It was back in 2004, and I was part of a team from YWAM, a missionary group and we was asked to go and help a church in the Marshall Islands. Mind you, I have never been there before by the airport and like most airports in the Pacific, I was not too impressed with it.
I know it is not best to judge a country but its’ airport and I do have to admit that it was nicer than some I have seen around Oceania like Fagalii Airport in Apia, Samoa. I guess when I am in a freely Associated State (part of the “family” of the United States), I expect a little more than I do some little country that was the afterthought from the glory days of the British empire.
Getting around the Marshall Islands normally means using one of the small prop planes that is ran by Marshall Island Air and they are very interesting to ride in. I do not mind the trip but I am an Air Force brat. I have been in worse rides, I promise you.
After getting out of the airport, we was welcome with a lot of rain. It rains and rains in the country and it is just part of being in the middle of the Central Pacific. It is not something that I do not realize comes with the territory. I have been to the Philippines, Samoa, and Fiji many times. Rain is actually a photographer’s friend because it is what makes the landscape so healthy and green.
In comparison, Kansas City (my hometown) gets around 42 inches of rain a year and normally closer to 35. Marshall Islands has an average of 150-170 inches of rain every year. It makes for a very wet but very green place and plants that are bright green are amazing for photographers.
For us, we just ended up playing in the rain with the local kids a lot and they loved seeing us “mainlanders” taking the time to spend time with them and invest in their lives. It might just be playing in the rain but it did make an impact on their lives.
One of the things that really touched me while in Marshall Islands was the graves. They put them right by the ocean which is beautiful but I wonder if the bones with end up in the water at some point. Being on an island, it could end up having some natural disaster.
While I am not a huge fan of the climate change/global warming stuff that floods the news, I do not understand that many people in the countries like Marshall Islands, Mirconesia and Samoa do believe it and was quite honestly fearful about it. The reason being is if it ever does really happen, they are the ones that will lose their homes and it is their grandparents bones that will be washed away in the Pacific Ocean. While I do not agree with it, I do have empathy for those who have the reasonable fear.
Funerals are a big deal in these Pacific countries and if you there is one when you are island, it could make for some interesting images (of course, if the family is open to allowing some white photographer there). I have been to some funerals in Fiji and in Samoa but not in the Marshall Islands.
Of course, most people come to the Marshall Islands and anywhere in the Pacific Islands for what is under the water, not what is above it. A trip would not be complete without some snorkeling. I was lucky to have an early GoPro so I was able to get some amazing shots on the areas that is pretty shallow (relatively speaking)
I am not an open diver and I was able to handle doing the dive so with a little help, you should have a problem. There was an American on island that had a business that was a diver and he helped me out. I wish I could remember his name but I can’t for the life of me.
When it it is raining all day above the water, it is makes for the perfect excuse to go below the water and experience the World War II wreckage that is down there. I was pretty amazed at how awesome that they looked. Much more amazing that it looks in the pictures, I must say.
However, the best part of being in the Marshall Islands has to be the actual Marshallese people. They have such a sweet spirit and you feel at home with them right away. I have always been around Pacific Islanders but the people that make their home in Majuro is extra nice in general.
They did nothing but love having us mainlanders on island and random people wanted to welcome us into their home. I have never seen people be so friendly. It was a let down to them if we have to go do something. They just wanted us to sit there and share stories every day and all day.
They also wanted to prepare food upon food for us. In the cultures of the Pacific, one does not eat until they are full, they eat until they are tired. It was refreshing to eat so much food so often. It was like thanksgiving every day of the year.
Basically, I highly recommend going to the country in the Central Pacific to do a photography trip. It is really that amazing and you will have a great. I realize that being there on a mission trip is different and I want to return as just a photographer someday. I think it will be awesome to see the country through the lens of a DSLR.
If you are interested in exploring the Marshall Islands, below in a guide to help you to at least find the information that you would need to make the decision if it is for you or not.
This is the best information that I know of and what is current as of September 2017. However, this could change and I would know it! So make sure that you do your own research before flying to the middle of the Pacific Ocean!
Flying to Marshall Islands
If you are coming from the United States, the best (and only) airline to use is United Airlines that took over for Contential Airlines. They do not hardly ever have a good deal for these islands so expect to pay around $2,000 for a round trip ticket. The good news is there is a flight every few days.
If you are coming for Asia or Europe, the best thing to do is fly into Guam via Tokyo and then get another United flight from there for Marshall Islands. By getting two different flights, you can save some money.
If you are coming from the South Pacific, you can do a few things. Our Airline or Nauru Airlines serves the airport in Marshall Islands now. You can also fly to Kiribati and get a flight on Marshall Islands Air to the country for a few hundred dollars as well.
Inside the country, Marshall Islands Air is the only thing going and they fly people between the two main atolls and they are not that cheap. They know you have to either pay or go nowhere. Such as life I guess.
What about getting a visa?
The Marshall Islands is “technically” U.S. Soil and as such, you do not need a visa. It is somewhat confusing but you basically are free to stay in Marshall Islands as long as you want. You could even start a business from there if you really wanted to. In exchange for this, the Marshallese people can move, live, and work in the United States without a visa. They are basically American nationals for all practical purposes. They can even join the U.S. Army.
I do believe the laws have changed a little and you would need a passport for travel but it does not need to stamped and the information is just recorded for security purposes. That is how I understand it anyways. I could be wrong on this. If I am, be sure to let me know.
If you are coming from another country, they tend to follow US policy but they do control their own immigration and they do allow many countries visit without an interview. I know that most European countries would not have a problem.
One of the other benefits of being part of the United States is the U.S. Postal Service in Marshall Islands. While this is probably not a huge deal for most people, if you have been traveling outside the country for months on end; this can be a huge deal. You can get things you need online from E-bay, Amazon, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart while you are on island. This is one of those benefits that I make sure that I plan for ahead of time.
There is about a 10 day transit time on average from what I find. I always make sure that I order anything that I will need about two weeks before I will arrive on American soil just to be save. I have never had an issue with packages going disappearing yet. Fingers crossed.
The best part of it you are not in the United States so the same price to mail something down the street is how much it cost to mail something to Marshall Islands as well. I just love the 88 cents for shipping at Wal-Mart’s website. Thank you, Sam Walton! I love you.
What about hotels?
This is the middle of nowhere so there is not much in the way of resorts. There is a few of them. I stayed in a place called Hotel Robert Reimers which I paid $40 a night if I remember right. It was pretty basic from what I recall but it did have a good location and it was easy to get around using the local cabs.
There is also a very nice hotel that is on an island by itself called Bikendrik Island. I did not stay there but I know they have some pretty hefty prices to be honest. According to their website, it is over $500 a night. It must be nice!
There is also the opportunity to find something where you could stay with a local. I know of a guy that did this successful by using couch surfing’s website. I am not sure what the success rate is but it did work for him while he was in Marshall Islands.
What about restaurants and nightlife?
This is another example of being in the middle of nowhere. You will not have the access to many of the restaurant that you love. There is Texas Roadhouse, Friday’s or Hard Rock Cafe in the country. I do not even remember a McDonalds! It is mostly just small town diners where the owner is the waitress and the cook. It was also very good food.
Most of the hotels on the island also have restaurants and they tend to be fair in price because the locals come by for dinner as well. They do tend to have decent quality food and seemed to be the best deal in town.
However, we had trouble getting to a restaurant because people would expect us to join them for dinner and have a meal with their family. Having a home cooked meal is very much the norm in the Marshall Islands.
Enjoy the country if you go
I guess that about covers everything you will need to know if you want to go check out the small nation in the Central Pacific. It is worth the trip and I am glad I went and I really want to go back at some point.
Here is some more images to show you the life of the Marshallese people.