This week’s post in this series comes out of an exercise at a writer’s group I attend where we were challenged to write a travel article, and as such is lighter in tone and longer in length than usual:
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world,” wrote Mary Anne Radmacher.
Have you ever looked at the moon from a different angle? I don’t mean looking at it upside down as kids are wont to do for no reason in particular. Have you ever looked at the moon and it looked upside down?
Now before you remind me that the moon is round and that there is no up or down side to a circle, I’m talking about a quarter moon or a crescent moon. Have you ever seen a crescent moon where the crescent just doesn’t seem to be in the right place?
That’s how it seemed to me when I lived and worked on Nauru for a few months.
Nauru, the Pleasant Island, is a tiny island nation just 23 km around, lying in the Pacific Ocean 30km south of the equator and some 2800km north-west of Australia. It is a typical tropical island – palm trees, warm blue seas, smiling locals and cheap food.
A reef encircles Nauru, with the ocean floor dropping away to a depth of over 2km at the edge of the reef. To swim or snorkel to the “drop off” is on the bucket list for expats who fly in-fly out for work to Nauru.
Other bucket list items include walking or running around the island – this can be done in around an hour for a fit runner or between 3.5 and 5 hours for walkers depending on fitness. There’s also the freshwater caves running under the hills that make up the centre of the island. These caves are said to lead out to sea and at least one local has been known to have died trying to find the route, after a night of drinking.
On another sombre note the Japanese invaded Nauru during World War II and there are a number of physical reminders of this tragic time in Nauru’s history. Concrete “pill boxes” or gun emplacements can be found on the coast line. Jail cells were constructed in between the pillars of limestone which the tropical plant life has not been able to obliterate. An anti-aircraft gun that shot down a US plane is still in place, and doing the “Bomber Trek” is a popular after work exercise route for many expats.
The oceans around Nauru readily yield tuna, wahoo and barracuda and a fishing trip with one of the locals can be easily arranged. For the more adventurous there’s the opportunity to learn to free dive off the drop-off; just be prepared for bleeding ear drums at least on your first dive. However the prize of fresh red lobsters is worth the pain to those who attempt this. For those less hardy a trip around the island in a local fishing boat, not much larger than a dinghy with an outboard, and without life jackets, can easily be arranged. Pods of dolphins often play along-side and if you’re lucky a barracuda or small tuna can be caught just by trawling a line behind the boat.
Fancy fresh coconut? Just ask a local and someone will shimmy up a tree for you. Coconuts are also used to line the edges of gardens and driveways, and at Christmas are wrapped in coloured foil paper like huge bonbons and decorate the fronts of homes.
I hope you like Chinese food as that’s what’s on offer at most of the little restaurants on the island. For expats it is recommended that you limit your culinary adventures to one of a half dozen “safe” restaurants. The restaurants at the Menen and Od’n Hotels are fine, as is Zong Wah’s across the road from the Menen. The Bay at Anibar serves Western and Indian meals, while Moon River and Jules night club round out the eating places that can be sure not to overly excite an expat’s digestive system.
For those who wish to “see the sights” there’s the Nauruan Government building, the Civic Centre, the Nauruan Olympic team office (and yes, Nauru is a medal winning nation in power-lifting), the Australian High Commission and the ruin of the former President’s home. This home sits at the top of one of the island’s hills overlooking the sea. It burnt down a number of years ago, but in its heyday it sported a swimming pool and servants’ quarters and was a very beautiful building.
Accommodation can be found in one of the two hotels on the island. Both the Od’n and the Menen have been grand hotels in their day but the descent into national poverty when the phosphate mining dwindled have meant that neither have been maintained to a level that would gain even a one-star rating in Australia. That said, the Menen has reasonable rooms, all of which have an ocean view. The rooms range from a small double room with own bathroom to a one bedroom suite. Just be prepared for water pressure to vary between good, with hot and cold water, to non-existent or cold water only.
Getting to and from Nauru is via Our Airline. The staff are friendly and very helpful. On both arriving and departing Nauru one is tempted to pray that the plane either comes to a halt or takes off before running into the ocean, as the airstrip is built onto the side of the island, with the Pacific Ocean only metres below each end of the runway.
With the influx of expats working fly in-fly out jobs the local economy is growing with the addition of a second large supermarket. Small “$2 shops” abound with China Town being a popular place. Shops sell everything from soft drinks and chips to motorbikes and washing machines.
I have seen the moon, if not quite on the other side of the world, but certainly a long way from home. Doing so has enabled me to assess my place in the world and to discover that not only is the world bigger than I expected it is also much smaller. No matter whether big or small no country can any longer claim to be an island unto itself.