place!

Meeting the Locals

After church we were invited, by a woman named Piscilla, to have a cold drink with the pastor. Piscilla, originally from Samoa, is the widow of a Tuvaluan pastor and has four children and ten grandchildren. Her four children live in: Tuvalu, Samoa, Australia, and New Zealand. After visiting with Piscilla, the pastor and the church elder, we were then invited to join them for a traditional Tuvaluan feast. We were treated like honored guests and it was quite humbling. As we left that afternoon, we planned to meet up with Piscilla in the morning and meet the preschool children that she works with.

Monday morning we were greeted by many little children. I had my camera and they would run to get into the pictures and then laugh as they looked at themselves on the camera display. After the children left Sam and I were introduced to the two other teachers, Alice from Fiji, and Kai. We sat on mats and enjoyed the breeze sweeping through the open building. Without the breeze the heat would have been otherwise intolerable. Even the locals, both men and women, were constantly fanning themselves and commenting on how hot it was. This stroked our ego and made us feel a little less wimpy! Coming ashore, we brought tons of bananas, limes, cassava and pumpkin. We presented it to Piscilla and she immediately shared the gifts with her two younger teachers. All three were so thrilled to receive these fruits and veggies which are unable to grow on this island. They were truly a treat for them and they were genuinely excited and appreciative. What a gift Bob had given to many when he loaded Moana up with so many supplies!

On Tuesday we went ashore, planning to call Piscilla to meet up with her. As we arrived at the dinghy dock she was there waiting for us. She took us down to the Women’s Center for tea. When we arrived she wanted us to each pick out a cake to enjoy. Having just eaten, Sam and I were both full. I suggested Sam and me sharing a cake, to which she rolled her eyes and scooped up three cakes, one for each of us! After cake we boarded a bus for a tour of the motu of this capital city. In contrast to the turquoise waters and lush green trees, we were shocked to see the poverty around us. Houses are built on top of one another with very little protection from the elements. In various areas trash was piled high on the sides of the road and next to houses. As we digested the low standards of living, we were moved by the generosity of this elderly woman. It also struck us how happy these people were with very few “things.” It once again reminded Sam and me about what’s really important in life: people and relationships.

Returning to Moana we were eager to jump into the water after a hot adventure. Did I mention that the water temperature is somewhere between 88 and 90 degrees? I am not kidding. Neither Sam nor I have EVER been in such warm water! It's so wonderful to see Sam running and jumping into the water with an exclamation of, “Whoo hoo!” as he dives in, as opposed to slowly urging himself into the water, step by step, on the swimming ladder, mentally preparing himself for the shock of the cold water. While swimming with our goggles (of course the visibility is amazing!) a squall passed by us. At the end of the squall we had a bucket full of water for our shower. It was amazing as we showered to realize how much colder the water was coming out of the sky compared to the water in the ocean. For the first time I truly understand what is meant by bath water in the ocean. What a dream! I have to say we are finally in paradise!!!

Sally & Sam
s/v Moana
Currently anchored in Funafuti, Tuvalu

Part 2 from Tuvalu

Arriving to Tuvalu on October 12th, we remained there for just over 4 weeks. During our time there we saw ten other boats come and go. We were literally the first boat to arrive in the country and one of the last boats to leave. We absolutely loved our time there and it was hard to say, “Tofa” (good-bye) to our new friends.

The Funeral

We had many experiences with the locals while visiting this small country, probably the most memorable of which included attending a sort of funeral and a wedding reception. After meeting Alice, one of the preschool teachers who is originally from Fiji, we spent quite a bit of time with her. We visited with her in her home on multiple occasions and also attended her church with her. Our third Sunday in Tuvalu I met up with Alice to attend a women’s Bible study with her after dropping Sam off at the internet (conveniently located across the street from Alice’s home). As we walked down the sizzling street towards her church she informed me that her father-in-law had died unexpectedly just two days earlier. Retired and living with Alice and her husband Silo, the father-in-law was climbing a tree to collect bottles containing juice from the coconut tree flower. He apparently lost his footing and in an attempt not to drop the bottles, he fell, landing on his head. This occurred right outside of Silo & Alice’s home. As there are no mortuaries in Funafuti, their father had to be buried that day. Other than Silo and his uncle, the remainder of his family (wife & kids) lived in New Zealand. Silo’s mother had been in New Zealand for the past 5 years for cancer treatment and was planning to return to Funafuti in less than one month’s time. Very tragic! So, family friends helped with the digging of the grave and pouring of cement. It is customary here to bury people on their own land so Silo’s father was buried on his property, next to Silo’s oldest brother.

As we walked to her church we passed by the burial site and went over to pay respects. The grave was covered with a cloth and colorful flowers, some real and others made of paper. Daily, friends of the family would stop by to change the fabric covering the cement grave and add flowers. Alice explained that there is a period of 1-2 weeks of mourning, followed by a feast to say good-bye to the deceased and thank family and friends for their support. Alice asked that we attend this gathering with her.

The following weekend we met up with Alice to attend the ceremony, known as Fanoanoa Ave Vaiuli. As we approached the open-air structure where community functions are held, we saw pigs being cooked and carved just outside. As we walked inside we were struck by all of the hustle and bustle around us. Women were working as a team to prepare trays of food. Palms had been weaved together to create what looked like stretchers. Upon these stretchers sat A LOT of food. More than 80 of these had been prepared for those who were attending. We sat down on a mat with Alice, her husband sitting across from her with his uncle beside him. After a prayer and teaching from the Bible (all in Tuvaluan) the food was served. It took two women to deliver each “stretcher” of food, in most cases one being delivered to each person! When Sam and I received ours, we were overwhelmed, for this tray consisted of: one entire fish, one whole chicken, a huge portion of pork, a can of corned beef, a loaf of bread, potatoes, cassava, breadfruit, taro (all root vegetables), rice, hard-boiled eggs, crackers, donuts, and some unknown vegetable prepared with syrup. Almost everything cooked was prepared over stones in the ground. It was amazing to think of how much work and cost went into preparing for this. Alice had explained that weddings and funerals are very expensive in Tuvalu. No wonder! Apparently, the amount of food served represents the amount the deceased was loved and therefore, much food was prepared and presented. After eating, there was a time of sharing memories of the deceased. There was much laughter and many smiles during this time. All in Tuvaluan, we couldn't understand what was being said but we could feel the love the people had for this man. After the ceremony closed, each person took the food remaining on the “stretcher” home to share with the family. We had enough to last us for a week or two!

The Wedding

The following weekend we attended a Tuvaluan wedding reception, though we were sure to arrive after the food had been consumed! Upon our arrival we saw Alice as well as Pisila. Both were invited by the groom’s family and so they sat on the same side of the auditorium. This reception was the same venue as the funeral the previous weekend. Alice left soon after our arrival as she had her 3 year old daughter with her who was in desperate need of some sleep! Pisila motioned for us to come join her on the mat and, after taking off our shoes, we entered the building and sat next to her on the mat. Various dancers, dressed in beautiful tropical attire, performed for the bridal party and guests. When pleased by a dancer, someone would get up with a bottle of perfume and spray her. All dancers appeared to receive their fair share of scented spray. Sitting next to Pisila, she was able to explain the context of the wedding and various traditions that were taking place. Apparently this was an arranged marriage and the couple had met for the first time just one week prior. The groom was 24 years old and the bride was about 22. They were both educated, having attended the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. The groom’s parents wanted the groom to marry and help with their home. Arranged by the mothers, the couple would spend their first married week with his family, the following week with her family and then they would return to the groom’s family home where they would reside. We were told arranged marriages are quite common in Tuvalu. The reception ended with family and friends dancing in sheer pandemonium, while others bounced around from person to person, spraying each with a heavy dose of perfume.

Time to Sail

Our time in Tuvalu flew by and before we knew it, the time had come to pull up anchor and continue north. We stopped by the preschool to say good-bye to our new friends, letting them know that we intended to leave the following day. Pisila immediately responded that she was busy that night but wanted to meet up with us in the morning for a proper Tuvaluan good-bye. At 8:30 the following morning Pisila was waiting for us near the dock, sitting under the protection of a tree. With her she brought a canvas bag full of drinking coconuts. (We shared these with the other cruisers.) She also presented me with a fan made by her friend. It was the traditional type used by all of the locals and it was beautiful and very efficient! I gave Pisila a hand-made gift as well. We then headed off to the Women’s Center which also seconded as a commuter lounge for passengers waiting to board the twice weekly plane to/from Fiji. Pisila motioned for us to sit and then she spoke with the lady at the counter. As the three of us talked we enjoyed a wonderful plate of omelets, toast and bananas. Alice later joined us.

Saying “tofa” to Pisila, she donned us each with a hand-made shell necklace. Sam and I then walked with Alice to meet up with Kae, the other preschool teacher. She pulled out two more necklaces, placing one around each of us. This necklace was entirely different, made with unique shells. We learned that each atoll in the country has its own style of necklace. Finally we said our good-byes to Alice, who herself draped us each with two more necklaces, again of a different style. There was no mistaking the fact that Sam and I were indeed leaving the country as we walked down the dusty rode weighted down with shell necklaces! This day was bittersweet, feeling happy and sad at the same time; happy for the new friends we had made in such a remote place; sad to have to say good-bye, not knowing when we would see these beautiful people or their country again.

It is now November 23, 2006, Thanksgiving Day, on this side of the dateline and we will be celebrating with fellow cruisers here in Tarawa, Kiribati. Though turkey will not be consumed on this Turkey Day, chicken, stuffing, corn bread and green bean casserole (ingredients imported from California to New Zealand), pumpkin pie, and apple crisp are on the menu.

Soon to come will be details on our adventuresome passage from Tuvalu to the Kiribati Islands.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!
Sally & Sam
s/v Moana
Written on November 23rd while anchored in Tarawa, Kiribati

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