Blog of the trip to Micronesia

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Tarawa, Kiribati
Sunday, March 1, 2015, 11:48 PM

Kiribati is about a one-hour flight from Majuro. In 2015 it was served by two airlines: Fiji Airlines (to Fiji) and Nauru/Our Airline. Kiribati used to be half of the colony of Gilbert & Ellice until 1978 when the two became independent and split (the Ellice islands became Tuvalu). These states point out that they are not small islands but large oceans: the total land area is very little (and so is the population, mostly under 100,000) but the total sea territory is colossal. Immigration formalities are non-existent: i landed with no visa, they stamped my passport without asking for any money, and when i left there was no departure tax (unlike in Micronesia and Marshall Islands). The official currency of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is the Australian dollar. There is absolutely no bank, ATM, etc at the airport, nor any tourist information. The tourist information office is located in Betio (pronounced "Beso") at the other end of the island (20+ kms away) and the nearest ATM is far enough that you need to take a bus or walk for more than one hour, and most likely it won't work. The only ones that seem to work all the time are in Bairiki and Betio. ATMs charge 7 AUD for each withdrawal (as usual, the biggest thieves are the banks).

Buses are frequent: they squeeze up to 30 passengers in a van. The price is proportional to the distance, approximately 90 cents per village. The capital island and international airport is Tarawa, that consists of a handful of villages spread over a relatively large area (i walked from the parliament to the last village in 6 hours) The infrastructure is very limited (only one supermarket, no Internet cafe) but there are many hotels, guesthouses, lodges and motels. The cheapest i could find: Tarawa Boutique Hotel in Bairiki (42 AUD) and Tad's Guesthouse near the airport (same range), followed by Fema Lodge and many others (60-65 AUD). Ferries to the other islands leave from Besio.

Compared with Majuro, that feels like a city (albeit an ugly and polluted one), Tarawa feels like a country village. The biggest difference is the people. The Marshallese are reserved and rarely smile.

People in Kiribati seem to be always happy. They laugh all the time. They constantly greet you "Mauri!" (which is pronounced more like "mowdy"). I got free rides everywhere without asking. I didn't have to take bus ever. The Marshall Islands also have a much stronger US influence: the Marshallese use miles, Kiribati uses kms; Marshallese children play baseball in the courtyard, Kiribati children play soccer.



Arno, Marshall Islands
Thursday, February 26, 2015, 10:00 PM

The two-day excursion to Arno was totally worth it. I was told that there is only one guesthouse, but in reality it is not a guesthouse.

I had not just a room, not just a house, not just a house with land around it, but a 200 square meter area with a giant house (beds for six, kitchen, bathroom and solar power), two gazebos, private beach, lots fo coconuts trees (tip: don't read your book under a coconut tree) and a cat. The boat trip was not "pacific" (unlike the name of the ocean) and not as short as expected (two hours), and getting from the dock to the village is a 3-km walk with scant prospects of hitching a ride (two motor vehicles in the entire island, the village has 200 people and the entire island 2000 people), but, unlike Majuro, Arno is truly a tropical jungle, all shady and breezy. I walked the whole island from end to end, mostly along the beach (the issue is not how long it takes to get tired but how long it takes before you get sunburned). Not quite an atoll like Majuro because it swells in the middle, but the thinnest section is about 100 meters from the east coast (sunrise coast) to the west coast (sunset coast). It was the perfect place for working on my books. I even liked the fact that birds woke me up every morning before sunrise.

Every evening the villagers told me legends about this island, like the woman who spoke with the birds and once correctly predicted that two sailors were not dead but drifted to another island as the birds had told her.

(Practicalities: the house is located 3 kms from the dock - make sure that transportation to and from is included in the price. Catch: it is windy, every single day).



Majuro, Marshall Islands
Monday, February 23, 2015, 06:01 PM

Reviews of the Majuro hostel (Backpacker's Hostel, located above the Flame Tree) are invariably negative, but the alternatives are far worse and the hostel is not as bad as described in those negative reviews. In fact, quite nice and clean. Alas, it does have a bar that plays loud music at night. $20 for a dormitory room with shared bathroom.

Majuro was a shock. Instead of a Pacific island paradise, you find an overcrowded and polluted town that reminds you of Latin American and African megacities. Clearly, population explosion is going to be a major problem. I don't know where the next generation is going to live if every family makes so many children (and mothers seem to be very young). Most of Majuro is a shantytown, but the percentage of SUVs is impressive. And traffic is crazy for an island with only one road.

Internet is the most expensive i've ever seen: $5 for 50 minutes (you have to buy a card, no discounts). Most prices are similar to those in the USA, just a bit more expensive.

There are boats to Eneko and Arno roundtrip about $20-30. Flights are a mystery.

Immigration was painless like in Micronesia. Basically, if you have a US passport, you are treated like a resident, in fact, better. Like in Micronesia, the official currency is the US$.

Tomorrow i go to Arno, another island of the Marshall Islands. The ferry leaves from the RRE dock at 10am on monday, wednesday, friday, and returns at 2pm on the same days of the week. $13 each way. Staying in Arno costs $25 at the cheapest (only?) guesthouse. No tourist infrastructure in Arno other than the guesthouse.

Majuro has lots of supermarkets, just like the USA. Its coastline and beaches are almost completely covered with garbage, like most of these islands. I spent two hours with the local chatter box who told me everything about crime, corruption and mismanagement in Majuro. As usual, most of the violence is related to alcohol. Before the arrival of alcohol, the Marshall Islands were famous for being crime-free. Now Majuro has one of the highest crime rates in the Pacific. There is an airport departure tax of $20 from Majuro.

Shared taxis ply the only road in Majuro back and forth, from the RRE dock to the airport and beyond. At the airport you can also get a private taxi ($5) but otherwise all taxis are shared and the price is $0.75 for any distance along that road. The ride from the airport to town in a shared taxi is $2.



Kosrae, Micronesia
Saturday, February 21, 2015, 12:56 AM

I was optimistic about Internet access. Many places in Micronesia don't have electricity, let alone Internet. Anyway, i'm in Kosrae for 3 days, then off to Marshall Islands. Hiked from the sea to the mountain and back, found a rusty ship in the middle of the jungle. Staying at somebody's backyard for $22 (private bath, two rooms, etc). So much for "you got to book ahead, all hotels may be full, etc": i walked two steps outside the airport (as big as a tennis court) and someone offered me this room.

No visa required for these places. US dollar is the currency, ENglish is the second language (widely spoken), almost all signs are in English. Too easy.

For the record, Micronesia is the 161st country i have visited in my life.

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