Approaching these islands by plane – after endless miles of rolling ocean – a dazzling smear of turquoise and green appears, ringed with coral and studded with tiny, palm-topped islets, sitting vulnerably in the surrounding waters.
The landmass of Fongafale Islet (2.8 sq km), Tuvalu’s main island, is so startlingly narrow that as the plane nears the airstrip it seems as if it’s about to tip into the ocean. In fact, the airstrip is something of a social hub: kids play ball games on the runway in the late afternoons, young men race up and down it on their motorcycles and, on steamy summer nights, whole families may drag their sleeping mats and pillows out to spend the night on the tarmac (in the stifling heat it’s the best place to catch breezes).
There’s a small selection of accommodation on Fongafale that includes a hotel, a lodge, a motel and some family-run guesthouses. There’s also a basic guesthouse on Funafala Islet.
Most restaurants on Tuvalu sell cheap, filling plates of Chinese-style food. Restaurants sometimes suffer from shortages when shipments don’t arrive. Thursday to Saturday is party night on Fongafale, when the old-timers go to ‘twists’ (discos) and the youngsters go ‘clubbing’.