Micronesia: August 2015
Hellishly early shuttle pickup, killed a bit of time in the surprisingly comfortable (if austere) United Club, then onto the United Island Hopper through Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
You know it's going to be a long day when the machine hands you five boarding passes.
More domestic first class, this time on the tiny 737-800's that United uses to service the Island Hopper route. Add in two spare pilots, a mechanic, and tools, and four first-class seats are gone, leaving not-very-much room. Can't imagine how bad it is in the back on this flight for anyone doing the entire route, but according to passengers and crew it's mostly locals hopping on only one or two segments. Idiot tourists such as myself doing the whole route are rare. And to my surprise, actually got fed three fairly decent meals in first class-- one breakfast and two of the exact same lunches.
The first leg is the only long one, 4+ hours to Majuro (MAJ), which is a little bitty coral atoll. Just wide enough for a decent runway and a building or two for an airport. Quite a view as we landed and took off, seeing the buildings, fish ponds (?), and whatnot crammed onto a few strips of coral reef.
At Kwajalein (KWA), we were required to stay on the plane, so didn't see much. Definitely a bigger coral atoll than Majuro with a lot more infrastructure, but still not much land to worth with!
Next stop was Pohnpei (PNI), capital of the Federated States of Micronesia, and a real volcanic island with significant terrain features, rainforests, 34,000 people, and one of the rainest places in the world (over 300 inches/year in the mountains!). Quite a few passengers on the plane lived here-- some very friendly people who clearly enjoy the island lifestyle!
Chuuk (Truk) is another volcanic island and a population of 13,000+ on Weno Island itself, which is where the airport (TKK) is. Much nicer than the tiny coral reefs, although Chuuk's airport is notorious for a short runway that is currently scheduled for improvement. Got off the plane at all of the airports except KWA, and while it's clear none of the airports are much, PNI and TKK clearly have the best infrastructure. We even had a bit of a traffic jam at PNI earlier, with another United 737-800 and then a Micronesian government airplane inbound!
Stepping into full-fledged airport on Guam with actual jetbridges and a fleet of rental cars and baggage claim stations was a reminder than it had been a very long day already. Dealt with the usual car rental SNAFU's of the trip, and then, deciding to avoid the tourist traps at Tamuning, stopped by the locals-dominated Micronesia Mall for some indifferent (and somewhat expensive) mall sushi and groceries.
Going from the decidedly SE Asia standard low/mid-range mall with minimal flash into the tourist area of Tamuning a few minutes later wasn't as big a change as I expected, probably because Guam's tourism is still developing. A handful of high-end and midrange resorts on a waterfront that's only mildly busy for most of its 2 or 2.5 mile length means a much smaller skyline than Waikiki and a lot less people. Definitely quite a change from Waikiki, even if it's still overrun by Japanese and Korean tourists!