Tarawa (Dec 4 – 9)

So I posted a lot while I was in Tarawa, a lot of stuff from when I was on my first trip on the boats. On ,y second trip I tried to ummarize what all I did in Tarawa. I’ve also got a bit of a visitors guide for the Island coming together I’ll post later. So here it is, the first of many posts now that I’m at a reliable internet connection.


Day 1:

We filled up our holds with fish and set our sites on the nearest port, it was an exciting time for the whole crew, and for myself because it mean arriving at my first “port of call” and experiencing a place and culture that was altogether new to me. For those of you that know me well you know that travel, and the experiences one has abroad, is a driving passion in my life. The world will always have more to see, more adventures to be had, more people to meet; and Tarawa was no exception.

We arrived on Thursday the 4th of December to the Atoll; nestled in the middle of the Pacific and barely a blip on top of the surface of the water it took an eagle eye to spot the rising trees on the thin sliver of land. As we drew closer to the island I grew more excited with what new adventures this would hold for me. The first real signs of this being a fishing port came as we steamed into sight of the protected cove and were greeted by a pilot boat that would lead us through the harrowing reef and sand bar gauntlet that had taken several ships over the years. I know this because those “first signs” I mentioned just now were in the form of rotting hulls of old ships, eviscerated and exposed on the shallow water, orange and red rust having taken over every inch of the vessels that had just been left there to decay. The ribs of the vessels jutted out from behind steel and wooden planks like the broken ribs of a gigantic creature.

I can only assume that if man were to go extinct and aliens to discover earth, remains like those here on the shores of Tarawa would lead them to suspect that this planet was roamed by giant metal ribbed monsters. Which perhaps is a good way to describe the vessels anyways.

As we were coming into the port the same little fiberglass vessel that had dropped off the “pilot” to navigate from the bridge and get the ship into port brought out a team of port agents to process our passports, fishing licenses, cargo, and collect the fees for entry and processing of course. A half dozen people from the country of Kiribati clambered on board and took over the galley where they guzzled cold drinks from the refrigerator and ate a hot meal that was prepared on the stoves for them (and later for the crew for lunch). There was one stunning exception standing out from the crowd, a lovely looking young woman with white skin, curly brown hair, and a polo shirt was part of the envoy.

I made my way over to introduce myself to her and figure out what she was doing here, looking entirely out of place on the Korean fishing vessel. Caroline, as I later found out her name, was part of a research group that tracks tuna and more particularly tagged tuna to gather data on migration patterns and school sizes. Her accent was distinctly French, but having known many non-French people with French accents I asked her where exactly she had come from. I’ll admit when she said New Caledonia I had no clue where it was, or that it was a French Territory still. Our conversation went on for a few more minutes after which her boat arrived and she was onto the next fishing ship coming in to check their tuna for tags. We said a quick goodbye and then, almost as an after thought, she told me that if I was looking for hotels that she was staying at the Mary’s Hotel and that it was very nice (later I made it there and found it is indeed nice) and then she was gone. My arrival here had already taken an interesting turn.

Tarawa is where Jose, my training pilot, was ending his one year contract so he had packed all of his bags and promptly moved them down to the main fish deck in anticipation of “going outside” (the crew onboard refer to disembarkation, and going ashore as “go outside” of the ship). I then had packed all my stuff from my room with the deck boss and cook and had moved up to my new room – reserved for the pilot and mechanic and the observer who kept the fishing companies honest. I then also prepared a backpack with 5 changes of underwear, a swimsuit, sunscreen, and my basic toiletries bag, and some shorts to go the island. I was planning on exploring this place, and finding internet to upload a months worth of posts to The Roaming Pilot and to hop onto facebook to catch up with friends and family.

Jose made his way into the galley and found out who the agent responsible for the Caribe’ would be while we were here and asked if we could ride with them into the dock when they were finished. After the passports were stamped, and the bills paid the boat was tied up to a refrigeration ship and the unloading of tuna could commence. But for us a one week holiday was in store.

One thing that struck me about Tarawa was that you could tell right away that this town was almost entirely dependent on the fishing industry for it’s existence. Everything of substance was built in cooperation of a nation that also had a fishing fleet in the waters. Japan donated the new dock and pier that we taxied into, Korea donated trucks and a park, Taiwan had a nursery and compost research project going, and so on. Beyond that the area is extremely poor, the roads were once paved but for the most part are broken chunks of concrete covered in dirt and caked dry mud obviously in this state of disrepair for sometime. No buildings stood over more than 2 stories tall as far as I could see, and power and running water was a novelty item reserved for people visiting and staying at the hotels.

After we made it to land the dock agents drove us to the George hotel where we met another helicopter pilot who was already there (we counted 3 helicopters when we arrived, two ours and one from Hansen Helicopters – I never met or saw their pilot so he must have stayed on the boat) and using the internet at the hotel. Funny enough, Jose had also trained this guy as well at the start of the year, and now he was almost done with his contract. The two men spoke to each other in Spanish and then realized I was kind of just milling around before introductions were made and I met Alfonso. We procured our rooms at the hotel and were informed that we couldn’t stay the entire time we would be in port because there was a large party coming in that had the hotel reserved so we would have to check out on Sunday morning.

No matter, we’ll just move to another of the hotels and take the party there. And meeting up with pilots in port is always going to be a party I think. You’re all celebrating another safe voyage complete, and another month or so closer to being back home. We dropped our bags and it was time to go get money – which meant leaving our compound. The hotel was surrounded on all sides by aluminum metal walls with a guard shack and gate at the front. Inside the compound was the restaurant, bar, and two buildings of hotel rooms.

The rooms were fairly basic, they used a traditional key (no magnetic cards here) and featured on small air conditioner in the corner that worked tirelessly to cool the room the entire time we were there. There was one bed, and one foam mattress for the other person staying to use on the floor. A small couch and then a door leading off to the bathroom which featured a small sink, a toilet, and a shower with no door or curtain on it – which meant every shower you had soaked the bathroom.

The grounds of the hotel were mostly dirt and rock, and paths of cut stone and randomly placed but not connecting brick made seemingly free form lines across the courtyard so that you could in theory navigate the lot barefoot. A half dozen or so tall palms sprouted up randomly in places around the lot and provided some shade from the sun which was relentless and scalding for most of the day.

The walk to the bank took us down first the same half dirt half paved road we had taken to reach the hotel, and then down a side alley that was just dirt. Everywhere skinny dogs roamed in packs looking for food or just basking in the shade of a palm and panting heavily against the heat. Alfonso warned me early in his contract he had been attacked by a pack of dogs resulting in a bite and advised to give them more space. My heart broke for the dogs of Tarawa.

The alley was narrow and swerved between buildings and crumbling buildings; it was filled with garbage and puddles and I’m sure some human waste based on the smell of things; the sour stench took me back to some of the combat patrols we had in Iraq through similarly littered parts of Baquoba; and everywhere children in packs much like the dogs played and ran and called out to the passing pilots desperate for attention and more desperate for money in our pockets.

Though I never felt as though I was about to be pick-pocketed the guys warned me that it does happen regularly here. I reached back and checked that my shorts pocket was buttoned over my wallet. An intentional purpose, these shorts had buttons to close the pockets off and I knew coming into remote regions of the world that even just another little barrier against thieves would be nice.

The bank is a branch (one of only two on the island) of ANZ Bank and slowly but surely accessed my American debit card and spat out my Australian money. Everything here was in Australian dollars which meant an exchange rate of about $1.72 AUS per $1.00 USD. Of course the perk of my American money ran out fast when the prices of items and good on the hotel started adding up. Our first stop was to buy a case of beer for the small refer in the room. $62 for a case of beer in Australian works out to about $36 US for a case of beer, so I’ll never complain about prices at the super markets at home again. I surveyed the store knowing that I would be back later to stock up on snacks and goodies for the boat before we left port and on the way out scooped my hand into an ice cooler, it’s walls coated in frost, and plucked out a hazelnut ice cream covered in chocolate for the walk back. Alfonso and Jose also picked out ice creams. So there we were, three pilots in Tarawa, me with a case of beer on one shoulder and all of us with our ice cream treat of choice in the other hand. I’m sure we were a site for the locals to see.

And I truly think that aside from being very white we are also very outstanding in this place. Our clothes are bright and in tact, our sandals are new, our hats and sunglasses, watches and cell phones, were all things of rarity here.

Oh I almost forgot the stores! Alfonso was looking for a specific product for his radio officer and decided to approach a girl in the shop and ask for some help. His choice seemed odd to me though because on an island filled with traditional dark skinned island people, he went for a light skinned, very pretty girl, who looked distinctly Chinese and asked “Do you work here?”

If looks could kill we’d need to hire a new pilot because she gave him a look of disbelief and then in an unmistakably American accent curtly said only “No.” and walked away from Alfonso, leaving him with a confused and amused look on his face. The store looks like a warehouse with large red metal shelves holding products and random banners plastered along the tops of the aisles for products that maybe they had, maybe they had once had, or perhaps they had never had – just a poster. Cases of beer were stacked in a corner, left to warm in the heat, as were most items you wanted. Some refrigerators lined on wall in a bank of cold produce and items that needed to be chilled and the ice cream coolers also house frozen chickens, and other items. At checkout another woman struck up conversation with me while I was paying for the beer (she had forgot her case) and it turns out she and the Chinese looking girl were there together working and both from America. Lauri and Jen (who does not work at the store) invited us over to their hotel for beers and dinner later.

So we spent the afternoon tethered to our mobile devices, sitting in the hotels open air restaurant drinking cold beers from the bar because our were still chilling the fridge. I uploaded 36 pages of writing to this blog and then got onto facebook and found almost 20 friend requests waiting, 18 messages, and over 100 notifications waiting for me. There was no way I was going to get entirely caught up on all this!

That night we went to the Betio Lodge which is where Jen and Lauri were staying and had dinner and more drinks with them where we found out they were in the shark preservation industry and were there working on lobbying the government to pass a shark sanctuary bill. Their hotel was WAY nicer than ours and the food was WAY better too. I ordered fish and chips and they were delicious, mostly because of the nice break from the Korean food I’d been eating all month. My first night in Tarawa and I’d seen two hotels, a store and a bank and made some great new friends.

Day 2:

It was time to explore the island a bit, and of course that didn’t mean first thing in the morning, no that meant that after we had all groggily woken up and met up in the restaurant of the George Hotel, had some food and recovered a bit to feeling human again THEN we would explore the Island a bit. There is no such thing as a taxi on Tarawa but they do have public busses, and I use the term busses loosely. The bus here is a beat up fleet of vans that belch black diesel smoke during gear changes with parts hanging off of them and in various states of decay and disrepair. I’m convinced that Kiribati has more dilapidated vehicles in wrecked heaps on the sides of the roads and in lots than it has people. One wrecked car per person or more. The busses play cranked up (on surprisingly good sound systems) fast tempo island techno music remixes of pop music from America performed by not American musicians, but local ones (or semi-local, I don’t know). The bus is run by a team, probably related to each other some how, but on all the busses a man drives and a woman mans the sliding door with a window down. She hollers at people at bus stops asking if they need a ride (in the local language) and you holler back your destination and if they’re going your way they stop and you get on. For 80 cents you could ride the bus anywhere you want on the Island and today we were going to the town of Bairiki (about 30 minutes ride) to check on a sim card for our phones.

The atoll is a series of small islands that have been, over the years, connected by a series of bridges for the larger spits of land making them into one island, and leaving the rest of the atoll accessible only by boat. Our van bobbed and weaved in and around traffic, its horn bleating to warn people and cars that it was coming, the pulse of loud techno island music filled the small unventilated and uncooled cabin which was crammed with people in every seat and some on laps. The smell was thich of body odor and sweat and the stale musk of a van that was probably filled with mold spores in the seats. But it was the only way to get across the island to our destination.

In Bairiki we found that the telecom place was closed for some reason (everything here runs on Island time to the max) but most likely because the workers didn’t want to be at work and left. This was not good because it was Friday and that meant we would not be able to get a sim card until Monday since they were not open on weekends. Our trip had been almost for nothing except that for me it was a chance to see some of the World War II history that was here. Bairiki was home to the four main island guns the Japanese had put in to defend against invasion when the US began its island hoping campaign. I wanted to see them and get some pictures so my colleagues came along and humored me while I clambered around the one intact gun that was left. The other three had been hit by US anti-battery fire, the fourth had just gone dead during the battle, but remained in operation. Sadly the government of Kiribati had done nothing to preserve the sites so the guns were graffiti covered and littered and were the homes to some homeless and packs of dogs. It was sad to see such a poignant monument to a tragic battle going to rot like that.

On our way back we stopped into the Captains Bar for a beer (because hey, it’s 5 0’clock on every island right?) and to take a break in the shade. The bar is right up against the shore line with a sprawling open air view of the port and the ships unloading tuna and cargo. The water though bright blue beautiful looking was littered with rubbish and not entirely appealing at the shoreline. Another sad mark for Tarawa is that they have not real waste management system that I could discern so a lot of the rubbish winds up in the see, and other waste.

Back at our hotel it was still the peak heat of the day so we all collapsed into the air-conditioning of one room and tried to cool down with the help of a few more drinks. The rest of the afternoon would be spent on the internet leading up to dinner at the George Hotel which on Friday meant only one thing – BBQ! They actually put on a pretty good big sized meal for everyone of the guests staying there and I ate chicken and beef ribs and fed a stray cat that I couldn’t resist. I would toss her scraps of chicken and chunks of steak as I worked through my plate; ultimately she just laid down beside my feet and stopped waiting standing there watching every move I made. I think I even heard her purring on her full belly which I was happy about. She was very protective of me, and when other cats would wander into her sphere on influence she would bat them away with pawed swiped at their tails.

After dinner the guys wanted to show me the “night club” the island had and so we shuffled our things back to our rooms and then walked down the road to the club. I don’t plan on every going back there. It was a site to be seen for sure but wow was it bad. It was hot and muggy, the locals danced with each other and foreigners, sweat poured off of everyone, blue lights flashed and pulsed, and alcohol poured freely. We ran into our cook and net boat driver from the ship and hunkered down at their table for beers. Everyone in the building was smoking, it burned my eyes and choked my lungs. I hate smoke, but I’m going to be exposed to a lot of it this year – the men the girls dancing, the bartenders, everyone had a lit cigarette in their hands or lips. After a while it was a short walk on my own back to the hotel where I promptly crashed into my room after some more time on the internet.

Day 3:

Day three on the island, Saturday the 6th of December was a laid back day meant to recoup and knock out some chores. We were going to have to check out of the hotel tomorrow and move to another hotel so I wanted to get my shopping done now and back to the boat so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Alfonso and I made a quick run out to the telecom office to see if by any stroke of luck they were open and that turned into a one hour sweaty bus ride to and from because they were in fact, not open. In hindsight we should have just called from the front desk and asked them if they were open or not. When we got back to the hotel the agent for Alfonso’s boat had called and left him a message, they were leaving tonight and he needed to go back to his boat.

That was a bit of a bummer because we were having a great time, but of course the trips had to go on so we could keep living this lifestyle. We decided to walk back over to the Betio Lodge for lunch (since their food is so much better) and have a meal. I ate a beef burrito that was a fairly good approximation. We ran into Jen and Lauri who were on their way to do a hike with some teammates but asked if we wanted to come back that night for dinner again. Sounded like a great low-key plan to me, and I like low-key.

After lunch Alfonso gave me a rundown of all the ports that we stop at and what to do, where to go, what eat, and then he was off. I made my way on my own to one of the newer stores (but not much unlike the one I described earlier) and did my shopping. I bought chips, and nuts, and cookies, and honey, and even some frozen pizzas (one to bribe the cook with and two for me) and a big case of small chocolate bars. My plan was to lug it out to the Caribe’ and stow it away so that it would stay frozen tomorrow when we had to check out. After getting all of my groceries I made my way back to the hotel and dropped everything on the table, put the pizzas in the refer (hoping to keep them cool until tomorrow when they would go to the boat) and sat under the air-conditioner for a bit.

Then I made way out to the bar, once I had cooled down from the walk back with the heavy bag to the hotel in the heat of the day, and joined Jose and “Frank” (Francesco) who had just arrived on another one of the boats Tropic had a helicopter on. Both men were from El Salvador and Jose had been Frank’s commanding officer in the Air Force. In fact I found out that most of the company is El Salvadorian pilots (29 out of 40) and then there are Spaniards, Austrlians, Kiwi, Filipino, some Korean and then lastly a few Americans. It would seem I’m very much in the minority and that became apparent as the men chatted back in forth in Spanish.

We had given the cook at the hotel a slab of fresh yellow fin from the boat and he prepared and brought us out massive plates of yellow fin sashimi. The cold fish and cold beer made the afternoon very nice. Of course I still had plans with Jen and Lauri that night, so once it got to around 7pm or so we got up to leave and pay our checks at the bar. We wound up meeting a guy from Scotland and a guy from England there who were partying it up for no good reason and started having a chat. Which led to them buying us a round or two of drinks more. Finally we got out of there and started walking to the Betio Lodge again.

When all of a sudden from behind us there is a set of headlights in the dark that pop onto us and a horn that blares. I think that perhaps I’m about to get hit by one of those bus-vans that seem to never have control and jump to the side of the road when our two new friends pull up in their car and offer us a lift to the hotel. We all pile in (probably a bad idea) and head there. The ladies join us as we pull a bunch of tables together and start ordering rounds of drink and food. I decide that I’m going to have the past dish a couple of the guys had for lunch and it was as good as it looked. I know I gained weight on this port call between all the food and beer – the next voyage and Korean cuisine will help me with that though.

Eventually the Scot and the Brit get bored and decide to leave to the nightclub and take Jose with them, Frank and I stick back with Lauri and Jen and keep chatting over a few more drinks before they politely excuse themselves for bed.

Frank and I then started walking to the club to meet up with the rest of the group and when we get there we can’t believe our eyes. Walking through the security gate to the compound I catch the moment of impact as the British guy whips a pool cue around and belts the Scottish guy across the back with it, summoning a curse and scream. A local grabs the cue and they try to pull the British guy (very big dude) back, this is when the Scotsman takes his chance and begins full force wailing on his buddy’s (former perhaps) face and head with closed fists. Frank and I rush over, anxious to find out if Jose is ok and around, and pull the two men back from each other. The Scotsman got into his car screaming obscenities at the Brit and peeled out of the lot. With him gone I make a quick sweep through the bar looking for Jose who isn’t anywhere to be seen. Frank and I decide not to stick around and made our way back to the hotel where, somehow, we managed to beat Jose back to by a matter of a few minutes. Somehow we mad passed him on the walk back without realizing it.

Day 4:

Not much happened on this day, I spent most of it on the Caribe’ waiting for a boat. It’s Sunday so everything about Island time is worse than normal, and what may normally take only an hour can take up to 5 or 6 hours. It’s infuriating for a westerner who is used to living life by the minutes, promptly on time, everything programmed for peak utilization of time, to be thrust into a world where the clock doesn’t matter. One pilot tells a story about how an agent once told him that the problem with westerners was that they don’t know how to be patient.

I called my agent and she sent a guy to drive me to the port (which is a 5 minute walk) and find me a boat. Well, I don’t think he liked working on Sunday because he dropped me off and peeled out to leave and left me standing there with arms full of groceries after only telling me that the boat would pick me up there. After almost 45 minutes waiting I walked down toward where the main pier was and on the way got waived over by some guys we had seen at the hotel bar last night. I said my hellos but then my target emerged, I spotted a white net boat from one of the fishing boats and I made my move. I excused myself and rushed down the dock and intercepted the Chinese man walking back to the boat before they could leave. “Please, can you take me to the Caribe?” I asked.
I had no idea who these guys were, the only comfort I had in getting onto that boat was that I knew the style of boat so I knew they were tuna fisherman as well, and probably were more than familiar with the ins and outs of getting to and from the boats in Tarawa. It isn’t easy. It wasn’t until we were halfway out into the harbor that I started questioning the whole act of getting onto a strange boat, arms loaded with groceries, with a couple guys that don’t speak English (in fact they were both Chinese) and trusting them to actually take me to where I wanted to go.

When I got to my boat I dropped my groceries and quickly hustled to get everything tucked away and most importantly get my pizzas into the freezer. I bribed the cook and then I ran back up top to the bridge to radio for a boat. I radioed, and radioed, and radioed. Mixed in between dozens of other boats calling for the port agents to no response. Occasionally they would reply but then go silent again and not answer questions. It’s Sunday, and it’s island time on a Sunday, things don’t happen on Sundays.

I was keenly aware that my original promise to Frank and Jose should have included and addendum to the tone of “If I’m not back by noon, go hire a boat and come get me.” Noon quickly came and passed; I ate my lunch on the boat, gulping down Korean food ahead of any schedule I had in mind for eating the rice and soup and fish combo that they were so fond of again. Then I radioed some more. Finally the port agent came on and said they were sending a boat and to standby. I was dismayed when I saw the boat. It was a small wooden degrading dingy filled with discard tuna that the processing ships couldn’t accept for one reason or another (discarded tuna was used to pay local workers) and stank of rotting fish. The radio officer and the 1st engineer were flying home to Korea on Monday so they climbed in too with their luggage, and together we all bobbed toward the shore. Swarms of flies buzzed around the shredded carcasses of tuna that was only semi-frozen still and had been sitting in engine sludge oil or baking in the sun for hours waiting to get picked up. Small waves that would not have been felt in the larger fiberglass agent boat splashed over the bow and swirled fish rot and blood around the floor, and into my sandals. I grimaced at the thought of what I might be sitting on because I knew what my feet were standing in.

The first officer had asked me to assure the Korean crew members got all set up for the hotel that night, and had transportation in the morning. When we got to the pier the Scotsman was there in a truck! Waving at us as we floated by, the boatman took that as a sign we wanted off their and that was ok in my book. We clambered out and chatted a bit and then they gave us a ride to the George hotel – I wanted to make sure Jose and Frank weren’t still there. From the George (because they weren’t still there) the hotel staff gave us a truck ride to the Boutique Hotel in Bairiki. The Koreans joked that I was not only the pilot but also the new agent because these were duties normally handled by the agents who were closed and very very unavailable on Sunday.

At the boutique Frank was outside smoking a cigarette. The hotel had a nice lobby with white tile and air conditioning, which was refreshing, and a good sign of things to come I think. I got the Koreans signed into a room, and all set up and they kept saying “Pilot, Pilot, agent pilot, beer” and motioning to the bar. We don’t speak any of each other’s language but they wanted to buy me couple rounds to thank me for all the help I’d been rendering that day.

After a few rounds with the Koreans and Frank and Jose we decided it was time for dinner (for me it was time for another real meal after my Korean lunch!) and walked a short way down the road to Mary’s Hotel for dinner. Imagine my surprise when I saw on the menu a meat burger with cheese. It was under the beef section so I waived the waitress over and asked her a few questions about it, sure enough it had a real burger bun, and was a hand pressed beef patty, and came with a slice of cheese (rare on this island to find cheese or burger buns). Just a week or so earlier I told Jose at sea the one thing I was craving most was a cheese burger so I didn’t think twice and ordered the burger. And beer.

The burger was excellent, a large patty was placed on top of a freshly baked burger bun topped with a slice of barely melting cheese and topped with a coleslaw of sorts and some halved cherry tomatoes. I slathered some ketchup and mustard onto the burger and dipped my French fries into the sauce as well. It was exactly what I had wanted and tasted perfect.

Then I spotted Caroline, my friend from New Caledonia, coming back in from the beach, wrapped in a towel. Her hair was long and tangled into itself and still dripping wet from the salt water; it hung loosely around her shoulders and the orange straps of her swimsuit top. I waved her over and went to meet her to say hi, she’d just come back from a picnic with some coworkers and had a large tub of left over shrimp they had not grilled, in her hands. She offered it to us and then went to shower off and change before joining our table, so I finished off my burger with some perfectly marinated shrimps that were done in soy sauce with onions and garlic and chives and peppers.

She was off to New Caledonia the next day on the flight off of the island (two flights a week here) so we cheered and toasted the island life and travel and new friends.

Day 5:

When we had arrived in port we were told we would only have 5 days and would be sailing on the ninth out of here. So today was my last day of freedom. I made a few little purchases, tried again for a sim card (it was a holiday on Monday so no dice) and then went to the front desk to ask for a ride back to the George Hotel to meet my agent there. The telecom office was right across the road from the Boutique hotel and as I crossed I thought to myself how strange it was that the road, which otherwise was always dry and coughing dust in the oppressive sunlight, was soaked through and muddy. I didn’t think anything of it until, while I was waiting in the lobby, a tropical downpour of rain began. It came down in sheets of solid water falling hard and pelting the glass, the water level instantly rose on the streets it seemed like and I watched in wonder. The rain has always fascinated me and I like watching it fall. When the van showed up I covered my head and ran through the storm to get in; drenched through my clothes. On the drive there visibility was so low we could hardly make out the car in front of us and we certainly couldn’t see Betio island, which was totally obscured by the rain. The van kicked up large splashes of water on each side as we plunged down the road and into the storm and the hotel girls in the van joked that the Island had vanished since we could not see it anymore.

Of course it had not vanished and we eventually arrived at the street leading to the George hotel, and it had vanished under the flood waters from the storm which were still coming down. The van forged them and we pulled up into the somewhat raised but still flooded lot of the hotel where my agent was waiting and my mechanic with the rest of the Filipino crew chiefs and mechanics were waiting and I was told that we had to wait for the storm to pass before we could go to the boat. So my mechanic, Roxy, invited me over to join them at their table and we all had a good time laughing a bit, joking and then we started talking about the Super Typhoon Hagupit and I made sure to ask them about their families. It seemed like everyone was ok which was a relief to hear.

After a few more hours the rain let off and we all went down to get a boat, joined by another mechanic from one of the other Dong Won boats we jumped into the first net boat we saw (I guess my move the other day was common place) and they took us out to the Caribe’ where we started to get settled in. Roxy walked across the refer ship we were tied up with to go get some of our spare parts from the tuna boat on the other side, a sister ship from Dong Won with another helicopter crew on it. I felt that it would be a good idea to report in that we were both aboard and went to seek out the Captain or the first officer.

When I found the XO he looked up from the radio room computer and asked me what I was doing back on the boat with a bit of confusion on his face. When I told him the agent said we were leaving on the 9th (tomorrow) he laughed and said “no, leaving now on the 10th, go outside” and he started waving me off the boat laughing at my expense. Well damn.

I went and radioed for a boat to come pick me up and grabbed Roxy. Unlike my 5 hour wait on Sunday the agents actually made it there in the fiberglass boat fairly quickly and we went back to shore. I decided that if I only got one more dinner in Tarawa it was going to be the pasta at the Betio Lodge again and so I walked there on my own. Jen and Lauri were off on a camping trip on some other island so it was shaping up to be a quiet night for me. When I got there though, I though that maybe I should knock on their door just in case. Much to my surprise they were not camping but had just gotten back from the Island (a day early) and had come back because of the storm. We had a nice dinner and then I met a couple of the Island politicians and leaders that they were working with on the shark bill (one man a representative I think from Christmas Island) and was there late drinking and talking sharks with the group.

The Lodge had also been booked out, like the George Hotel, by the same massive American envoy of military and civilian contractors that were there in part for a medical mission and in part for the up coming visit of the US Ambassador so I was lucky enough to get a ride back over to the Boutique hotel where I grabbed a room for the night and crashed. The next day I managed to get my sim card, load it with $20 and then went to the George hotel to repeat the prior days attempt to get to the boat.

Day 6:

After a brief stay at the George Hotel’s restaurant our agent came can grabbed us and told us that we needed to go meet a boat to go to the ship. Our observer joined us, his boss told him that he was being replaced for this leg of the journey so he had to get all of his stuff off of the boat. The three of us walked down to the docks and met up with another Filipino mechanic looking for a boat so we teamed up. It was probably 30 minutes or so until the little red fish gut boat showed up.

The local men on the shore line formed a work chain and unloaded it of all the discarded tuna it had hauled ashore, and then we climbed in. I didn’t think it would be possible for the fish gut boat to smell worse than it had the other day but somehow they had managed to up the ante.

As we were climbing aboard one local man began to hit another guy, then flipped his hat and sunglasses into the water and punched him in the face again. Then it got a bit alarming when he grabbed the smaller man by the back of the neck and plunged his face down into the water and held him under the surface. I looked around at the crowd of a dozen and a half men who were helping unload and they were just watching, some laughed, the boat driver laughed, I looked mortified and was not sure what to do. Then the man landing all the punches and holding the other man let him come up for a breath, but as his face broke the surface and he gasped for air I’m sure he would have wanted to stay under as this attacking man landed 5 solid punches straight to this guys face and head, holding him up by the top of his head so he could punch him again and then he dragged him away from the gut boat.

This place was not safe. I had not felt very worried about it until just now watching this happen but suddenly the fences and compounds and gates and security all made sense, and all those nights walking to and from the hotels, sometimes alone, were not the most ideal situation.

We loaded into the gut boat, and started to pull away when the agent boat showed up, it’s nice white fiberglass semi-clean. We waved them over and climbed aboard so they could take us to the Caribe’ instead. As we pulled out of the docks the attacking man was still wailing on the smaller man, who had managed to make his way up to the road and was sitting on his ass, limp and taking the punches from this angry man. We asked several people why but nobody could give us an answer. The police truck showed up just as we were getting out of sight but imagine my surprise when they scooped up the man on the ground and put him in the truck and let the other man, the attacker, walk away.

On the boat we finished getting settled in and ready for the departure the next day and I managed a phone call home on facebook messenger to my parents and got to chat with mom and dad for nearly an hour. The call clarity was remarkable. I’m all moved in now, and tomorrow we sail and I’m on my own as PIC. It’ll be interesting to see how this month of my journey goes.

Published by wanderingnick208

Nick Henderson is an FAA rated commercial pilot, world traveler, blogger, podcaster, photographer, and all-around good guy. His love of travel, adventure, food, and fun has taken him around the world and back again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: