life on an atoll.
After months of planning and researching and dreaming and photo browsing, we have finally arrived at our new home on Majuro atoll in The Marshall Islands.
From photo stalking for months leading up to the magical day we landed, I felt that I had a pretty good idea of what it would look like and how fragile the environment and ecosystem were. I kind of knew what to look for from the airplane. I long narrow strip of land. in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Isolated, remote, in between ocean, ocean, and more ocean. Equally far from Hawaii to Australia. 18 hours ahead of where I came from. Reef rock, marine life, and water for days. I wondered what this would feel like, being so far away, clearly helpless, yet thrilled beyond recognition, about being in such a remote, isolated, unknown location. On the edge of the world, ready at anytime to be overtaken by high tides and global warming. The danger zone. The natural beauty. I was fascinated, and I felt this place was the last frontier for my adventures. The combination of cultural, geographical, environmental, professional, and adventure challenges like no other place, made me anxious and eager, yet nervous and unsure.
Now a week into living on an atoll, we are still alive and all is well. King tides haven’t wiped us out yet, nor has a Japanese tsunami or underwater volcano. Though the land mass is as narrow as only one road, you forget this tiny detail in the day to day living. The fact that we could all disappear at any given moment, and that we are on a strip of land as wide as my old backyard, in the middle of a hungry ocean, a day and a half ahead of my friends, with nothing around for millions of miles, is crazy when you think of it. I like it because it ups the adventure anty to a 10th degree, and thrilling adventure to me is a natural heroin.
When we came upon the atoll in the airplane it looked just like the photos. A long narrow strip. It actually wraps around to slightly appear more as a circle than a long strip, but this part is all you see when landing. When we disembarked the airplane the weather was very hot and a little cloudy. We entered the terminal outside and waited at the baggage claim ‘carousel’ for our giant bags. The baggage carousel was a metal catch tank for the luggage that was thrown off the truck. No electric carousel in these parts! Sat sweating my ass off surrounded by World Teach teachers and grabbed my stuff at the first sighting, cruised through ‘customs’ and here we were.
I had stepped into the movie of my life and was finally actually… here. Living in Oceania. It was so surreal. We were finally on that landmass I had been stalking for so long, trying to get the lay of the land as best I could, and envision life on an… atoll. Once I found out what an atoll… was. 🙂
An atoll is an island with no middle. A ring shaped coral reef perimeter, in the middle of the ocean. There are only four atoll nations in the world. Its a geographic phenomenon. And I had never heard of it before.
The Marshall Islands is a tropical archipelago. (Remember that word from school?) An island nation. 29 atolls and 5 isolated islands, 10 of which are uninhabited. The Republic of the Marshall Islands comprises of a peculiar area of tiny islands completely isolated, in the Pacific Ocean, the islands small in size, totaling only 70 miles, roughly the size of Washington, DC, but the area land mass of the nation, including water, is much, MUCH larger, as most of the nation is all water. It is classified as being in Micronesia and has been an independent nation since 1986, after a series of rule by Spain, Germany, Japan, and the US, and is a paraiso home to about 65,000 people inhabiting the combination of islands and atolls.
It is considered one of the most interesting places on the planet for many reasons. The reef rock is all coral reef. The geography of the area has made it very vulnerable to natural environmental disasters including its impending fate due to global warming. The land lies at a very low elevation and sea waters are rising every year. The Marshall Islands is considered to be the most endangered nation in the world, and is forecasted to be complete erased from the planet by 2050.
But what about all the people?
We ll thats where I come in. I am here to educate the future generations so that they possess the tools to survive in the outside world once their fated exodus occurs. Life outside of a tropical island nation is very different, and they need to be able to function and sustain themselves one that time happens. If not the current generation, then future generations, as they can pass the knowledge.
The Marshall Islands also happens to be home to great adventures, as it is home to a 2 million square foot shark sanctuary, and millions of species of beautiful untouched sea life. The diving is spectacular, and the island hopping and thrill-seeking is limitless.
We had a welcome ceremony with ukeleles and floral head wreaths and leis that were bestowed upon us with love and islander smiles to welcome us to the islands and atolls, and to initiate our adventure and be sure that we knew it was all real. The locals circled us and sang and dances and told us how happy they were that we were here. We were taken to our seaside bungalow and have been settling in ever since. We rock climb every morning, and swim every afternoon, once the tides cooperate and the Pacific moves on to charge another island and we can come out and reap the benefits of its beautiful sealife and hot water temps.
I have seen the culture to be very conservative in dress. When it is hot and humid their shoulders and legs are still covered in elegant Guam dresses, made of a cool polyester type material. The main thing here is to not show your legs from the knees up. Which makes it difficult for me so far because I am always hot, and am used to being scantily clad in the Mexican heat, but I am getting used to it and I very much respect the idea. Although an interesting sidenote is that, given their conservative dress, they are perhaps the most promiscuous nation, and dont believe in birth control, causing an alarmingly high rate of births and children aged 5-15 running around everywhere. laughing, playing volleyball, swimming, without a guardian or anyone to restrict their activities, they are growing up happy and free. And have beautiful spirits.
Which leads me to the energy of the islands. This is a very happy, positive place. Everyone is usually smiling, even as they squint and try to discern me and my hair, my leopard print Guam dress, rock star sunglasses, and Mexican chanklas.
The supermarket prices are a bit odd, which I am used to living in Mexico, but it is even more so here, as amazingly fresh tuna is $1 and dive fins are $1.50, yet produce is $20 for one little piece, and a case of beer is $25. Once I walked around enough, trying to decipher the character language on the bottles I picked up a pattern and now I can pop in and out of Island Pride in 5 minutes and come out with the tuna of the day, a fresh monster strawberry sprinkle donut for River, gallon of water, honey turkey cold cuts, ‘breakfast crackers,’ and a new hair flower for under 10 bucks. In US currency, which is odd in and of itself. To roll up to a foreign Micronesian situation, and have the people (sometimes) speak English to you and pay in US dollars is always surprising. This is because the US oversees the Marshalls sort of as a big brother now, supporting them financially due to their geographic location warranting virtually no exports besides fish and coconuts, and as repatriation (sort of) for WWII bombings on Bikini atoll. Which makes it fairly easy for someone to be here from America if you know how all of this works. But it is by no means Americanized and there are no Americans here at all unless they are volunteers or missionaries. Back to food, all I eat is tuna and coconuts. A South Pacific respite from Mexican comida, which is welcome for the time being but I am sure I will miss corner street tacos at 2am in a few weeks when I overdose on a cup of kava and need grease and tacos al pastor ahoritta! 🙂 Yesterday River came across a coconut rice milk experiment with orange slices that resembled horchata and she was amazingly stoked.
This place has a very isolated feel. Like a calendar come to life. All of the tiny lush islands look like a magazine, with blue sky, sandy beach, and sunshine. You roll up in a boat and it feels like real life castaway. ‘Is anyone on this island?’ you ask. ‘Let’s pick coconuts and spear fish and pretend this is our life.’ we say. ‘Oh wait!’ we remember, ‘It is!!’ 🙂
The people are 90% Marshallese, with some Japanese and Chinese, Taiwanese, and Filipino, and other South Pacific islanders thrown into the mix. A few Australians and Americans too. Most businesses are run down because of weather and money. Yet the palm trees are giant and the water hues so blue. The culture is happy and foreign. The environment and geography are baffling. There is so much to figure out. I am excited to get out to the outer islands on boat, to dive, camp on those remote islands, spear fish my dinner, bask in the sun, drink coconuts, and be an overall island chica. I am also excited to work with the kids, melt into a new culture, learn a new language, and experience Oceania. Our bungalow is oceanfront so we are able to learn the tides already, which, when low tide, looks like Cozumel, very placid and serene, although underlying coral reef. Low tide steals the water and leaves exposed reef enabling you to navigate to other islands without even swimming at all. But at high tide, the world changes and the surging Pacific charges in, rendering any islets impassible and fairly dangerous and unpredictable. We fall asleep to the waves and amazing ocean breeze.
River is loving some friends already, sweet girls who adore her and always want her to play. She has strapped on her Cressi mask and explored the coral in front of our house, trekked in from Majuro towards Ejit island, found all the good ice cream shops, and begged me for a kid’s size mumu. She runs out to the water to see every morning, quenches her thirst by cracking coconuts and slipping in a straw, and wears flowers in her hair the size of melons.
From blonde Mexicans to Pacific Islanders, we got this thing down. 🙂
Stay tuned for our adventures and dream weaving in The Marshall Islands here on my blog, and also on facebook at The Enlightened Globetrekker.
Komol Tata 🙂by