No bars, no visitors

Last resort Nauru
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The Independent Travel
When I arrived in Nauru, in the Pacific Ocean, the immigration officer automatically issued me with a transit visa. No one stays in Naura for long. Not surprising given that, at 21 square kilometres, Nauru is metre-for-metre the most maligned country on earth.

If you've heard of it, that's probably because the entire economy is based upon mining prehistoric bird droppings and selling the "crop" to Australia and New Zealand as fertiliser. Naurans have had to endure constant scatological references to their country in the press. An example: when the nation tried to show how cultured it is by bankrolling a West End musical based on the life of Leonardo da Vinci, one critic called it "slightly more entertaining than a pile of guano".

The result: the Naurans are pathologically media shy. You won't find "Visit Nauru" booths at travel shows, and there are no package holidays to its pristine beaches. There is one hotel (mostly for development workers in transit to other countries) and one motel (mostly empty). In tourism terms, it's not only virgin territory, it's pre-pubescent.

Thanks to a superb free education system, most Naurans speak both Nauran and English. Whether you can get them to talk to you is another matter. The Naurans themselves tend to be surprised at, and suspicious of, visitors. No one can quite believe that you are there on holiday. You must be out to make covert fun of them.

Nauru is literally and figuratively insular. The country has no street addresses, since everyone knows where everyone else lives. It has but one road, which circumscribes the island. It has no bars. And news travels faster than the speed of sound.

There is no public transport, but start walking down the road and any passing car will stop to pick you up. And people will let you tag along when they do the things that Naurans do for entertainment.

After a few days at the Od-Nauru-Aiwo Motel, I was invited to stay at the house of Mrs Amram, the widow of the country's first reverend. Her son and his friends took me up into the interior and taught me the intricacies of hunting the local game bird with nothing but a butterfly net and a bird-call CD.

The next night, Mrs Amram's cheerful, charming daughter-in-law Wo-Wo took me fishing. We stood on the beach and fished with pieces of wire tied to Coke cans. In one riotous hour, we caught enough fish for dinner for the whole family.

Mrs Amram would take me to church where we would sing hymns in Nauran. If I could erase all the knowledge the world has about Nauru and put something else in its place, it would be that the Naurans can sing even better than digitally remastered bird-call CDs.

So, if you want package Polynesian holidays, go to Fiji. If you want to make friends with an entire country, go to Nauru. Tell 'em Cleo, the tourist of '96, sent you.

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