Saturday, April 21, 2007

Likiep!!! Wow, it was beautiful. I think I'll let the pictures do most of the talking and add in a little commentary here and there. Here goes....

We flew out on an Air Marshall airplane that was not working the previous day. That was a bit concerning. The mechanics got all the parts put back in the morning before we flew. They almost had to cancel the flight, but things came together at thelast minute and everything was fine. It was the quickest take-off I've ever experienced. There was no safety briefing, no flight attendants, no instructions to even fasten seatbelts. We just got in, fired up the propellers, and off we went! The next picture is the view of Majuro atoll from above. While leaving, it was interesting to see the skinny little elliptic-shaped strip of land we call home (Majuro).

Well, Likiep is also an elliptical skinny strip of land, it' s just a bit further north of us, and it's a lot less crowded than Majuro. Here's an arrival shot of Likiep Islet, Likiep Atoll:

Likiep Airport is a little different from Majuro, in that instead of having a paved runway, it's just a narrow weed patch between rows of Coconut trees. The approach is quite alarming, because one false move and you take out a palm tree and a propeller in one foul swoop. Yep, that's the runway:

Even more disconcerting is that just off the runway there are still remains of a plane that actually did take out a palm tree. I'm not sure how long it's been there, but it doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon:

I have newfound respect for the pilots that fly in and out of 5 or 6 airports like this every day. Amazing! This is the main terminal at the Likiep airport:

The twice-a-week plane arrival is a main attraction on this island with very little electricity or running water. The whole town turns out. Children everywhere, but they are more shy than Majuro kids. A few little boys made us some "plumeria shish-kabobs" (flower sticks) but they were too shy to give them to us, so they just threw them over the side of the pickup truck and ran away. Joe and Yumiko DeBrum were our hosts at the hotel there, and they have interesting stories to tell. Here is Yumi making wut (flower headbands and leis):

Joe is the grandson of Jose DeBrum, a Portuguese whaler who arrived int he Marshalls in the 1850's. Along with his business partner, Adolf Capelle, they established a successful Copra (coconut oil production) business in the Marshall Islands, and went on to establish other successful business ventures. The two men bought the island of Likiep in 1878 from the Marshallese High Chief for $600, a mirror, a cannon, and a few other things. They split the Atoll so that islets on one side belong to the Capelles, and islets on the other side belong to the DeBrums. To this day Likiep is the only Atoll in the Marshall Islands that does not have a Chief. Before long, Capelles and DeBrums started inter-marrying, so many people are descended from both Adolph Capelle and Jose DeBrum. This is the case with Joe. He is the grandson of Jose DeBrum and Great-Grandson of Adolf Capelle. Jose's oldest son, Joachim DeBrum was a renaisance man. Born to Jose and his Marshallese wife, Likemeto, in 1860, Joachim was an avid photographer (on Likiep he developed his own photography lab, darkroom, and special processes for protecting chemicals from tropical heat), an avid reader (his library is still intact in his house on Likiep), self-taught businessman and scientist, and craftsman (the tool shed is crumbling now, but it has amazing things inside). He even learned enough about medicine to establish clinics on Likiep around the turn of the century. Here is a picture of the house he built on Likiep (made of California Redwoods). It is one of the only German-style houses that survived WW2 bombings and is still standing today. In fact, we went inside and poked around. It was amazing! Here's my colleague Ellie in front of the DeBrum house:

And here's the dining room inside:

Joe is now 76 years old, and has lived a fascinating life. His family was on Jaluit where he went to school when WW2 Pacific battles began. Jaluit was the Japanese capital of the Marshall Islands, and bombs were dropping everywhere. When the American Navy ships came to rescue them, they had to swim while dragging their mother (who was paralized after a bout with Polio) across the reef and out to safety. The ships took them to Arno for safety. Then after the war ended, Joe returned and married his high school teacher, a woman who was 11 years older than he. He worked on Kwajalein Army base at the time the US was doing Nuclear Testing and witnessed the explosion and lights (from afar) of the Bravo Atomic Bomb that was dropped on Bikini. He managed the Majuro airport for many years, then retired and served as Mayor of Likiep. After the death of his first wife, he met and married Yumiko, who is half his age. He is quite a live wire! He was so excited about the liquor that some members of our group brought him, because his wife keeps him on a pretty tight leash, and he's not allowed to indulge very often. He said, "I must take my medicine!" (aka: alcohol). He also told of a time when a yacht with about 10 bikini-babes landed in Likiep. Marshallese culture (since the missionaries arrived) is extremely conservative, and at that time, women were not allowed to show their knees in public. The island voted not to let them come on shore, but Joe allowed them to stay at his hotel. He said, "wow, the thongs they were wearing! I've never seen so much skin in my whole 76 years of life, it was great!" The entire island was furious with him for years after that. The first day we were there, he came out wearing this hilarious T-shirt which totally cracked us up:

"Too good to keep cooped up" is right! Joe took Don, Ellie, Chris and I out to go snorkeling in a beautiful islet just north of Likiep Islet. He hops right in and out of his boat like he's a teenager. Here's a picture of Joe with his boat, "Titanic" at the snorkeling spot he took us to:

Here's another couple pictures of the place we were snorkelling. It was absolutely breathtaking!

This is a traditional Marshallese Outrigger Canoe. And this picture is me:

The snorkelling was amazing there! My camera can't go underwater, but I "borrowed" someone else's pictures (from the internet) to show you some of the things I saw:

While snorkeling, I saw something very large and bright yellow (banana yellow) under some coral. It freaked me out, and I called to Don. He came over and verified that it was a Nurse Shark (which I have since learned are very lazy and not very agressive...thankfully!). He was only about 3 feet long, just a baby. I didn't want to hang around for long, but he was really, really cool. Later I saw a:
small Giant Clam! I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it was a Giant Clam that was only 6 inches long. His bright blue velvet-like inside opened and closed as he fed on yummy stuff floating by. Later, back at the hotel, there were hundreds of silver sardines in a school. They were so thick that you could hardly tell the difference between the sardines and the water. And there were so many of them that we could hear them swimming away when we chased them. There was also a family of periwinkle blue Parrot Fish (about 2 feet long and fat) swimming quite close to shore, and I was almost able to keep up with them. This picture is our group with Joe and Yumiko on the front porch of the hotel. I never realized how tall I was until I saw myself next to Joe in this picture:

We had to bring food for the trip with us since there are no supermarkets on Likiep and so Janet, who used to be a professional chef planned the meals, and boy, did we eat!! If you ever get the chance to spend 4 days on a remote tropical island with a professional chef who loves to cook in her free time, I'd highly recommend it. We ate like crazy!! It was really nice!
We were there on Good Friday, so Ellie, Don and I went with Yumiko (who is quite devout) to the Catholic Church for Stations of the Cross:

It started in the brightly painted church and the group formed a procession to different houses on the island. Each house had made a small display surrounding a painting on tiles depicting one of the events from Jesus' last day on earth. We didn't understand much because it was in Marshallese, but it was very nice to spend some time remembering what happened. We joked about how Yumiko was probably the first person on her island to bring a Methodist, a Mormon, and Jew to Stations of the Cross. Had Chris come along, we would have had an Agnostic, too, but he stayed behind. It was nice, until it started to pour down rain around Station #11. There were actually 14 stations, but I though there were only 12, so I stuck it out for a couple stations in the rain and then went back to the hotel.
Later in the day we went out on "Janet's Historical Tour" of the island, and on the way we met kids and gave them Bazooka gum. They too were very much more shy than Majuro kids. Majuro kids see gum and they're not afraid to jump all over you, but it took a little more coaxing to interact with Likiep kids. They probably just aren't as used to seeing foreigners coming. Here's a couple pictures that Chris took the gum-passing-out. Unfortunately, most of Chris' pictures are of my back side:

We bought some handicrafts from local people, including beautiful carved outrigger canoes (notice the 30 inch long Canoe that Don is holding in the group photo above covers up almost half of Joe). Likiep artists are famous for their beautiful carved canoes, and I can see why:
By the time we left, Joe and Yumi were like family to us, and we were beginning to like the slow life of Likiep. Most people go to bed when the sun goes down. For those who don't, at 8pm the church bell is struck which indicates curfew for children and young people, and then at 10pm another bell strike is made indicating it's time for adults to head home. If only life was that quiet and peaceful everywhere!

The plane that took us back was quite late (like 5 hours late). That's pretty standard. The whole town was out at the airport again, and many of them stayed the whole 5 hours to see who was coming and who was going. We flew over Ebeye and stopped at Kwajelein US Army Base to refuel on our way home. That is a very, very interesting story...the extremes between life on Kwajelein Islet (the base) and life in the neighboring islet of Ebeye. I got some pictures, but it's late tonight, and I need to go home, so I'll save it for another day. In searching the internet I found another photo journal created by a visitor to Likiep which might be of interest. Here's the address: Good night everyone!

1 comment:

Jane said...

The pictures are so beautiful! We had a day delay when we went to the RMI due to a problem with the does worry you to get on it LOL