If you research things to do on Majuro, you’ll find that the most recommended activity is to go someplace else. It’s beautiful, but there isn’t a heck of a lot to do on Majuro, and the few things there are to do are often closed when you get there, notwithstanding the business hours posted at the entrance. But, Majuro is a great jumping off point to explore the other, more remote islands in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. You can catch a boat or a seaplane from Majuro to any of the other 29 atolls in the nation, some of which are pretty far flung.
Eneko Island is near-flung, relatively speaking, in that it’s day trip distance from Majuro by boat. I decided to play chicken with Dale and go for the day.
So, I got up at the crack of ten, had the hotel cook pack me up a sandwich, and set off in a little skiff with a small group that included, as I found out later, the U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands and his dog, who would not stop licking my face. The dog, not the Ambassador. Yes, I was face-licked by the Ambassadog. Such an honor! And, it distracted me from trying to figure out who on the boat would play Gilligan, the Skipper, the Professor, the Howells, Ginger and Maryann in the movie I would otherwise have been making in my head of this trip.
As we skimmed the edge of the coral reef that makes up the Majuro Atoll on our way to Eneko, I couldn’t help but think of those screensaver images of palm trees sprouting out of small, sugar white sand islands in azure seas, taunting me from my computer screen back home. I think I must have assumed they were photoshopped or something–that something that pristine couldn’t actually exist. But it does. It’s in the Marshall Islands. The screensavers, of course, don’t show you all the SPIDERS! Ugh, see, this is why we can’t have nice things.
These little islands, barely sticking up out of the sea, are all the last dabs of the rim of an ancient volcano, on which the coral reefs have developed. The sometimes narrow separations between the islands are just the places where the rock and coral has eroded or descended into the sea more quickly. From the air, you can see the coral connection between the islands just under the surface of the water. If the sea level rises even a teensy bit, this country is going to disappear. In the meantime, it’s a great place for a snorkel picnic!
The clarity of the water is peerless, and as I mentioned in my last post, the coral is among the healthiest in the world, teeming with life. It has a perfect, sort of Disney-like quality to it that makes it seem not quite real.
(Click to enlarge the images below.)
On Eneko Island, the sand shelf is limited, so the beach is powder soft, but you can’t walk out into the water very far before you hit coral. The water over the reef is quite shallow, too, so for once, being fluffy and buoyant was a huge advantage, as it allowed me to hover easily over the coral in just a couple feet of water and see the abundant sea life up close and personal. Like this little guy. I thought he was a seahorse at first, because of his nose, but, apparently, he’s a pipefish. It’s a cousin to the seahorse, but the body isn’t curled and paunchy. He’s the supermodel of seahorses. No curves.
Unlike at more traveled spots, where the fish are accustomed to being fed by tourists and swim right up to your snorkel mask and wag their tails, waiting for a treat, these guys were skittish and wary of human company.
Or, perhaps it was the fact that I had a tunafish sandwich for lunch, and to them, my approach was heralded by the stench of death and mayonnaise. I’m not sure. In any event, when they would allow me into any kind of close proximity, it was an even greater honor than being licked by the Ambassadog.
Why wasn’t I scuba diving with the rest of the group, you ask?
Well, I am certified to scuba dive, but not only did I not feel like putting on a wetsuit and lugging all the necessary gear, I had to fly the next day, and I didn’t want to risk the bends. From what the others reported after their dive, I think I had the better day snorkeling in the shallows in my tutu-tutu anyway (“tutu” is the Marshallese word for swimming, and my swimsuit has a little skirt thingy on it; hence, tutu-tutu).
Speaking of flying the next day, travelers take note: there’s a $20 per head departure tax in the Marshall Islands, and it has to be paid in cash, in U.S. dollars, and there’s no ATM at the airport. Ignorant of this, I managed to run myself down to just three dollars by the day I left, and they wouldn’t take a credit card for the departure tax. I tried to pay in banana bread and Snickers bars, but the guy wouldn’t go for it. I still had 1,200 Macanese Patacas (about $150 USD) in my wallet from when I was in Macau, but the guy wasn’t having any of that either.
There’s a little branch of the Bank of the Marshall Islands at the airport that purports to be a licensed foreign exchange bank, so I went there and tried to exchange the Patacas for US dollars. The bank teller looked at the bills and was, like, “you git on outta here with yer funny, make-believe ‘Patacas’ before I call for the sheriff!” Or, whatever the Marshallese version of that general sentiment would be. They wouldn’t even let me do a cash advance on my credit card, although, I have to wonder if they would have permitted it if I had lead with that. Who knows?
Finally, the bartender in the airport bar took pity on me/took the opportunity to exploit my stupidity, and after I bought a shot of Jack—which I sorely needed by that point—and agreed to an extortionate 25% “convenience fee,” allowed me to get $20 cash back on my credit card so I could leave the place. Good thing he didn’t know I had fresh banana bread to bargain with, or I’d have lost my inflight snack, too!