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The Marshall Islands, like the neighbouring Northern Mariana Islands, were passed from Spanish to German to Japanese to American hands. Like the Marianas, they were the site of fierce fighting during WWII. The Marshalls, however, were treated to the honour of becoming a nuclear testing ground of the United States. Bikini and Enewetak Atolls were deserted as dozens of bombs were exploded. Unable to be settled again, Bikini Atoll has proceeded to become a dumping ground for the radioactive waste of North America and Asia.
While the Marshallese have plenty to be angry about, most travellers are amazed at their friendliness. Culture beats strong, with traditional practices evident in daily life. Beyond anthropological adventures, most tourists are attracted to the Marshalls for their diving opportunities: stunning coral scenery and haunting WWII wrecks are what make the Marshalls killer diving ground.
Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar was the first European to see the islands in 1526, but they remained virtually unvisited by Europeans until the arrival of British Captain John Charles Marshall in 1788. The islands were named after him in the British maps. However, they were claimed under the Spanish sovereignty as part of the Spanish Oceania. In 1874 the Spanish sovereignty was recognized by the international community. They were sold to Germany in 1884 through papal mediation. A German trading company settled on the islands in 1885. They became part of the protectorate of German New Guinea some years later. In 1914, Japan joined the Entente powers during World War I, and found it possible to capture German colonies in China and Micronesia. On September 29, 1914, Japanese troops occupied the atoll of Enewetak, and on September 30, 1914 the atoll of Jaluit the administrative center of the Marshall Islands. After the war, on June 28, 1919, Germany renounced all of its Pacific possessions, including the Marshall Islands. On December 17, 1920, the Council of the League of Nations approved the mandate for Japan to take over all former German colonies in the Pacific Ocean, located north of the equator. In World War II, the United States, during the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, invaded and occupied the islands (1944) destroying or isolating the Japanese garrisons. The archipelago was added to the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, along with several other island groups in the South Sea.
From 1946 to 1958, as the site of the Pacific Proving Grounds, the U.S. tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, including the largest nuclear test the U.S. ever conducted, Castle Bravo. In 1956, the Atomic Energy Commission regarded the Marshall Islands as "by far the most contaminated place in the world". Nuclear claims between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands are ongoing, and health effects from these nuclear tests linger. Project 4.1 was a medical study conducted by the United States of those residents of the Bikini Atoll exposed to radioactive fallout.
In 1979, the Government of the Marshall Islands was officially established and the country became self-governing. In 1986, the Compact of Free Association with the United States entered into force, granting the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) its sovereignty. The Compact provided for aid and U.S. defense of the islands in exchange for continued U.S. military use of the missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll. The independence procedure was formally completed under international law in 1990, when the UN officially ended the Trusteeship status.
The Marshalls consist of 29 atolls and five isolated islands, which form two parallel groups - the "Ratak" (sunrise) chain and the "Ralik" (sunset) chain. The Marshalls share maritime boundaries with Micronesia and Kiribati. Two-thirds of the nation's population lives in Majuro and Ebeye. The outer islands are sparsely populated due to lack of employment opportunities and economic development. The islands are about half way from Hawaii to Papua New Guinea and their geographic coordinates are at about 9°00′N 168°00′E. The terrain is mostly low coral limestone and sand islands and the highest point is just about 10 metres above sea level.
29 atolls and 5 isolated islands make up the Marshall Islands. The most important atolls can be divided into two island chains.
Most of the population live on Majuro atoll (the capital) and Ebeye atoll.
Laura is located at the western end of the Majuro Atoll and is a great escape from it all. You can get here by taking the palm-lined road from the east of Majuro and enjoy the quiet beaches, relaxing, lazying around, go snorkelling on the reef and finally read that book. Life is good here and although it is privately owned, you are allowed here for a small fee.
The Arno Atoll consists of more than 130 small islands and is known for it's 'school of love', where young women used to learn the art of making love perfectly. Apart from this though, there is excellent deepsea fishing from Longar Point. You'll have the chance to cath yellowfin tuna, marlin, mahi-mahi and sailfish. Arno is the only atoll reachable by regular boat service.
The Alele Museum & Public Library is a neighbour of the courthouse and is located in Uliga. It has some small but good-quality exhibits of early Marshallese culture. These include the famous stick charts, model canoes and shell tools. The stick charts were a kind of tools used by the Marshallese people to help them memorise wave patterns. This was the key to success amongst the hundreds of low lying atolls.
If there is one geographical name in the world that is famous, this would be the number one. Bikini is known both for being the location of nuclear bomb tests and because the bikini swimsuit was named after the island in 1946. The latter only happened two days after the first nuclear test on the atoll, and the name of the island was in the news all over the world. If you want to visit, it might be better to read something about Bikini and its history and wether it is safe to visit.
The Marshall Islands enjoy a nice tropical climate with generally hot and humid weather. Daytime temperatures are around 29 °C to 32 °C throughout the year with little variation. This applies to nighttime temperatures as well, generally being around 24 °C and rarely dropping lower. The wettest months are September to November, with December to April being the dry season. This is also when northeast tradewinds bring some nice breezes which cool things off a bit. Obviously, this is one of the best times to visit, but other months can be equally enjoyable, although a tropical storm always is a possibility.
Marshall Islands International Airport (MAJ), also known as Amata Kabua International Airport, is the gateway to the country. Flag carrier Air Marshall Islands is based here in this airport but operates domestic, inter-island flights only. Continental Airlines, operated by its subsidiary Continental Micronesia, flies into Majuro from Chuuk, Guam, Honolulu, Kosrae, Kwajalein and Pohnpei.
The only atolls with docks are Jaluit, Likiep, Bikini and Rongelap. Along with Arno, Mili, Ailinglaplap, Namu, Aur, Maloelap and Wotho, they all have safe passages for entry into the lagoon. You need your own yacht or get a berth on one to get here though by sea.
Air Marshall Islands provides domestic services between many of the islands and atolls. The main hubs are Majuro and Kwjalein, between the two it takes around 50 minutes one way.
Affordable cars can be rented at Majuro and most roads are paved. Traffic drives on the right and your national driver's licence is valid for 30 days. Most other islands and atolls are easily explored by bike or on foot.
Majuro has a well organised shared taxi system. Just wave your hand and you will be on your way again. There are also frequent and cheap somewhat larger minivans plying the main routes on the island.
Only Arno is served by regular public boats from Majuro, but that is the only scheduled passenger service. State-run supply ships travel irregularly to the outer atolls; the Department of Transportation Office at Uliga Dock on Majuro can provide details.
Nationals from the US, Micronesia and Palau do not need visas.
All others can get a visa upon arrival, $25 for a 3 month stay maximum.
See also Money Matters
The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of the Marshall Islands. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.
Most Marshallese speak Marshallese and English. One important word in Marshallese is "yokwe" which is similar to the Hawaiian "aloha" and means "hello", "goodbye" and "love".
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Marshall Islands. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Marshall Islands. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B and tuberculosis are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
See also International Telephone Calls
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