Tuvalu’s only runway stretches from one end of Fongafale and in a diagonal line to the other. In contrast to most airstrips, this is mainly used for everything except planes!
The 1300 meter long airstrip is covering the longest straight part the Americans (on their way to Japan) were able to find on Tuvalu when they built the strip in 1943.
Consequently, the strip is occupying most of the centre of the 1,4 km2 island. As the population on Fongafale is roughly 5000 people and the runway is taking up a lot of the small estimated space per person, the settlement and ”city centre” is mainly situated alongside it.
The governmental house, the national bank, the national common house where all the main cultural events and parliament session take place (the Maniapa), the two hotels, the most fancy houses (The Prime Minister, The Governeur General/The Queens representative on Tuvalu etc.), the internet cafe, the police station, the club, the prison, the library, the national sports field, the power plant, the Taiwanese garden – everything is here.
The strip is also the hub for a huge proportion of social activities on this island.
During the day the strip is used for motor biking (even though it is not really allowed), crossing – for people needing to go to the ocean side of the island to get their coconut soap, feed their pigs (there are cages with pigs on both sides of the airstrip), get to work (in the power plant, in the NGO offices, in the Taiwanese garden …) or work out on the national sports field.
However it is in the afternoon that things start happening here. Every evening after work the volleyball, soccer and rugby teams from most of the nine islands are meeting at the strip for their daily training. From five and until the sun goes down at seven, the strip is filled with teams playing and preparing for the next game. Quite an amazing sight!
And as the guys play soccer or rugby, the girls play volleyball or take a walk alongside it – up and down the runway (as this is the ultimate spot to check out all the guys of Tuvalu!).
This is not all! At night, this amazing strip is also a public bed!! If it is either too hot at home or you are too drunk to go home, the cool and full of space strip is a popular solution. Early morning, especially in the weekends, you can see the people sleeping behind their cars or motorbikes on the runway!
So Tuesdays and Thursdays, in order to make space for the airplane, small roadblock signs are put up, one of the islands two fire cars comes out on the side of the strip and puts on the whaling, a guy with a megaphone shouts at everyone still driving on the strip and someone chases away runaway dogs and pigs. Then finally, after the plane has left, the airstrip can go back to normal and life can start again on Tuvalu.