There were no flight attendants pointing tightly pressed fingers at the exit doors, no beverage service. Leg room was limited and I had to crouch under the low ceiling to walk to my seat. But the in-flight entertainment was about to start, just outside. Since photos out a murky window aren’t an ideal storyteller, you’ll have to take my word for it that seeing the atoll from the air was nothing short of spectacular.
I was off to Roi-Namur for the weekend, the northern-most and second largest island in the Kwajalein Atoll, and the home of more US government radar and satellite stuff. Roi is smaller than Kwajalein in size but also in population with about 300 during the day. I’m told nearly half of which consists of the Marshallese workers who actually live on other islands.
Outside my window, the show began as I saw islands strung together like pearls through the sapphire, turquoise and opal colored waters of the Pacific. Each island varied in shape and size, some more sand and reef, others with more vegetation. Many seemed to barely clear the ocean surface. A few islands were inhabited, most didn’t appear to be. All of them looked like heaven.
From the air, Roi was not unlike these others islands, except larger and with the addition of radars, satellites, and milky utilitarian buildings. On the ground I was given a tour by my friend Melinda, on rented golf cart. Like Kwaj, bikes were the primary mode of transportation on Roi and one was made available to me as well. There were wild chickens, rats and the elusive coconut crab. The latter could be spotted once the sun went down, though their work — hollowed out coconuts — could be seen under every palm tree.
Old bunkers and other historical remnants from war days sat at rest and in much decline. I was told most were built quickly and of the natural materials. Salty reef rock and steel are apparently not good bedfellows but it’s how they had to be built during war-time. If you are visiting Roi, pick up the booklet at the air terminal for a historical tour of the numbered sites. For the rest of you, I will need to direct you to the Interwebs for more information as I’m the last person to relay the history of this island.
It is isolated, without a doubt, but even more so if you don’t make friends or find a community on Roi. Melinda’s friends were delightful and at times I felt like a guest at someone else’s family reunion — and they welcomed me as one of their own.
We spent time at a couple of the shacks that speckled the shoreline. Gabby Shack and Surf Shack were nice spots for snorkeling, feeding geckos, watching for sharks, beach combing, and enjoying laughs with friends. Seeking some quiet, I made myself at home in a hammock hung between two palm trees. Watching the clouds roll slowly by and listening to the waves is not bad way to spend the afternoon.
The end of the weekend had to come, but not before a guy pedaled up on his bike to the beach where only Melinda and I were snorkeling, asking of if either of us was flying out that day and to inform us the flight to Kwaj would leave early. Less than thirty minutes later he had returned to let us know that it was back to the original time. Later I realized he was also the guy who checked me in at the airport. I found out he had worked in Antarctica and we had a lovely chat before I boarded the plane for home. Roi has a delightful small town charm, or “small island charm.” And if I didn’t have so many other things to fill my weekends with, I’d definitely come back again.