Kiribati - A round of bingo before drowning?


Even after a lot of research about Kiribati with all the help from the internet, I couldn't really craft a wonderful blue-sky expectation about this country. Too many negative views can be found on the internet, which highlighted the trash problem and sad news regarding rising sea level. Yes, they do have a bit of a trash problem, but nowadays they are worrying and caring much more about their country than the majority of many other countries. They know, there is not much help to expect from outside and they have to help themselves as much as they can - and to save their beautiful country they do a good job under the given circumstances!


April 30 - Arriving

After a night in Fiji, the trip continued this morning from Nadi to the capital of Kiribati which is Tarawa. After 3 hours the Fiji Airways flight approached the thin long stripe of sand with a lot of palm trees on it, doesn't look like a place to live but it was actually Tarawa.

Based on my negative prejudices I thought I will step out of the plane and directly the onto some kind of trash-filled garbage bag and then have to crawl myself from garbage bag to garbage bag towards a taxi which is equipped with huge wheels, made to drive over garbage.

In reality however, the total difference was the case.

There was a small airport, yes, but clean, maybe a bit run down, yes, but not garbage yard as I expected due to my research and reading of articles and blogs about the country. It was definitely not like that and it seemed they had found some motivation to start to clean up the country.

I was greeted with many friendly MAURI's (hello) from all possible locals waiting in the parking area and my transport was already waiting for me with a sign. Most accommodations provide free transport as there are no taxis in Kiribati.

Oh yes, the air-conditioned 4wd. What a relieve in that humid heat. The weather in Fiji was already HOT and humid, but here in Kiribati it was unbearable in the first moments!

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The ride to the Betio Lodge was about one hour, all along the one and only main road which is 30km and leads to the whole country from east to west. There is this main concrete road and about between 5 and 50 meters living area on each side and then, the far-reaching south pacific ocean. The main road is like a bridge through the ocean and with the highest point of the country, which is 3 meters above sea level, not a really high “bridge”.

The only connection between Bairiki and Betio


Betio is on the very east of Tarawa

At the most eastern part of Tarawa, there is the place small city Betio, where I was staying. It was difficult to figure out which area its best to stay at as a tourist and I went for Betio as there were all the WWII relics, guns and tanks.

Also, there are a few restaurants to eat on a western standard, as many foreign people are working in the area. Met some workers in the restaurants and they had jobs like tuna vessel engineer, tuna vessel helicopter pilot, tuna vessel boat captain, sanitary engineer, human rights activist, airport security engineer. So it was interesting to hear some of their stories.

Map of Tarawa
Kiribati



May 1st -  I need help.. to plan!

Went up in the early morning to avoid being exposed to the heat. The hotel organized a bicycle while they simply were asking some local next door to give it for 10$ a day. They even told me I will get a suberb speedbike for that amount. Well actually it was a bicycle but a few dimensions away from a speedbike :)

This is Kiribati and this is a luxury rental bicycle


My goal today was to plan the schedule for the remaining four days in Kiribati. The hotel gave me a map of Kiribati and there is a remark to a “visitor office”, which probably is something like an office for visitors. That sounded good. Unfortunately, the whole crew of the hotel staff didn’t know where that office is located, but even the map showed its supposed to be a few corners from the hotel.

Well, instead of continuing to philosophy with the staff if it might be true or not I used my superb speedbike and drove to that location on the map.

Getting around in Betio

After driving around in that area and asking several locals, I finally somehow found a small shack behind inside a house and that was indeed the visitor office.

Surprised how well equipped they actually were and even more surprised how helpful they were. But as they said by themselves, they don’t get many tourists coming by and they were same surprised seeing me, as me seeing them ;).

Currently, they are working on a new visitor brochure. But they gave me the digital copy of the actual one, which contains the most up to date information sources about Tarawa and the outer islands, with very detailed maps that make every visitor's needs satisfied. They told me that these brochures are not available for download, as the website first has to be rebuilt.


Visiting the WWII relics

This was my major intention here in Kiribati. To visit those cool relics! As almost all the WWII relics are located at the shore, one could think that there it might always be a bit windy but that wasn’t the case and normally isn’t the case. All the WWII relics are located on Betio and this is the map.

Map of Betio Tarawa Kiribati

There are three impressive cannons in a relatively good condition and one is lying in the sand. Canon on the very east is right in the neighborhood and families to live in their houses as neighbors of the huge canon. When asking people about the canons, they don’t really understand what I meant. It isn’t difficult to find, but I didn’t want to step through their property without asking

Is there the c a n o n? Gun? World Wa a r (fingerpointing) two  r e l i c?

 After a while they realized what I meant, smiled and pointed me in the direction :)

The canons are huge and right on the shore. But it isn’t a nice place to walk as it is full of trash. Also, people are sitting in the ocean and do their morning business there.

World War 2 relic in Betio

The most imposant canon in Tarawa

In the very east corner of Betio



Originally there were two tanks lying in the sand, both north of Betio. However, one of them has been removed as it broke apart due to rust. The other one is at the so-called “Red Beach” and is still in a good condition and in high tide, the half of the tank is visible and on low tide it's completely uncovered and accessible by walking there.

The US Sherman tank can be spotted near the shore next to the Hospital.
North of Betio has two Tanks in the shore

Unfortunately, the second tank isn't visible very well anymore.
Tank are covered in water in High tide


Unbelievable how far the water moves back on low tide. The reef free of water for more than 200 meters from the shore and several sunken ships can be walked to.
On low tide the water shore is hundreds of meter far



What happened here at this beach back then, 70 years ago?

In this beach happened the operation galvanicStanding far outside from the beach and imagining how it must have been back in WWII when the battle of Tarawa (the operation galvanic) happened. Thousands of US soldiers were doomed to arrive by boats on this reef and had to fight against the huge cannons and machine guns.

All the Japanese soldiers held their fire against them.

When the Americans attacked on November 20th 1943, it unluckily was low tide, which meant their boats weren’t able to drive close to the shore.

Cpl Robert E Voorhees standing while carrying supplies during the Battle of Tarawa at Red Beach, Bieto, Tarawa. A number of other US troops lay on the beach as others sit and chat. The images were published today to mark the anniversary of the America's drive across the region
Soldiers were unloaded 200 meters from the shore without any protection and had to wade in the brutal heath through the low tide under heavy artillery fire and machine guns bullets. 18'000 US soldiers have been sent to wipe out the 3000 Japanese soldiers and free Tarawa from Japan.

(Photo left:

From 1943, The battle of Tarawa. Photo (C) by Royston Leonard - mediadrumworld.com)


The Japanese defense guns. The 8 inch coastal defense guns that command the western and eastern ends of Betio.
8 inch coastal defense gun


Interestingly it turned out that the American estimation of the number of Japanese soldiers in Tarawa has been highly accurate. They estimated their amount by counting the toilet houses on Tarawa. Each toilet house was built out in the ocean and clearly visible from photographs of airplanes.

After defeating the Japanese, it took the Americans another few days to wipe the island from all remaining Japanese soldiers. The last Japanese soldier was found in the tip, north of the island, already dead as he committed suicide.

Next to Bunkers and Pillboxes. Located at the Takoronga Area.

Many bunkers and pillboxes can be spotted around Betio.




Scuba diving in Tarawa? Ehmmm... ok no thanks bye

I tried hard to find a scuba operator who takes me out to some reef around Tarawa or even better, to some relics. Weeks before the trip I sent email to two operators, whereas I got the contact information from the internet. Unfortunately, none of the contacts was helpful as no answer or wrong email address.

So I had to research about it while I'm here. The visitor information was the only source from which I got a contact. They didn’t have it in their brochure yet but they found a small card of one, the only one, dive shop in Tarawa.

The only dive operator in whole Tarawa. Using my speedbike, it was a quick ride to Matt’s dive center. The dive center didn’t have big advertisements or signs to recognize it as the ultimate dive center of Tarawa. But it was the correct house I arrived and one of the two people who was digging some whole in front of the house was Matt the owner. And they are the dive operator. It's not a typical dive shop for tourists, but for cleaning boats or doing underwater engineering. However, he takes out tourists too when there is an inquiry

Soon I realized though, that scuba diving won't be going to happen for me in Tarawa, cause the price was just too steep. 250 AUD for a two tank dive. I wanted to go diving in Kiribati, but not for every price. Also, I had no information about which dive spots or what to see, as he only told me we can go diving around the reef. Instead of diving in a dive spot maybe full of trash, I preferred to follow the plan B on my itinerary, which is visiting an outer reef or Kiribati.

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May 2 - With the motorbike to North Tarawa

Somehow I had the feeling Kiribati as typical island people are a bit slow talker and a bit slow in thinking. I totally understand that due to the lack of tourists they don’t know much about what tourists want to see when being there.

But for staff in a hotel who work on daily basis with visitors, I thought it should not be a problem for them to tell and explain where the huge WW2 relics like tanks or canons are – especially as they are all located somewhere well exposed and not hidden in a jungle. What surprised me the most though, that they didn’t even know that there is a visitor information just about two blocks from the hotel, in the middle of the center in Betio. And last but not least, they didn’t know that it is possible to rent a motorbike, whereas it is just in the hotel right next door.

Was busy yesterday afternoon finding a motorbike to rent. There are a few places in the directory but none of them has a correct phone number. Except for one. Even an official one and that was right around the corner inside the Georges Hotel. However, when I asked them about renting they told me that they have only ONE motorbike in total, which is a) around 20 years old and b) belongs to a staff who does the daily purchases in the markets. So if the staff is shopping with the motorbike, there are 0 motorbikes available. The motorbike is 15 USD and it was possible to rent it for 12 hours only..haha.. means from 7am to 7pm - strange rental times but seems to be fine in Kiribati :)

It gets lively in the streets of Tarawa when the sun goes down.
Streets of Betio

One of the churches. They come in all shapes and sizes.
One of the many churches, which all look highly different.

The Government Building.
The building where the decisions were made


The government is running programmes to protect Kiribati from the rising sea level. They plant mangroves at the shores which are affected most by the climate change.
Mangroves planting in Tarawa

I really wanted to go to a real outer Kiribati island and opted for Abaiang, which is the closest one. However, not close enough to do it in a day trip and boats are running about two or three times a week. I had the chance to go for one of it but I found it to be too stressful, as accommodation there needed to be organized by some locals and also there is not much to do all day long on these small outer islands.

I didn’t want to risk being stuck there, in case the weather doesn’t allow a ride back. My south pacific itinerary for the next few weeks simply didn’t allow such an additional risk.

The ride through South Tarawa is pleasant with a max speed of 40kmph. It seems to be slow but its fine, so I have a chance to see to the left and to the right without disturbing someone when being the only slow driver.


Towards North Tarawa

Instead of Abaiang, I decided to go to North Tarawa and based on locals, the scenery is the same beautiful as on one of the outer islands. The advantage is that I would be able to get back the same day.

All the way from Betio (left on South Tarawa) to the border of Buatio (right on South Tarawa) it is a long pleasant ride. Also feels very hot, especially when coming almost directly from a European spring. Outside of the three bigger villages of Betio, Bairiki, Beukenibeu, I didn’t find any restaurants.
Long road through whole Tarawa

North Tarawa has no concrete streets like south Tarawa. Only off-road tracks through sand and through the water. There is a short bridge which technically connects south and north, but just the very tiny beginning of North Tarawa.
Bridge that connects to South Tarawa


No streets and restaurants anymore after Buota:(

Buota is the first village in North Tarawa and the only village which is possible to drive to. Also here started the area where I didn’t find any restaurants at all anymore, even I knew based on the map I had, that there must be some kind of “restaurant” somewhere. But they that information a) not accurate or b) simply having no sign to easily locate them. Glad that I brought enough water with me, as after Buatio I didn’t find a store or something where I can buy bottled water.

So after Buatio its necessary to walk, wade through low tide between the small villages in North Tarawa as all of them are separated by water. Its possible to move between them when the tide is low. When the there is high tide, locals provide transport with a canoe.
Even when the water is low, its necessary to wade nowadays.


I thought when people living in North Tarawa, there also surely is a way which allows me to easily move forward. But I was wrong. Had to drop the Motorbike in Buatio and continue by walking. The small villages in North Tarawa are all separated on small islets and between is shallow water on low tide and more than 1 meter on high tide. Wading through the low tide is nice, its like standing between two islands basically in the middle of the ocean.
There are no real houses or lodges


People here in North Tarawa told that the water indeed has become more over the last years. The sea level on low tide is not low enough anymore to drive with the bicycle, nowadays its necessary to carry the bicycle through the water. One good example that climate change is real.
Tarawa experiences immense problems with rising sea level.


North Tarawa and the "broken bridge"

The whole trail doesn't offer much shade or any opportunities to buy bottled water. No matter the distance, walking there can be a long way in the midday heat and with flip-flops and I luckily found someone who borrowed me the bicycle to move a little faster.


My goal so far was to reach the so-called “Broken Bridge”, which is around after 6km in North Tarawa, and then return. I expected to go much further in North Tarawa, but due to the heat and not many places with shade, I settled with the plan to reach the “broken bridge” and call it a nice excursion :)
The broken bridge in North Tarawa 6km from Buota


After picking up the motorbike it was a long ride back all through South Tarawa. Arrived back in the Hotel in Betio in the late afternoon. When bringing back motorbike they handled it very professionally, like real rental pros. They didn't look at the bike, they didn't even look if I brought it back at all:). I just received a perfectly written invoice and then before I left, they asked me if I can sign the contract :D.




The ominous trash problem in Kiribati

When I arrived in Tarawa I didn't really see the problem. Now after a few days, I do.

Waste management is a high-in-demand job, also in Kiribati. And it's clearly visible why. While driving through Tarawa its impossible not to notice the severe trash problem they have. Yes, they started to build waste stationaries, like the one right next to the WW2 memorial :), but beach it's still heavily polluted. Totally understand that it's not easy for people there, as there is simply not enough space.

With 116000 people living on such a small island, its necessary to live cramped next to each other and somewhere needs the waste to be discarded. The only place then is the beach.

Some things are not supposed to be thrown away as trash

But also I have the feeling that it's not that common sense yet among the locals to dispose waste in specified places. I was in a shop, bought a sprite bottle, drunk it and asked if they have a waste bin. "Yes", she answered, took the bottle, went outside of the shop and threw it simply next to the side of the main street. I couldn’t keep myself from smiling and she laughed out loud :)

To much waste at the beautiful beach in Betio

Anything can be found at the shore of Tarawa


Probably the most effective recycling mechanism are the pigs between the houses, who are eating anything that looks organic. It's like a win-win for pig and human, as they live right next to the families and between their living and sleeping areas. The family gives the pigs food in form of trash and the pig therefore is allowed to live and shit right next to the kitchen. Whereas the human can dispose right everything right out of the kitchen and has the bacon for breakfast readily available in living form, right in the kitchen.

They help to keep the neighborhood clean


It's not just that there are small pieces of trash, like some old paper or bottles or stuff. The beach is covered with the waste of all sizes. Anything imaginable is available there in trash form. Cars, trucks, washing machines, everything is stapled between the houses and along the beach. It looks like every house even has its own personal relic of car or minivan in front of the house, which gets filled like a waste bin or is used by kids to play.
Many of them are broken and left behindDidnt count how many, but too many wrecks left behindShip crashed into shore of BetioNoone removes the rusty ships in TarawaAny vessel can be found at the shore Multipurpose of an old car. Will be used as trash collectorSome try to repair them, but will be difficultHopeless to repair this car


Severe lack of sanitary solutions

What I soon noticed all over in Tarawa is, that many people are quietly sitting somewhere in the ocean in a shallow place with calm water and no waves. Soon I realized that they are not fishing or watching Netflix on their smartphones out there, but having their morning toilet.

Yes, I realized that people all over here are shitting in the ocean.

Almost every time I took a look somewhere into the further shallow ocean area, I saw somewhere people lying or sitting in a pool of water and just doing nothing for a while. Then after a few minutes they stand up and wash themselves in the typical areas that are necessary to be washed after a session on the toilet.

However, the locals are not to judge or even to blame for this. There is a severe lack of sanitary infrastructure all over Kiribati and therefore the only option is the ocean. Hopefully the government of Kiribati continues spending money on waste management, the same way as they have done in recent years and maybe one day everyone has a toilet back home.

Lack of toilettsmorning toilett has to be held in the waterNo one has a bigger bathroom than the people of KiribatiDogs enjoys bath in KiribatiSaw me standing there and waves me while doing businessLooks comfortable to have morning shower in the ocean

After all, these are the harmless examples on how to the effective usage of the ocean. Later during my stay in Kiribati, I saw several times people literally shitting on the shore. Not in the water, but right on the beach. Really disgusting, and after seeing all these things, I'm not sad at all not having scuba dived here in Kiribati.


May 3 - Bingo addiction in Kiribati is real

It was time to plan for the next few days of this trip. Next destination will be the Marshall Islands and hopefully, tomorrow will be no delay towards there. There are many flights waiting for me in the incoming 5 weeks and I just wonder what stage I will be stoped to continue my trip. I'm pretty sure I will not be able to finish this south pacific trip as planned, but maybe I will be able to minimize collateral damage.

This evening I went for a stroll through Betio and watch people doing theirs after work routines.

Many play Bingo in Kiribati


Once the sun is starting to go down and the heat stops to torture, it gets very lively out there in the streets.

Many people are up and ready for attending the bi-weekly Bingo sessions which is an activity where the whole district is attending. They even have their open air halls which are used as their Bingo arenas :). I was buffed when I passed that. So many people are fascinated about playing Bingo and I also was fascinated to see so many big, obese (I'm not saying "fat") people in one place to have their communal Bingo sessions.

Filled up to the top with professional bingo playersProfessional bingo players enjoy the evenings to play


Time to get ready now for tomorrow early morning, for the flight to the Marshall Islands.

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