Thursday, May 9, 2013


It took us til about mid-day Monday to finally get cleared in. After we moved to the port on Sunday morning, we found out that if we cleared on Sunday, we would have to pay each official in the "Boarding Party" overtime to clear us in... at the rate of $20 (Austrailian ~ USD) per hour. The Boarding Party that was making the rounds on Sunday consisted of 6 officials!! Dave asked if we could just do Customs and Immigration and do the rest on Monday, but they said that wasn't possible. So we respectfully declined and waiting to clear on Monday morning for free. And, imagine that, we only had 3 officials visit our boat on Monday.

We were fortunate that a Canadian cruising boat, Celsius, had arrived from Majuro around the same time as us, and they have been to Tarawa several times before. So they knew all the ropes and guided us around... to the (unmarked) Tourism office, to the banana stand, to the restaurant for lunch, and on the mini-bus to Immigration. That was hugely helpful.

Our first stop was the Tourism office. Dave was DYING to get a tour of the World War II relics. We had heard of Molly's Tours, and had emailed them several days before, but had gotten no response. So we went to the Tourism Office, and the nice girl there tried all day to get in touch with Molly's or any other tour guide, with no luck. Late in the afternoon Dave walked to Molly's house, but Molly wasn't there. He left his email address with the son-in-law. But we never heard from Molly. (turned out that Challenger ran in to Molly on Weds after we left--she was off-island).

In contrast with Funafuti, where the main transportation was scooters. There are very few scooters in Tarawa, and none for rent. The main transportation is mini-buses. There is a Betio route (the main town), and a 'rest of the island' route. You flag the bus down, jam yourself in, and pay 60 cents around town or 80 cents on the island route. With a little guidance from Celsius, we quickly mastered the bus system.

On Monday night, we looked at the weather for the 3-day trip to Majuro, and decided we'd better leave on Tuesday (to arrive in Majuro on Friday). If we didn't leave Tuesday, we'd have to wait til Friday (to avoid arriving in Majuro on a weekend and it costing us $150 USD to clear in). If we waited to leave Tarawa on Friday, we'd encounter strong winds in the 20-25 knot range on the last day of the trip.

So, on Tuesday morning, armed with a couple of books, and the Tourist Map, we did a self-tour of the World War II relics, including the Japanese Admiral's bunker (smelled like it was being used as a bathroom), a pile of rusty bits that used to be a tank, on the flats on the lagoon side of the Admiral's bunker, some big guns (decorated with graffiti) on the ocean side, and the 'Coast Watcher's Memorial'. The Japanese had gathered up all of the Aussie/Kiwi Coast Watchers and beheaded them (22 of them), and there was a memorial for that. Dave didn't take me to any American memorial--there was something like that on the map--but he may have already seen it while he was walking around town, and felt it not worth revisiting. Around 1,600 American soldiers died in the assault on Tarawa.

On our way to the gun emplacements, we stopped at Immigration and cleared ourselves out. Then we tried to clear with Customs, but they sent us to the Port Authority to pay our "port fee". We got to the Port Authority and the cashier had no idea what we were there for. It took them about a half and hour to come up with the amount of $14, and when Dave questioned what that was based on, it changed to $10.70. (Celsius had told us that boats had paid anywhere between $50 and $5 and $0 in the past). We got an official receipt for our money, and took it to Customs and they cleared us out.

We went back to the boat, loaded up the dinghy, and left at about 4pm for Majuro.

After reading The Sex Lives of Cannibals, and several cruiser's reports about Tarawa, I expected worse. But I found Tarawa on par with many of the other under-developed islands that we've visited. Trash disposal on such a small island is a problem. Most people had limited English, and we got really blank looks when we asked questions.

Dave was, on the other hand, very disappointed in Tarawa. He thought it was trashy, and that the neglect of the "World War II Relics" was criminal--after we expended so many lives to liberate them from the Japanese. Hardly anyone on the island even know where the bunkers are or any history regarding the battle at Tarawa.

Challenger didn't leave when we did. Ulyana wanted to stay and see the place more, and the Quarantine guy told him he needed to give 24 hours notice before he left (because of his dog). I think Jerry's going to regret that when he's slogging to weather in 20-25 knots--it's been challenging enough for us in 15-20 knots.
At 05/08/2013 9:31 PM (utc) our position was 05°12.84'N 172°11.86'E

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