Today I boarded a plane in a crowded, small airport in Suva, Fiji to head to the tiny crescent shaped island of Tuvalu in the South Pacific. I stood in line for hours among eager and jovial Tuvaluans and a few pasty white tourists with sun-hats and flashy Japanese cameras in tow.
I undoubtedly fall into the latter category and I was already asking questions of anyone who seemed ready to talk. It turns out we were on a flight that was practically filled with Tuvaluans who were returning home from a medical mission to Fiji -- these were Tuvaluans who needed medical treatment that the small hospital in Tuvalu was not able to provide. Some were traveling back home healed, others were not so fortunate. A 16-year-old boy, tragically, was not making the trip back at all. He passed away in the Fijian hospital. I learned that he was a burn victim and my heart went out to his family for their loss. I wanted to know more about the situation but did not want to ask questions given the emotional state in the airport. Suffice it to say that some in the airport were distraught, while others were very eager to return home.
Our small plane flew over Fiji's tropical, mountainous, bountiful islands on our journey to the much less bountiful, nearly flat island country of Tuvalu. Before long the atoll was in sight, with its sliver-sized coral "earth" popping out of the sea. Many pictures later, and we touched down - rocked down, more accurately - on the short runway. Practically every Tuvaluan and their dog greeted us at the airport. It turns out that plane landings are a major event on the island.
I was greeted warmly and enthusiastically. After a particularly non-formal process of getting my passport stamped, I walked the approximately 100 feet to my hotel, ready to explore this little slice of geological, geographical wonder that is known as Tuvalu.
To see pics from the start of this Tuvalu trip visit visit our Facebook page.