Ailuk Atoll, Island of Ailuk
01 February 2018 | Marshall Islands
2 February : A calmer morning than last night so we got the tender off the top deck with the hoist but with the swell here this was a tricky job. It takes all 3 of us to man handle the aluminium tender which weighs 1 tonne. Like the four musketeers we then headed back across the atoll to Ailuk village to pay our respects and fee to the Acting Mayor. They have a quay here but we almost didn't make it in having missed the channel through the coral and the tide going out. The local fishermen helped us tie up and moved their boat to get us up to the quay. The Acting Mayor met us and then showed us some of the village before having to return to work.
Ailuk (pronounced Ilook) is a beautiful village. It is very clean with a wide path between the houses, lots of fabulous big trees affording glorious shade from the heat and a cooling breeze coming off the ocean. The further north we head the drier the weather becomes. During WW II the Japanese never made it here so there is none of their concrete buildings like roads, big buildings and military installations. However, it was hit by a typhoon in the 1990s when all the houses were destroyed and all the trees uprooted. Fortunately no one was killed. Since then the locals have been rebuilding with concrete blocks instead of plywood.
We stopped by the elementary school, 12-16 year olds go the Wotje High School. The first classroom had the door open and we met their teacher. They were learning English. Andy saw their globe and gave an impromptu geography lesson. The kids were also fascinated by Bubba; he is not what they are used to as a dog, a little too short in the leg and too high pitched a bark and of course he gets carried most of the time or he is on a lead- Understandably they just do not get the concept of a "Pet".
We carried on walking and came across the village radio shack. A Long range HAM radio, this is how the villages stay in contact as they have no telephones. There we met the local pastor sitting outside listening to Majuro radio. The radio operator was a young lady with very good English. The Pastor showed us to his house where Andy and I looked at his laptop screen as he said it was not working. On inspection it proved to be a fatal 'dropped' screen. Apparently his youngest daughter had had a collision with it. We asked about the handiwork items the ladies of the village make. He showed us some beautiful items his wife Emily had made. We returned late afternoon to meet Emily and to purchase a few pieces. Exceptional work. During our morning visit the Acting Mayor took us to the other side of the island to near the airstrip, where a large group of women meet every day to produce fans, hats and baskets from woven palm leaves. These are shipped to Majuro to be sold in the stores to tourists. The locals get paid or trade for sacks of rice, flour, sugar etc. Later in the day Emily explained how they collect the different parts of the palm leaves, dry them or boil other parts to make the thread. Any coloured sections are dyed using local materials. A major part of the designs are cowrie shells which are woven or stitched into the item. I bought a turtle shaped wall hanging, For my turtle, the cowrie shell forms its head. The Pastor also showed us some baby turtles they have in their shed. They collect baby ones off the beaches and when they are a little bigger release them once they are large enough to avoid being eaten by birds and fish. Large turtles are part of the diet here.
Ailuk has a wealthier feel to it but is still very natural. The Acting Major told me that most houses have at least one pig. There were plenty chickens and cockrells in the yards. Some also had ducks. Most houses have a dog or two for protection. What we didn't see on this island was any cats but these are common in most of the villages
What has been most surprising while visiting the islands has been the electricity, generally from solar panels. This is most noticeable at night when we see lights on the shoreline. Despite this being the dry season, everyone is very clean. There is always washing hanging out to dry, colourful clothing blowing in the breeze. Everyone is very friendly but also extremely relaxed and calm. They enjoy using their English and are always asking "what is the purpose of your visit?". The answer "to come and say Yokwe (Hello or Bless you"), to see their beautiful islands, their way of life and to snorkell the coral reefs."
We did one snorkell this afternoon but there is quite a strong swell and we had to swim in to the shallower reef. It was a lot more sandy with spread out coral heads with small colonies of smaller fish but still pretty. Each place the reefs have been quite different. Fascinating.
PICTURE : Janice next to the church bells (old gas cylinders on a wooden frame with metal hammers for clangers) with a few laughing local boys