Kwajalein – An Overview

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I have officially been on the island of Kwajalein for just over a month now and this is my first post about it. Why? I can’t really say for sure. I’m working full-time and enjoying my time off which doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing.  I have also been trying to make my mind up about how I feel about it all and I’m just not sure yet. Somedays I love it and other days it’s just ok. I don’t think I will really get a good perspective until I’m off the island and can look back on my time here.

I am finding that Kwajalein is a good place to straddle my old life and my new life. I am working a regular job but I have begun to travel. I am on a tropical island for crying out loud! Where is my frozen cocktail and the spa, right? No! Ha! Ha! I’m working here and so is everybody else. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. It feels like I should be on vacation only I am not. Strange…

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It’s a beautiful little tropical island with lots of coconut palms and big fragrant Plumera trees. Everywhere I look I am surrounded by the vast pacific ocean. I can stand in some places and look to one side and see the lagoon and look to the other side and see the ocean and that is pretty neat. It makes me feel very small. I’m just a speck of a person, on a speck of land, in the middle of a vast and powerful ocean. What’s to stop this place from being obliterated? Coral reefs to keep it simple. That and the storms usually start west of here and travel west.

It’s hot and humid and my body loves it. My hair and nails are growing like weeds and my skin is soft and rarely needs lotion. The sun shines most days with a halo of clouds around the island. Every now and then they approach and dump a short five to ten minute shower on us.

All the people I have met are wonderful. Seriously. How often can that be said? I’m sure there are some people that wouldn’t be my cup of tea but I have been fortunate to meet some very great people that I will consider friends long after I leave.

I’ve found that a great number of people here are also adventurous and like to travel. I guess you kind of have to be to get here in the first place. It’s great because I have never been to a place where everyone gets it, that need to travel and see the world that consumes me. They have the travel bug too. It’s what brought them here to Kwajalein and what takes me further on my adventures.

Besides travelers there are families here as well. That is probably because it is like the 1960’s with a bit extra technology. The kids have free-range over the island. It’s safe. Everyone looks out for one another. I often see kids riding their bikes and playing without adults hovering over them. Reminds me of when I was a kid. They have to use their imagination more too because it gets a little boring compared to the influx of activities back home.

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The entire island  is a military instillation. One can only come here if you have a job or someone working here has sponsored you to visit.  There are lots of plain utilitarian buildings mostly white and in various stages of dilapidation. The hot, humid, rainy conditions here increase the decomposition of materials quickly and mold is a constant issue. One thing I was not prepared for were the freezing cold temperature of the buildings inside. I am so glad I brought my fleece jacket and I have even worn my down jacket in a particularly cold house. Brrrr! Granted I prefer an indoor temperature around 76 so some of this is just me.



Bicycles are essential here. They are the means of transportation. I’m borrowing one from my fellow vet tech. Bikes are rusty and one speed. If you plan to move here don’t bother with a fancy bike. It will be rusted away in six months. I enjoy riding mine the three minutes it takes to get from my room to the veterinary hospital each day. What a commute! There is no traffic to speak of at all. Occasionally the heavens will open up and completely drench me before I make it those three minutes but luckily I dry quickly.

I know I am settling into the routine here because I am starting to enjoy some of the food choices in the dining hall. Two weeks ago I would have sworn I wouldn’t adapt especially after getting sick to my stomach for four days. Most days though I am eating salad, potatoes (fries, salad, baked) and pasta. It’s not the best diet but it’s the best I can do and stay relatively vegetarian. I’m basically a         “carb”-ivore here.

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Thankfully I have friends in houses who are kind and like to cook and have made some amazing dishes. My two favorite meals with friends were butternut squash ravioli and an amazing Indian feast a friend created for a birthday party of thirty people. The ravioli were made from scratch on a weeknight and we ate before 7:30? Summed up in two words – team work.

Besides working, I have been keeping myself busy by biking around the island, doing yoga, snorkeling, walking, taking photos, keeping in touch with the boyfriend back home, planning my further adventures, and just generally checking things out. I’m sad to say that I have only gone diving once so far. It was a great dive and I saw my first turtle under the water. My problem is that I’m only half equipped and shy about borrowing things. I’m confident that I will get some dives in before I go. In the meantime I will continue to snorkel because it’s pretty awesome too. My snorkel buddy and I were lucky to see three manta rays the other day. A true treat for my lifetime.

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Mostly I’ve spent a good deal of time working. This is a place I came to work a regular forty hour work week. As I said before, it is very surreal to be in this tropical climate that I usually associate with relaxing and playing but I’m working each day. I’m adjusting though. Jenny has been great at training and has prepared me well to take over the vet hospital. There are some things I have never done such as the importation of pets here but I’m getting the hang of it. The veterinarian is a phone call away instead of in the office and it’s worked out pretty well so far. I coordinate alot with the human hospital which is really foreign to me but I’m adjusting.

It’s interesting. In some ways it’s very challenging. The bureaucracy has been the hardest for me to adapt to. I’m not used to the inefficiency of government protocol but I’m doing my best to just be with what is. There is no point in getting upset about it because that doesn’t change it. I’m just finding out the best ways to work around things and provide the best care I can to the pets here. I have really enjoyed the veterinary work I have been doing and I’m glad to offer my help to the pets of Kwajalein.

So there you have it! An overview of Kwajalein. While the verdict is still out for determining if I’m coming back again, I will say that I’m so grateful for this experience. I just want to pinch myself somedays and ask, “Is this really my life”?

– And the sunsets are AMAZING!

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22 thoughts on “Kwajalein – An Overview

  1. This is the coolest thing anyone I’ve ever know has done. Thanks for sharing. I can’t figure out why the inside of the buildings are so cold??????
    Love your adventurous spirit, Aunt Marie


    1. Wow! I never thought I’d be cool! LOL! Thank you for your enthusiasm, Aunt Marie! I’m so happy to share this experience. The buildings are cold because they think that will keep the mold and mildew at bay. I’m not sure if it does or not. Seems to me that they need to submit to the building styles of the tropics and stay away from traditional building styles from back home. Wood does not work so well here. There are some cement block homes and those seem to do better. I hope that answers your question. Thanks!


  2. Hi Karen,

    Thanks so much for including me in your update! AMAZING!!!!! What an incredible experience and adventure. LOVE the pictures, especially the sunsets. Gorgeous! Enjoy and excited to hear more.

    Love you… Karen


  3. Hi Karen!

    Wow, great post! Love hearing about island life. Missed you on Catalina, which provided an amazing island sunset this year — must’ve been sharing the vibe with your island. Have fun following what ever life brings you!

    share and enjoy,
    — jaye


    1. Thanks Jaye! I could see you out here enjoying a two year contract. Just saying… Ah, I missed Catalina but mostly the people. Good people! Look forward to sharing more!


  4. This is a great update and it’s well written. Your photographs are stunning. How do you like your new Canon Digital SLR? As you know, my computer background randomly shows my photographs full screen. While I was reading your BLOG and typing this note, I have seen about a half dozen photos of past Catalina trips and also one shot taken from our flight to Catalina With Bill Browne. I really miss being with all of our friends this weekend and seeing these images really intensifies those feelings. Love you and see you in Singapore real soon.


    1. Love you my wonderful man and traveling companion. Thank you for the birthday present of Canon Digital SLR. I look forward to you tutoring me in it’s use! Love you!


  5. Wonderful update Karen. Sorry I missed your call this week but Tom filled me in some and with this report I know more of what is going on. You are really showing your flexible side. All that yoga and meditation is paying off. Keep posting!


    1. I am going to create YOGA and meditation as a daily ritual during our time away. Jose and Karen, Can you two remind me if I forget?


  6. Life’s been good to you so far…

    So how many green flashes have you seen?

    You need to do some night diving….


    1. No green flashes but I was just talking with someone else today about that. I haven’t seen a sunset without clouds yet. The clouds surround the island but I will watch out for a cloudless day. I haven’t seen one yet.
      Night diving would be awesome!


  7. Hola Karen,

    Well, you are quite the amazing world traveler! I am so glad to see that things are going nicely for you there. Today is the day that everyone is leaving for Catalina and Mary Ellen and I are home and enjoying our time together. Getting caught up on “honey dos” and other stuff that we tend to postpone during the school year. Luke and Grace get back from their South Dakota Mission this weekend and we will take time to celebrate his graduation since we didn’t after school let out because they took off right away for South Dakota. M.E. and I have been to the fair 3 times! and seen some great concerts. Of course, must eat my annual cinnamon roll!

    How is the name, ” Kwajalein” pronounced? I love the awesome photos and really enjoyed hearing about the slowed down island life. I remember swimming with turtles in Hawaii and it is really amazing! It’s like they are flying under water. So graceful and awesome.

    Well, enjoy and keep the updates coming.. Love, Mark , Mary Ellen & family


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