Country number: 144
Territory number: 165
When? July 2017. Coming from Hawaii. Going on to Kiribati
How? Taxi, on foot
I watched the rest of this day disappear from my life on the aeroplane map, as I crossed the international dateline.
The island hopper plane sets me down at Majuro and leaves for Guam via several other Micronesian stops. The Marshall Islands capital is three ribbon strip islands joined by bridges leaving one gap in the atoll. The strips are just wide enough to fit a building at each side of the 32 mile paved road that romps through the middle. At times the width expands to fit in another house or even a little shopping square. They’ve squeezed the airport in at one end. It’s partly open air, and the luggage is brought out in pickups. Most of the local people who decant off the plane just wait for their bags and disappear without any immigration formalities at all. I say bags, most of their cargo seems to be cardboard boxes and polystyrene cooling boxes. Most of the people are dark skinned, dark haired and dark eyed. Local dress is colourful. The women wear loose floral dresses and some have pretty headbands across their foreheads.
This place is very much treated as an unofficial American state. Americans come and go freely, there are U.S. aid boards all around and the currency is the dollar. The main town is two miles long and known as DUD (Darrit, Uliga and Delap) or Rita (Hayworth –don’t ask) and lined with schools, government buildings, churches and industrial bits and bobs. There are several ships moored in the huge lagoon, which is edged with a few patches of sand and some battered coral. It’s not hugely inviting. The shore is littered, and the water polluted. There are tricky currents. And sharks. It’s definitely prettier from the air, though the spiky pandanus trees, lining the shore though, weave intricate patterns against the blue sky.
The islands are exceptionally flat; the bridges are the highest point, if you don’t count the coconut palms and the warehouses. They’re reinforced with stone barricades, though I’m not sure how helpful they will be when global warming sets in. it’s a little disconcerting seeing the sea so close on one side and the lagoon on the other as we motor along.
I’m in the best hotel in town, set in the centre of DUD and on the edge of the lagoon. It has the basic necessities, but it’s definitely seen better days. Hot water is elusive. The pool is decorated with a large yellow boat and is full of water that’s alarmingly green. It’s been out of action for some months according to Trip Advisor. I’m not sure how you would swim round the boat anyway. There are chairs stacked around and a ramshackle pool bar. None of this looks as if it’s seen much action lately either. The restaurant serves passable western style food and fish (there are lots of guide book warnings about not eating toxic reef fish) and the waiters are friendly. I’m now 13 hours ahead of BST and my body isn’t sure what’s going on. It wants to sleep at all the wrong times. The hotel receptionist demands money from me insisting I have a reservation but no payment has been made. I demur (to put it politely) and after prolonged phone calls they agree to sift through all their emails to see if payment has indeed been promised by my tour company. While I’m eating dinner they phone down to tell me that they have found the relevant email and I need not worry.
There’s no phone signal and I’m told I can buy a local network SIM card, at a price, that will get me internet too.
According to my computer it’s 20.50 on Saturday July 15. But I’m told it’s actually 7.50 in the morning the next day and I’m back at the airport. There’s no air-conditioning, the queue crawls, it’s exceedingly muggy and I’m already covered in mosquito bites. I can see the pesky little things zooming round the dark airport building, despite the fact that Dengue and Zika warning posters abound on the walls. As do How To Get To Safety in the Event of a Tsunami signs, though I’m struggling to see that there would be much hope there. It rained last night and the roads are all flooded, so now we’re driving down a water way between two other areas of water. I’m so disorientated I wouldn’t be surprised to meet myself going the other way. And when I checked out this morning the (different) receptionist gave me the bill for the room. He insisted he couldn’t alter an invoice without his manager’s permission. All I could do was cross out all the offending items and hope for the best. I’m looking forward to the view from the air again.