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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Marshall Islands - Laura Beach
COUNTRY FACTS Population: 60,422 Area: Island Nation of 29 atolls; total area = 11,854 km2; land area=181.3 km2. Gov't: Constitutional in free association with US Religion: Christian View Map
Laura, March 14, 2003  

Flag of the Republic of the Marshall Islands THE MARSHALL ISLANDS


Mar 11. MAJURO We left on an early flight out of Honolulu for The Marshall Islands.  The flight was only about four and a half hours but we crossed the International Date Line so we lost a day, arriving in Majuro on March 12th around 10:00am .  The plane was a mixture of local islanders, a few tourists, and a conspicuous group of people that we guessed were bound for Kwajalein.  It was their clean cut academic appearance that gave them away and many were far too pale to spend much time in the tropics so we deduced they must be on a business trip to the military base.  While we were checking in at the airport, we talked with a woman who had been living in Kwaj for quite some time.  She loved it and said it was a real tight knit community, mostly contractors for the US government and a handful of military personnel.  We’d read about Ebeye, a nearby island on Kwajalein atoll where a large population of Marshallese live in slum like conditions, a stark contrast to their American neighbors.  Our plans weren’t going to take us to Ebeye or Kwaj so we wouldn’t be able to give a first hand view of the situation but our travels in the southern Marshall Islands would expose us to some of the controversy around the complex US-Marshallese relationship.

As we started to land on Majuro Atoll, the narrowness of the island kept us from seeing any land until we were about 50 feet from the ground.  Majuro has a total of 3.9 square miles of land stretched around a lagoon that measures just over 25 miles in diameter at it widest point.  The atoll is served by one road that runs from Laura Island to Rita Island, leaving a few unattached islands to the North.  The Marshall Islands are a geographically unique as they consist of 29 atolls with 99.99% of the country as water.  The country’s total land mass is 70 square miles and it is scattered across 775,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean. The people live of narrow strips of land that wrap around a lagoon but are not all connected above water.  Fresh water, however, is a scarcity as lakes only exist on a few of the atolls so residents survive on limited well water and catchment water.

It was about a 15 minute taxi drive from the small Majuro Airport to the “downtown” area of Majuro.  Majuro is the second most populated atoll after Kwajelein and it doesn’t satisfy any images of a pristine island paradise.  There are not any remnants of traditional thatched houses.  Just as in the rest of the world, the more aesthetically pleasing styles of architecture have given way to the practical and durable – concrete, sheet metal and plywood.  The people dress in a western-style, with the only distinction being the colorful skirts and dresses worn by the women. These aren’t traditional but rather modern adaptations that are unique the region.  It isn't appropriate for women to wear any clothing that reveals their thighs, which is true for all of Micronesia, except Guam.  The young men in particular don’t resemble any sort of island style.  The rap-gang look is the most popular, with the cocked heads, swaggering walks, and some funky hairdos to go along with it.  It left me wondering what kind of cultural experience we were going to have in the Marshall Islands.

The rooms at the Flame Tree Backpacker hostel were simple but reasonably tidy, nothing to get excited about. We had had to wait for the manager to return before we could check in and grabbed lunch at the restaurant.  The menu consisted of foods like pizza, grilled cheese, fish-n-chips, and yakisoba – not a traditional diet.  After locking our bags away we went to explore the sights of Majuro.  The street was surprisingly busy and taxis cruised back and forth constantly, offering $.50 shared rides to the other end of town.  It didn’t seem far to walk to we made our way along in the heat and humidity until we found the Air Marshall Islands office.  Our mission for the day was to scope out our options for outer island trips.  AMI wasn’t the cheap way to get there.  The Sea Transportation at Uliga Dock presented us with two options to get to some of the outer islands.  Our most immediate option was leaving the next evening on a field trip boat from Majuro to the islands of Mejit, Utrik, Ailuk, Likiep and Kwajalein , returning via the same route.  The second option was to take a cargo ship to Alinglaplap for some outrigger canoe races that we were being held the following week.   The second option had a cabin available, the first option did not.  Mulling our options over we continued down the road to the main part of town which consisted of little more than a US Post Office, a couple of banks, a hotel, supermarket, Ace Hardware Store, and a dive operation. 

The Post Offices in Micronesia operate under the umbrella of the US Postal Service, due to the relationship of free association.  As we looked through the collectible stamps a western woman came in speaking fluent Marshallese.  Her name was Barb Fischer and she had been living in Majuro for 14 years.  She and her husband were missionaries living on Laura Island with their four children.  She invited us to visit her in Laura, all of the way at the other end of the atoll and apparently the nicest residential area.

The RRE hotel had some thatched bungalows along the lagoon that made for a nice stroll.  For a minute you could imagine being on an island paradise.  It was getting late in the afternoon at this point so we grabbed some sodas on the ocean side street (this part of the island was actually wide enough to have two streets!) and started to make our way back towards our hostel.  The kids were starting to file out of school all decked out in their uniforms, grinning from ear to ear and yelling “Yokwe” to the foreigners.  We took a brief look at the Alele museum, a one room museum with an interesting collection of old photos and local artifacts. 

The Majuro theater was playing “Lord of the Rings: Two Towers ” and since I was regretting not having seen it before we left we decided to take in a movie.  The theater was a tiny complex but once we stepped inside it was like being transported back to the US, even the carpet was standard issue theater carpeting, a multi-colored mish mash of geometric shapes.  But, the best thing about seeing a movie in Majuro was no commercials or trailers!

The Flame Tree’s best asset we decided was its pizza.  It was just like home, cheesy and chewy.  And punch was just $.75 a glass.  The restaurant had a nice bar and as we learned was a popular local hangout.  Our room, on the other hand, was very basic, not the kind where you really want to take your shoes off and the bathroom had a strange mildew smell.  What do you expect for $45/night?  It did have AC and the bed had fresh linens.   

MARSHALL ISLANDS Majuro March 11 March 12 March 13 March 14-15 March 16 Alinglaplap March 17 March 18 March 19 March 20 March 21 March 22 March 23 Majuro March 24

FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA Kosrae March 25-26 March 27-28 Pohnpei March 29-31 April 1-2 April 3-4 April 5-7 Chuuk April 8-9 April 10-11

GUAM April 12-23