Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nauru - The Run Around Country

Nauru International Airport doubles as the country's only road.

I hate having to get visas in advance. Of course not to do so, may cause problems. Visitors to Nauru are required to get the visa in advance, but I was studying Mandarin in Taipei at the time and not too keen on going through the slow process of sending my application and passport off to get it sorted. So I relied on travel related luck and a big and very innocent smile. It has worked before.

The coolest boarding pass I've seen. Made by cardboard.
 But before was before. This time such a strategy caused problems in Brisbane, from where I was going to fly out from on Our Airline, the only airline flying into Nauru. I was checking in, and the woman behind the counter obviously asked for my visa.

- Do I need a visa? I thought I could get one when landing.

- No, you cannot.

- Really? Are you sure? I have purchased the ticket ages ago, and I have really been looking forward to this trip. Is there no way of getting around this? (Very lame, yes, I know. And my cheesy smile probably didn't do much good either, will have to practice on that later.)

- I am sure. I have worked here for over ten years. 

- Damn (uttered very silently)!

- I will see what I can do, but do not get your hopes up.

Double damn.

She walked over to another counter and called someone from a phone there. It seemed like a very long conversation, given the possible denial of service I was facing in the very near future.

She came back over and started typing something on the computer.

- it going to be possible for me to go?

- Hmm. Yes, it looks like it. You're lucky!

She meant it. And I was. I even got a window seat.

Fishing conference
The plane, a very old 737, was almost full. Surprisingly so, until I realised that they were throwing an international fishing conference on Nauru. Not too international, though. Most participants seemed to be from Taiwan (Nauru has acknowledged Taiwan as a country - most countries have not as China requires countries to pick us (China) or them (Taiwan)), Solomon Islands and Australia. Then again, not many people have even heard about Nauru, the world's third smallest country (after the Vatican and Monaco), let alone imagined that it is possible to actually go there.

Nauru has nice views.
 I arrived Nauru (INU) late at night, and it seemed like the entire village (or country) had arrived to greet everyone arriving. Some of those there, it emerged, didn't really have a choice. The runway is also a part of the 19 kilometer long road around the island, and the road is blocked every time a plane arrives (which is not very often). Instead of driving the other way around the island, they rather check out who is coming from the "mainland" (aka. Australia, Tuvalu or Solomon Islands) before continuing.

Checked in luggage is overrated. It takes extra time, constrains mobility and gets lost every once in a while. I usually only travel with hand luggage, so also this time, making me the first person to leave the luggage room of one of the smallest airport buildings I have seen (and I am from Naustdal, a small village in Norway with a the very small neighbouring airport of Førde bringeland (FDE)).


The serious looking customs guy behind a tiny wooden counter looked at me for one second, called me over and asked without hesitation:

- Are you the tourist?

The scene was set. It was only me, the locals and some other foreign people working with fish. No other tourists? I was thrilled. And then he smiled.

- Welcome to Nauru!

Of course my non-existing visa meant that the custom guy had to hold on to my passport until I was gonna leave. I wasn't worried. Crime can't be high on an island with less than 9,000 people, 19 kilometers of roads and nowhere to hide.
Run around a country
So, what do you do on Nauru? Well, it's a pretty circular island, surrounded by coral reefs. With, as mentioned, a road running around it. A road running around it. How many countries can claim having the same? And I had never ran around a country before. Now, I have. Nauru is just south of the Equator though, so running around the island just after lunch does not come recommended. Now, I know. I have never sweat that much since I for the first time ate a phall curry at Balti Curries in the main street of Falmouth, Cornwall in 1997.  But I made it. Just to arrive back at the hotel to discover that the water was switched off during the day. There is not much freshwater on Nauru.

I air dried pretty fast and picked the computer furthest from other people at the Internet cafe afterwards.

On my way around Nauru. Excuse my sweat.
A choice of two
The hotel situation on Nauru is rather limited. Od'n Aiwo Hotel is the cheaper hotel "downtown" while there is a more expensive "resort" on the other side of the island. The latter has a bar and hot water and is on a beach, but I still decided to go central. There was no hot water, and a woman visiting for fishing conference was in my room upon arrival (all the doors were open and she liked my room better than hers, so she tried to nick it), but there were no major issues, really.

The main problem was finding it. I arrived at night, and without any taxis I decided to walk through the dark. That was working out great until a guy in a pickup stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. He and two teenagers had picked up a relative coming by the plane, so the car was full, but not the back. I jumped in.

- Where are you going?

- I'm going to the hotel. (I couldn't remember the name. But I mean, who can remember Od'n Aiwo in the middle of the night anyway?)

- No problem, he said in a slight American accent and sped off.

Very friendly of him to pick up a total stranger in complete darkness. But then again, no crime to talk of. And I was the single person. The four of them could have trashed me if I were up to no good. The only problem was that he took me to the wrong hotel. Not his fault, of course. I was saved by the local bus driver who arrived 25 minutes later with the other plane passengers. He drove me to Od'n Aiwo free of charge.

- Enjoy your stay, he shouted after letting me off.

So, what does the central hotel mean`? "Central" means a choice of one shop, a couple of bottle shops, an Internet cafe, a police station, the city hall and two restaurants. Coming from Naustdal, I immediately felt at home.

These shoes are made for walking. Not running.
They never left the country.
 I tried both restaurants, one Chinese and one, well, let's call it non-ethnic. The Chinese will get the Michelin star of the country thanks to decent food and big portions. It's on the first floor of the hotel. There's nothing that even resembles a wine list, but they'll let you bring beers from the local bottle shop.

Wooden x-ray trays. Classic!

There may not be much to do on Nauru, but it is like a stereotypical Pacific island. (Of course it is a Pacific island, but that's not the point.) The beaches are beautiful, so is the water temperature. The food selection is somewhat limited, there's almost no nightlife on offer, but people are very friendly and just being able to run around a country makes it all even more worthwhile. I'll be happy to come again. My Tour de Nauru time might need improving, and that won't happen just after noon. At least I wore sunscreen.