A Tour Of Kwaj

Following is a (mostly) photo guide of what I’ve found on Kwaj, including food, shops, activities, lodging, and more. It is not all-inclusive, but I tried to get the highlights. The photos are ordered more in a categorical order rather than for where they are located on the island, so hopefully I don’t confuse you too much. 🙂

Here goes…

Welcome to Kwaj! Leaving the airport (behind me), the US and RMI flags are almost the first thing you see. This photo is facing east, towards the ocean.

Just in case you happen to forget that you’re in the middle of nowhere, a mileage post next to the airport is there to remind you. The three you can’t see, the ones that are sticking out towards me, are Guam – 1374, Hong Kong – 3160, and Manila – 2775. I don’t know why they chose these cities.

Food

One of the benefits of living on an army base is getting free food. Well, I guess we’re still paying for it in some way, but let’s not split hairs.

On Kwajalein, the mess hall is officially named Café Pacific, but everyone calls it the PDR (Pacific Dining Room).

Here’s the PDR in-between meals, so no one’s around.

When you enter the PDR, you swipe your badge and then choose your food from the buffet. There’s a salad bar (best on the day or two after the plane comes in with fresh food), a fried bar (e.g., fries, sometimes hot dogs or burgers, they also can make sandwichs), and the main food bar (rice and whatever the day’s special is).

Rice is very popular here. VERY. White rice is offered at every meal, including breakfast.

You quickly find that some food options are better than others. Some days are better than others. Some days you really wish you had a full kitchen to cook a good, healthy meal. 🙂 Overall it’s not too bad, though, and saves you time, effort, and money.

Each week’s menu is printed in the Hourglass, the island’s newsletter.

Here is this week’s menu (they do offer breakfast as well, but it’s pretty much the same every day…and I typically eat breakfast at home anyway):

If you’re looking for other options, there is a food court that includes Burger King, Subway, Anthony’s Pizza (claims to be the best in the world, but I’ve heard it’s not), and Baskin Robbins.

There is a bank on the far left side of this building, and then the food court is about where that bench is located. One of the stores is on the right side of the building, and temporary housing is upstairs.

The building is northeast of the PDR. Note the water tower in this photo is the same one as in the PDR photo.

There’s also a nice little bakery, Sunrise Bakery, that makes some delicious fresh breads and pastries, so I’ve heard. They serve coffee and such as well. I haven’t got around to dropping by here yet, but I’ll have to at some point soon! This is on the back side of the PDR.

Stores

So, when you decide you don’t want to eat every meal from the PDR or food court, you can go to the grocery store – otherwise known as Surfway. (I kid you not.)

Surfway is on the left side of this photo. A little further down in the photo is the elementary school.

Surfway has a pretty good selection of food and a few household products. Fresh products (especially fruit/veggies) are best found on the day (or day after) the plane comes in.

Planes fly in and out of the airport every day, but the best plane is the army plane on Tuesday (and every other Thursday) that brings us fresh food and mail.

Speaking of fresh food…

Though I wouldn’t trust food growing on the island. While we don’t have any more radiation in the air (from nuclear testing), I heard the soil could still contain enough to contaminate plants grown on some of the islands in the RMI. It’s safe to live in the Marshall Islands now, but you may not want to risk cancer by eating locally-grown produce.

Now for the other shops.

Meet PX, a military chain store.

This is the front of the store that you saw on the far right side of the photo that had the building with the food court, above.

PX has a number of household goods, including sheets, towels, irons, some toiletry items, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, and more. There is also a scuba dive instructor who currently has his own little dive shop set up in there.

Across a street from PX, we have PXtra. (Not kidding.) PXtra has outdoor items such as tools, sporting equipment, and bikes and electronic items such as TVs, cameras, and phones. They also sell a limited number of CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays.

Next to PXtra (left of this image…and PX is right of this image), we have the Shopette. (Another great name, eh?) The Shopette is kind of like a drug store / gas station mini mart, with snacks (and lots of alcohol), toiletries, cleaning supplies, medicines, office supplies, books, and a DVD rental. Oh, they also have some gas station food (e.g., warm rotating corn dogs).

Next to the PX are a few little shops, the first of which is Micronesian Handicrafts. They sell locally-made stuff. I haven’t been in there yet.

There’s also a thrift store called Bargain Bazaar, and I haven’t been in there either. I’m not even sure how people would get in there, behind that chain-link fence… This is down by the dock, and that’s the lagoon you see in the background, as well as another little island in the atoll.

Another “store”, if you will, down from the PX is the salon and barber shop. The post office is what you see in the background (post office boxes are the dark spots on that wall).

Activities

What do people do around here? Contrary to what you might think on an island with one square mile of land, there is a lot to keep you busy.

Many of the activities, not surprisingly, revolve around the water.

This white building is the small boat marina, down by Echo Pier (the long pier you see on a map or satellite image of Kwaj). You can rent boats and file a float plan here. (There’s also a yacht club on Kwaj.)

The building on the right side of the photo belongs to the scuba club. Divers on Kwaj are supposed to join the scuba club and then you can fill as many tanks of oxygen as you want.

Behind the palm trees, note the big white tent with some containers inside.

Barges come every other Wednesday, and there was one docked here this day unloading and loading stuff.

Here’s part of the harbor, with small boats and the barge. This is around where the nurse sharks hang out (see an earlier post from when I arrived on Kwaj).

And here’s the barge, shoving off for I’m not sure where. In case you’ve lost your bearings, this is the lagoon, and I’m looking from northeast Kwaj across towards southwest Kwaj.

You can’t quite tell from this resolution, but there’s a white cylinder on the left side of the barge that says SpaceX. SpaceX does some work out here, and has launched Falcon rockets from Omelek (island just north of Meck; see the map of Kwajalein Atoll a couple posts down).

This is part of Emon Beach, one of three little sandy beaches on the lagoon side of Kwaj. Emon Beach is one of the nicer, more popular beaches near the residential areas on northeast Kwaj (this is looking northwest now). This is the only beach that has a lifeguard at times.

There’s also a kayak rental shack at Emon Beach.

If you want to get in some water but don’t feel like swimming/snorkeling/diving/boating in the lagoon or ocean, you can swim in one of the island’s two swimming pools on the ocean side of Kwaj. There is an “adult” pool and a “family” pool, both of which are outdoors and have ocean water pumped in weekly.

If golfing is your thing, here’s a look at part of Kwaj’s 9-hole golf course. The weather radar, KPOL, is on the left side of the image and the airport runway is on the distant right side.

More of the golf course, again looking towards the weather radar and the weather station (behind the palm trees right of center).

Here’s one of several fields near the center of the island, just south of downtown. The chapel is on the far right and one of the theaters, the Rich, is just left of the chapel. Sometimes you’ll see people playing soccer out here. There are also at least a couple baseball/softball fields on the island and some tennis courts, basketball courts, and a skateboard park.

Another field, looking north. The PDR is on the left and the bulk of downtown around there.

Downstairs in this building is the 8-lane bowling alley, and upstairs is the library. I’ve gone bowling here (the place looks like it’s about to fall apart), but I haven’t been to the library yet.

This building is the CRC (Corlett Recreation Center). I’m not sure what all’s in there yet, but I’ve heard there’s racquetball, a gym, and some other stuff. This is up on the north side of the island, around the residential area.

Here’s the ARC (Adult Recreation Center), in the middle of the BQs (Bachelors Quarters). I’ve heard they have faster Internet than the dial-up at home (though still not that fast), a kitchen, I think ping pong tables, and some other things.

Here’s the island chapel, near the airport (left of the image). There are Catholic and Protestant services held here weekly. There are also Jewish, Latter-Day Saints, and Baptist services held elsewhere.

Also next to the airport is the Marshallese Cultural Center. This is only open twice a week in the afternoon, so I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet.

I’ve already mentioned the Kwajalein Public Gardens, where sometimes you’ll see butterflies flying around. There are many beautiful plants and flowers in here. This is on the north side of the south part of the island (i.e., north of the runway).

You can also check out the turtle pond, not far from the gardens and right next to the lagoon. They have some rehabilitated turtles in here. Currently there are two sea turtles and some brightly-colored fish.

Check out the sign, both in English and Marshallese. They must have had a problem with people feeding the turtles hot dogs…

One of the sea turtles.

If you want to see a movie, weekend movies are available to watch at the Richardson Theater (aka the Rich). They are typically a few months behind the states.

PG-13 (and above) movies are typically shown at the Yuk, a covered movie theater near the BQs.

There are two bars on the island. The cheaper, typically more popular one seen here is the Ocean View Club, commonly known as the Snake Pit. The Snake Pit is a short walk from the BQs and has a great view of the ocean.

The classier bar, I’ve heard, is the Vets Hall, above. It’s sometimes open just to Veterans, but at other times is open to the public. They have other activities here as well (advertising a dinner coming up soon.) It’s near the airport runway, next to the fire station, on the south part of the island. Sometimes people start their night here and then go to the Snake Pit, as the Vets Hall would be a longish walk and they don’t want to be riding their bikes while intoxicated.

To find out more about activities on the island, you can check out the community TV channel or look in the Hourglass, the island’s weekly newsletter. Also pictured here is the weekly TV/movie guide.

Health

What do you do if you get hurt while engaged in one of the many activities?

Here’s the hospital, freshly painted. It is almost across the street from the Snake Pit and across another street from Sands, the BQ I’m in (white building on the far right).

There is also a dentist on the island and an optometrist who sometimes visits the island.

This building houses physical therapy and the vet. There are a number of people on Kwaj who have cats and dogs, and they all have to be approved by the island vet.

Money

There are two banks on the island, one backed by Bank of America (the bank on the left side of the building that houses the food court and PX, see above), and the Bank of the Marshall Islands, down by the dock. Most people probably keep their money in a US bank, though. I was told recently by the Bank of America bank that I couldn’t cash a check I wrote to myself unless I had an account there. I then just used one of the ATMs.

Lodging

If you’re visiting Kwajalein, you’ll probably stay at the Kwaj Lodge. This building also handles housing/BQ assignments. The Kwaj Lodge is on Ocean Road, across the street from the airport and next to the flags you saw in the first photo in this post.

If your status is “accompanied”, i.e., if you’re married and have your spouse/family out here, you’ll get to stay in one of the houses. Most of the houses are two-story duplexes (some fourplexes). Also, many of the houses are older than the BQs, so while it’s nice they’re roomier, they may need more fixing up…. The residential area is on the north (east) side of the island.

This is Sands, the BQ I live in. There’s also Surf, Shell, Reef, Coral, Palm, and I think another one or two. Th ocean is to my back here.

Here’s what the inside looks like, as I walk in the door. The kitchenette and closets are to my right and the bathroom is that door on the right. The rooms are fully furnished, and if you don’t like what you have, you can go to the furniture warehouse and pick out something else you like better (or get on a waiting list), at no cost. Initially I had a chair instead of a full couch, but traded it in yesterday.

View of the kitchenette and walk-in closets.

Standing by the bed, looking towards the door. That’s the weather channel playing on the TV (borrowed a TV and DVD player from someone…my new TV should be arriving fairly soon).

The bathroom, standing at the door. That side mirror is the front of a nice little medicine cabinet.

Furniture warehouse.

This is self help. I’m not exactly sure what the deal is, but I think they carry fix-it-yourself things if you want to try fixing something before calling housing (e.g., if you have a light bulb that burned out, they have light bulbs).

Schools

I’m not sure just how many kids are on the island, but I’ve heard there’s a pretty good public school system here. You saw the elementary school next to Surfway in a photo above, and below is the junior/senior high school. This is in the residential area.

There is also the option of taking a few college classes, as the University of Maryland sometimes has a couple of people here teaching classes. They also offer classes online.

Transportation

The main mode of transportation on the island is the bicycle. They rust very quickly, as you can probably imagine.

Josh had an extra one that he gave me when I moved here (someone gave it to him when they moved). I’m not sure how old it is (it’s pretty rusted), but it does the job for now.

The silver and turquoise bike below is mine.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are some company vehicles on the island that we use to go to/from work. Below is the lot where the vehicles must be parked at night. The buildings around here include auto services, a paint shop, a driver license office (you’re supposed to have a Kwaj license in addition to your main license), etc. This is located just west of downtown, about a block from the dock. Most of the vehicles are Ford Rangers or minivans.

If you’re looking to get off-island, the only commercial airline that flies to/from Kwaj is Continental. If you get permission, you could also fly free on ATI, on a military transport plane (the one I flew in on from Honolulu).

The Continental office is between the Micronesian Handicrafts store and the salon (see above).

If you just want to go to another island in the atoll, you might take a ferry. This is the dock security checkpoint, where you can take a ferry to Ebeye. The Marshallese workers on Kwaj are required to go back to Ebeye each night a short time after leaving work. I’m not sure why; just seems to be another army security thing. Some people on the island are married to Marshallese people, and they do not have to leave.

While not really related to travel, you might want to know how your mail travels. Everyone on the island has an army post office box. That means whenever someone sends you mail, they only have to put enough postage on it to get it to the US army post office that deals with the region you’re living in. If someone from the US sends me a letter, they need only put a US stamp on it, and it’ll get here.

Once the mail gets to that US army post office, they sort it and transport it (free of charge to us) to the army post office in your area. Pictured above is the Kwajalein Army Post Office. It looks just like any normal US post office.

Work

Finally, I realized I haven’t posted any photos of where I work yet.

Here’s a more close-up view of KPOL, the Kwajalein dual-pol radar.

Here’s the weather station. I have a cubicle downstairs, but when I’m here I’m typically working in the forecast room, downstairs on the far side of the building (looking towards the runway).

Hope you enjoyed my photo tour; keep the questions coming! 🙂

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36 Responses to A Tour Of Kwaj

  1. Robin says:

    Great tour!!! Thank you!
    Great looking apartment too!
    Mom

  2. Nancy Hultquist says:

    I just made it to the end of the tour, having written my first comment earlier. As Robin says, your tour is great, and the apartment is cool. Is that a keyboard across from the sofa ? I also saw your banjo. Thanks for the description of everything.
    I need to catch you up on things here. Will do in an email. We have a new kitty, named Rascal, who is just that. He was about 9 weeks old when we got him the day before I left for Portland’s NCGE meeting. More in an email. He is a Mackerel Tabby, and gorgeous, with a wonderful personality. Tanya and her two kids rescued him from an orchard (a wild kitty), tamed him, and gave him to us. Take care and continue to enjoy your Kwaj stay. Nancy

    • Rebekah says:

      Yep, that’s my keyboard! 🙂

      That’s very cool that you have a new cat. I look forward to seeing photos!

  3. Esther White says:

    Seems like there is much to do on your little island!

  4. Very nice pictures and story! Didn’t have time to leave a comment the first time I looked. Check out my website and blog too.

  5. patrick redinger says:

    Great stuff, thank you!. I’m trying to land a job there. Would you mind hitting me on my email so I can ask a few more detailed questions. Thanks again.

  6. Kelly Cox says:

    Rebekah, thanks for the great photo tour of Kwaj! Like Patrick, I’m considering moving there–in my case, it would be to teach at the high school. And you play banjo? If I get the job, let’s have some bluegrass jams! I play guitar and mandolin, and I’m sure there’s a fiddle player somewhere on the island. Cheers, hope you’re still enjoying being on Kwaj.

    • Rebekah says:

      Kelly, that’s awesome that you’re considering coming out here! I still love it here; I’ve just been more terrible at updating my blog than I thought I would be, mostly due to the slow dial-up Internet at home. And I TRY to play the banjo…my practice sessions come in spurts. Actually another meteorologist here plays the banjo as well; he plays clawhammer style while I attempt bluegrass. My sister (in the states) plays the mandolin, that’s a cool instrument as well!

  7. Rick Fisher says:

    Rebekah,

    Hi! What a fabulous tour! I have been trying to find all of the info I can about life on Kwaj. I should be there the end of June. I’m an RN and have accpeted a position on Kwaj at the hospital. I am still going through the paperwork process and am very excited to get there! Thanks for your beautiful pics and info!! Regards, Rick Fisher

  8. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the great tour. Especially the inside pictures of the apartment.
    Yours are the only ones I’ve seen. I’ve just accepted a position there, and should be traveling there this summer.

  9. Jim Severson says:

    It was nice to run across your blog about Kwaj. I just accepted an electrician position and am wading through the mountain of paperwork they sent me. I especially liked the pics of the rooms. I’d been afraid I was gonna wind up stuck in some barracks like when I was in the Marines, they look comfortable. Hopefully I’ll get over there soon, see ya!

    • Rebekah says:

      Hi Jim,
      Yeah the living conditions are nicer than I was expecting. Congrats on the job, and welcome (soon) to Kwaj!
      Rebekah

  10. Chris says:

    Yet another (potential) future Kwaj resident who is happy to have found your blog! My husband and I are both looking at jobs out there and are anticipating getting there in August (or so). Maybe we’ll run in to you out there!

    • Rebekah says:

      Hi Chris! Thanks for your comment. I hope you both really enjoy it out here, and I may see you around! Good luck with the process!
      Rebekah

  11. Mike says:

    Great photos and information on Kwajalein. What does it cost to scuba dive, bowl, golf, etc.?

    • Rebekah says:

      If you’re already certified, the yearly scuba club dues are $120 (also have nitrox for an additional $25), for unlimited tanks. Golf I don’t know about, but bowling is $2 for shoe rentals and $2/game. Can’t get much better than that!

      • Rebekah says:

        I should also add there are several scuba instructors out here who certify a lot of people (I learned how to dive here). There are also at least a couple people to buy all sorts of gear from, at good prices. I’ve been told the gear (and cost of diving in general) is much cheaper here than just about anywhere, at least in the States. Another point of interest is boating, be it for diving, fishing, etc. It costs $75 to rent a twin-engine powerboat for about 5 hours, plus the cost of fuel.

  12. Mike says:

    Thanks Rebekah. I read another blog which suggests the PDF is a real let down and a person is not allowed to take food from the dinning hall. I always found it interesting on an army base if your in uniform you can take food from the DFAC but not Civilians withoug special permissions. Anyway, if I have passed the pre-employment physical I should be headed there some time this Aug.

    • Rebekah says:

      Yeah, the PDR isn’t always that great (especially now while they’ve doing renovation on the kitchen for several months), but it is free (if you’re on an unaccompanied position) and most of the time there’s enough of a selection for people to find something good they’d like to eat. Taking leftover food out after you’ve already eaten there is discouraged (not exactly sure why), but some people get to go boxes if they can’t stay and eat. Those are free if you’re on duty (e.g., here at the weather station we have forms to fill out so one of our co-workers can bring us lunch if we’re on shift…and you’ll often see policemen getting to go boxes while working), but otherwise you have to pay $1 if you don’t have a work form.

      Good luck with your preparations for the move, maybe I’ll see you around.

  13. Tim Warren says:

    Great job with all the information, pictures, and tour of the base. I currently work as a contractor at the AUTEC Project in the Bahamas for the US Navy, but just interviewed for the small boat marine mechanic position. Hope to get out there soon. I’m very happy to have found your blog, it answered a lot of questions.

  14. Kurt Kuechenberg says:

    I am an old Roi Rat from the 80’s working at AUTEC as well and I have to say you did a great job with this site, excellent pics! So much has changed from when I was there, and so much for the better. You have to get up to Roi and do a tour there as well, I would really look forward to that I hear it has changed alot as well. BTW, I know Tim Warren from the above post and have been filling him in on island life, he is going to love it there and fit right in, no doubt. I am trying to get back to Kwaj or Roi but can’t get past the recruiters in AL, lol. Any hints? Email me back if you get the time I’d like to discuss that subject if you have the time, thanks and aloha.

    • Rebekah says:

      Thanks for the comments! I went up to Roi in March and took a bunch of pictures, but never got around to posting them online! I keep meaning to go back up there even for a day trip just to get off Kwaj, but work and sleep keep seeming to get in the way….

  15. Dani says:

    I lived on Kwaj when I was 5-8 years old. It was paradise!!! We also lived out on Majuro, but Kwaj was the best. I would love to go back for a visit and bring my husband to show him. Do they still have th 6 o’clock bell?

    • Rebekah says:

      Wow, cool! We do have a siren that goes off at 6pm I guess to signify the end of the day / dinner time (not to mention the bugle recordings for early morning, noon, 5pm, and 10pm!). Whenever I hear it I think of tornadoes, as it’s the same siren sound (just cut short) that I heard all the time back in Oklahoma!

  16. Robert McKay says:

    Don’t have a web site except the Underground of my station at home noted above.
    Caitlin gave me the info on yr site -we are members of the same church. I was OIC (Weather Service) at Wake Island for 8 1/2 yrs (approx 1977-1983) and my wife lived there for 5 1/2. We stopped a few times on that Air Force C-141 on its route from HNL to & from Wake & Kwaj. The pictures are beautiful. Things have changed considerably since our visits -late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Dawn bought things in the gift shop that was in the termina bldg. Because the plane broke down we had a “tour” of the island and I remember the housing units on the east end that were situated right up to the lagoon edge.
    We both miss the tropics – and yr pictures bring back lots of memories of Pacific tropical Islands.
    Thanks – Bob McKay

    • Rebekah says:

      Bob, that’s really interesting, yeah Caitlin mentioned that you’d spent some time in this part of the world! I was hoping to make it up to Wake last summer when we had some mission work going on, but it didn’t work out….one of my pilot friends got me a few t-shirts from there though!

  17. Jeff says:

    Hi Rebekah- thank you for the excellent info/pics about Kwaj! If everything goes well, I’ll be joining you and the other Kwajalites (just invented that….should I copyright?) sometime in April. I’ve been devouring everything on the internet I can find about the atoll, and your post is definitely one of the most informative. Very appreciated. I’ll try and introduce myself when (not if!) we cross paths on that tiny spec in the Pacific!

    • Rebekah says:

      Jeff, that’s terrific! Congrats and I hope everything works out well for you. I’ll still be around, into the summer anyway.

  18. Ozkar G. says:

    OK here’s a wierd one… I lived on Kwaj from 1962-1964 as a kid with my folks. While moving back to the States a library book that I’d checked out some how got packed with all our stuff. I recently discovered this book packed in a box in the basement at my parent house… I believe it came from the school library. I would like to return it. Do you know of a mailing address where I could mail it back to the library… 49 years late. 🙂

  19. steve says:

    Nice Tour! .. Ive been to the KRS site and noted they published openings for Software Engineers on Kwaj. I’m wondering how the sequestration will effect current and future staffing levels.

  20. Jeff says:

    Hi Rebekah,

    I’m the same Jeff that posted a little earlier, still going through the pre-employment process but making headway. I was interested in radiation levels on Kwaj and surrounding islets and did a little digging. Nuclear science isn’t my background, but the best I could determine is that deposition densities of dose-contributing radionuclides received on Kwaj was about 3-8 times the “global levels”, i.e., amounts you could expect to find just about anywhere post-testing in the 50’s & 60’s:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904645/

    My very limited conclusion is that given the low initial deposition, soil type and the meteorology (lot’s of rain) I’m not concerned. I’d even try gardening there (after a few tests!) if that were allowed.

    If you haven’t already visited the website, check it out. There is, of course many references to archival meteorology in the area that may be interesting.

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