So, this was it. The whole reason for this trip – my second attempt at making it to Tuvalu. If it didn’t work out this time, I was faced with trying to make an immediate out and back on Thursday since the flight only goes twice a week. I’m not sure why I had such fear of this flight, but given how Fiji Airways behaved last time I tried to get there, I feel like the worry is justified.
I had arranged a cab with the Sheraton the night before, and of course when I got to the front desk to check out at 6am it was nowhere to be found. They did manage to scare one up around 615, however, and I was still at the airport nearly an hour before the flight. The Fiji Airways domestic terminal in Nadi is extremely small, so arriving 45 minutes before the flight is absolutely no problem at all – as long as nothing goes wrong! You can only get seat assignments at check-in, but let’s be honest on these little regional planes seats are the same anyways.
I saw we had the ATR72 this morning, which supposedly has two rows of “business class.” It’s the exact same seats as economy, and on domestic flights they’re the last to be given away. I had to ask really nicely and point out that I had booked business class on the onwards flight, and they reluctantly ended up giving me 1A.
Fiji Airways flight 7 – Operated by FijiLink
Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Suva, Fiji (SUV)
Depart 7:30, Arrive 8:00, Flight Time: 30 minutes
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,267
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,249,792
Small bottle of water handed out to all passengers right before takeoff, and not much else to say for the 25 minute flight. I was the only one in the eight seats up front, and got to chat with the flight attendant a bit. Seems a typical day for this plane (and crew) on Tuesday and Thursday is go to Suva-Nadi-Suva-Funafuti-Suva. That was good news, since if you get on the plane out of Nadi apparently you know your plane has arrived to leave for Tuvalu too!
Upon arrival went back to the check-in counter, as they can’t do check-in for the Tuvalu flight from Nadi. Met the same agent that had worked there last time I tried this, and sure assured me the flight was just fine, and would be on time today. I was less optimistic given past performance, but hey, at least the plane and crew were there…
Fiji Airways flight 281 – Operated by FijiLink
Suva, Fiji (SUV) to Funafuti, Tuvalu (FUN)
Depart 9:00, Arrive 11:35, Flight Time: 2:35
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,923
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,250,488
Small bit of drama, however. It seemed that there was “quite some weather en route” so they were going to have to offload 18 passengers. Priority was given to business class and Tuvaluans returning home, so I have no idea how they chose which 18 would not be able to go. Despite that, boarding was on time, the door closed 10 minutes before departure time, and soon we were taxiing for takeoff! About 20 seats empty in coach and we were only four of eight in business, meaning I had an empty seat next to me.
Breakfast was offered – french toast or omelette. Nothing super fancy, but definite the fanciest I’ve ever had on a prop plane:
Flight time was nearly 2.5 hour, and soon we had our first views of Funafuti Atoll and we were descending into my 192nd country visited! Of course deplaning was via the plane stairs (seriously, jetways in a country that only gets two flights a week?) and I was there! One room airport building, where agents were stamping passports on a card table:
The plane that finally got me to Tuvalu:
There was a van waiting from my hotel, the Hotel Vaiaku Lagi, said to really be the only hotel of any standards at all in Tuvalu – with a whole 16 rooms. I don’t know why we needed to take a van as the hotel is literally a 90 second walk from the terminal, but it is what it is! More on that when I leave…checked in, was assured I was (as requested when I booked) given the room with the absolute best air conditioning out of the 16. Super fancy 1.5 star room, complete with a vase of flowers:
It was clean, moderately comfortable, and the AC was arctic. Overall, I was pleased. It wasn’t cheap at nearly $100 a night, but for being clean, cool, and safe I wasn’t about to complain. I checked out a couple of the guesthouses in town, and they were pretty grim. No way they even qualify as 0.5 stars….
By the time I checked in, it was just after noon, and when I asked the desk agent for suggestions on places to see she laughed at me. Seems from about 12-4 is time for what they call “Pacific Exercise” in Tuvalu, where basically people lay around and hide from the fierce afternoon heat and humidity. I joined the other 15 guests in the hotel restaurant, where there were three lunch options: chicken chow mein, stir fried prawns, or ham and cheese sandwich. I decided the sandwich was safest, but ham apparently means Spam! Mmmm grilled spam and cheese:
As it started to get reasonably cooler, I headed out to Tuvalu Telecom to buy a wifi access card. It took four trips back to get it to work, because even when you scratch off the code the number/password are pretty much illegible. Hooray for high-quality Chinese manufacturing. Eventually it worked, and it was just fast enough to read some emails and check facebook…kinda.
I decided then to head for a walk. Down the main road in Funafuti, which other than a three “block” stretch is all residential like this:
Then, I headed over to the airport runway, which is the hub of social activity for about an hour before sunset. It’s the one time of day it’s not too hot to be outside, and since the runway is the biggest stretch of open land in the whole country it’s used for hanging out and recreation, and some families even SLEEP on the runway at night because there’s a reasonable breeze!
Kids playing football behind me on the runway:
Back to the hotel, and again for dinner there were three choices. I went for the grilled tuna steak, and it was actually phenomenal…and hey, frozen veggies are better than none at all!
Slept in a little bit, and headed out for a morning walk before it got too hot again. A block from my hotel, and next to the airport, was the central government building. I’d heard it was possible to just walk in, so I did. Security wasn’t a concept, and of all people I ended up meeting the Prime Minister! I was so surprised by actually meeting him I didn’t think to ask if I could take a picture, but I told him why I was in Tuvalu and he seemed super pleased and impressed with the story!
Continued my walk down a residential road, and politics, Tuvalu-style:
Tuvalu House, which I believe might be the residence of the Prime Minister?
Next stop was the post office to buy stamps. Yes, they were able to sell them, but seemed completely uninterested in doing any work. I guess there’s not much call for stamps in Tuvalu. They had lots of commemorative ones, as well as post cards, so I bought some to send to family and friends. There’s not too much to do in Tuvalu, so writing postcards would be a nice diversion. Hundreds of commemorative stamps on sale all at face value. Some of the more interesting ones:
The super-fancy Tuvalu Post office:
Just down the street was the Tuvalu National Library and Archives. Please take off your flip flops when entering:
Went back to my hotel and wrote postcards, then a walk back to the post office to mail them. They promised the would go on tomorrow’s flight…or maybe next week if the plane is full. We will see if they ever arrive!
Back to the hotel for lunch and Pacific Exercise. “Chili Chicken” was the lunch of the day, and it was reasonable. All the meals were between six and eight US dollars plus drinks, so extremely cheap, and reasonably large portions. Pacific Exercise takes lots of energy!
After exercising (aka reading in a hammock and napping) I went for another walk. Tuvalu Telecom, where you go to buy wifi cards:
Then on the other side of the runway, I found the Tuvalu Sports Ground, where a rugby game was in progress:
For a little “real” exercise, I took a walk down the entire length of the runway:
On the way back to the hotel, I passed the Development Bank of Tuvalu. Maybe I should apply for a job…
Sunset from the coral “beach” behind my hotel:
Another shot of the “beach” where land reclamation is underway. Considering the whole country is eight feet above sea level I’m not sure the point of doing reclamation when the whole country is projected to be underwater by 2050 thanks to climate change:
Back to the hotel, where tonight’s dinner was “stir fry chicken.” Again, reasonable.
With that, it was time to head to bed and pray my plane would arrive in the morning to take me home. Tuvalu was pretty much exactly what I expected, maybe even a slight bit smaller. You can see everything there is to “see” in a couple of hours, so bring plenty of things to read and plan on doing relaxing. It was actually quite nice to have the downtime without the pressure of having to be go go go and see things.
Two days was the perfect amount of time in Tuvalu – I think the only other option would be two or more weeks so you could try and get a boat to some of the outer islands (where there are no hotels) and spend some time seeing really authentic rural life and villages. Now, will the plane come back…