February 2020: The Marshall Islands named after a British naval Captain who visited in the 1700’s, has like many countries in the world, a long history of colonialism that has left a lasting impression on the country. It started as a Spanish colony, then became a German colony. As a result of Germany’s defeat in World War I, it was given to Japan as part of the Versailles Treaty. Then with the defeat of Japan in World War II, it became a territory of the USA. The USA then used the Marshall Islands as a nuclear testing zone. The Bikini Atoll was the site of 23 nuclear tests and still contains radioactivity. The locals that lived there were re-located in the 80s because they had concentrations of radiation in their bodies like many other people all throughout the Marshall Islands.  In 1979 the Marshall Islands finally became independent and self-governing.

Despite its sovereignty, it is still connected to the USA. It has a Compact of Free Association with USA that provides it with aide and right to self-defense in exchange for allowing the USA the use of the missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll.

The capitol is Majuro on the Majuro atoll, which resembles a speck in the vast Pacific Ocean. The different islands of the archipelago are spread out from each other by hundreds of miles.

 

 

 

Location of Marshall Islands

How to get There?

There are two ways to reach the Marshall Islands. One way is via Nauru-on-Nauru Airlines or the more common way via United-Island hopper via a Boeing 737 which flies directly to Majuro on its way to Guam and Micronesia from Hawaii every few days.  It is a strange feeling to be so far out in the pacific on a plane as small as a Boeing 737. No matter what route you take the tickets are expensive and can cost thousands of dollars.

View of Marshall Islands from Plane

I am fortunate to have a friend in the airline industry who signed me up on his flight benefits so i was able to fly from Hawaii for very cheap. This was my last international trip before the pandemic swept the world effectively closing down all of the island nations of the Pacific only weeks after my visit. Strangely enough, it wasn’t a covid test I was asked for by Marshall Islands immigration, it was a letter, signed and recently dated from my doctor certifying that I was inoculated with the measles vaccine. A couple recent cases of measles in the islands, triggered all arrivals to provide this documentation. Weirdly enough Measles would soon be overshadowed by a new arriving plague-Covid 19. Covid 19 during my visit was still just a distant news story someplace in China, which still seemed confined to China, but I had a hunch it wouldn’t stay confined, and I asked a Chinese worker what he thought of Covid 19 and even he seemed to dismiss it as being any kind of threat. If we only knew at the time how wrong, we would be and only a few weeks after my visit Covid 19 hysteria swept across the globe effectively shutting down the world for the first time in history.

Majuro Atoll

The Majuro Atoll is where all the action is. Most of the land on the atoll is city and it wraps around a coral lagoon that sits in the inside of the atoll. Islanders from all over the pacific have come to Majuro to find work and a better life. Despite its urbanization, Majuro is still very easy going and friendly and no matter where you go you will see an incredible sunset. 

Street Scene

Due to the higher than average cancer rates among people in the Marshall islands likely attributed to radiation from nuclear testing that has contaminated the food chain, the US Dept of Energy has a medical office in Majuro. 

A man from Guadalcanal, Solomon islands I met in a store buying feminine products for his granddaughter. He was friendly and we shared stories of Guadalcanal and he told me he was a young child living there during World War II and he had suffered some horrors from the fighting. 

Visiting the Outer Atoll of Majuro

Majuro is a sleepy town without much to do but the outer atoll is beautiful but what really attracted my attention was the sunken World War II B-24 cargo plane wrecks located within a few hundred feet from shore in approx. 30 feet of water in one of the outer atolls. I hired a small boat to take me out to the wreck to snorkel and I relaxed on the nearby beach when not snorkeling. The wreck was amazing. 

Sunken Military Plane in Lagoon

View of Sunken Plane from Above the Water

While having a few beers at the marina by the hotel, I started to talk to some of the local fisherman, boat captains and flight United flight attendants from my plane. I found out about a place only a few hours away called Arno Atoll, that was meant to be a heavenly paradise with only a few dozen people living there. One of the captains said I could join his cargo boat that was going there early in the morning to pick up copra-coconuts from the island. The boat was rickety and slow, but this would definitely be an adventure. I was hesitant to join the cargo boat because I needed to be back for my evening flight to Hawaii on the island hopper, which I couldn’t afford to miss, and I knew that this type of boat was subject to extreme delays going both directions. While discussing the potential delays another local man offered to give me a discount on hiring his fishing boat. He said he would take me to Arno Atoll round trip for 500USD. With this in mind, I recruited a few other travelers to join me and share the cost-two guys from Bulgaria, that were going to take the cargo boat and one lady flight attendant with United, who has regular layovers in Majuro but had never been to Arno Atoll. The next morning, we were off to Arno Atoll. 

Arno Atoll

The passage to the Arno Atoll was rough through the open ocean and large waves lapped over the side of the boat leaving us a little nauseated at times. All of this was worth it when the Arno Atoll came into view. The rough waters calmed as we approached the idyllic coconut fringed whit sand beaches of the Arno Atoll. No house or sign of development was in sight. We landed on a decayed concrete dock and immediately set off on the island to explore. 

Lagoon Arno Atoll-sadly plastic from the world’s cities have found their way to this isolated place and washed up on shore

Boat Dock, Arno Atoll

Boat Dock, Arno Atoll

Village Life

Typical Home 

Local man cutting copra on Arno Atoll

Local man cutting copra on Arno Atoll

We walked down a lonely dirt road that led to a cluster of wooden houses where locals without electricity aside from a few hours per day from a portable generator worked on preparing coconuts to be exported on the cargo ship that was due to arrive any time. Coconuts are the only revenue source for the villagers. There was one small wooden shed selling food, mostly spam. I also visited the only guest house on the island, which the owner, a woman with a beautiful, friendly smile explained receives very few visitors. 

Spam for sale in the local store

Local woman who runs a guesthouse on Arno Atoll. She said very few people stay at her guesthouse but she is hoping people will come some day. 

Only Guesthouse on Arno Atoll

Beaches Arno Atoll

We spent the day snorkeling the reefs, walking the long desolate white sand beaches and chatting with the local villagers. I could have spent a week on the island in pure blissful relaxation. 

Snorkeling View

Village girl, Arno Atoll

Before heading back, we helped the cargo boat load coconuts and then we set off to do some fishing along the pristine reefs of the atoll before heading back to Majuro. Later on, that evening I caught my flight back to Hawaii and the flight attendant I invited to Arno Atoll repaid my favor by upgrading me for free and hooking me up with some free drinks. 

Cargo Boat Loading Coconuts and banana 

Village kid loading the coconuts onto cargo boat

Fishing along the Arno Atoll was great

Fishing along the Arno Atoll was great

8 + 7 =

error: Content is protected !!