Location: Christmas Island, Kiribati
Day 16 - Land Tour
by Karen Brown
We thought we'd never get here!...Christmas Island! (It is actually spelled "Kiritimati" but pronounced "Christmas"!) (Can you find Christmas Island on a map or globe?)
Christmas Island is the largest coral atoll in the world! It is shaped like a gigantic turkey leg! It is about 32 miles (60 kilometers) long, and 10 miles (18 kilometers) wide, at the widest point. Even though it is so large we did not see it until we were just a few miles away. That is because the island is very flat. It is only old coral reef that is just above the sea level. The highest point is a place called, Joe's Hill, about 40 feet (12 meters) above the ocean! We would not like to be on this island during a storm with big waves because we could get washed away!
When looking down on coral atolls from outer space they look like rings you would wear on your fingers. An atoll is usually just a ring or corals surrounding a lagoon. Christmas Island's lagoon is mostly filled in so it has a very small lagoon.
We are anxious to go ashore as soon as possible because we are only here for today and there is a lot we want to see and do. But, before we can go ashore, we have to have the Kirabati government customs and immigration officials come on board to clear the ship and everyone for landing.
The Kiribati officials arrive in a small, funny-looking boat. It is an outrigger, similar in design to the outrigger canoes that we saw racing in Hawaii (Day 4). This outrigger is bigger than the ones we saw racing in Hawaii so it is not powered by paddlers, but by an outboard engine, like the engines we use on our Zodiacs.
After the officials check our passports, we are free to go ashore to explore Christmas Island. (Wayne is staying not going ashore here. He will be scuba diving with Captain Frank while I explore on land.) We use our Zodiacs to take people inside the lagoon where the town harbor is located. To get through the lagoon and we have to follow a local man in a small boat. We follow his boat to carefully weave our way through the shallow maze of coral reefs and into the harbor.
The tiny harbor we arrive at is only a crescent-shaped sandy cove about a 150 feet (45 meters) across. There is no dock, just a metal and concrete wall on one side of the cove. (This wall probably protects the harbor from strong winds.) I guess everyone on the island knew we were coming because a bunch kids are sitting on the wall, watching us!
We pull our Zodiacs up on the beach and discover that some of the local ladies have set-up a little shopping mall for us. They have tables on the beach and are displaying things for sale that they have made. They have baskets made of string and small, pretty cowry shells. Another lady had one thing which I bought...A shark tooth knife!
The ancient Polynesians did not have metal as Europeans did. For cutting they used what they had available -- the sharp teeth from sharks they caught! (The teeth on many sharks are as sharp as razor blades.) The Polynesians tied the shark teeth to wooden sticks which gave the sticks sharp edges and were used as knives or swords.
I see that there is an official welcome for us under a canopy. The officials of the island are here to welcome us and are here with a group of dancers in native dress. The dancers are both men and women. All the clothes they are wearing are all made woven leaves and palms and other plants and decorated with cowry shells. They do a dance for us called the "ruoia". The women stand in a line in front of the men and do a dance like the hula. The men stand behind them and chant as they clap.
After the dancers are done I hop on a local "taxi" (the back of a pick-up truck) to see the town. The town is called London. It is the biggest town on Christmas Island. The road we are riding on is only sand, as are all the roads on Christmas Island. Most of the scattered buildings I see in town are made of corrugated metal. No building is over one-story tall. Some people live in homes made of palm fronds! As I ride through town I pass by the town library. It is very small. It is probably about twice the size of the garage at your house. I wonder if there have very many books in this library.
About 2,000 Kiribati people live on Christmas Island. No one lived on this island when it was discovered by the famous British Captain James Cook on Christmas eve in 1777. No one lived on this island until 150 years later when the British started a coconut plantation here. The British last used the island for testing atomic bombs in the 1950's and 1960's. Fortunately the atomic bombs were only exploded in the air high over the island, not on or under the island. There is no radiation from those tests that can be dangerous to people or animals, so everyone is safe here.
After a quick tour of town I head back to the beach. I have to get back to Odyssey by lunch time, because I need to eat quickly so I am ready to go snorkeling this afternoon. I also want to hear about Wayne's scuba dive with Captain Frank.
Christmas Island, Kiribati
Position: 1º 56' N / 157º 24' W
Air Temp: 84ºF
Weather: light breeze, clear skies with scattered clouds
Sea Conditions: calm seas
A photo of Christmas Island from the Space Shuttle. (Click on the photo to see where Clipper Odyssey is anchored.)
This is the outrigger that the Kiribati officials came out to Odyssey on.
A bunch of kids sit on the sea wall to watch us as we arrrive on their island.
Karen (white hat) and Big John shop for souvenirs on the beach from ladies selling their handicrafts. Behind them is a local taxi -- A pick-up trucks with seats in the back!
This is the sharp tooth knife I bought! It is 10 inches (25 centimeters) long and has 16 shark teeth. Cowry shells are glued to the wood for decoration.
These men and women, and kids, too, do the dance called the "ruoia". The clothes they are wearing are all made from the leaves of palm trees and other plants.
This small building is the Christmas Island Public Library. It is about the the twice the size of the garage at your home.