Curving its way above and below the equator, the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced 'Kiri-bas') encompasses the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands, and was known under British rule as the Gilbert Islands. Measured by land size Kiribati is a tiny nation of just over 810 sq km, but its 33 atolls span a huge 3.5 million sq km of the Pacific. Most atolls surround turquoise lagoons and barely rise above the surrounding ocean, so it's rare to be out of the sight and sound of the sea.
Kiribati's recent colonial and WWII history has had little impact on the outer islands, where the people subsist on coconuts, breadfruit and fish as they have done for centuries. Even on the main island, Tarawa, most locals live in traditional raised thatched huts. Western influence is increasing, though, in the form of cars, bars, movies and the Internet, and inevitably there's an escalating urban drift from the outer islands to Tarawa.
The people of the islands are known as I-Kiribati. Wide-eyed children may chirp a bold 'mauri' (hello) to passing strangers, while their elders tend towards a laconic raise of an eyebrow in greeting. Nothing happens fast here, so wind down, relax and enjoy living on island time.