Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Island Hopper to Micronesia

I'm on an exciting trip to places I've never been before! Although the mission of the trip is to understand the situation of visually impaired students in Micronesia, I absolutely get the benefits of visiting these islands and enjoying the scenery.
Airport departure board noting a 655 am departure to Majuro
Getting to these islands is not simple. The way to get to the main islands from the U.S. is to fly to Hawaii and then take the "island-hopper." I had a vision of this being a DC-3 or some such, but it's a modern 737 that is rated as "ETOPS" which means it's able to fly for three hours on one engine. Continental flies this route three times a week, going from Honolulu to Majuro Atoll, to Kwajelein Atoll, to Kosrae, to Pohnpei, to Chuuk and finally to Guam.
737 Continental airlines plane on tarmac in Majuro
Our first destination on this trip was Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). As a history buff, I didn't know the new names for some of these places. As in India, these communities have been renaming their islands back to their original or local names, rather than English approximations. So, Pohnpei of the FSM used to be Ponape in the Caroline Islands.

airplane interior with seats and flight attendants
The weirdest thing about the island hopper was the security policy. Airplanes have this extensive rigamarole around security (often known as security theater). How do you do this on a plane that hops from island to island? So, the solution on the island hopper is by halves. When we landed on Majuro, the crew let us know that everybody on the left hand side of the plane had to leave with all of their hand luggage. I watched one guy on that side of the plane hope over to the right hand side so he didn't have to leave. They then sweep through the plane checking the seats for bad stuff left behind (other than trashy magazines about celebrities). When we landed on Kwajelein, the big U.S. military base, only authorized people could get off and on. When we landed on Kosrae, it was supposed to be the turn of the right hand side of the plane to leave, but it was raining heavily. So, they just swept the plane on one side and then the other.

In any event, after 11 hours of hopping from island to island, we arrived at Pohnpei. More in my next post!

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