Marshall Islands
Majuro

Some folks really love it here and some really hate it.  We fall closer to the hate it side, but it is not all bad.

Life started with three boats arriving on a Friday and suddenly finding out it is some obscure government holiday called
gospel day!  This is not even listed in the tourist handout, but officials want to charge overtime anyway!  So after waiting
around all afternoon for them they finally arrive just after 5PM. They glance at our papers and say to come to the office
on Monday.  So far we have been successful at fighting to not pay the overtime and that is good, since it is a couple of
hundred dollars!  Unfortunately Claudie got screwed on the Monday when they charged her 200 for a 1 year visa and not
multiple entry.  Basically if she flew out she would need another visa.  She was given 90 days free, but for cyclone
season you need more like 6 months and they don't allow for a 6 month visa.  Another canadian couple were allowed to
pay 100 each for a 90 day extension, but the head of immigration said to our faces this is not possible!  Welcome to
Majuro...

Most boats hang out on moorings and pay monthly for this.  The weather is a bit crazy here with lots of rain and winds
from all directions.  We did a full 360 degree swing a couple of times.  With no notice you can get strong blows from the
south making for a really rough ride.  If you head north things settle down to normal trade winds with pretty steady NE to
E direction.

There is a huge tuna industry based in this harbor and at all hours boats are moving around and generating wakes.  
Expect noise, wakes, trash, dirty water, diesel spills, etc.  At any one time there are 4 to 12 mother ships anchored here.  
These are just small freighters designed to offload the tuna catch from two tuna boats at a time.  When they fill up they
head off to asia.  It seems there are three fleets here and all have helicopters.  One fleet is US Samoa based and the
other two are Chinese and Japanese.  I have no idea where all the money from the port fees, catch fees, and permit fees
ends up, because none is spent on the island to improve things.  All construction is again done by foreign grants.  I
guess some top officials have some big accounts in Switzerland.

This island is pretty dirty (ok less that Tarawa) and the locals love to leave trash on the beach to drift away at high tide.  
Nothing like tires, cans, plastic, and my personal favorite dirty diapers drifting by at happy hour.  You feel sick about
taking a shower off the back and if you eat out likely you will be sick.  Just about every place we ate made us sick and the
prices are pretty much similar to the US.  Somehow they pay their workers the minimum wage of 2.00 US an hour, but still
charge full price in the restaurants.  They have many freighters a month here and consume like crazy so where does all
the trash go?  Often locals burn it up wind of us of course or drop it on the beach.  There is no "garbage" plan on any of
these islands.  Why not an incinerator?

Groceries and other items are pretty much 20% to 100% higher than US prices and mostly come from the US.  When you
buy something here it is usually close to or already expired.  Look at all the expiration dates or expect to get sick.  I guess
the US dumps all its junk out here.  Even when fruits and veggies come off the freighter and look decent they rot in days.  
Still it is one of the better provisioning places compared to the last two countries we visited.

The one major thing this country has going for it is an agreement with the US postal service so you get normal domestic
shipping rates!  Ok things take way longer than in the states and if it is not shipped priority mail expect to wait a month or
more.  Still you can have way too much fun on amazon.  Heck I shipped in two solar panels with free shipping and it took
about two weeks!

So pretty much if you are American (won't have to pay for a visa) and need a place to hang out for cyclone season it is
an ok place to be.  Ideally you visit some of the outer atolls and escape Majuro for most of your stay.  We have no plans
to come back, yet other boats come almost every season.  At least so far (knock on wood) we escaped Dengue fever
unlike the boat next to us.

Aur

This is the first island north from Majuro and is an easy night hop.  Ok it is one rough trip with current against wind and
just plain nasty, but at least it is just a night hop.

We stopped at the SE corner to pay our 25 bucks to the mayor and stayed a few nights there.  There is an old steel
sailing ship wreck on the reef at low tide and nobody knows where it came from.

We were able to get the dingy over the south reef at high tide and do some dives.  The corals were ok, but the fish life
was a bit light.  We noticed this every time we dove the outside reefs.  Nowhere were we amazed by the diving.  

Just about every anchorage in the lagoons is bouncy.  Even if it looks great when you pull in expect things to change.  
What you don't expect is that at high tide the reefs are fully covered and the waves slosh over and come at you from both
sides of the boat.  This was true of almost every anchorage we had.  Several times we anchored outside the lagoons and
had better conditions than inside.  Nothing like anchoring in 60 to 80 feet of water and having the back of the boat in
500+ feet.  Don't drop anything by mistake.

We did a favor for the local doctor and brought him a package from Majuro.  Turns out this package was a new carb and
other spares parts for his broken outboard.  He then mentioned he has no tools so back to the boat to get tools and
spend half the afternoon fixing someone else's motor.  The motor is still broken, because the throttle cables are shot.  He
mentioned he had new cables, but I did not have the proper tools or desire to continue.  Next he wanted fuel for a motor
that does not work, but I said I can't spare any.  He is the one who gave us the pandanas and coconuts in the photo.

We anchored several places along the east side inside the lagoon.  We never found any decent diving inside the
lagoon.  We also anchored off the NW corner outside and off the S end of the lagoon outside.  In calm weather these are
ok, but sometimes rolly anchorages.  It is good to be a cat!  Still we found only ok diving and nothing special.  Sure it was
great to get out to clear water and dive at least.

Maloelap

We again started at the SE corner to pay our 25 buck fee to the mayor.  We anchor hopped north to the island of Taroa,
which was a major Japanese base in WWII.

This place has an interesting history if you are into that.  I won't bore you with the details, but we never took the island,
but rather bombed it for years and left them to starve  There are many gun sites around, tons of bunkers, generators,
fuel tanks, wrecked planes, unexploded bombs, etc.  We spent a couple of days finding all the stuff hidden in the jungle.  
There are wrecks of at least 20+ planes being covered by jungle growth.  All along the beaches are bunkers, guns,
bullets, metal wreckage, etc.  The scary thing is that many of these bunkers and guns are now in the water.  They were
never built near the water.  Global warming?  For sure major beach erosion is happening here and with 6 foot tides
things are starting to disappear.  The Japanese had a big power plant on another island 3 miles away and an underwater
power cable to this island.  They even had a small scale train around the island!  Lots of effort went into defending this
place.

The shipwreck in the anchorage is a Japanese freighter and has some live depth charges according to the local WWII
history buff.  We dove it several times and enjoyed the school of barracuda and the nudibranches, but never saw depth
charges.

A few more islands along is another place with two small ship wrecks and two plane wrecks.  The planes are visible at low
tide.  The ships are small and only worth a couple of dives.

Again we spent about a week anchored outside the lagoon on the NW side and saw nothing really special.  Close to one
pass we did get a bit more fish life and for some reason found one area with many clown fish and 4 types.  The corals are
in OK shape and still not that many fish.

One day we are about a mile from the boat getting ready for a dive, when we see a boat hanging out behind ours.  So we
blew off the dive to get back and see what is happening.  It was two locals wanting to trade glass fishing floats for
gasoline.  What does one do with a glass float on a boat and gas is 5.60 a gallon here and even higher on the outer
islands.  I said no thanks and asked if they had bananas.  They did not so I said have a nice day.  They then claimed not
to have enough gas to even get back to the village a mile away.  I did not believe them, but gave them a gallon.  Next
they wanted to tie up to us, then some cold drinks, then....  After about a half hour of forced conversation they gave us a
small glass ball and a couple of woven necklaces.  Everyone told us to take trading goods with us and we did, but
everyone wanted gas or smokes so we have lots of left over trade stuff.  Oh, but now I have a glass ball to store
somewhere.

Rongerik

This is a truly amazing place.  Imagine a small uninhabited atoll with turtles and birds.  There are lots of turtle tracks on
the beaches here from laying eggs at night and often you see them swimming around the boat at the south island.  The
smaller island at the NE corner is a bird rookery.  Be very careful if you walk the interior or you might step on eggs or
young birds.

The price you pay for coming here is pretty bouncy anchorages during the spring tides, but then you get privacy and the
chance to look for glass fishing floats that wash up on the beaches.

I hope someday the locals will consider making this atoll a park and protect it.  Unfortunately the diving is really not very
good and the fish life is way less than it should be.  This is the same of all the Marshall Islands we visited and we explored
up to 350 miles north of Majuro.

We are hoping the Solomons and New Guinea will be way better for diving.