Marshall Islands

After four months on Kosrae, it’s time to see some new islands. I’ll start with Kosrae’s nearest neighbor: The Republic of the Marshall Islands (aka RMI) — of which there are 1156 individual islands scattered across 29 atolls.

American states, territories and freely associated states in the Pacific

It would take too long to visit every island in the RMI, so I’ll see just one: Majuro, which is RMI’s capital, its largest and most populated atoll, and the location of RMI’s international airport.

Majuro Atoll viewed from space

Although Majuro is 40 km long from east to west, its total land area is less than 10 km2.

Downtown Majuro

32,000 people squeeze onto this little strip of land. Compared to Kosrae, Majuro is a big city.

Majuro Lagoon

Within Majuro’s vast lagoon, small boats ferry people and supplies across this sheltered water to the islands that form the atoll’s perimeter.

Lagoon Road, driving from downtown out to Laura Point

Since most of Majuro is only a few hundred meters wide, as you travel from one end of the island to the other, you’re never far from water.

The beach at Laura Point, Majuro

Because of its shape, an atoll has miles and miles of beaches on both the calm lagoon side and the restless ocean side..

The highest point in Majuro

Here’s the highest point on Majuro, elevation 4 meters above sea level. Climbing the highest peak in this country took about 30 seconds.

Looking across the Majuro Lagoon towards some of the northern islands

Looking at Majuro from sea level, the islands are so low they can’t be seen from more than 20 kilometers away. It’s amazing that early explorers managed to find these islands.

First exploration of the Pacific Islands

Somehow, fearless navigators managed to discover the islands of Micronesia about 3000 years ago.

The constellation Orion according to Pacific Island tradition

The early explorers of the Pacific used the stars as navigational guides. It’s fascinating to see how they interpreted the constellations of the night sky. I’ll never again look at Orion the same way.

A mural on a high school wall

The Pacific Islanders were some of the most advanced and skillful sailors of all time. They travelled all over the Pacific in simple outrigger sailing canoes.

A modern wood & fiberglass version of the traditional outrigger

I was invited to sail across the lagoon with a sailing school called WAM.

Sailing across the lagoon

I was impressed by how simple, stable and fast this boat was under even a light breeze.

What’s remarkable about these outriggers is how they tack. The outrigger has no true bow or stern. When it’s time to come about, the mast is moved from one end of the hull to the other, reversing the boat’s direction. Click the video above to see how this works. Clever and simple!

Elementary school girls on lunch break

The RMI doesn’t get lots of tourists. On the plane coming in and at the bar, I met only four foreigners, and they were all consultants for the World Bank. This tells me that if you want to see this country in its current natural and unspoiled state, you’d better see it soon. For now, the Marshallese are wonderfully friendly and hospitable.

Today, I’ll head back to the airport to fly to some even less visited atolls..