The Things You Get Used To

I was thinking about this this morning as I hopped on my bike to go to work at 6am. It was still dark; the sun is up from about 7am-7pm here every day and I remember how when I first got here, whenever I would go out in the dark, I would expect it to be cold. In Montana, usually even in the summer first thing in the morning, it's chilly. I've gotten used to it being warm even when it's dark now. Other than this morning I haven't even thought about it for awhile.

Another thing I've gotten used to is the salt water. My only salt water experience til now was the Oregon Coast. The water there is bone-achingly cold. I never swam in it so I never tasted it. I spent lots of time in the water in Montana, all of it freshwater. For the first couple of months I was here, I was always surprised when I would taste the salty water. Now my brain has gotten used to it and it's another thing I don't really think about anymore.


Bicycle Update

You may remember during the packing and planning process, I decided to bring the bike I already owned with me to Kwaj. Everyone said it was going to get ruined and I knew that. I had seen pictures of Bicycle Heaven; the rusty pile of bikes in the Kwaj dump. What was I going to do, buy a new one that also will rust and die?

I've had my current bicycle for about 10 years. It's a mountain bike that I mostly rode on city streets except for about 4 times when I actually went mountain biking on it. I've never been a big bike rider; I prefer to walk or hike.

Anyhoo, I'm pretty surprised at how well it's been holding up for me. I've only had to replace one brake cable, the kickstand and the foot pedals. The kickstand and the foot pedals was because the wind knocked the bike over (many times) and they broke, and the brake cable was from rust. The chain is rusty, the bolts and a few random parts but overall, it's doing quite well.

Some people take their bikes into their rooms, others grease and sand and otherwise fully maintain their bikes on a regular basis. Me? I spray it down with silicone spray or penetrating fluid every so often and I'm good to go. I could get more serious about it but I'm happy with the overall effort/result ratio. I'll keep you posted on any "breaking" news on the bike as time goes on.


It Happens.....

If you've gone back to the beginning of this blog, you will see that the process for getting out here is not an easy one. There is a lot of waiting, a lot of paperwork, physical exams, security checks, red tape and more waiting. You have to be pretty determined to make it to Kwaj the first time. (Retreads have a much easier time getting out here the second or third time. Or more.)

Surprisingly, even though it takes a long time and there is plenty of information to be had about what it's really like, sometimes people get here, take one look and leave as soon as they can. I had heard rumors about this and thought it was an exaggeration but it's happened since I got here. A twenty something guy took an IT job here and was gone within 3 days! 3 DAYS! There are all kinds of rumors about why he left, I have no idea what the true story is on it but let me tell you it was a very costly decision on his part.

The way I understand it, if you leave before at least one year of your contract is fulfilled you have to reimburse the company for the security check, the medical exam and blood tests you take, the cost of your ticket to get here, the cost of shipping your household goods here and back, and your plane ticket home. This is a LOT of money. Plus you don't have a job and you get to tell your next employer that you didn't meet your contractual agreement.

In order to avoid any expenses on your part, you have to complete the full two years. (This actually varies depending on which company you work for here. Some are only one year contracts.)

So please, if you have any doubts about whether you can be away from your friends and family and pets or if you really enjoy eating in restaurants, or can't live without your Internet (or Internet games) for at least a year, DON'T DO IT! Unless of course you have plenty of money to spend and don't mind having an entire island speculating on what made you leave and why you came in the first place.


Something To Seriously Consider

If you love your high speed DSL or digital internet access you are getting in the States, you may seriously want to factor that into your decision to come to Kwaj.

We do not have high speed internet, we have dial-up for home users. There is some wireless access available in a few places but all of it is transmitted across the same satellite and I just have to say, Internet over satellite leaves a lot to be desired.

Up to this point, it didn't seem like that big of a deal but I spent over an hour last night editing all of the photos I wanted to post so that it wouldn't take 8 years for them to upload and I couldn't get one to upload to save my life. This is happening more and more it seems.

You want to know the worst part? I work directly with the Internet as part of my job function here and there just isn't anything (at this time) that can be done about it. There are all kinds of plans in the works for making some drastic changes but everything, I mean everything takes a very long time to come to fruition out here.

So, depending on how important Internet access is to you, you may just keep this in mind if you are planning to come to Kwaj.


Please Stand By..... *Updated Again*

I've got a lot of posting to catch up on, but it's going to have to wait a bit. We're in the middle of moving and the phone hasn't gotten connected yet so I will be updating the blog as soon as I can.

Here are the topics I will be posting on as soon as I get re-connected:
  • Trip to Pohnpei
  • Sailboat racing
  • Sailboat trip
  • Holidays on Kwaj
  • My Mom coming to visit
  • Condition of my bike

Stay tuned!

Update 12/02/09: I've been told I will be reconnected Saturday December 5th. That's the day my Mom arrives on Kwaj so it will probably be a couple of days before I get back to the posting.

Update 12/09/09: Finally got reconnected yesterday, posting tonight after work.


My Ignorance of Palm Trees

I learned something new on our trip to Pohnpei this last week. Palm trees grow something other than coconuts!

I've noticed before that there are palms around here that look a bit different; some are spinier, some are short and squatty, some are tall with just a few fronds on the top and others are almost all frond and no trunk but I mistakenly assumed that all of them grew coconuts. I never looked that closely I guess.


Here on Kwaj, a lot of them don't have anything growing on them because they keep them trimmed so nothing falls on your head while you are walking under them. (Safety is #1 around here.)

Come to find out there are over 2600 species of palm. They grow anything from coconuts, dates, betelnut, ivory nuts, and there are many uses for other parts of them besides just the fruit. Coir is a coarse water-resistant fiber extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, used in doormats, brushes, mattresses, and ropes. Rattan comes from palms and is used to make furniture. Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil. Several species are harvested for heart of palm, a vegetable eaten in salads and palm sap is sometimes fermented to produce palm wine or toddy, an alcoholic beverage common in parts of Africa, India, and the Philippines.

Who knew?


Swashbucklers Ball *updated*

Swashbuckler: is a term that developed in the 16th century to describe rough, noisy and boastful swordsmen.

When I first started researching Kwajalein I ran across the Kwajalein Yacht Club website and subsequently discovered the Swashbucklers Ball.

I was really hoping that I could get out here before the last one but I ended up on island in February so I've been waiting for this event for months now. I was not dissapointed. It was so much fun!

One of the reasons I've grown to enjoy these events so much is that the local home brewers usually provide some delicious libations. I LOVE micro-brews so this is a very special treat for me.

Here is a list of our selections for the evening:

The decorations were awesome:

Gallows, booty and all:


I Heart Plovers

There aren't very many kinds of birds on Kwajalein. I was a little bit surprised by this. We have what looks like a house sparrow, white terns and plovers as permanent residents. Everything else we see is just passing through.

I've heard reports of ducks and I've seen cranes and frigates but that's about it.
I'm guessing it's because we are so small and so far away from other land masses. The one bird I half expected to see but haven't is the sea gull. I haven't seen a one.

My favorite of our regular birds is the plover. They are so cute and every single one of them has different markings. Some have white tummies, some have big color patches, others look just like sand. They have funny little personalities too and trying to get close to one is darn near impossible.

Click here to hear a recording of the plover.


Can You Believe I Still Don't Dive?

Diving is one of the most common activities amongst Kwaj residents and when I moved out here I fully inteneded to give it a try. I've been here for 9 months now and have yet to take the certification class and get started diving.

Check out the Kwajalein Scuba Club website, it's pretty amazing.

One of these days....


Amazing Kwajalein

The other day I got stranded in the rain hiding out under the Yacht Club's covered area waiting out a torrential downpour. I was on my way to provide troubleshooting support for one of our island staffers and that was as far as I made it from my office. (Not very far)

While I was waiting, looking out over the lagoon I saw what looked like a big fish jump out of the water about 100 yards away. It was really close to shore but I diddn't get a good look because it was so far away and the rain was so heavy.

I ended up stranded there for about 15 minutes total and just before the rain subsided I got to see it again. This time about 50 feet in front of me. It was a large manta ray jumping out of the water! What an exciting thing to see!

I didn't take this picture but this is almost exactly what I got to see. Amazing!


Here Comes The Rain.....Again

When you live on Kwaj, you get pretty good at figuring out the weather pretty quickly. You have to. The weather changes rapidly and frequently around here.

The base temperature rarely changes, it only feels hotter or cooler depending on how much wind there is. The more it bows the more bearable the heat it. No wind - HOT!

As far as predicting the weather goes, that really just means guessing how long you've got to wait under cover while it's currently raining, or whether you have enough time to get where you are going without getting soaked.

Some people take all the fun out of it by buying full rain suits and going out in it anyway.

I love the rain, don't get me wrong but after getting drenched a time or two and then going into the air conditioning.....BRRR! I try to avoid it if I can.


One Relaxing Weekend

And by relaxing, I mean boring. It was overcast and no wind and I didn't do much of anything.

It happens to everyone right?


Lost In Translation

Here is a collection of signs from around the island......

I'm not sure if these are just bad translations from Marshallese to English (that's how I interpreted it) or just flat out mistakes but they are funny.

This should read "authorized personnel" not personal.

This one kind of works; you could be scraping the scraps into the trash....

This isn't exactly a translation problem, more like a creative interpretation thing.

This one is funny because this locker is about a mile and a half from the public gardens.

Ummm, I don't golf a lot but don't you use the golf carts to get around the golf course?

Anyone else have any to add to this? I know I haven't found them all.


Micronesian Handicrafts

Check out this really cool cribbage board.

There is a small shop here on Kwajalein where you can buy crafts from all over Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. You can find jewelry, music, wood carvings, woven mats and hats and all kinds of shells. It's fun to send this kind of stuff back home because it's so exotic.

The proceeds from the shop's sales benefit education in Micronesia.


Dinner on the Beach

Every month there is a dinner on the beach available to those that would like a little something different than the whole mess hall scene. Granted the mess hall is free and this most certainly is not but there are some advantages. The first of course is the scenery. The second being the quality of the food.

Not every time, but sometimes, the food is significantly better than our usual fare and it makes the whole experience as close to eating in a restaurant as we can get around here.

Add in good friends and you have a very nice evening out.


Kwaj Vending Machines

We have a rare breed of vending machine here on island...the Kwaj vending machine. There are actually a few types here; the empty/rusty machine and the cigarette/food machine.

The empty/rusty ones are the most severely neglected ones that never seem to get refilled. You put your money in to discover that there is nothing available that you want and when you try to get your money back, the coin return lever is so rusted that it won't engage.

Your choices at this point are to either choose something you really don't want and suffer through it or give it away, or leave your money in there, in essence...give it away. You can try to get a refund from the vendor but that's really more trouble than the dollar you put in there is worth. Actually, I guess in some ways, these machines are like reverse ATM's.

The cigarette/food machines really crack me up. They usually contain your typical vending machine fare; cookies, candy bars and gum but then there is also the tuna and crackers, Cup of Noodles and several brands of cigarettes to choose from as well. I'm not sure why I think this is so funny but it makes me chuckle every time I get something out of those machines.

*I'll try to get some pictures to go with this post


Busy Living Everyday Life

Not much new and exciting has been going on lately. There hasn't been any wind for sailing, I've been too lazy to go snorkeling or kayaking lately; mostly I've just socializing and taking care of chores and doing everyday things.

I've put together a new bowling team for the next league and there are several Yacht club and holiday events coming up though so I should be able to post something interesting soon.


Movies In The Rain

Last night a group of us went to the movies. It was a double feature night. The first movie was a Disney movie called Earth. The second was X-Men Origins - Wolverine.

The movie theatre on Kwaj is open air. A bit like a drive through except everone rides their bikes in and there are bleachers or benches or places to put your own chairs. You can bring snacks and drinks and enjoy the evening air. Last night there was a snackbar available too serving nachos, hotdogs, and hot wings.

It's a very fun experience, different than any other theater experience I've had. The kicker though? The rain. We got about 3/4 of the way through the second movie when the rain set in. It was pretty light to start with but kept coming down and getting harder and harder. I was pretty surprised at the number of people that stuck it out. We probably got rained on for a full 20 minutes. I was soaked. We all were. But that's what makes the experience unique and memorable.


Sailing Hair

This is what your hair can look like after several hours of sailing in heavy winds, snorkeling and more sailing....

It's pretty much tied in knots, but totally worth it!


Plenty Of Activities

I've always been open to learning and trying new things. The summer before I arrived on Kwaj I learned to ride a motorcycle, the summer before that I learned to wakeboard and drive and trailer a motorboat. I feel it's important to keep learning and every new skill helps me to remain independent and functional even when no one else is around. On Kwaj, learning new things keeps you from getting bored.

Here is a list of the activities I've learned or tried for the first time in my life in the 6 months I've been here: (Yup, in a week I will have been here for 6 months already!)
  • Sailing
  • Snorkeling
  • Two step dancing
  • Swing dancing
  • Pottery / wheel throwing
I aim to include learning to scuba dive to my list sometime soon.

Even some of the normal activities you participated at home have a new feel to them here. We have movie theaters here, but they are open air, not like a drive-in even, its totally unique.

Activities I participate in that aren't new to me:
  • Bowling
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Gym
  • Beachcombing
There really is no lack of activities to get involved in here. Anyone that gets bored isn't trying very hard. Add hanging out with friends, barbecuing, chilling on the beach, going to bars, and attending various social functions and you can have a pretty full schedule.


Hey, It's Free.....

Here is what's on the menu for dinner tonight on Kwaj:

Mmmmm.....pork butt.

Most of the time the food is good here, it has it's moments and you learn quickly how to decipher the menu. For example, always be leery of the menu item "chef's choice". Typically that means they are trying to get rid of something that's about to expire. A few days ago it was turkey tails. Turkey tails!?! Savory is another deception. That is another word for smothered in gravy and it can be anything.

We just have to be creative, keep our guard up and remember; it's free.


It's Not The Rainy Season

I've been told this isn't the rainy season; it's the doldrums. We've been having a lot of rain lately though. I'm going to have to invest in a better raincoat....a rainsuit in fact.


Finally A Success!

*This post has been updated. I was informed that the fish in the pictures is not Skipjack but Kawa Kawa. (Thanks Bill!)

I am happy to say that I have finally been on a successful fishing trip. Up to this point I've only been out for a few boat rides. This trip was the best so far.

It started out good:

Along the way we saw some spinner dolphins too. They are way to fast to get any pictures of though.

Bird piles pretty much ensure successful fishing. The big fish round up the little fish that the birds try to catch and eat.

Here is the dogtooth tuna that we caught:
We'll be making sashimi with it later in the week. We also caught a few Kawa Kawa. These supposedly make good poke but we gave it to some friends to grill for a party last night.

Here is a picture of our "haul" for the day:

It was nice to finally catch something and very fun going out with friends and being on the water. It doesn't get much better than this.


My Only Possesion

When I found out I was coming to Kwajalein, I sold everything. The car, the house, the motorcycle, the furniture, and most of my clothes. I came here debt free and owning nothing but a cat. It's a great place to be.

Since then, I've learned how to sail and since you can't take rental boats in the evening or on overnight trips I decided to purchase a boat.

It's a CAL 20 sailboat. It came with a dinghy, a boat shed, and it's in great condition.

Sailing is a blast and now I don't have to ask anyone to use their boat, I can just go when I want to.



Not only do we send off rockets around here, sometimes they shoot rockets at us too.


Falcon 1 - RazakSAT Mission Successful

Here is footage of the SpaceX Falcon 1 - RazakSAT launch. I'm pretty excited to say I was directly involved in this mission!
Check out the full video here:


Music On Kwaj

Tonight we were treated to the sounds of The Uglistick. They are a really great band from Mobile, Alabama. What variety; they are very talented.

I was super impressed with the fact that the three front line players could all sing. I don't think I've ever seen a band where all of them could sing. Very impressive.

Thanks guys, we appreciate you making the trip to play for us!


This Weekend Has Been a Blast

I can hardly believe it but I forgot to take any pictures at all this weekend!

The first thing I have to say is WOW! The fireworks show here on Kwaj was most impressive. The whole show was like most grand finales I'm used to seeing, and the grand finale....WOW!

Pretty much the whole island was on the beach watching as the fireworks were launched from a barge about 200 yards off the shore. My favorite firework was the one that exploded into a star shape. Amazing.

Sailing was on the agenda and got foiled again by the doldrums. Darn the luck! I ended up renting the party barge and drumming up a handful of people to go snorkeling over by the Prinz Eugen shipwreck near Carlson island. That was impressive.

While we were snorkeling though, the mooring ball we had attached the boat to broke and the boat drifted to shore. I've never swam so far so fast in my life. Some Marshallese islanders that live on Carlson caught it and held it until I could get it going and back out to a safe anchoring spot. That was pretty exciting. Excitement I would prefer not to have again however.

It's been a great weekend so far, I still have today off as well; I think it will be a quiet one though. I can't believe I don't have any pictures! Next time.


JF Is Not Coming

For those of you who are interested and maybe so I'll stop getting questions about it.....JF has decided not to obtain employment on Kwajalein and has decided to focus his energy toward his career back home.

Since I have decided to stay here for at least four or five years and will be heading to a new exotic location after Kwaj rather than returning home.....I think you get the idea.

This was decided about a month or so ago, I just figured it was time to let everyone know.


The Doldrums Are Here

This time of year can be pretty sketchy for sailing. The doldrums are basically periods of no wind. I've made plans to go sailing three times now that were spoiled by lack of wind. I can't wait to get out there! Not only does it make sailing difficult, it makes it hot! Around here, the wind is your only relief from the heat besides air conditioning. Swimming is an option too but you are usually dry by the time you make it back to your towel. I'm not sure how long this season lasts but I want to go sailing!


Found Item Collection Growing

Here is an updated picture of my little collection of found items. There are shells, beach glass, coral pieces, an urchin spine, a toy turtle, a seed that almost fell on me, some sort of grass and pirate treasure! The note in a bottle is a wedding invitation I received. Pretty cool.

Some people that have been here for awhile have some incredible beach glass and shell collections. I think divers have an opportunity to find things the rest of us can't as well. In July I will be getting dive certified so that will open up a whole other realm for me here. It should be interesting.


Sailing Lessons Are Complete

I now have my sailing license!
The Chulita and the Worthy

Last night was my practical test and tomorrow will be my maiden voyage as Captain! The plan is to head to the island of Gugeegu, the farthest point we are allowed to sail without a second source of power. The Chulita does not have a motor, sail power only.

The trip will be about 3 hours all together and should be quite enjoyable. I'll post pics when we return!


The Turtle Pond

We have a turtle pond here that holds 3 turtles; at least that's what I've been told. For some reason I've only ever seen one. The sign says there are green and hawksbill turtles in it. There are also some really cool fish in the pond as well. Fast little buggers though; I only got a couple of good shots. There are several other fish that I couldn't get pics of, maybe another day.


Back to Roi Namur

One of my new friends that moved to Kwaj transferred over to Roi Namur. I went over to spend the weekend and hang out and wow did we have fun. I was careless and forgot to bring my camera so I'm hoping the folks that had them hold up their end and send me copies like they said they would.

We hung out at one of the shacks where we played a bean bag version of horseshoes, barbecued, hung out in the sun, played in the water and had a really great time. Everyone was very welcoming and open and it was very fun.

The next day I wandered around the island and got a few random pics.....

Coral sculpture made of metal

Bunker on the ocean

Tiny little crab

Crab with a cool shell

Interesting concrete structure

Beautiful green water


June Beer Can Race

I was the captain this time!

For this months Beer Can sailboat race, I got to be the captain! I've got about 3 more lessons before I'm on my own and can get my license but as one of my training sessions, we participated in the monthly race. What fun!

This one was a little different than usual. Normally we navigate around a series of buoys in a set pattern and everyone starts according to their handicap. The handicap is determined by the size and performance of the boat. This time we only did two legs and everyone started at the same time. The purpose was to help establish your actual handicap as opposed to just the boats performance.

It was a lot of fun for me but boy was I tired afterward. I spent a lot of time on the water this weekend. I love it though.


Happy Kwaj Kitty

I thought Rick was going to hate it here. He was an outside cat and was only in the house to eat usually. I figured he would go so stir crazy I would be sorry I brought him.

For the first couple of weeks he did try to get out but I would put him on the leash (OSAKA regulations you know) and take him outside with varied results, mostly discontent. After he caught on to outside = leash, he stopped wanting to go so much. He also acted like the wind bugged him quite a bit. I'm on the windy side of the island.

Now, he seems quite content to hang out in the sun, we play quite a bit and I think he's a happy cat. What do you think?