20 July 2015

The eerie, dead, razor-sharp coral makes the beach off limits.

Nauru is often listed as the least visited country on earth. It is not easy to get to, has little to see, no good place to stay, and few things to do.

However, I found a couple of days in Nauru to be not exactly "fun" but "interesting" due to its peculiarities.

Nauru is also the world's smallest island nation ― one oval island just over three miles long and two miles wide with about 10,000 people.

Yes, this is the entire country. (Photo: AFP)

My photo of about half the country taken from the mostly empty Boeing 737 of Nauru Airlines.

Note the scale on this Lonely Planet map.
Menan House is where I stayed.

Pretty little Buada Lagoon (see on map above) is surrounded
by some of the more upscale homes on the island.

Sadly, Nauru is known today as one of the main locations for the detention camps set up by Australia to house people intercepted on boats. After months or years of imprisonment, some people are released from confinement and allowed to live openly but still effectively marooned on the island.

When I was out walking my first morning in Nauru, Sayed, a refugee from Pakistan, kindly offered to give me an island tour on his bike. He refused my vigorous efforts to pay for petrol.
Above is Sayed by one of the remaining phosphorus operations.

Sayed showed me his cubicle room at the refugee camp.

Most of the dozen refugees (mostly I met guys from Pakistan but also from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan) I spoke with were painfully depressed about their situation in Nauru. They blamed Australian PM Tony Abbott for blocking the boat people. Sayed was sad too but managed a more upbeat attitude.

Nauru was a wealthy country in the 1960s and 70s when surface strip mining of its then plentiful phosphate rocks was going strong. Today most of the easily extractable phosphate has been depleted and the resulting environmental damage is widespread.

Nauru lacks a harbor and these gigantic, rusting old cantilevers were used to get phosphate out to ships. They looked one moment away from becoming a "transformer" creature (Megatron? Optimus Prime?).

Some phosphate extraction does continues however, as this ship awaits a new supply.

I rented an old scooter to explore the island. I'd never before journeyed around a country's entire perimeter land border (actually three times).

This Japanese pill box from WWII was never used because the Allies decided Nauru was not worth a battle.

Top: Nauru's judicial building;
Bottom: the Parliament building.
Obtaining a Nauru visa was a challenge involving dozens of unanswered emails. Buying a ticket on Nauru Airlines was another task. And the less said about Menen Hotel the better.

In contrast to the smiling, welcoming people of Tuvalu, most of the local Nauruans I encountered seemed gloomy. And I suppose having one of the world's highest rates of diabetes and obesity (71% obese) does not help.

The heartache of so many despondent refugees, poor sour locals, and environmental devastation, not to mention the current political turmoil, is not the exactly a Paul Gauguin portrait of an idyllic Pacific island. And yet, for an inquisitive traveler who wants to see the world as it is ― and has an outbound plane ticket, unlike Sayed ― the short visit was interesting.