MARSHALL ISLANDS BY PETER RUDIAK-GOULD

Marshall Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Peter Rudiak-Gould, the author of ‘Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island’, gives his recommendations.

Visit Ejit Island, Majuro Atoll

This is a small island just by Majuro, the country’s capital city. It is a unique place, being the home of many of those displaced from Bikini Atoll by nuclear testing in the 40s. As everywhere in the country, people are friendly, but it is best to dress modestly, not take photos of people without their permission, and always say ‘yokwe!’ (hello) rather than looking like you’re sneaking around. Getting there is fun. Consult a tide table to make sure that you’re walking at low tide. Then walk or take a taxi to the end of Rita neighborhood (the far end of the island that the capital city is on). You can walk on the reef at low tide without getting your feet wet! Walk towards the next (very small) uninhabited island, then the next one, and then you’ll get to Ejit. Make sure that you walk back to Majuro before the tide comes up. When the tide is medium or high, it will be very dangerous to try to wade or swim back to Majuro. In a pinch you could ask nicely to catch the next small boat back to Majuro, but they depart irregularly and are not commercial boats.

Visit Arno village, Arno Atoll

This is a beautiful community that gives you a flavor of outer island living without requiring a lot of planning and logistics. You can take a boat from right by the RRE Hotel in Majuro. You’ll go through Majuro lagoon and out of the artificial channel on the south into the wide open ocean. Get a sense of what ancient (and modern!) Marshallese seafarers braved when they set sail. About an hour later you’ll arrive on Arno. There is a guest house that you can stay in. Explore the lagoon beach. The water is unusually choppy for a lagoon (Arno means ‘lagoon wave’), but it’s still very pleasant for a swim. The atoll is so large that you’ll see the curve of the lagoon beach disappearing in the distance; very beautiful. The island is quite thick here (about 1 mile) so you can explore quite a large swath of jungle. (Don’t worry about getting lost. Just head in any direction until you hear the sound of waves!)

Visit Leb Island

Difficult to get to, but well worth the visit. Leb is a single island rather than an atoll, and is much higher in elevation (though still very low!) compared to other islands in the country. Only about 100 people live here. An unusual feature of the island is the large (semi-)freshwater lake in the middle, which used to be a saltwater lagoon until the channels were naturally filled in over time, walling it in and turning it into a lake. There are beautiful mangrove trees fringing the lake on one of its sides. People are very friendly and they don’t get a lot of visitors. It’s only accessible by a chartered boat from Kwajalein or on the ‘field trip’ ships that goes around the country buying and selling copra (coconut meat) and transporting people. That is a huge adventure in itself! If you do go to Leb, ask for someone in Majuro or Kwajalein who has a connection there, and ask their permission and ask if you ought to radio the island first. There’s no guesthouse, restaurant, stores, or anything of the sort on Leb, so bring plenty of gifts (practical things like rice, flour, coffee, sugar, etc.) and ask to stay with a family.

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