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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Federated States of Micronesia Flag FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA: Pohnpei


April 5. POHNPEI “Kayak Tour of Nan MadolOur tour started at 9am from The Village.  We were the only people going that day so we had one guide.  He introduced himself as Stamp, “like a stamp” he said, pressing his fist into his leg.  He and Rob loaded two kayaks into a motor boat and we took off into the lagoon.  It was a large lagoon so the water surrounding Pohnpei and its nearby islands was calm.  We went out almost to the reef that encircled the lagoon and then cut across the lagoon to a tiny island, one of the “picnic island” islands where the locals came on the weekend to BBQ.  The water was clear and warm.  The boat tied up to the island and we snorkeled out to the edge of the reef where it dropped off into the dark blue.    The tide was going out so the visibility wasn’t ideal but it was still pretty good.  Rob spotted a shark in the deep area while I was watching the variety of colorful fish on the reef.  After about a half hour in the water I went back to the boat while Rob went in search of more sharks along the reef. 

The tide was getting lower so our guide had to carefully navigate the ship away from the small island and headed towards a larger island in the lagoon.  It was supposed to be our lunch stop but getting over the reef too the island posed a problem.  We stood on the bow as Stamp pushed the boat over the reef with each rush of waves.  We couldn’t get the boat all of the way to shore and unloaded our stuff about 50 yards from the beach and just walked the rest of the way through shallow water.  This island had been where the Japanese guarded the entrance to the lagoon and some concrete structures still stood on the far end of the island from where we had gotten off the boat.  A representative of he owner came and collected a few for our visit, scooting along the shallow reef in his outrigger canoe.  We walked to the far end of the island to investigate the Japanese war relics and found a group of people camped out under a tarp.  It was mixture of locals and foreigners of various ages but it wasn’t clear why they were there.  Some of the people looked familiar and I wondered if they were part of the huge group that had disembarked with us when we arrived from Kosrae.  Perhaps it was a research group of some kind.

Walking back through the island we could hear the land crabs rushing for their holes.  The mangroves were an interesting sight at low tide with their spider like roots stretching into the water.  They looked like dark pipes bending into and out of the water.  We still had to wait a bit for the tide to come in so we could get our boat back over the reef.  I found a nearly perfect sand dollar just sitting in the sand in front of us.  It was silly to the locals but finding little treasures was a thrill when you came from over populated California .  Stamp walked us back to the middle of the island where we waded through calf high water back to the boat.  He had maneuvered the boat into a deeper area and we easily cleared the reef and were back in the channel.

The tide was still too low to kayak Nan Madol so we took one final detour to the Kepirohi Falls , the waterfall we had decided to pass over on our drive around the island.  It was a 60 foot high waterfall that spilled out over square chunks of basalt rock.  Freshwater eels were said to live in the pool at the bottom of the falls but we didn’t have any luck finding them.  One of the clans on the island believes themselves to be descendants of the eel and consider it sacred but Stamp informed us that other clans will sometimes eat the eels anyway.  We sat undisturbed for about a half hour rinsing some of the salt water out off of our bodies.  

The tide was finally high enough for our tour of Nan Madol so Stamp carefully moved our boat through the shallow water to the sites main attraction, Nan Dowas.  This was the structure we’d seen on our walking tour but hadn’t been able to cross the channel to see it in its entirety.  He tied the boat up at the entrance and we gathered inside to hear him give us an overview on Nan Madol, “the place in between”.  He had been a quiet guy all day but made up for it with his knowledge of the area.  He had even been a guide for a documentary done on Nan Madol by the Discovery Channel.  He explained that the site was formed with the use of “hunani”, which didn’t have a direct English translation but from his examples it sounded like a kind of force or power that enabled the people to transport these enormous stones from far off parts of the island to Nan Madol. The site’s construction dated back to between 500AD and 900AD and Nan Dawas was the temple of the complex, containing three tombs. The tombs had been excavated and the remains were in Washington D.C. Each of the three tombs were used in rotation so each body had time to settle before another would by laid on top.  The entrance we had come through was originally reserved for the elite and off to the side we could see a three foot high opening that had served as the entrance for commoners.  On the other side of an internal wall from the central tomb was a hole leading into a small underground meditation room.  Apparently not all of the remains were put in the tombs.  Some were kept in this meditation room for people to come pray and pay their respects. 

Walking around the outside of the high walls that encircled Nan Dawas we could see the toll that nature had been taking on this historical site.  Besides Nan Dawas there were few walls as well intact having been pounded on by waves for hundreds of years and, even worse, the extensive overgrowth that had engulfed much of the site and was forcing the stones of Nan Madol to separate and fall apart.  It was an ongoing challenge and removal of the dense foliage was being slowly undertaken.  In front of Nan Dawas our kayaks were set in the water. We had a two person kayak and Stamp paddled ahead of us in his solo kayak.  As we began to paddle he cautioned us against the man-o-war that hovered on the surface of the shallow water. 

We quietly made our way through the channels that were once the “roads” of an ancient empire.  The site consisted of some 80 islets but many were hard to recognize under the foliage.  Paddling out the central passage we came into the clear waters of the lagoon where rays could be seen scooting along the white sand.  Most of the outer wall on this end of the site was surrounded by mangrove trees but a small passage still remained to re-enter the site on the South side.  The area was largely covered in green but some walls still stood in tact along the canal.  Stamp pointed to a pile of ash that must have been 15 feet high.  This was supposed to be where the inhabitants of Nan Madol had once made offerings of sea turtles. The canals were very serene.  The soft sounds of our paddles in the water and some birds were the only sounds we could hear. Our loop of Nan Madol took us back to our boat in front of Nan Dawas.  A group of mostly women had been sitting on the opposite side of the canal scrubbing and washing in the water.  They had just finished when we returned and were making their way back along the trail.  A young man remained sitting on a rock to collect our visit fee.  This time we paid $3 and realized that we had overpaid on our first visit. 

It was nearing 4:30 and our tour was complete. The kayaks were loaded back onto the boat and in about a half hour we were back at the docks below The Village hotel.  We passed a couple of picnic islands where families had set up a BBQ and were enjoying their Saturday afternoon.  The smells made me hungry and the food at The Village was very good so we stayed for a drink while they opened the restaurant.  I ordered a 2-lb Mangrove crab that was one of the most delicious things I have every tasted.  The crab meat was slightly sweet and I didn’t let a bit of it go to waste. 

April 6. KOLONIA A not very eventful day really.  We finally realized that our Joy Restaurant wasn't the Joy Restaurant we thought it was.  We had been dining repeatedly at the Joy Hotel Restaurant.  We didn't have any regrets since they had good food, especially the sashimi, but the "local" hangout, Joy Restaurant, was actually around the corner and had a nice handicraft shop.  It turned out to be one of the best selections of handicrafts we had found on the island. The baskets in particular were the finest we'd seen in Pohnpei. 

It was Sunday so we took advantage of everyone else not being online and spent a couple of hours at the NTA checking email.     

In the evening I was up for trying one of the Sakau bars but were unsure of its affects and stayed in to write in our journals instead.  Our Nan Madol guide, Stamp, compared Sakau to the feeling of LSD.  We weren't in a position to make that comparison but decided "when in Rome"....  One of the people at our hotel made calls to the nearby stalls to see who still had a supply of sakau and walked down with me to buy a bottle.  It was processed daily and apparently begins to lose its effectiveness immediately so doesn't have a long shelf life.  I was warned that our first try of sakau would probably not give us much results.  I didn't know what to expect but somehow thought it would be clear like an alcoholic drink.  But sakau is derived from pounding the plant on a stone until yields a brown viscous liquid, not at all clear. The hotel staff advised me to use a soda as a chaser.  The locals will typically drink it with beer.  We used a Sprite.  One small glass should be enough they told me but we slowly put away 3/4 of our liter bottle throughout the evening and saw only a minor effect.  I think my tongue felt slightly numb but still managed to type several pages in my journal without any problems.  It wasn't a pleasant taste (how I imagine mud would taste) so it took some effort to keep sipping the stuff.            

April 7. KOLONIA Our good weather luck in Pohnpei had run out it was raining hard off and on.  Pohnpei gets more rain than Kosrae so we had been fortunate to have had such a good run on weather.  We had breakfast at Cafe Ole and went on a final day of handicrafts shopping.  

There were two families staying at The Village hotel and we kept seeing them everywhere.  We'd seen them twice at the hotel and again at Nan Madol when they were doing their kayak tour.  We ran into them again at a handicraft shop in downtown Pohnpei.  Our hotel had been pretty empty and I think we and these families at The Village hotel where the whole tourist population in Pohnpei. 

We walked over to Kapingamarangi village for one last look at their handicrafts but didn't see anything new.  We had lunch at the Joy Restaurant with the handicraft shop and again ran into the families from The Village.  After lunch we stopped by the Joy Hotel Restaurant to look at their few handicrafts and wait out a down pour.  A couple sitting in the lobby waiting out the rain recognized us and asked us if we had moved to Pohnpei.  I guess we had been around longer than most tourists so people thought we were new residents.  

With all of our shopping done we collected boxes from the supermarket and went back to our hotel to package everything up. 

For our last night in Pohnpei we had to go back to the Joy Hotel Restaurant for dinner.  We were starting to see the same patrons in the restaurant and they nodded as we walked in.

MARSHALL ISLANDS Majuro March 11 March 12 March 13 March 14-15 March 16 Alinglaplap March 17 March 18 March 19 March 20 March 21 March 22 March 23 Majuro March 24

FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA Kosrae March 25-26 March 27-28 Pohnpei March 29-31 April 1-2 April 3-4 April 5-7 Chuuk April 8-9 April 10-11

GUAM April 12-23