24 March 2009 | Yap
Hideko made us some French toast for breakfast on the boat and shortly thereafter we headed out for a harbor tour in the dink. We stopped by Whistler to pick up Julie, Eric stayed back to take care of some boat business.
The harbor has lots of wrecks hidden below the surface. We worked out way over to the south shore of the3 harbor but had to stand off a bit due to a rusting hulk just under the surface about 50 feet off shore. We motored under the bridge into the inner harbor past the fuel depot. This area has a dive shop and a couple of motels mixed in with the mangroves.
We moved inland farther under another bridge where we all had to crouch down in the bottom of the boat to make it under. This put us in the mangrove swamp. The outer area has some local houses on the shore and reminded me of a Louisiana bayou. We motored back into the mangroves with the engine tilted up as far as we could and then once in the mud I poled us back out with a paddle. The mangroves make the water so dark you have no idea how deep the water is, one inch an one fathom looks the same.
Back in the yacht anchorage we came out around the reef running off the fishing port point and into the main commercial harbor. There's a big freighter cracked up on the shore just past the cargo ship quay, and farther along you'll find a 100' traditional looking double masted trader moored stern too the Manta Hotel. This is their restaurant and bar.
We tied up on the wall with the hotel's permission and made our way up to the top deck on the Bar/Schooner. The Manta is the center of tourism in Yap as far as I can tell. They look to be the nicest hotel, they have the largest dive shop, Yap Divers, and they have the most popular bar. The best thing about the shipboard bar is that they brew their own beer. They make a nice dark and a good blonde, you can certainly taste the freshness. A Swiss guy is the Brewmaster (maybe he's from the German side).
As we contemplated our orientation to Yap plan over a few beers we discovered that the hotel was running a cultural tour at 4PM. Sign us up! They did. So off we went in the hotel's bus to the stone path entrance.
Yap has an interesting history. The island had a lot of internal struggle in the olden days among the different tribes. The Spanish had some dealings with the local people in the early days of the West's discovery of Micronesia. The Germans were the first to make a lasting impression however. The Germans organized things ashore and got the people of the four principal Yap islands cooperating. They then built stone roads (really small paths) around the entire island. These stone paths have become an ingrained part of the islands cultural makeup, connecting villages and establishing new protocols.
The Japanese took over during WWI and relinquished control to the Americans after WWII, though fortunately for the Yapese there were no big battles on Yap. Some of the stone paths have been paved over since they were typically made over the easiest ground to transit but many stretches of the path still exist.
The bit we walked along made stops in various places. The fist was a rest stop. It is a large shaded area where coconuts and other nourishing plants are kept growing so that travelers can rest and get something to drink and eat.
The second stop was a Women's House, or Menstruation House. This house is outside of the village and is the designated place for menstruating women to go. Girls learn how to cook, plant crops and other women's work while at the house.
Out next stop was at a large taro patch. Taro, kind of like a potato, is a key staple for the Yapese. After a nice walk on the stone path we made our way to the Kadai Village. The Yapese in the village still live in the traditional way, fishing and farming. They have lots of stone money positioned around the entrance to the village. A large leaf meeting house is the center piece of the village.
The villagers are available for questions and they put on a nice dance show as well. You can buy arts and crafts and they provide everyone with coconuts to drink. The highlight is watching a young man climb about 60 feet straight up a thin pole like tree to fetch Beetle nut. They let us try some. Ug.
The traditional Beetle nut preparation involves splitting the nut in half (with your teeth of course) and then coating it with lime. I thought it was a lime fruit they were using. Oh no. It is lime stone. They take fresh Staghorn coral from the reef, crush it up and sprinkle the powder on the Beetle nut. Then you wrap the whole thing in pepper leaf and chew it for a few hours.
This sedates you, numbs your mouth, turns your spit into a virile red substance that will stain anything (including your teeth, gums and cloths), and causes you to want to vomit if you're new to the whole process. What's not to like? Most Yapese chew (women as much as men) and it is addictive so if Beetle nut is not in season they may even chew coconut husk just to stave off the cravings.
After a great time at the village we retired to the Oasis for dinner where Eric joined us. This is a small, quaint restaurant just across and down a bit from the Manta Hotel. They have pretty good food at a reasonable price. It was a nice end to a fun day on Yap.