Micronesia? Where is that? This is what most people’s reaction is to the idea of going to the remote expanses of the Pacific Ocean between the Hawaiian Archipelago and the Philippines. And far it is especially from the eastern seaboard of the US and Canada. Fortunately, there is a company called United Airlines which has excellent network of flights in North America coupled with the exclusive island-hopper in Micronesia. After a grueling sequence of four flights and overnight Honolulu airport meditation one is finally seeing the end of the beginning of the journey when the plane starts gliding over the Majuro atoll. Meanwhile not one but two days have passed, one of them really quickly within the five-hour flight between Honolulu and Majuro thanks to the artificial International Date Line. Quite the time travel!
Once on the atoll there is the usual hubbub around the arrivals, baggage handling and taxi driver greetings. What follows next is the only road that leads into town, quite often just meters away from the waters of the ocean on one side and the lagoon on the other. The landscape is flat, reportedly never higher than two-three meters above the sea level. One minor blip in this rule is the pile of town garbage that has formed sizable hill of twenty to thirty meters relative height to the ground. So, if ever there would be a climatic disaster and the waves overcome the islands there is something that is going to outlive the catastrophe – the indelible traces of human consumption.
With this cheerful realization in mind one continues the journey through the first municipality than a second one, both administratively divided but physically united. In the process the visitors either stay in the first area, where the major hotel for the whole of the atoll is or hold on till the second hotel of this extended urban sprawl comes into sight. The second hotel might be second in turn but not in appeal. Contrary to the predictable monstrosity of the first structure this place has quite a bit of character and lovely backyard. What it misses out in the competition with the other establishment is the lack of a beach. As if to prove the critics wrong the property has an extension on another island, Eneko, alongside a beach and the docile waves of the lagoon. A bit more on the charismatic features of this location is following very soon.
Meanwhile, the proud town of Uliga, part of the D-U-D urban conglomerate contains not only the second hotel on the atoll but many other “attractions”. One of them is not particularly obvious but surely very intriguing - the Town Hall of the Bikini Atoll. One might wonder what Bikini has to do with Majuro except for the province-capital relationship. Well, things are a bit more complicated since Bikini has been rendered uninhabitable by the series of nuclear bomb explosions and all the populace has been shipped to safer areas, Majuro included, with its prowess of administration. In a way, for the visitor salivating a trip to a location of world-wide infamy and unable to accomplish it due to lack of easy transport options this set-up is a blessing. Very much in tune with the saying: “If Mohammed will not go to the mountain the mountain must come to Mohammed”.
Another must-see property is the local museum. It is not the Louvre, maybe three rooms at the most, but it still has stuff that will compel the visitor to think – activity not necessarily compatible with vacationing in the tropics. The hallway is consecrated to more photos of nuclear explosions (already seen displayed on the Bikini Town Hall premises). The rooms contain insights on the great navigational achievements of the Marshallese through ingenious local craft called “stick charts”. Literally, small sticks connected in a particular way which somehow passes knowledge to the next captain daring to traverse the forbidding expanses of the Pacific. Next room is dedicated to the Marshallese people from the times when they were on their own in the middle of the largest ocean of the world and doing just fine. There are European drawings of men, women and canoes, all of them captivating the imagination of the visitors. Part of the local attire of the time has become “la mode” in the European (and European-based) societies nowadays; tattoos all over the body, holes in the earlobes and so on. The canoes are a thriller of ingenuity too, with their irregular shape, producing the lift needed to ply the waters fast just like the bird wing’s irregular shape lets this creature fly effortlessly in the sky.
Besides these two highlights the area includes church, mosque, souvenir boutique and several grocery stores providing all the essentials for independent travel. Moreover, the adventurous could slip into the Purified Water Store, another extension to the local hotel business which sells not only bottled water but juice from the local pandanus tree. The taste is definitely an acquired one and the liquid is on the expensive side compared to, let’s say, orange juice from Florida delivered by Taiwanese shipping company; all the more reason to try it at least once!
There is not much more to attract the discerned taste of continental urbanites in Majuro with the exception of one thing - the canoe ride. There is a “studio” conveniently located right beside the number one hotel (on the list) which specializes in building and maintaining canoes the traditional way. Of course, not everything is on a scale one-to-one. For example the sails are not woven with plant material fiber but have way more contemporary ingredients. The fellow who is in charge (collects the money) is rather talkative and if time permits he would explain the whole history of the studio, the canoes and their gradual disappearance in the outer islands. It is a shame though to stay inside when the sea beckons and the sails flutter in anticipation. The trip costs mere twenty dollars per person and this means that the passenger can be alone accompanied only by the two servicemen/captains. The design of the canoes is such that instead of the craft turning around it is the relocation of the sail that does the trick. If in one direction it is clipped to the “front” on the way back it is attached to the ”back”. All that is in harmony with the main hull shape and how it is meant to stay always on the windward side of the canoe. Different and it works!
Marshallese canoe replica
A major outing outside the main urban area could be visiting a private beach with very remote feeling on the island of Eneko. As mentioned above, the property is an extension of the Majuro’s hotel number two (according to the distance from the airport) and thus set-up and clean-up is all arranged by hospitality professionals. There should be no mistake made by expecting too much though since the ”caretakers” are locals living on Eneko itself (meters away from the guest’s Robison Crusoe project) and are not graduates of a hospitality college. What separates them from the “customer” is leafy hedge of local trees which double up as a hen house at night. Most of the time the service is in the background and the only thing left to contemplate are the many shades of the horizon depending on the location of the Sun in relationship to the atoll. This rather perfect rendition of paradise (the ultimate environment that so many strive for) is blemished periodically by insects, mostly relatives of the mosquitoes who are very insistent on trying out the juices of yet another foreigner. The locals seemed not to be bothered at all while the gringos are practically hugging the anti-mosquito coils.
Hews on the horizon
What made the dimension of paradise even more pronounced on this particular trip was unraveled on the second day of sojourn in this geographical nirvana. A cruise ship had arrived in the Majuro lagoon causing all sorts of anxiety amongst the local population – how to fleece these inquisitive tourists more efficiently for the short time they had been allotted to this destination. One option was of course, some snorkeling on the Eneko island shores. Not that the corals were exceptional there but at least there was some sort of a base, supplied with washrooms and tables for picnics. The cruise ship crowd, Japanese in origin, was transported to the paradise location by small boat which in turn had to dock at an artificial platform due to low levels of the water in relation to the coral. The first attempt was unsuccessful, the boat turned around and the Robinson Crusoe equilibrium was reinstated. Two hours later there was a second attempt to land on the island and this time the docking platform played its role brilliantly – all Japanese tourists set foot on the island and started to organise themselves to snorkel. And snorkel they did for very long time in the case of some individuals, so much so that the guides began to worry about the numbers of the flock on land and water. When they were all pulled on land it apparently became clear that somebody was missing. Frenetic search resulted in a discovery of a body hundred meters or so away. Some of the guides applied mouth-to-mouth and chest-pumping techniques in an effort to revive what looked as a lifeless body. After five minutes of unsuccessful attempts the crowd boarded the man on the boat and he was whisked to Majuro. Local papers announced on the following day that he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital but no autopsy was performed which meant that there was no definitive decision on the cause of death; drowning or stroke.