We left the hotel for the first morning train to Brisbane airport. The receptionist asked where we were going – Na-u-ru – she had blank eyes and had no idea of where we’re going – and I don’t think it was because I first figured out an hour later that it is pronounced ‘Na-ruuuu’. No one before or after have a clue of this country – a few may know it is where the Australians place their asylum seekers – probably for the same reason. So this short story is not about the refugee camps, but a traveller and a tourist in Nauru – a rarely visited destination on earth.
Getting an authorization to get on the Nauru Airlines flight was a huge task in itself. 4 months before, I was soon both on first name with Trent from the embassy and Fabiana from the Airline. The tickets are of course another matter. I bought about 6 months ahead, as soon as they were available – 1000 AU$ for Brisbane-Nauru-Kiribati. The real problem was getting a hotel reservation, a prerequisite for the authorization. I had contacted the hotels with no response and I found out soon that because of the refugee camps, Australian workers had booked out all the rooms in the country for months ahead. My rescue was a guy I followed on Facebook who was travelling also through Nauru and had had the same problem – and while in Nauru, gotten a contact and a nice room to stay. I got an email, and instructions to keep writing – it would take a few emails and that they were all booked up until June – great! We were visiting in June, and I got my room reservation.
So we found our again at the check in that we were a rare sight: tourists to Nauru. The check-in guy had never seen a tourist authorization before, and had to talk to two superiors before we got our boarding cards. The plane was 2/3 workers from Australia, the rest people from Nauru. I had enjoyed Tony Wheeler’s chapter on Nauru in Dark Lands and that all their aircrafts where confiscated the first time then went bankrupt. They had then gotten a slightly used 737 from Taiwan in exchange for recognizing the country (see the fact box later about this strategy…). But now they have 4, the guy next to me told me. He had worked for several years and was returning for his 14 day shift. A few years ago, it could take many extra hours and he had even gone north one time to Kiribati to refuel and again in northern Australia – to go to Brisbane. I think the one we were flying in was a second hand buy from Lan Chile – at least the serving carts were from there. The service was fine, and the flight was uneventful – lots of water except for 10 minutes passing the Solomon’s. After 4½ hours we felt like one of the sea birds that for thousands of years spotted the small island a place to rest and take a crap.
Everyone was quickly though the passports check – of course except us as we had to get the visa. Only one of the two women doing the stamping knew the procedure for this: They would take our passport, and we could go to the justice department tomorrow for our visas. Our hotel would know where it was (the woman did not know our hotel, and our hotel did not know…). Did we know that it came at a cost? Yes, we figured…
As there are two ways to drive around the island, we took the anti-clockwise variant to Ewa Lodge. It was a nice room for us that of course came at a cost (135AU$) – but we were happy, and many told us that it was the best rooms in the island. The government is building more places for the workers to stay, and they have been equally priced as the hotels, so this is probably what you are going to pay wherever you stay. When we visited in June, I saw the reservation board – fully booked until October. We had brought a mat, but we could have had an extra mattress. We rented a car for tomorrow (80AU$). About 30 degrees, visibility ‘very far’ in all directions to the sea where the high clouds meets the sea. Pinnacles are protruding from the coast many places, the beaches are all white coral sand, but very dirty with lots of rubbish (think: beer cans, used diapers, shark heads). You cannot swim from anywhere – you would put your life at. Do as the locals and swim in the harbour built for Queen Elisabeth, should she be around some day with her yacht.
Capella is the importer of most goods and they have the best place to do shopping. Many items on frost or refrigerator (meet, vegetables, dairy products). A bit above Danish prices. There is attached a well assorted wine and champagne section, that I did not see similar on the rest of our Pacific tour. Actually, very strange with the champagne selection. Our room came with a small kitchen, so we cook sausages and spaghetti and good red wine for dinner. Beautiful sunset.
The next morning, we enjoyed a nice breakfast brought from Australia (toast bread, Nutella, cheese). Got our rental car – the first one did not start, so got the ‘captain’s car’. We drove anti-clockwise, saw children going to school. Birgitte said that they probably were more motivated to go to school than Danish children – where our contact laconically replied that the parents got 5$ per day for making sure the children got to school, otherwise it would be empty. We went to the government offices – tree barracks behind the parliament – near the airstrip – several enquiries about where to locate the office. It took 20 minutes to get the visa invoices. A couple of kilometres to the civic enter and the public revenue office to pay the 4 x 50AU$. It took half an hour in waiting time. The lady in charge was obviously bored and wanted to talk and ask a lot of questions instead of receiving the money. She could have done it in 1 minute, but spend 20 minutes typing in a receipt on her computer and chit chatting. She had even heard about Europe. Return to the government building and in 10 minutes we got our passports back with the rare tourist visa. I asked how many they had issued this year (until June) – about 20! Add to that the four of us. Half a year ago, an Australian on tourist visa had filmed the refugee camps and published it in Australia – where the response was of course not to do anything about the camps, but ban Australians to enter on tourist visa… As Australians made up the largest ‘tourist’ group, it figures why so few had been issued in the first half year of 2016.
We also visited the post office – they actually had two types of post cards in a drawer – a Christmas postcard from a few years back and one with Nauru airlines with their old plane. Thought it would also be a rare thing to receive a postcard from Nauru…
Continued anti-clockwise to our place (the ring road is 16 km) for lunch before taking the next round. This time visit to the cantilevers at the harbour – there is both an old defunct and one that looks to be working. Next we drove to the upper part of the island, which is very different. Passed a dump of old cars, it was dusty (unpaved roads), black and white pinnacles of which they try to extract more of the phosphate. Far inland on the road, we ended up at the refugee camps where it was obvious that we were not welcome and turned back. There was a lot of traffic from busses and machines. It looked like the refugees came back from school – we only saw a couple on the low-land ring roads, they were effectively hidden away. On the high-ground, is also a lake (the Buanda lagoon) which we drove around – and saw what we had also been described, but not believed: when Nauruan go to one of the Chinese shops, they don’t bother go out of their cars or stop the motor bike: they yell into the shop what they want, and the Chinese come out with the goods. Otherwise not much to see here. Except we should have gone to the Commando Ridge nearby where there also should be a crashed plane from the war. Missed out on that one. We stopped at the harbour to watch the locals meet to learn to swim, use the free kayaks and enjoy the sunset and cooler temperatures. The life guards actually looked like refugees or immigrants who put their skills to good use.
Dinner at ‘the Bay’ – the only ‘regular’ restaurant we saw. Only foreign workers (many) and two parties with refugees in their best clothes. Indian/Western cuisine – we regretted not trying the sashimi which looked very good.
Fresh food comes by plane. There is a container ship every two months. We saw many cars, since the Nauruan do have money. The government has tried to limit this import by adding a 6000AU$ toll on each container.
We left the next day, bound for new adventures in Kiribati. As a traveller, Nauru is super interesting on a curiosity scale – so I thank my family for this adventure. You don’t want to come here for a beach holiday, the restaurants, the low prices – well, you’d come here because no one else have…
1. Nauru has the most overweight population in the world with over 95% of its population overweight. Incidentally, it doesn’t have a McDonald’s…
2. Nauru does not have an official capital but Yaren is the largest settlement and the seat of parliament.
3. The country makes more money than its GDP by recognising breakaway and disputed countries. A state aiming for sovereignty can only be taken seriously if it is recognised by other UN member states (the more, the better). In 2009, Nauru recognised Russian-backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia in exchange for $50m in Russian aid. There have been other controversial examples involving Kosovo and Taiwan.
4. Other facts: the country has no capital; it is the third smallest country in the world and has the second smallest population.
5. Nauru is the world’s least visited country in the world
How to visit:
- Book a flight from Brisbane or Fiji – see route map and flight schedule and book online: http://www.ourairline.com.au/
- Book room at Menen hotel, Od-N-Aiwo Hotel, Budapest Hotel or Ewa lodge (good luck) – phone numbers and email are available in the ‘Visitor entry permit requirements’ you can get from the consulate
- In August 2016 the process changed, so you no longer can apply at the Brisbane consulate – you now need to apply directly with the Immigration department – on Nauru, I guess.
- For the application you need to provide hotel reservation, air ticket reservation, copy of passport, picture, criminal record, and – now it get’s funny: a certified chest x-ray pictures and blod test with no diseases!, and payment
- From New Zealand or Australia? Tough luck: you need to provide a sponsorship letter as well
- Books: Moon Handbook: Micronesia (2003) and Tony Wheeler: Dark Lands
Homepage and email details: http://www.futtrup.name
© Erik Futtrup 2016