Marshall Islands; Fishing Paradise, Diving Heaven
You haven’t even heard about the country? You are not alone. Marshall Islands is the 5th least visited country in the world. But why is that so? It is probably the best diving, snorkeling and fishing nation in the world. There are 1,059 registered species of fish living in, or should I say below the nation that is made up by 29 coral atolls and 5 islands. That makes it ‘the fishiest countries on earth,’ according to marketing materials, at least.
Marshall Islands is hard to get to. It is my 7th last country to visit. I do in retrospect wish I had set aside more time, and that I had done so ages ago. But being an out of the way country also prevents the feared tourist herds from coming. That, in itself, makes for a more relaxed and laidback island paradise. The only two regular flights go from Guam and Honolulu. From Guam you will have to stop on 3 or 4 islands before reaching Majuro, the capital. The Honolulu route is non-stop, but it takes over 4 hours. Both are served by United and cost a lot, as most monopolised routes do.
There is however an option, although not a very regular, nor cheap one. Our Airline, based in Nauru, flies from Tarawa, Kiribati once every second week and from Nauru at the same frequence. Going by boat is possible, but you will need a lot more than what a normal holiday offers in order to get there and away.
Scuba diving or snorkeling is what most of the mere 5,000 tourists a year come to Marshall Islands to do. Most want to see the vast variety of fish, some are in it for wreck diving. The largest wreck and the only diveable aircraft carrier in the world, The USS Saratoga, is found on the bottom of the Bikini Atoll lagoon. Not into American wrecks? Then HIJMS Nagato, the battleship that lead the attack on Pearl Harbour during WWII, is in the same lagoon.
By Kwajalein Atoll you can find Prinz Eugen, a German heavy cruiser that was sometimes seen together with battleship Bismarck. There are also countless other wrecks, many that haven’t even been discovered yet. In for a challenge? The 75 foot diving wessel Indies Trader comes with a captain, chef and 4 crew members and will take you and 7 friends wherever in Marshall Islands for an easy 30,000 USD per two weeks.
Shorter and less expensive diving or fishing trips are of course also available from other boat owners or diving companies. Pick up the informative and free brochure from Marshall Islands Visitors Authority for phone numbers of boat numbers, hotels and restaurants. The locals are by the way very competitive when it comes to their fishing, and fishing contests are being held at least 10 times a year by Marshalls Billfish Club. You think you can beat them at their own “turf?” My bet is on them, but please prove me wrong through a photograph and I’ll buy you a drink. Find out when the next competition is on by asking via email. The record for Blue Marlin is for instance 794 pounds (kilos) while the biggest tuna measured in at 161 pounds (kilos).
Then again, you may not even be into sea activities at all. If you are a fan of military installations on land, you will be having a field day. The country served as the Japanese eastern defense perimeter during WWII, and a heavy fortification started in anticipation of war. And war they got! Some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific took place throughout three years following the first attack on February 1, 1942. You will find 229 land relics on Wotje Atoll, 215 on Maloelap and 167 on Mili. These include air raid shelters, anti-aircraft guns, air control centers, hangars, barracks, power plants, tanks, towers and much more. Escorted day trips are arranged by Marshall Islands Aquatics.
In a country with so much fantastic fresh fish, you’re obliged to indulge. Not sure about the freshness of the fish? You shouldn’t worry. The country is made up by atolls and small islands. An atoll is a narrow island formed as an open circle that makes up a lagoon, so no point in the country is further than 100 meters away from the sea. Say no more. Tuna sashimi is sold from most of the two dozen restaurants in Majuro. 20 large pieces will set you back 7USD. It must be the freshest and cheapest tuna sashimi in the world, no wonder I did not want to leave.
A lot of the tuna is actually fished by helicopter. Not literally, of course, but many of the tuna vessels have an own chopper on deck. Every day, a pilot will fly and scout for groups of tuna, then relay their position to the captain via the radio. The tuna doesn’t really stand a chance.
I especially loved DAR Restaurant which gives you the feel of an old fashioned US diner. The waitresses there are lovely, and the tuna sashimi came in the biggest portions I have seen. Go there for breakfast. Other recommended restaurants are Enra, Riwut, Tide Table and Won Hai Shien.
There isn’t much info on Marshall Islands online. But why should there be, no one goes there anyway. The little that is available indicates that hotels are few apart and vastly expensive. That is not true. You can of course find suites at 250USD per night, but big double or twin rooms from 70USD are also easy to find. Marshall Islands Resort commonly called MIR charges from 90USD, Hotel Robert Reimers asks for 110USD (or 80USD for a windowless room – is that even legal?) while Uliga Inn next to the fish market only wants 70USD. They are all good choices. MIR is on the waterfront and the preferred hotel if you want an easily accesible dip in the crystal clear lagoon every morning. If you are on a budget, Backpacker’s Hostel charge from 10USD for a dorm bed or 30USD for a single room without AC. Be warned, there is no hot water there, though and it is next door to Flame Tree, one of the loudest night clubs.
The killer story from Marshall Islands was the fact that I woke up between Laura and Rita every morning. And you can too! Laura in the west is the best beach on Majuro Atoll while Rita is on the north east on the other side of the atoll. Oh well, admittedly not the best of jokes.
How good can the party options be in a country with 50,000 people? In Majuro, there are several good options. Flame Tree is a great spot for a round of pool or for showing off your hidden dance genes a little later in the evening. Serious pool players will however have a valid reason for complaints. The karaoke machine is on the bar only a few feet away. Little beats the effect of high pitched, false toned voices of semi drunk people on the concentration of helicopter pilots and fishermen finally on land for that longed for pool tournament. The covered attached patio is great for a fresh ocean breeze between the pool matches or the dance moves.
The two other good night spots are Marshall Islands Club MIC and Jakaro bar at MIR, although Tide Table, the bar of Hotel Robert Reimers occasionally surprises too. Shooters used to be the happening place, but it is now being completelly renovated. When or if it reopens remains to be seen. The best nights out are Fridays and Saturdays, although you can often find a lively scene also on Thursdays and the odd Wednesday.
There is wi-fi in virtually every cafe, restaurant and hotel in Majuro. It will cost you 5USD per 50 minutes though. Unless you stay in Hotel Robert Reimers where 24 hours will set you back 15USD. A bargain! You’ll find two cash machines in the center, one travel agent and a couple of pharmacies. Payless supermarkets are well stocked and offer a lot of goods you’d expect to find in the US.
Many locals can however not afford such luxury and shop in smaller markets. The GNP of Marshall Islands is among the lowest in the world. A fair amount of people live in shacks, cabins or poorly maintained houses. Then again, temperatures are high all year around and the access of fish and fruits is abundant, so they do reasonably well considering. I never experienced begging or threatening situations of any kind. Then again, if you are afraid of stray dogs, you may want to carry a stick when going there.
Many of the islands in the Pacific are known for spectacular and big tattoos. John Alefaio is allegedly one of the best tattoo artists in the region, based next to Hotel Robert Reimers in Majuro. If you want something slightly more original than a mermaid or a heart on your shoulder, he is your man.
Leaving Majuro is straight forward and easy. The airport is very small and there is never more than one flight at a time. Presumably a good thing, since there is only one international gate. There are no duty free shops, only a little kiosk after security and passport control. You will also find several souvenir shops, a bank, a post office, a restaurant and a bar before security. Remember that you will have to pay 20USD as a departure and security fee though. The airport wants to double the amount, but so far that hasn’t happened.
The diving and fishing options eliminate the question of whether I will be back. The question is only when.