Abemama: a trip to remote Gilbert Islands
July 3rd-8th, 2015
Kiribati is not only Tarawa, but half of the country's total population is scattered on small remote atolls, usually served by weekly flights provided by Air Kiribati. One of these atolls of the Gilbert Islands group is Abemama, where in addition to wonderful and unspoiled tropical landscapes, you can understand more about the interesting life of local people.
A trip to Abemama usually start aboard a small prop plane provided by Air Kiribati a few times per week from and to Tarawa (the flight takes about 40 minutes). A landing in Abemama with good weather offers breathtaking views of the beautiful oval-shaped atoll and its turquoise lagoon. In the top left picture, you can see the airstrip (Abemama airport) where the plane is about to land.
Pictures of Abemama Airport. The runway, with a quite uneven surface, is suitable only for small planes such as the DHC-6 Twin Otter.
On the left, Air Kiribati's Twin Otter just arrived in Abemama from Tarawa. In the right picture, Abemama airport buildings.
The inhabited side of Abemama atoll is over 30 kilometers long, but the airport has been built on the northern area of the island, quite far from most villages. Therefore, passengers are transported to destination aboard this truck used as a bus.
On the way to the village, the landscape consists of dense vegetation of palm trees, cut by the only bumpy track crossing the islands (the average speed can be only around 10-20km per hour).
Pictures of Abemama. Occasionally the vegetation of Abemama is interrupted by some village consisting in a small group of buildings, usually made in traditional style.
A maneaba surrounded by tall palm trees. The maneaba is a building consisting of a roof supported by several poles, used as meeting place or, sometimes, as a school or church. All Kiribati villages have at least one maneaba.
Once at destination, I am welcomed in a beautiful and comfortable house equipped with a bedroom, bathroom and living room, all built in traditional style.
Among the guests of the house, there are many hermit crabs walking everywhere on the floor.
Other houses in a village of Abemama.
Farm animals in Abemama, as throughout Kiribati, are mainly chickens and pigs which often roam freely among the houses of the villages.
This village in Abemama overlooks the sea and in these two pictures you can see the difference between low and high tide. During low tide the sea goes away a lot and part of the reef remains exposed to air.
On the left, a large fish trap built on the reef of Abemama. During high tide, fish enter, but then, as soon as the sea withdraws, they can no longer get out. In the right picture, a child plays with a fish just taken from the trap.
The Abemama atoll is made up of several islands separated by narrow channels which connect the interior lagoon with the Pacific ocean. During low tide (left photo) channel becomes a huge beach with just a series of natural pools, while at high tide (right photo) the channel is flooded completely, changing the landscape radically.
More photos of canals that separate the main islands of Abemama. Mangroves, important plants that have adapted to live in a salty environment, serve as important anti erosion barrier.
Photos of Abemama. During low tide, the beaches along the inner side of the atoll become an endless stretch of sand that shows only small streams and pools of salt water.
Swim at low tide becomes a kind of problem because you have to walk for a kilometer before meeting the water of the lagoon. In any case, the scenery is spectacular and it is very fun to walk on the sand modeled by the waves of the previous tide, or riddled by thousands of crabs (bottom right photo).
The sea appears as a thin blue line on the horizon. While walking here, just keep an eye on the clock and come back before the arrival of the high tide, which can exceed two meters.
During high tide, the landscape changes completely, it becomes even more heavenly and is easier to swim.
A very common inhabitant in Abemama, as well as throughout Kiribati.
Along the only road that bisects longitudinally Abemama atoll, there is a continuous succession of villages or small groups of houses where people live in the traditional way. In Kiribati is never cold, so building an house doesn't require special building materials.
Copra production and processing of other products derived from palm trees, is the main activity in Abemama. Such products are sold and delivered to other islands in Kiribati and abroad.
Another product that is derived from palm trees, is a juice that once cooked vaguely recalls the maple syrup. It is obtained by cutting a young palm leaf with a sharp knife, renewing the cut a couple of times a day. Under the stump of the leaf, bottle collects the juice coming out from the cut. The operation needs to be performed on the top of the palm tree, where the worker climbs quickly and without any protection.
Where is the sea? In this point of the atoll of Abemama, the sea disappears completely at low tide.
Anyway, it is enough just to walk a little bit, to find pools filled during the previous high tide, while in the distance visitors can see Pacific ocean waves breaking on the reef.
The inhabitants of Abemama are always very curious and very happy to see a rare tourist on their island.