Does this Fanning Island photo look like paradise to you? Alan and I experienced the tropical looking scene when Seabourn Odyssey anchored outside the atoll’s reef on the way to Hawaii. Along with many other passengers, we boarded a tender on a cruise excursion to spend a few hours in one of the most remote places on Earth.
At the dock, Alan and I discovered a sort of folk festival–craft show atmosphere put on especially for cruise ship guests. School children sat under a grass awning singing songs. Residents dressed in native garb posed for enthusiastic photographers—for a fee—or stood behind tables filled with sea shell necklaces, grass baskets, wood carvings and other trinkets. But, the festive scenario couldn’t hide the hardscrabble life lived on Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands).
Alan and I walked a ways down a dusty road looking for photography opportunities. Roosters scratched their way through brush filled with empty coconut shells. Children smiled shyly as they passed by on bicycles followed by friendly dogs. And, the wooden piles that we saw in the water turned out to be kelp farms.
When we returned to the area near the dock, once again passing craft tables, Alan handed me money and said, “I don’t care what you buy, or if we ever use the items, just spend all of this.”
Upon returning to the ship, bag of Fanning Island crafts in hand, an Australian passenger remarked to me, “We didn’t go over today. Those people don’t even live on Fanning Island. They’re brought over to make money off of cruise guests.”
Was she correct? As much as I’ve researched, I couldn’t confirm her words. But this I know, if our cruise ship ever anchors off Fanning Island again, Alan and I will repeat the scenario—walk around, take photos and bring cash in the hopes that buying a few trinkets helps someone out.