It takes just 30 minutes to tour the island of Funafuti.
Our tour guide, young photographer Aselu Lopati, points out the primary and secondary school, the hospital, the fisheries office, the Tuvalu navy compound, the USP campus, the row of blue houses “where only the lawyers live” and the bright green government housing.
As we drive around the island he also points to the houses of foreign countries like the Taiwan and Japan mansions. “These are the millionaires of Tuvalu,” he says.
During the ride we stop at the Prime Minister’s house. It has a beautiful garden and its own satellite dish.
Aselu tells us a story of two prisoners with a life sentence who prepare the Prime Minister’s breakfast every morning and clean his house.
Following the road to the end of the island, I see many nicely painted churches but what stands out the most are the graves that sit right on the sands of the beach. I am surprised to see so many graves close to the small houses and just two metres away from the lagoon.
I see people sleeping in their hammocks tied to the trees on the beach and people living with only a roof over their heads.
The people I see wave and smile; the children signal me to take photos of them.
We pass the two volleyball courts where a large numbers of children gather every afternoon. There isn’t that much entertainment on Tuvalu and most families don’t have TVs but they love sports.
Football and volleyball are the best, says Aselu, but recently they have started playing basketball.
I meet many locals. Some want to go overseas; others prefer to live a simple life of catching fish and being with the ones they love.
After a short drive we make it to the end of the island. One pandanus tree stands alone among a mass of well-worn white coral rocks that take the force of the choppy waves.
Across the lagoon I can see another Tuvalu island that Aselu says you can walk or swim to when the tides are low.
A lot of the land on Tuvalu used to be just swamp areas and there wasn’t enough room to build houses, but now those swamps have been filled and the people have reclaimed their land.
One place you must visit is the Causeway, says Aselu. The Causeway is a small bridge that connects a narrow gap on Funafuti.
There, it takes only 10 people to hold hands across the island – a classic shot in Tuvalu.
Now, further on, we are getting closer to the opposite end of the island where the rubbish dump is.
Aselu says the rubbish dump used to be more central but with no way of managing or recycling waste, it was moved to the very end of the island.
No one goes there, Aselu tells me, but the ladies still venture past the dump to collect shells on the beach.
There is silence as I take photos of the dump. The people of Tuvalu don’t really talk about it.
A dark orange sunset looms over the dump site.
We leave the dump quickly and head back to town and now it is starting to become dark.
Down at the new convention centre, delegates who came to the forum dance on the sand and drink plenty.
I see the Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga celebrating all the effort they have made to make the Pacific Islands Forum a success.
He dances and he sings and the crowd cheer.
I’ll never forget the kindness of the people and the laughter we shared.