My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Saturday’s scene: paradise lost?

2013/02/02by Donna Hull

fanning-island-kelp-farm

Kelp farm on Fanning Island

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.

Have you visited Fanning Island? Post a comment to share your thoughts.


A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of New Mexico Backroads Weekend Adventure.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Vera Marie Badertscher
Twitter:
February 3, 2013 at 11:35 am

What an interesting story. However, whether those people were from Fanning Island or not, you can bet they needed the money from the crafts you bought. And what a postcard-beautiful picture that is!
Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..A Southernmost Cookbook To Warm You UpMy Profile

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Vera Marie Badertscher
Twitter:
February 3, 2013 at 11:51 am

What an interesting story. It got me curious, and I did a little Googling. I imagine you discovered this site also: http://pcmabout.wordpress.com/visit-fanning-island/. It certainly sounds legitimate. And it was interesting to learn that the local council gets $2 per passenger who visits, in addition to the craft sales, with their listed benefits.

I had a similar dilemma in Cambodia. Children beg and sell things outside the temples. I did not give to the beggars, but could not resist buying form the sellers. My (Cambodian) guide did not like it, because he felt the children should be in school, and should not be encouraged in their activities.

If you should return to Fanning, you might want to consider taking things to deliver to the people, rather than just money. There are a couple of charities that specialize in having people deliver things that have been requested in far-flung places. However, whether those people you bought from were from Fanning Island or not, you can bet they needed the money from the crafts you bought. I think you did good.

And what a postcard-beautiful picture that is!
Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..A Southernmost Cookbook To Warm You UpMy Profile

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
February 8, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Thanks for the link, Vera Marie. I had not seen that site. There’s a good list of things to bring when visiting Fanning Island. I’ll remember that for next time. Unfortunately, Holland America doesn’t call on Fanning Island any longer (or at least not on a regular basis). When they pulled their ships out of Hawaii, that ended the frequent visits to Fanning Island. It was a great economic loss for the people who depended on their visits.

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Rosemary Carstens February 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm

These situations are really complicated and it is so hard to know what would best help to address the poverty so much of the world suffers. Of course, I think you and Alan did was a good thing. You did help someone in the best way you could at the time. It’s crushing sometimes to come face-to-face with all that we have and are able to do when others live so close to the edge. For years when I was traveling mostly to developing countries I took tons of photographs, snapping here, snapping there. Then, one day back home as I went out to get the paper “clothed” in a beloved but somewhat disreputable robe with my hair a fright wig, someone pulled up in front of my house and took a photo! I realized that was what I was doing as a tourist–what I was finding quaint and curious in other cultures was really the hardscrabble lives of others less fortunate than me. I now rarely take photos of people in those circumstances. Those lives are not a photo opp, they are a reminder that conditions are far from equal in this world and that only an accident of birth has kept me from being in their spot.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
February 8, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Rosemary, you bring up an important issue about photos of people, especially in third world countries. We seldom take them and if we do, it’s from the back so that they can’t be identified.

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Chip Allen February 6, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Interesting article Donna. I’m new to your blog – but I’m really enjoying reading about your travels. Thanks. Chip

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
February 8, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Thanks for giving us a look.

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Mark H February 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm

What a difficult dilemma and wonderful comments from Vera. I think we fcan only make our best judgements and try to put somehting back into the communities we visit. I know in hindsight or from stories that I ahve amde some errors in giving but it is always with the best of intentions and you can’t do better than that.
Mark H recently posted..Exploring Kootenay National Park (Canada)My Profile

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm

You are so right, Mark. Even if the cruise events are somewhat of a dog and pony show, at least cruise visitors but money back into the Kiribati economy. I can’t imagine living on such an isolated low-lying island in the middle of a great big ocean.

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Keit Robati June 29, 2013 at 4:52 pm

If they “don’t even live on Fanning Island”, as i they aren’t resident there everyday on a long-term basis, where do you think they live? Have you ever tried to reach Fanning, except by cruise ship. It’s not the sort of place you can just pop over to in your canoe, put on a fancy dress outfit and entertain the tourists, and then pop back home for tea. This is not Disneyland!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm

We agree, Keith.

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Marie August 17, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Sigh ! The Aussie lady on your ship was sooooo wrong. A pampered fool !
It takes a ship two or three days to get to the closest islands from Fanning island and Christmas island and the other Kiribati islands. Where does she think all these people are boated in from ?
All of the islands on Kiribati are very poor. They need everything ! You and Alan absolutely did the right thing by buying as much as you could. Your have made a difference and good for you !!
The people you saw live on Kiribati. Anytime they are hit by a big storm, they suffer a lot of damage to their frail infrastructure. They make the best of very little. And they do it happily.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Thanks, Marie, for validating our opinions about Kiribati. It was hard to find confirming facts even with the wealth of information on the web. We appreciate that you took the time to comment.

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