the promise of pancakes
- The crushing weight of responsibility
- A trip to shore
- Come back later
- Extreme decaffeination
- Tide table
- Customs office
- Marshallese bureaucracy
- Iggy the sad dinghy
- Pancakes for dinner
The crushing weight of responsibility
As soon as we'd tied to our mooring ball in Majuro's lagoon, the worries of the previous 24 days had vanished only to replaced by the crushing weight of responsibility. Devine, being worry-free, wanted to have pancakes, sleep and check-in tomorrow, but Devine knows how uptight I am, and that this was not what we'd be doing first (even if it is what I wanted too *sigh*). My thinking was that I'd rather get the paperwork out of the way first, to get all of that worrying out of me so I can then eat pancakes in peace.
- 'Shut up and get dressed.'
We needed to be presentable for the officials, we had to wear clean clothes with pants that reach over your knees. A lot of countries in the pacific don't want to see your knees — I get it, knees are weird. We dug out some clothes from our bins, and then went back on deck to give Iggy the dinghy the kiss of life.
A trip to shore
Our neighbor rowed over in his inflatable, we were downwind from him so he didn't bother using his outboard.
- 'Hey guys! How you doing?'
This, was Charlie from the boat Seagate. He and his partner had been here for a while already, and gave us some tips and recommendations for Majuro.
- 'Custom and immigration are right next to each other, but it's a bit of a walk. You're better off taking a cab. It costs 1$ per person. Everyone here takes cabs. You just gatta stick your hand out when you see one, showing your fingers indicating the amount of ppl who need a ride, if they've got room they'll stop otherwise they'll flash their lights and keep going.'
Our new neighbor told us about the restaurants here, a good one being a place that Devine understood to be called 'Thai table', and I, as 'Lanai Table'. Both of us were sure of what we'd heard, so we didn't bother to ask him to repeat it — that happens a lot, especially after long passages. We later learned it was called Tide Table. Ah, yes of course. Charlie must have been confused when Devine asked him if he thought the Thai food there was good.
At that point we knew where to find everything. We knew where to get beer, food, internet and where to check in. Charlie did mention that tomorrow was a holiday though, so that if we wanted to get these things we'd need to do it today.
We said thanks to Charlie then, getting ready to step foot on land after 24 days on the ocean. We put our passports and clearance papers from Fiji in our dry bag, attached Turnip the outboard to Iggy's rump, and motored over to the dinghy dock ashore next to a bar called Shoreline. The small dock had fishing boats moored onto it, but at the back of it near the ramp were other dinghies. We left Iggy there so it could socialize.
As soon as we stepped ashore we noticed our legs felt weird, like the ground was pushing up against our feet. This a symptom of land-sickness, of having spent too much time at sea; neither of us felt ill, but it did take some time before we could walk like normal bipeds again.
We walked past the bar to try and find the main road — easy enough, Majuro has only one. We knew that the customs and immigration offices were on the south end of the island, so we stood on the right side of the road to catch a cab in that direction.
Devine spotted a cab then, stuck out two fingers but it was full, the driver flashed their lights and drove on. We did this for every cab. The first 5 were full
- 'Wow. Everyone here take cabs.'
We think that many do yes, and for short distances too. The street was occupied by cabs, with few personal vehicles around. We assumed that it was rush hour, it being near noon which coincides with the time people take off from work to eat at home. In many countries we've visited, a lot of businesses close around noon and open again around 1 or 2pm, this is true for Mexico, French Polynesia etc. I didn't make the connection in my brain then, that the government offices may also be closed, I was too busy trying to find a cab to pick us up. When tired my brain can't process to many ideas at once anyway.
One cab did stop, it had two spots available, we sat inside, saying a friendly 'hello!' and realizing then again that we had no idea how to say hello or anything else in Marshallese. We learned later that 'Hello' is Yokwe, pronounced yi-yak-wey.
- 'To the immigration office!'
I said. The cab driver did not respond to this right away, maybe they called the immigration office something else here? I'd heard that people here often make use of acronyms to refer to banks, stores of government offices, but unfortunately I wasn't familiar with them. Right now, I wished I'd taken the time to find out what that acronym was. The driver asked something in Marshallese to the other passenger, who replied in Marshallese. I understood nothing but the word 'finance'.
- 'AH - yes! Finance! Yes! That's it' I said.
Charlie had specified that the customs office had the word 'finance' on it.
While in the cab we sponged up our new neighborhood. It was very grey and rainy that day, but people were cooking food on grills outside anyway, the rain helped to subdue the cloud of black smoke rising from their metallic BBQs. One restaurant had stalks of bananas laid out on tables on the storefront, as well as some pinecone-like fruit that I'd never seen before. The shop also had breadfruit, but they were smalle and oblong-shaped, different than the ones I was used to. We took note of the stores, going past a few supermarkets like Island pride, Payless and EZ mart. We had no more veg aboard so we'd have to stop by later to get something fresh to eat.
At this point, we thought we could get back to the boat before 13h. Our plan was to make pancakes and coffee. My brain required caffeine and fidgeted uncomfortably in my skull.
When in a cab in Majuro, passengers don't call out where they want to go when getting in, in fact, we were startled by the absence of conversation; people usually just say when they want to get off, like on a bus. When you board a cab here, you have to make sure its going the right way because a car going south will not go north for you, it goes in that direction and that's it! This system only works in places like this, with a single road connecting all areas on the island. The cab stops for people as long as there is room, and will keep going until the end of the road, then turn around and go the other way.
The cab ride was short. The driver dropped us off in front of the office with the word 'finance' on it. We paid him two dollars — one for each of us — and stepped out.
Come back later
We decided to go see immigration first in the next building, sitting on the 3rd floor. We took the elevator, the door opening onto a space that appeared to be under construction. We asked the first person we ran into, making sure that this was where immigration was and they nodded, pointing to a door at the end of a short corridor. The door was closed, and had a sign on it stating that because of construction the office operated on a limited schedule, and closed at noon.
The immigration office was closed for the day. Tomorrow was a holiday, and then it was the weekend. It wouldn't open until Monday. We stared at the door for a while, saying nothing, as if trying to process it all inwardly. Then someone noticed we were staring and asked if we were looking to check in.
- 'Yes please!'
This was the immigration officer, the office had just closed but he re-opened it and offered to check us in. We filled in the papers he pushed in front of us, and he took our clearance papers from Fiji and our passports. He looked at them, and then gave them back.
- 'You have to come back some other time.'
He said to us. We looked at him, confused.
- 'Why can't we have the passports stamped now?'
- 'There's no more time. Come back later.
I understood that we were impeding on his lunch hour, but we'd been here for 5 minutes, and also, if us being here was a really a problem he wouldn't have re-opened the office for us. He offered, we didn't force his hand. This didn't make sense. Either way, there wasn't much we could do about it. Then, he spoke again.
- 'Meet me at Shoreline tomorrow at 8'oclock. I will stamp your passports then.'
We said 'ok', not sure what else to do. We thought is suspicious, but it being out of hands we thought it best to show up tomorrow and just wait and see.
We strolled over to customs, but they were closed for lunch and were supposed to re-open at 14h. It was now 12h15, we had some waiting to do and so Devine suggested we go and get some data for our phones and then stop to have lunch at Tide Table. I was hungry, but hungry for something specific; I wanted to be in a dry place with a cup of coffee and some pancakes. I knew I couldn't have that now, and this put me in a terrible mood; because of my moodiness we couldn't agree on anything. I wanted things I couldn't have and acted like a small child in tears over my parents not wanting to pull the moon down from the sky for me, like THEY were the unreasonable ones - note that I regress when I'm tired and thoroughly decaffeinated. I'm amazed that Devine always manages to remain non-affected by my despair and negativity.
- 'Hey, it's okay.'
Devine would say, smiling.
We were hiding from the rain in front of the 'finance' office, talking and trying to make a decision when we spotted the immigration officer getting into his car. First, he backed onto a traffic cone, then it got wedged between the wheel and body of the car, he stuck his head out, but didn't look like he wanted to deal with it so he drove on. We watched him disappear down the road, a bright orange cone trapped under his car, dragging on the pavement and making an awful racket.
We laughed. This helped coax me back into a good mood. If we wanted to get internet, we'd have to cab there, then, cab back to Tide Table... then, cab over here at the customs office again only to cab back yet again to go back to the boat. I don't like riding in cars, but since the street had little to no sidewalks and that the road was bordered by giant puddles of water, I stuck out two fingers at the passing cabs.
- 'Getting internet probably won't take long, then we can eat! Food? Remember food and how it makes you happy?'
My stomach growled at these words, as if the word 'food' could give me sustenance.
We took a cab over to NTA, an internet service provider here in Majuro. We went to sit in the waiting room, facing a giant green wall with a large '4G' cutout, it looked like a pop-up store, with the two employees sitting in front of a folding table, made pretty with a green flowered cloth. The youngest of the two employees waved us over.
- 'How can I help you?'
- 'We need internet on our phones, says on the wall you've got unlimited. We want that.'
- 'Let me see your phone.'
He asked. After looking it over, he shook his head.
- 'Your phone is too told. LTE requires Iphone 6 and up.'
We had an Iphone 5S. We thought it funny to come here, in a lonely atoll in the Marshalls only to be told that our phone was too old; looking around, we could see everyone had better phones than we did — and we're supposed to be software devs?
- 'Is there another internet provider in Majuro?'
Devine asked. The two employees laughed at this, as if it had been a joke question. We had our answer. When the laughing ceased they suggested we get a pocket wifi, it costs 70$ for the device and then another 70$ for 50G of data (speed slows when limit is reached). We had no choice.
- 'Okay, we'll go for that then.'
- 'Great! But we've run out! We're getting some more this afternoon. Come back after 2!'
Just our luck. We really wanted to get internet today, because we feared the office would be closed tomorrow. We would have to find something else to do (again) and come back at that time to get the device.
By that time both of us were starving and figured that after this evergrowing list of failures, getting some food was a good idea. We hailed a cab and stopped at Tide Table, a restaurant annexed to a hotel called the 'RRE'. Walking around town that day, we noticed many building had that same acronym; it stands for 'Robert Reimers Enterprises' — they own a lot of buildings and stores here in Majuro. Tide Table is a bright blue building, at first glance it looks like some kind of aquarium. We climbed up to the second floor to the restaurant and took a seat inside; it was air-conditioned and because our clothes were wet our skin turned to ice.
Looking at the menu, we saw they had something on the menu called 'vegan sushi' and a 'vegan burrito'.
- 'Whoa-' we thought, 'Here? Vegan food? In the Marshalls?'
We liked this place already. We picked the lunch special, consisting of a rice and vegetable curry. I wondered what sort of vegetables they'd be putting into the curry knowing that Majuro didn't have a great variety. Before arriving, I'd read that most of the vegetables here are shipped frozen from either Hawaii or Guam. I've had the experience of buying previously frozen produce before and it's sad; the carrots rot within a day and the tomatoes taste like water. When buying vegetables, you've got to go when the ship's just arrived, or be willing to not buy certain items. This means i'll often choose potatoes, pumpkins or cabbage over peppers and fresh greens.
We ordered the curry anyway, it consisted mostly of black beans but had some tiny bits of pepper and cabbage; here in Majuro they use what they can get, and that the recipe varies from day to day. We really liked the food, even if the vegetable to bean ratio was off. With the meal — most important of all — we also ordered some bottom-less coffee, to attempt to re-animate our freezing corpses. We drank many cups, color returning to our flesh with every gulp. We are revenants, disciples of the church of coffea arabica.
By the time we finished eating it was 2h10pm, I downed my last cup of infinite coffee and we cabbed back over to customs to get our paperwork done. When we arrived, the office was still closed, with a line of fidgety customers waiting at the door, we too added to this line, equally annoyed and fidgety. After 20 minutes, the doors opened and we hurried inside, presenting our papers to the first person we saw. We realized then that he spoke little English...
- 'We want to check-in. We just arrived by boat.'
- 'When did you arrive?' he asked us.
- 'Today, we just arrived. We're on a boat.'
- 'Okay. Show me your papers.'
We didn't know what papers he meant, but looking through our pile of paperwork he saw another set of clearance papers from Fiji, which he took from us. He then asked us if we had papers from immigration for him — or at least, that's what we understood he'd said.
- 'No? They gave us nothing.'
He took note of everything, our boat name, time of arrival etc. I wondered then if the reason we didn't get a paper from Immigration was because we hadn't truly 'completed' the entrance process, or if it was because he'd forgotten to give us a paper bound for the customs official; or maybe, again, we were misunderstanding something. The official then said 'Ok.'
- 'Ok? So it's done? Everything is ok?'
- 'Everything is ok.' he repeated.
- 'We don't get a paper? A receipt or anything?'
I hate leaving governement offices papers confirming the completion of an important exchange. Now we had no more clearance papers from Fiji, they'd taken those; no stamps in our passports, and no paper what-so-ever confirming that we'd checked in.
I learned later, that this is just how it is in Majuro, unlike Fiji, you don't have endless stacks of papers to fill or documents to hold onto afterwards. At the time though, I didn't know this, used to the thoroughness of New Zealand bureaucracy. We left the building then, with me freaking out.
- 'We don't have anything confirming anything!'
Devine, being the stoic one, said calmly.
- 'They know we're here. We did sign that paper at Immigration, and he did take our clearance forms so we are in 'the system'. Tomorrow he'll stamp our passports and we'll be good!'
We headed back over to NTA to get our precious internet. They had our device, as promised, and we paid the required amount - finally, something simple. We had internet again! I was amazed at how fast it was, and was told it would work from the anchorage too.
We made it back to Shoreline, to the dinghy dock where Iggy was. Iggy looked a little deflated, but I attributed that to the cold weather. I pumped air back into the tubes and we motored back to Pino. The weather was really rough that night, and the next morning was no better. It was raining non-stop. Iggy was becoming a swimming pool and kept losing air, I had to go bail water out, and pump air into it every 3-4 hours to keep it afloat.
Iggy the sad dinghy
Iggy the dinghy has been giving us a lot of trouble lately. The problems started in Fiji after we left Savusavu, someone in Makogai gave us a tow, as a favor, and the force of the pull caused the division between the two 2 air chambers inside to tear. We had another problem. The seams started to come apart, and that is HARD to fix. While in Lami (Fiji), our kind boat neighbors introduced us to a local who lent us a hard dinghy, we used while getting Iggy patched up (a dinghy we nicknamed Tippy, you can guess why). We did manage to fix Iggy, and this fix lasted us till the end of our stay in Fiji, but after 3 weeks of being folded on deck, Iggy developed another bad leak.
That morning, around 10 o'clock, Devine took our passports to shore with Iggy in the rain to meet the Immigration officer so we could get our passport stamped, then, maybe 30-40 minutes later Devine returned, completely soaked with a deflated Iggy.
- 'Outboard stopped halfway, then Iggy began to lose air! Was adrift, and sinking, but came near a boat and shouted for help. The guy onboard gave me a tow to the dock, when we got there he said 'Your dinghy doesn't look sea-worthy'. Our dinghy is done for.'
Devine had gone to shore to meet the Immigration official for nothing because he was a no-show. It was probably for the best, we'd go back to the office on monday ourselves instead.
This trip to shore revealed another serious air leak in Iggy. Back aboard, we took the outboard off in fear that it would sink with Iggy if it lost all of its air. I climbed into our sad inflatable to assess the damage. One of the seams on the front left side was open, there was nothing I could do from the water and so we heaved Iggy back on deck. I bought some PVC glue back in Suva (Fiji) that we could use to mend it, but by now both of us didn't trust Iggy anymore. Every time we glued one seam, another would come apart.
We weren't sure what to do. We were boat-bound with no means of getting to shore. When we left Fiji, we signed up to an email exchange group for those traveling to the Marshalls, and Karin from SY Seal sent us a message to welcome us. I sent her a message explaining our situation, and she promptly alerted her partner Cary. He came to see us the next day, and when Devine told him of our dinghy problems he offered to rent us a hard dinghy.
This is the dinghy what we have been using since, a great fibreglass tender and better alternative to Tippy. We've been trying to repair Iggy in the meantime, doing our best to heal all its wounds but we know it won't last. At least we have some means of going to shore now, and this amazing hard dinghy just confirms our desire to have one for Pino in the future.
Pancakes for dinner
This concludes our entrance story into Majuro! We've since had our passport stamped. It took 2 days of going back and forth from boat to office. On the first visit, one of the officials was gone to the airport with 'the stamp' so the one in office asked us to come back some other time — yep, they've only got the one stamp. This is what life is like on these small islands. The officials that clear in foreigners in airports are the same ones that sit in office. We thought back on our situation with the immigration officer on our first day, and how he couldn't stamp us in, we now think the reason for that was because the 'stamp' wasn't there — we'll never for sure, but it's a good guess. Checking into the Marshalls in Majuro, we realized, is like playing a game of trying to catch them while they're in office, and making sure to refuse any offer to complete the process outside of regular hours.
Clearing it wasn't great, but overall daily life here is good. The veggies are often rotten or scarce, but bananas are plentiful, and the restaurants are kind of great. There are lot of good Japanese and American products available, like Asahi beer and Lotus root snacks. The locals are amazing, understanding and kind; we've had a few laughs with the ladies that work at the ACE hardware after we caught them playing with some wind-up mouse toys. This ACE hardware is well furnished with electrical items that have our voltage (Pino is 110V); we bought a second fan for the boat there, something I wish we'd had for our last sweaty passage - lacking enough fans, we became 'puddle-people'. The internet here is great, we have a fast connection and can work from our floating office.
I forgot to say, but after getting back to Pino on the first day we made some savoury pancakes for dinner and it was the BEST.
To find out more about clearing into the Marshall Islands, read this guide by the Mieco Beach Yacht Club. Entry procedures change a lot from year to year, but SV Seal are on top of it and they're the best people to contact if you're planning on adding this stop to your list.