Weno Island Tour
09 February 2009 | Chuuk Lagoon
We took a tour of Weno, the island capital of Chuuk State today. It was an eye opener. The trip was arranged by the Truk Stop Hotel in town, and a driver came to pick us up at the Blue Lagoon at 9AM for our three hour excursion.
The van was pretty beat up. I can live with beat up, but I mean really beat up. No air conditioning, which is ok, we're sailors, but the windows didn't open much and fumes wafted through the interior regularly. Not the clean island air you hope for when exploring an out of the way place. We had lots of room though and it got us down the road.
Speaking of roads, the roads on Weno are so absolutely damaged that after a heavy few days of rain, such as we've had, the pot holes turn into lakes. There are no side walks and there are places you literally could not get through on foot without wading. The one road that runs along the west side of Weno is self regulating at speeds of 15mph or less.
After quite a long while we reached the Truk Stop Hotel. This is more of a motel really. It is the nicest place in town, the Blue Lagoon being the nicest place on the island. There is nowhere else that I know of to stay other than the live aboard dive boats (which might be the best choice if you're a diver).
After checking in at the Truk Stop we set off on our tour. There were three stops and not a lot of liner notes to go with them. We first stopped at the Japanese memorial to the honored dead from WWII. This memorial was nice but not in a great location. In fact, on Weno, there are not many nice locations.
Our next stop was ad hoc. As we were driving along the coastal (only) road to the road that goes up to the cave with the big Japanese gun in it we noticed a terrible sight. You get used to trash all over the place here in Chuuk. On the sides of the street, piled up in the bushes, there's garbage everywhere. There are also wrecks in the shallows of fishing boats, old freighters, skiffs and all other manner of craft. You'd need to be really careful in shallow water here.
There are also wrecks on land. There are perhaps as many cars sitting on rims or just rolled into the bush here as there are operating. Many of those operating should be rolled into the bush.
The thing that really blew all of us away was a sight we came upon in a little quaint bay with a community along the edge and a few little fishing skiffs out in the shallows. The fore shore of the area and the waterline and the first 10 feet of bay was totally buried in trash. Garbage of all sorts, but particularly floating plastic and other very persistent debris. It was only a progressive escalation from the other miscellaneous dumps we had run across but it was still perhaps the worst example of pollution I have personally borne witness to.
On the way up to the cave with the Japanese gun in it we had to stop at a shop to pick up the son of the land owner, whom we paid $5 a person. The fee is a little excessive to start but if you don't pick up the kid, the hoodlums up at the cave will charge you even more. Our driver wouldn't leave the van because we had bags in it and he didn't want them to get stolen. If you are getting a poor impression of Chuuk from my description, I must sadly confirm your assessment.
The gun was awesome and what it represented alone was worth the visit. The ghosts of an era long gone play about such things. The cave was hewn out of solid rock and you can only imagine the toil in the tropical heat necessary to create such a thing.
Our third and final stop was the Xavier High School. The school is interesting in itself, but it bears the historical significance of being one of the Japanese radio posts during WWII. Chuuk was Japan's primary forward naval facility during WWII and thousands of troops were stationed in the islands here. There was a sea plane base, many airstrips, repair facilities and lots of protected anchorage space. The orders to attack Pearl Harbor even came through Chuuk.
From the roof of the Japanese administrative building, come Catholic High School, one can see some wonderful vistas out over the lagoon and her little islands. The school itself is an important resource in the islands. There are not many high schools and I have met few people who went beyond 8th grade. Of the several hundred tested to enter 9th grade at Xavier, only 40-50 are admitted. The school charges $1,100 per year for live in students but this is far from enough to pay for the expenses. The balance is made up with charity.
If there's one thing I think the people of Chuuk need, it is more education and more schools. If the US stopped sending its $50 million per year to support the country I'm not sure what would happen. Perhaps we should, then all the cars, outboards and plastic imports would go away over time and people would go back to sustainable leaf huts and fishing. If not, someone really needs to get in here and do an assessment of how the cash is being spent because there is no rule of law, terrible pollution, atrocious public works and no schools to speak of. It seems with $50 million a year there should be quite a bit more infrastructure. Corruption is rumored to be rampant and I can see no other excuse for the conditions given the top level funding.
Hideko met a Japanese guy who was working at the school as a teacher. He is part of the Japanese equivalent of the Peace Corp. We have run across many of these noble souls in the Pacific. We had a great talk with him and he showed us some amazing wreck maps that kids from the school had made using scuba gear.
Our tour almost halted at the school as our van would no longer go in reverse and we were parked such that going forward would plow us into a school bus. Finally some kids helped us move the van back enough that we could forward our way out. It was for naught though because after a short stop at the telecom office to top up on internet cards, forward went out too. We had though to visit a fourth sight, the Japanese light house from WWII but the tour ended abruptly.
We flagged down a guy with the SDA in a big truck who was kind enough to give us a ride back to the Truk Stop. We had a nice lunch at the Truck Stop's Hard Wreck café and talked over our eclectic day.