Island Hopper

The Island Hopper

2019 was the 50th year of the Island Hopper service. First from Air Micronesia (AKA Air Mike) then to Continental Airlines and, finally, to United Airlines after their merger with Continental. The milk run style service of stopping at many locations along a route used to be more common, but now only two major bookable milk runs exist in the USA: one between Seattle and Anchorage and the Hopper, as it is nicknamed by enthusiasts. This route goes both ways from Honolulu (HNL) to Guam (GUM) westbound and GUM to HNL eastbound. The traditional Hopper routing for enthusiasts is going westbound on UA154. It leaves in the morning from HNL, crosses over the international date line and arrives in Majuro (MAJ) the following day on its 1st stop. From there it goes to Kwajalein (KAJ), the 2nd stop. This provides service to the American military base there and the local inhabitants on the adjacent island of Ebeye. The 3rd stop is Kosrae (KOR). This island is only visited by the Island Hopper 2 times a week. The 4th stop is Pohnpei (PNI), location of the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia. The 5th stop is the scuba diver’s paradise of Chuuk (TKK). Lastly the Hopper arrives in Guam in the evening. HNL is in the American state of Hawai’i; MAJ and KAJ are in the Republic of The Marshall Islands (RMI); KOR, PNI, TKK are in Federated States of Micronesia (FSM); lastly GUM is an American territory. Both the RMI and FSM are in “free association” with the USA meaning they use the USD for currency, the USPS for post (although stamps are different) and the nations are protected by the US military.

The Hopper planes are Boeing 737s who have been modified. These planes are swapped out at regular intervals and sent to the mainland USA to limit damage from the sea water. The flight attendants fly from HNL to MAJ, or MAJ to GUM (and vice versa) and overnight at the Hotel Robert Reimers hotel on Majuro. There are two sets of pilots on the plane. The pilots at rest get first class seats 1A and 1B. These seats are modified to lay flat making seats 2A and 2B unusable. A technician sits in seat 7F flying the route from GUM to MAJ and back to inspect and service the plane if needed as the airports between HNL and GUM do not have the staff and facilities. The UA staff are based in GUM and many are from the Continental Airline days. While the mainline United staff gets a bad image in the media, everyone on this route during my flights were outstanding.

Service is a bit different on the Hopper. Between most legs there is a beverage service and sometimes there were also almonds passed out. In the section between HNL and MAJ I heard there was a snack, but I did not fly that leg during my trip. Between GUM and TKK there is also a snack. As these are just small snacks, it is advisable to bring something extra on board. While you can get out at most of the stops and get something from the airport snack bar, if the flight is delayed deboarding may be impossible. Also, each of the airports only takes USD cash for payment. Because of liquid rules you cannot bring water past security and, sadly, drinking tap water at all the stops other than HNL and GUM is not advised. This means having to get water from the flight attendants or buying it. I had no problem getting my bottle filled the one time I asked while waiting on the plane at KAJ.

The inflight entertainment is provided on 11 channels showing movies on repeat plus a “welcome” channel and the flight map. The movies are in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. With flight times of just under or over an hour it is difficult to watch a movie till its end. Also, the controls are located right where people put their elbows leading to you changing the channel inadvertently or the controls being broken. There is no in-air WIFI, so make sure to load your device up with some extra movies to watch. Each seat does get a copy of the United Hemispheres magazine, a safety card, and air sickness bag. Blankets and headphones are available. Above the seat is an air vent and reading light. Business & Economy Plus seats have power plugs.

At KIX and GUM I was able to upgrade to an economy plus seat for a few legs at a reasonable cost using the check in machines. I found the machines to be easy to use overall, but I did not like how the seat upgrade page makes it look like there is someone in the seat next to you even when the seat is empty encouraging you to pay extra for an upgraded seat. The extra space in Economy Plus was nice but not worth spending more than $20 on. There are also a few first-class seats at the front of the plane which are larger but, besides for the two seats for the pilots, do not lie flat. A window seat is critical to enjoying this flight. People argue in forums about which side to sit on. I was in seat F for all of my flights east and westbound and loved every beautiful takeoff and landing. However, I think I was on the ocean side for most of the landings and take offs and would probably book an A seat if I have the chance to ride the Hopper again.

I was also extremely lucky to never have someone in the middle seat next to me on all the flights. On a few of the flights, I had the row to myself. Only on one flight PNI-TKK did I have a problem where someone was very much nestled into my seat when I boarded. I asked him if I could use my seat and he moved to the aisle. The very attentive flight attendant asked him where he was sitting and moved him back to where he belonged. She then gave me a sly grin. Soon a family took the 3 seats across the aisle and the father moved into aisle seat on my side so his children could have some more room. He was very pleasant although we only talked for a minute or so. On the flight from TKK to PNI going out a nice Marshallese lady gave me a chocolate bar and I gave her a salty lime candy from Singapore in return. The people I met throughout the Hopper experience were all very kind.

My route was traveling to GUM from Japan then going form GUM to MAJ and back. The outgoing, eastbound, flight was a Sunday only flight that skips KAJ and KOR and has a different number: UA133. My inbound, westbound, flights were on UA154. I made the booking with 50,000 points of ANA mileage that I had built up over the years. The ticket cost an additional 15,000JPY of taxes and fees. Making the booking on the website, including the layover, was impossible. Thanks to the ANA call center staff for taking their time with me and getting these flights. As these are rare locations for the call center staff, so you might have to explain the routing a bit.

For the trip report I will skip Guam and getting to Majuro and begin from my arrival in the Marshall Islands

Arrival in Majuro (8 Sep 2019)

Arrival and Immigration

It was interesting having an open-air immigration counter and baggage collection area. I have never been to such a small airport before. The immigration staff were polite and asked a few questions regarding the purpose of my travel.

Laura’s Apartment

I got out of the airport in darkness and took my first cab to the Airbnb I booked. While I do not typically like Airbnb in Japan, in small places like this with a local that can help. I cannot recommend it more Laura’s Airbnb more! There are only 3 actual hotels on the island, and they all were very expensive or weird enough to turn me off from booking a traditional lodging.

Upon arrival my Airbnb host offered to drive me to the supermarket to pick up something for dinner as she was heading out to meet some friends. It was pretty surreal in the market that Sunday night right before closing. I grabbed some bread, cheese, salami, and water then found out that there are no alcohol sales on the island on Sunday. I was dead tired anyway from the flight out so after a quick dinner and a shower I went to bed early.

The listing can be found here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/33836928

Internet

The Internet is available at WIFI spots around the island, including the airport. $5 will get you unlimited use for a day but be aware that the speeds are not as what you can expect elsewhere. The only time I wanted to connect while on the island was while waiting for departure, but the snack bar did not have any $5 access cards. I ended up paying via PayPal on online portal with no problems to connect.

Downtown Majuro
Downtown Majuro - Formosa Store - Hardware section
Laura Beach

A Day in Majuro (9 Sep 2019)

I woke up and explored the town then headed to Laura Beach to see some of the nature in Majuro.

Getting around Majuro

Taxis are a $1 on either side of the bridge. Have a bunch of $1 single bills in your pocket to pass to the taxi driver when you get off. These are shared taxis and they run either way on the one road on the atoll. Board the taxi from the direction you want to travel. If you want to go to Laura Beach, confirm that with the driver beforehand.

Downtown Majuro

There is basically one road in Majuro for this section I am writing as they appear in order from Elefa Handicrafts to the RRE Resort on the east side of the atoll.

Elefa Handicrafts

This is a local products store. Remember take your shoes off as you enter. Old ladies were assembling shell jewelry as I browsed the store. Found some locally made soap for $2 a bar, cute earrings and coconut oil.

EZ Price Mart

On the left is clothing including touristy t-shirts and school uniforms. On the right is a market. Republic of the Marshall Islands flags and locally made coconut oil for sale.

Payless Supermarket

General supermarket. ATM inside.

Alele Museum

No signage outside. Located between a church and the, signed, courthouse. You need to go through two doors to enter the building. One is a license office the other looks into an internal stairway. The door to the museum is labeled. There are two rooms with the history of the Marshalls. I found the tattooing tools quite interesting. Entrance is free, but there is a box for donations.

MISCO Market:

Across from the Alele Museum. Fish, fruits, coconut and shell jewelry for sale. Very interesting smells here.

Formosa Supermarket

I have never seen so many sandals for sale in one place. The smell of the rubbery plastic permeates the aisles. Hardware and food for sale.

Marshall Islands Post Office

Like an American Post Office but with different smells. I made sure to send a postcard from here to my family in Japan and the USA.

Bank of the Marshall Islands

No ATMs here. It seems like this is the place to get remittances from relatives working in the states, mostly Arkansas.

Hotel Robert Reimers (RRE)

Very expat friendly hotel and resort. American football playing on the TV. Decent food. Good American style coffee. This is the hotel where the United Airlines staff overnight. I have never felt more like an expatriate than sitting in this restaurant eating a sandwich while watching other expats chatting on their phones and working on laptops.

Other places of note

MIVA - Marshall Island Visitors Authority

Tourist information office. One of the few places that sell postcards on the island. Maps and other information.

K&K Island Pride Supermarket (Next to United Airlines office and Bank of Guam)

Biggest supermarket on the atoll it seems. I was very surprised to see items from New Zealand. ATM outside. You have to leave your backpack in the entrance like a teenager.

K&K Island Pride Supermarket (Smaller one in Rairikku village)

Much smaller than the other K&K market.

Laura Beach

I asked a cab if it was OK to go that far before getting in. He only had one passenger in his cab. Once that passenger got out before the airport, he confirmed with me $40 there and back for a private ride. I agreed and he took the taxi sign off his car and we continued down the road. After a stop for cigarettes, gasoline and doughnuts, we got going in earnest. After the airport the population numbers go down quickly as do the cars on the road so driving was much faster. Beautiful ride through villages and pass countless houses, little roadside shops and a few schools. Laura Beach is at the end of the road. It costs $1 per person to get in. There is a freshwater shower, toilets, changing rooms, BBQ pits, picnic tables, and trash cans. The beach is fairly clean but there is more trash than I expected. Littering the sand is also some large auto parts here and there. Out in the water you will come across some plastic and cans, but not too much. The water is amazingly clear and warm. Fish were plentiful enough for me. There was a great sense of calm being at the end of this island at the end of the world.

Note: If it is a bit confusing, Laura Beach and my Airbnb host Laura have the same name by happenstance. Laura Beach and Laura Village were given that name by American GI’s naming it after Lauren Bacall during WWII.

Majuro to Pohnpei (10 Sep 2019)

As the flight heading back towards GUM leaves at 11:20 and check-in needs to be done by 9:50 there was not much to do in the morning other than relax at Laura’s beautiful house and look at the ocean.

Checking in at MAJ - Majuro Airport

Check-in by 90 minutes before departure. There is a $20 departure tax that is taken in cash at a separate booth after checking in and you drop off your baggage. Once you pay that $20 you will receive your boarding pass. There is a scale for luggage, a few stores including the Elefa Handicraft satellite store. A small cafe and bar are there for some pre-departure snacks. After going through security, the waiting room is small. On the day I left it was extremely cramped with people here for a fishing tournament. There is a small booth selling drinks, booze, snacks and prepaid internet access cards, if they have any in stock.

KAJ - Kwajalein (stopover)

Many people got off the plane at this stop. KAJ is primarily a military base and secondarily the second biggest Marshallese population center on the island of Ebeye. The history of this place and the current occupation by the US military is controversial, especially the conditions on Ebeye which seem to be more like a concentration camp than I think the US government wants to admit to. The island is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. I did want to visit Ebeye and see what the conditions were like with my own eyes, but I only had time to visit two locations on this trip. There is a single hotel on the island and the reviews are not that spectacular, not that it would have mattered much to get the chance to visit this unique place. Hopefully there will be another chance.

The Marshallese have been through numerous American atomic bomb tests, colonization by four different countries, global climate change causing the sea to rise submerging islands and continued suffering from extreme poverty. There is a brain-drain as the brightest Marshallese all move across the globe, mostly to Bentonville, Arkansas, to work and send money home to their families. Seeing the two giant air strips, manicured golf course, palm trees, open spaces and the American base with its Burger King and pizza restaurants on Kwajalein in the foreground while the small densely packed island of Ebeye, a white dot of buildings with only a splotch of green in a corner, in the background pass by my window as we climbed into the sky was depressing. Very few people know about the Marshall Islands and even fewer know about the conditions on this island for the Marshallese.

KSA - Korase (stopover)

Welcome to the Federated States of Micronesia! The FSM is made of 4 states, each with its own language and culture. Each state has a capital island and many smaller outer islands under its jurisdiction. The smallest, and said to be most beautiful, is Kosrae. While I was only able to see the small waiting room, I got to be there for longer than usual. Due to the heat and amount of luggage on the plane today, the United staff had to shift all the luggage around to balanced the plane for a safe flight. This is one of the reasons they have the technician on the flight. As this airport only gets a few flights a week there are no facilities in the departure lounge other than a small table in the corner with a few drinks, and snacks. They did have some locally made spice, coconut chips and coconut oil for sale. The coconut chips and spice were delicious. I wish I bought more! Given the flight was quite full, we were all cramped in the small waiting room, many of us standing. I even sat in the outdoor smoking area for a while to get some fresh air.

Arrival in Pohnpei

I was almost the last person to go through immigration and customs but enjoyed talking to the people in the line next to me. They were from UCLA and heading to the College of Micronesia to do a workshop on applying to graduate school and getting scholarships. Once through customs I quickly found the van for my hotel. There were 4 people already waiting for the van. They were doctors from Hawai’i who were touring the islands and doing volunteer clinics for children’s health. As we were in the same hotel, we chatted a bit here and there in the lobby and restaurant. I wish I had more time to talk with them as they were a very interesting group. It was very moving seeing so many people doing good in this region of the world. Maybe in the future I might be able to have the chance to do something similar.

7 Stars Inn & Riverside Restaurant

I stayed in the 7 Stars Inn for two nights on Pohnpei. Making the booking was a bit worrisome as I had to write down my credit card information on a sheet of paper then email it to the hotel, but once I arrived, I knew it was safe. The hotel is very American military themed, and I think the military uses it for lodging. My room was huge, had satellite TV, a fridge and a decent shower. Given the location both on the globe and in the town, it was a deal. The downstairs restaurant was fine, and they had a full bar. The WIFI was adequate and had a strong signal in my room, the restaurant and other public areas.

After checking in, I found that the hotel was conveniently located near the Bank of Micronesia, which to my surprise looked very much like a suburban bank back in the states. After withdrawing some money, I got some beer and snacks then returned to the hotel for dinner.

At the hotel, I sat at the bar to write some emails and have a hamburger for dinner. Sadly, there was no fish that night. I talked to Loren, a grandfatherly man who was the father of the hotel’s owner it seemed. He said he had lived on the island for 50 years and I believed him. We had a talk about fresh water supply difficulties and the mistakes made by aid organizations in developing the island. I wanted to continue the talk, but he needed to attend the fantasy football betting league that he was running. The bar was heavy with Navy Seabees, sports, Rotary and other memorabilia. It was a comfortable place to have a drink and the locals were very friendly.

Before heading to bed, I learned that getting a tour to Nan Madol the following day was going to be too expensive as I would be the only guest, so I decided to arrange a rental car through the hotel and go by myself. September 11 is the Liberation Day holiday in Pohnpei. It was on this day that the Japanese forces fell to the Americans during WWII which is celebrated by having an island wide volleyball tournament.

Nan Madol
Pahn Sile -After walking upriver I got to the falls and got in the water.
Pohnpei Driving

A day in Pohnpei (11 Sep 2019)

I rented a Hyundai Tucson from the hotel for about $70 to explore the island, and I found the choice of car fitting as I am from Tucson, AZ. I was odd driving again on the right side of the road, but it was easy enough to get back into it. Having a high clearance car is also highly recommended to get around on some of the dirt roads and potholes.

Nan Madol

From the ring road there is one sign pointing to a paved road that takes you most of the way. Near the school the road goes down a sharper slope towards the ocean. Do not go straight here! Instead turn right, the only other option. From there you will go a bit further and see the Nan Madol tourist center sign. You will have to pay a few dollars there to drive down a rocky, pitted dirt road that dead ends into what appears to be a half-constructed toilet facility. At this point another family will collect some money to go down the path on foot. It is fairly well marked. You can see the first of the stone walls here. Continue to the end of the path to where you can see the main site. You will have to cross over by walking in the shallow sea water. There is no bridge. The tide was slow when I visited so the water never came above my knees, but during high tide it can be chest deep. Once in the main ruins, a third man asked me for money. The cost seems to change a bit, but it was about $8 or $9 in total paid at 3 places to get to the ruins.

The ruins are amazing. It is one of the most ethereal places I have ever visited. The construction began around 1200 AD and was done with stone taken from the other side of the island. There are no signs so finding a guide map is helpful. I spent an hour or two walking around the area near the main ruins. As I was on my own with no detailed map or plan, I did not want to venture too far. A good guide would make this trip much more interesting, however just being there was enough for me. It was quite hot on the day I went so make sure to bring enough water, sunscreen and a hat.

Pahn Sele

This hike was recommended by Pohnpei Eco-Adventure Guide and I used their map while on this hike. The road heading inland from the ring road was dirt with some large bumps and ditches. Near the end it was a single track with tall grass on both sides. The first part of the hike is mostly flat, but the trail was flooded in parts. Going out I had my hiking shoes on but heading back I used my beach shoes. The former was better half of the time on the rocks, the latter was better for the other half of the time in the wet bits. The trail conditions, heat and realizing you are on an island in the middle of the Pacific made this quite the adventure but also, I walked at a much slower pace than I typically do on my hikes in Japan.

The hike generally parallels a river and heads to a waterfall with an area for swimming at the base. After you cross the stream and begin gaining elevation, start looking towards the river for a spur to get out to it. I missed it and went to a place where I could see the falls from above, then headed back. The spur I used to the river was not marked and might have been just me making a trail. There were a few minutes of walking in and along the river to reach the base of the falls.

At the falls the water was beautiful and cool. I was the only one there. The hike out got me pretty sweaty and muddy so cooling off in the water was fun. I wish I was there with someone else as I probably would have stayed longer. Being alone in the middle of a jungle on an island in the Pacific with no cell phone service was a bit unnerving so I soon returned to the car. I was never in any danger, but I did not want to push my luck. Hiking back to the car my leg got sucked down well past the knee into the mud. Getting wet and dirty was the only dangerous thing. Watch out for your backpack and electronics everything will get wet when you go on an adventure here. Reaching the car, I was probably dirtier than I left despite swimming in the river!

Driving the loop

From the Pahn Sele access road I double backed again towards Nan Madol going clockwise. I felt that if I had the car, why not drive around the island. It was a nice drive with some random rain showers here and there. The occasional house and roadside stand selling drinks and snacks. Billiard tables placed under verandas by a foreign government aid or NPO were surprising to see. Drive slowly and carefully as the pavement quality changes often. Make sure to share the road with people, chicken, and pigs.

As mentioned above, it was a national holiday and I from what I gathered the village that wins the volleyball tournament gets a police escort for the impromptu parade around the island. Just upon coming to a one car only bridge, I stopped to let the oncoming traffic through. That oncoming traffic lasted about 5 minutes. I pulled my car to the side, turned off the engine and got a cola to enjoy as the cars with people cheering out the windows, sitting on the top or standing in the truck beds celebrating passed by. What a lucky chance to see that celebration. Once the parade passed, I was able to get back on my way. By the time I reached the area of the island with the government buildings I was beginning to get a bit sleepy and decided to skip driving out to see them as I had planned. Back at the hotel, getting all the black sand and mud off my legs and shoes took a bit of effort. That shower felt great and the beer was pretty good also.

Pohnpei Downtown - The level of development here is much higher than Majuro.
Pohnpei Downtown - Just like the USA

Leaving Pohnpei (12 Sep 2019)

I arranged a ride to the airport with my hotel and walked around downtown Pohnpei getting a few gifts here and there. The tourist information office had an old rusty Japanese tank in the parking lot and the friendliest staff. I got a few maps and postcards there to take home. Next door at the post office, that smelled more and looked even more like post offices back in the states, I bought a bunch of philatelic and non-philatelic gifts and treats for myself. The post office here is probably the best place to get touristy stuff on the island! They have some Micronesian Postal Service shirts that are made in Columbia. Getting a shirt made in South America from a post office in Micronesia. Perfect.

Next to the Chinese Friendship Park is a small statue of Kannon with a prayer and a message for all those who died on the island in WWII placed there by the Japanese Government. The wording of the prayer and message was, to put it kindly, very diplomatic.

Pohnpei is much more developed and has better shopping options than Majuro. It was extremely interesting to see what goods from the diverse mix of counties that surround these islands make their way to here. Philippine made American-brand Doublemint gum, Taiwanese canned drinks, Korean noodles, American potato chips, New Zealand powdered milk, Australian rice. The Palm Terrace market had a bunch of touristy t-shirts along with all the basic food items. The design of the store made me feel I was going back in time to 1950’s America. Angie’s Fast Food made a pretty decent hamburger and fries while Deja Brew makes iced coffees without any milk or sugar. Lastly, I got my daughter one of the traditional skirts from a roadside kiosk which she loves wearing with the Pohnpei t-shirt I found at Palm Terrace.

Checking in at PNI - Pohnpei Airport

Like MAJ, you need to arrive and check in 90 minutes before departure then pay a departure tax to enter the secure side of the airport. I checked in simply but realized that I still had my multitool in my pocket. Thankfully it was pretty simple for the gate staff to find my duffle bag and bring it back to me to repack. I would never imagine that being possible in the USA or Japan. After that minor crisis was taken care of, I checked out the satellite shop of the Micronesian post office in the terminal. Again, they are the best, or perhaps the only, souvenir store on the island! After buying a bag of the locally grown pepper, I got lunch in the airport restaurant. Chili fries and a quesadilla. Things you do not see on the menu in Japan. It was the best American food I have had outside of America! Free WIFI too!

The call was made that everyone had to go through security. I waited till almost everyone had gone through before making my way to the waiting room. PNI has a larger waiting area with 2 gates, although only one seems to be used. There is even a small bar/restaurant. Sadly, the free WIFI does not travel into this area so buying a prepaid WIFI card is required. The system on Pohnpei is like Majuro with WIFI spots around the island. There are no SIM cards available here. Taking the hopper means a lot of sitting around and waiting so getting the WIFI might be worth it as, due to many factors beyond the control of United, these flights get delayed often. Not wanting to pay the $5, I just listened to some podcasts I had saved to my phone.

TKK - Chuuk (stopover)

Chuuk most accessible of the 4 FSM states due to its closeness and number of flights to and from Guam, in fact many Chuukese live and work on Guam. The airport has a great view of the lush green mountains. The departure area is one large room with a small bar in the corner selling drinks, snacks and a few souvenirs.

GUM – Guam (overnight)

Guam is the main outpost of American military power in the Pacific. America’s day begins in Guam. Monday night football is broadcast live on Tuesday at 11 in the morning. The main tourist area has more signs in Japanese than in English it may seems. However, more and more of the tourists are coming from China, Korea, Russia and other countries. It is not hard to find mentions of the native Chamorro culture on Guam. From Håfa Adai being written or said to recreations or images of latte stone pillars. On all 3 visits to this island the local media is arguing whether to remain a territory, to become a fully-fledged state or for independence. It is a place of many hidden and visible tensions. It is perhaps the most unique geography I have encountered.

On the way out to Majuro I stopped by the world’s largest (and most profitable) K-Mart for deodorant and underwear, things I cannot find the equivalent of in Japan, plus some snacks for the airplane. I also had to get a Little Caesar’s pizza to enjoy in my hotel room. It is something I have to do on each visit to Guam, enjoy the weirdly nostalgic flavors from a childhood and stock up on the few things that keep me American. I chose the Royal Orchid hotel as it is just down the hill from the K-Mart. The Royal Orchid, like the Verona next door which I have also stayed at, are more geared towards tourists, have somewhat clean pools, and that weird yet intriguing musky Guam hotel smell to them.

This time on the way back to Japan for my very short overnight in Guam, I chose the Days Inn which really surprised me along with the lovely staff who checked me in. While some of the fixtures looked like they came Japanese love hotel, the rest of the experience was like an American theme park for me. It had the smells and feel of an American hotel and summer vacations without actually going to America. This is not the best hotel for location, and it does not have a pool. However, this is a great option if the room quality is the most important thing to you. I will probably stay here again next time I come to Guam.

Instead of heading back to the K-Mart on this overnight, I walked the opposite way for about 20 minutes to the Guam Premier Outlets and bought some shoes (much cheaper than I can find in Japan for my size!), then got some take away sushi (I miss American style sushi sometimes) from a restaurant and beers from the ABC Mart to enjoy back in the hotel. Finishing the trip by eating sushi cross legged on my hotel room bed while watching infomercials for male virility supplements kind of perfectly tied the knot on this odd tour through America’s hidden backyard.

Conclusion

These places are in the middle of a cultural-political battle between the USA, Japan, Taiwan, EU, Australia, New Zealand, and China. Each of them and their NPOs proudly putting their name on playgrounds, solar powered streetlights, and bus stops. Then there is the economic battle with fishing rights being observed and ignored. Cars, an astonishing number of them, quite a number of them from Korea thanks to being left and drive, make constant looping routes on the islands’ few roads. But this little bit of pollution is nothing compared to that of the Global North, and it is the Global North’s pollution that is leading to sea levels rising. The tallest spot on Majuro is officially the bridge connecting two parts of the atoll, but it is actually the pile of trash that has been building up over the years next to the already full original landfill. The RMI is also home of island wide landfills of radiological pollution that was created by Cold War initiatives to build bigger, more destructive and more radiologically damaging nuclear bombs by the USA. These places seemed timeless within their own frames, from Nan Madol to the Palm Terrace market and the RRE. However, the active enviromental, political, humanitairan and cultural threats to these communities is not timeless.

I am publishing this report a year after my visit and during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I visited there was a dengue fever outbreak was just beginning on Majuro which likely traveled to Guam on the Hopper, an eerie foretelling of COVID-19. Currently travel to these islands is extremely restricted and rightly so due to the extremely limited medical infrastructure. Once travel is allowed again, I strongly recommend visiting these unique, beautiful and friendly places.

References

For route planning, booking hotels, visas, travel advice, etc. the Flyer Talk forum thread on the Hopper is the best source for up-to-date information.

UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice:

https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/united-airlines-mileageplus/1438292-ua-s-micronesia-island-hopper-consolidated-questions-advice.html

Dengue Fever in RMI:

https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/407987/marshall-islands-dengue-outbreak-we-re-fighting-a-war-here

https://phys.org/news/2019-12-huge-disease-marshall-islands-war.html

Majuro’s Garbage Hill:

https://uathompsonlab.com/2016/07/04/majuro-corals-off-mount-majuro/

Streaming radio from the FSM:

http://www.fm/radio.htm

Note: I will edit this page with more links as I find (remember) them.