Have you heard of Majuro? Don’t worry if you haven’t, I hadn’t either until I was asked to go there on a work trip. Majuro is the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, slightly north of the equator and slightly west of the International Dateline. That’s to say, it’s smack bang in the middle of the Pacific, miles from anywhere.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect before I arrived in Majuro. I knew bugger all about the Marshall Islands, except that it was an atoll state (i.e. the country is made up of coral atoll islands) and that the country was somehow affiliated with America. I later learned that the U.S. has a military base on Kwajalein, one of the other atolls, and they shoot down long-range missiles that get launched from Colorado. Crazy, huh!
Flying into Majuro’s tiny airport, I was struck by how skinny the island was. I mean, I’d looked at atolls on Google Earth and seen them on TV, but hell! No more than a couple of hundred metres wide at its widest point, and about 20m wide at its narrowest, but the longest continuous stretch of dry land in Majuro atoll is about 50km. That’s one long, narrow island!
It’s no wonder these guys are worried about climate change, rising sea levels, storm surges, tropical cyclones, and so on. Actually, I think worried is a massive understatement. This whole atoll and its 25,000 inhabitants could quite easily be devastated – its highest point is about 3m above sea level. You definitely feel quite vulnerable knowing that there’s no high ground.
I hate to say it, but Majuro didn’t really warm to me. Not that I was expecting to love it there, but I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised – I really had no idea what to expect. Although the Marshallese people were lovely, the place was just a bit one-dimensional. Concrete buildings, lots of cars, bland food (although the fresh tuna was spectacular), and there didn’t seem to be a heck of a lot of culture compared to other Pacific islands I’ve been to.
Due to the American influence in the Marshalls, the locals have adopted American culture as their own, I think. They love American sports, Budweiser is the drink of choice, and the Marshallese have the one of the highest rates of diabetes out of any country in the world (presumably due to a move to non-traditional diets). Most food is imported from the U.S. and walking into the supermarket in Majuro is like walking into a weird version of an American supermarket – all the same brands are there, and they even have cos lettuce from California and Idaho potatoes!
Can I just talk about the fish for a minute though – I know I mentioned it before, but holy shitballs, was it good! Fish, specifically yellowfin tuna, is one of the Marshall Island’s biggest exports, if not the biggest export. It’s friggin’ amazing, let me tell you. I got a whole plate of tuna sashimi for $7.50, which at home in New Zealand would cost probably five times that. We had the best meals at Robert Reimers Hotel, the main hotel in Majuro (There are only two hotels – the one we stayed at, Marshall Islands Resort, had awful food).
But I digress.
As with many other small island states, the Marshalls have issues with clean water and waste disposal, and the Majuro lagoon is quite contaminated around the areas where people live. This meant no swimming while in town, unfortunately. The water looked so inviting though!
On our last day, we grabbed a taxi out to Laura, which is a favourite picnic spot of the locals. Laura is right at the other end of the thin spit of land from Majuro urban area – about 50km away from the town along a straight, narrow road with the ocean on one side and the lagoon on the other. It’s crazy how long and thin the landmass is!
Laura is lovely, though. It was so nice to get out of the concreteness of Majuro town. Laura is a small settlement with lots of trees, a big baseball field, and a lovely beach. It’s far enough away from Majuro town to not be contaminated, yay! Unfortunately there was a bit of rubbish on the beach but that’s pretty standard in places like this where cleaning the beach isn’t high on the list of priorities. Lots of locals had portable BBQs and music, and we enjoyed a swim – although the current was so strong it was hard to stay in one place! If I lived in Majuro, I’d definitely live in Laura.
Five days after arriving as a total n00b, I left Majuro with a different understanding of what an atoll state is and some of the issues they face. It was definitely an interesting place to visit! I can’t say I’d rush back (except for the tuna), but it was great to have the opportunity through my work to go there.
Have you ever visited the Marshall Islands? Would you want to? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!