Category Archives: Yap

photo collection from Yap

Some of the photos organized into an album here.  I understood photo sharing better via Picasa, not sure about this whole Google Plus thing.  Oh well, my life is online.

Still to come: a video and map story just about stone money.

more warm days

Yap has two temperatures, hot and hotter.  We’re 9 degrees north of the equator, and the sun is very intense. By 8am one is seeking shade and/or sunscreen.   We’re here at the end of the dry season and from now to September or so, it’ll be quite rainy.  Almost every day we have short bursts of rain that dampen our t-shirts, and sometimes long drenching rains that are deafening on corrugated tin roofs.  Either way, the sun then comes out, we delight in the rainbows, and we soon begin to steam again.

Yapese culture dictates that thighs not be shown.  Bare breasts are fine. In fact, especially on the outer islands, having women bare their breasts is not only culturally appropriate, but expected.  About ten years ago, the public schools initiated “culture” Fridays, and children were to dress in traditional styles. I’m not sure what this would have meant from boys; perhaps the drapey loin cloths that some older men wear.  Yapese girls from the main island would wear grass skirts, and from the outer islands, woven cloth skirts, called “lava lavas.”  And all girls were to be topless.  High school girls in 2003 did not want to go to school topless, yet their mothers were insistent that they would, as NOT doing so is a disrespectful cultural affront.  So you had Yapese mothers calling the schools trying to insist that their daughters go topless.  Now that’s funny.

These days it seems only the outer island women continue to be topless regularly; I have yet to see either of our two female neighbors wearing a shirt.

Meanwhile, fast forward to 2013, and none of us can bare our thighs. The 7 female Queens college students and I wear the kind of “board” shorts that skateboarders or surfers wear, or baggy basketball shorts, down to our knees.  And we keep our shirts on too.  All contributing to extra warm layers.

Rain plus heat equals decay.  Apart from the obvious constant decomposition and regrowth cycles of all plant materials, we’re also surrounded by houses, roads, and cars decaying around us. Really old and dead cars, or maybe not so old but still dead cars, are often roadside with vines snaking up and out of every automotive orifice.  In enough time it won’t be recognizable as a former-vehicle anymore, except maybe for the occasional glimpse of a rusted wheel joint.

We have spent some time in working cars too.  Yap’s Department of Land Resources provides the Queens University group with a pickup truck for the stay. Reed is the only authorized driver, but that’s just fine. Driving is relatively safe because there are few roads in good enough condition to go more than 45 mph, and few cars that could achieve that speed anyway.  Driving is relatively dangerous because the desire to speed is universal, it’s not uncommon to encounter drunk drivers at 11am (or 4pm), and no one uses seatbelts.  To add to the fun, driving is on the right-side, but cars are imported from either the US or Japan, and the Japanese cars are designed for left-side driving. So you never know what side

aging vehicle #1

aging vehicle #1

aging vehicle #2

aging vehicle #2

the steering wheel will be on until you get in.  Exciting!

Rain plus heat plus tropical environments also equals bugs.  Fortunately the mosquitoes aren’t as bad as they could be at our house thanks to the ocean breeze.  And when we first moved in, the kitchen had its share of tropical-size cockroaches, though I haven’t seen them lately.  Or at least I haven’t noticed them as much lately. But there are little geckos everywhere, most often on the walls, but also on the counters, the tables, and our cots.  I still flinch, squeal, and fling when I discover a gecko clinging to my leg. But they are pretty cute!

Scuba diving continues to be my favorite past time, by far. Yesterday was particularly marvelous and my deepest dive so far, to 102 feet.

The internet was down, on the whole island, for the last 48 hours. Finally the right “part” was brought by a guy from Telecom from over on Pohnpei, the capital island, and he “fixed” the internet.  Thank goodness.

waiting (unsuccessfully) for manta rays to swim by

waiting (unsuccessfully) for manta rays to swim by

an underwater "selfie"

an underwater “selfie” picture, and you can see a couple of small reef sharks behind my right shoulder

Our common space. 15 cots, 15 bodies, 15 sets of stuff.

Our common space. 15 cots, 15 bodies, 15 sets of stuff.

diving with sharks

On Monday afternoon we went back to the northwestern side of the island, first returning to Vertigo and then to another site further south. Vertigo is known for its (tame) reef sharks, mostly black tip ones. At the 2nd of the two sites, one of the guides picked up a small octopus, about 1.5 – 2′ long from head to tip of one of the tentacles.  For 5 minutes we all gently played with it as it suctioned up our bare arms and “inked” us. No, I didn’t like the feel of tightly clingy tentacles on my body.  I automatically let out a loud and clear “girl” scream under the water, much to the amusement of my friends nearby.  And I can only imagine the relief of the octopus when we finally released him! He or she will be talking about the experience on their therapist’s couch for a long time.

A few of the students have underwater cameras so I’ll share some pictures.

mostly black-tip reef sharks, curious but otherwise relatively harmless to divers nearby

mostly black-tip reef sharks, curious but otherwise relatively harmless to divers nearby

We have video footage of us with the octopus but no still images.

Chris showing the camera something; I'm one of the divers in the blue above.

Chris showing the camera something; I’m one of the divers in the blue above.

Yap food stories

This health message is posted in the center of town.

This health message is posted in the center of town.

This sign pretty much sums up some of the food issues on Yap.  As on other Pacific islands, the ease of fast, prepared foods is luring many people, children and adults alike, to choose Vienna sausages, SPAM, and Pringles over a traditional native diet of taro root and fish.  Lots of sweetened cereals, sweetened breads, canned fruits in heavy syrup, sodas.  Some fruits (mangoes, papayas, pineapple, etc.) are grown on the island, plus taro, breadfruit, beans, sweet potatoes, and a bunch of leafy greens.  And lots of fish (caught nearby, not grown). But the vast majority of food is brought by  container ships, or on one of the 3 flights that lands here weekly.

We usually go out to one of the 5 local restaurants for dinner, but breakfasts and lunches we eat here at home. Tuna and ramen: cheap and easy favorites.  For something different, today I mixed a handful of raisins into my dry tuna. Yummm.

During yesterday’s dive, one of the Yapese on the boat “free dove” down to the bottom and kept bringing us fresh giant clams.  We pried them open with knives and some of us tried the delicacy, but much of the meat we brought home to share with our neighbors.  They made us up a soup with unidentifiable flavors, and we politely ate as much as we could.  A better version of  it was the coconut clam soup I had earlier in the week for dinner.

Chris cutting up fresh giant clam during our break between dives

Chris cutting up fresh giant clam during our break between dives


underwater wonders

The scariest part is sitting on the edge of the boat, one had holding on to the regulator and mask from the front of your face, the other covering the mask’s strap in the back, and at the count of three, lifting your legs and falling backwards into the water.  After that, joy.  I LOVE SCUBA DIVING!  I am now a Certified Open Water Scuba Diver.  Two dives yesterday, two today, a total of four tanks.  Yesterday was skill-practicing in an area not too far from shore. Today we crossed across a very narrow canal/channel from our east side of Yap, which is the Pacific Ocean, over to the west side, which is the Philippine Sea.  First we did the dive named “M’il Channel,” which I know by reputation is one of the most spectacular dives on Yap.  The primary objective are the manta reys, especially the females with their 6′ wing span.  We did see thousands of tropical fish of every sort, amidst abundant corals, but no manta today. Will try again next week.

The second dive blew my mind.  We went another 1/2 mile out, to the edge of the reef and the open sea.  The dive is called “vertigo.”  Things get *really* deep around here. We’re  near some of the deepest oceanic trenches in the world.  This was my deepest dive so far, down to about 60′.  But the amazing part was the tremendous clarity of the water – on a clear day, you can easily see for 150′ or more. Swimming in and around fish that I can’t even describe for their patterns and colors. AND, there are dozens of gray reef and black tip sharks hovering around. Relatively small sharks (5′ or less in length), and honestly they’re as scared of us as we are of them.  But once you fall off that boat, get your bearings, start breathing, looking around way into the clear and vast deep distance, and see about 20 sharks circling about 20-40 feet away, it’s pretty memorable.  Hope I can share a picture one of these days.

What a fantastic Mother’s Day!

last night's sunset

last night’s sunset

First few days in Yap

Almost 72 hours on Yap, or “on island” as the locals say.  We live in the city of Colonia, or technically, about ½ a mile from Colonia in a village called Worwoo.  Because nobody really lives in Colonia, it’s just a complex of small businesses, a handful of restaurants, some dive shops, a thatched information booth that I have yet to see open, two banks, and a large post office for Yap, Caroline Islands, zip code 96943.

houseOur home is a 2-room cement building, with one large open space of about 30′ x 35′, and then a kitchen off of it.  It used to be a Head Start day care, but now seems to be used by visiting groups like ours. There are 15 of us: 2 faculty from Queens, 12 students (6 men, 6 women), and myself.  We all share the one large room.  Fifteen cots, our assorted luggage and diving gear, a long plastic table and chairs, and 7 or 8 fans, placed strategically around the room with snaked extension cords stretched to inconveniently placed outlets.  All around the walls are 6’ tall windows, covered in louvers and screens. Doors lead out to a large porch that wraps around two sides of the building, and from the porch is access to a bathroom with two toilets and a shower.

The kitchen has a regular fridge/freezer, an electric hot plate with 2 burners, and counters with bags of both our “common” food and our personal food collections.  Any food item not marked with someone’s name on it is fair game, on the counter or in the fridge.  Group food is mostly breakfast items:  small bunches of native bananas that folks are bringing us, eggs, bags of fruity loops.  My current personal stock includes one box of raisins, one box of Maria cookies, two (cold, fridge) cans of milky sweet coffee, and one small watermelon.  Sharpie magic markers work on watermelons too!

Activities of Yapese Daily Life that have taken place in the last three days, in no particular order:

  • shopping for groceries, fans, magic markers, clothes line,
  • walking the 50’ across our back yard to step directly into the Pacific Ocean to snorkel (see pic of view to ocean);
  • learning to ID tropical fish that live in the waters off of our backyard;
  • watching students trying to set up  ‘chore charts’ to keep our communal household organized;
  • walking along stone pathways many centuries old;
  • several meetings with the Yapese directors of the Divisions of Marine Resources, and the Division of Land Resources, and the Division of Forestry and Agriculture, all about the different mapping projects that we begin on Monday;
  • learning to prepare, chew, and spit betel nuts (and their juice);
  • waking up at 4am to walk into “town” in order to use the entirety of Yap’s wifi capacity to upload a 12 mb file to the online class I’m currently teaching for Redlands;
  • taking 2-3 cold showers daily to soothe my sweaty body;
  • getting to know the students as we share meals, walks, meetings, outings, sleeping, etc;
  • buying a beer mug from the Stone Money Brewing Company (part of the Manta Ray Bay Hotel here), sipping a Hammerhead Amber while we sat on the top deck of an old Dutch (?) ship while watching underwater diving movies projected onto a 10’ x 15’ screen hanging from the ship’s mast.  My mug will stay safely at the ship’s bar until we’re ready to leave Yap in a few weeks, until then ready for me to enjoy drinking from it whenever I stop by (since it’s been tagged with my name, just like at our house).  The microbrewery’s motto:  drink, pee, repeat.

Today I completed the first part of my open-water scuba diving certification, learning all the steps but in a pool.  So far, so good!  I’ve mastered how to control my buoyancy with my buoyancy control device; how to share my breathing regulator with a buddy; how to clear my mask and balance my ears.  In addition to learning these skills, I’ve spent about 45 minutes “diving” so far, with a full set of scuba equipment, all underwater in a pool that’s only 6’ deep and 25’ long.  Isn’t that a scene from The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman?

Meanwhile, everyone else in the group either completed this pool part earlier in the States, or they’ve been certified divers for years.  FINALLY, tomorrow I join them for my first open-water dive in the ocean.  Still, it’s all been great fun so far.  And as the Yapese say, “lo wiki wangin.”  Which means “better than nothing.”

one of the original public "highways" that stretch across parts of the island.

one of the original public “highways” that stretch across parts of the island.

abundant vegetation


the sunrise view from our back porch


innovative students manage to hang multiple stories of hammocks