Published: March 16th 2008March 16th 2008
Think about your first imaginings of a romantic Pacific island and you are probably seeing Yap. It lies low in the water, surrounded by a reef and lagoon. It is not dramatic like Hawaii or Bora Bora but it so natural and beautiful it’s like you are Robinson Caruso landing on a deserted island.
The island is part of The Federated States of Micronesia, a republic, but legislative decisions must be approved by the tribal chiefs, there are fourteen, and by the head chief. Movements to open the islands to development have so far been resisted by the Chiefs. Only the Yapese can own land. Our guide who was born here but to parents from Palau cannot own land or fish the waters off someone else’s land. If he wants to fish, he goes with a friend who is Yapese.
The main town is small with a few stores and markets, a couple of tiny hotels, dive shops and the pier. It is very, very clean. Trash finds it’s way to the trash barrels. There is no rubbish around at all.
Most Yapese still dress traditionally. The men wear a combination of loincloths and lava lavas. The women are bare breasted and wear long skirts. Bare thighs are considered provocative and unseemly.
Villages are scattered around the islands. Each village has a man’s house and a women’s house as well as a community center. Traditions are passed down to the children at the houses and the center host tribal councils and other community meetings.
The lagoon surrounding the islands is a patchwork of greens and blues, every hue and shade from aquamarine to cobalt blue with every shade in between. Looking from the reef to the islands I saw patches of every color blue and blue green imaginable.
Mangroves surround the islands and they provide a sheltered nursery for marine life. The buildings are low, no skyscrapers here, and blend into the vegetation. Many of the buildings are traditional. The Yapese speak English as well as their native dialects. Our guide Gordon was fluent made jokes and understood our slang.
There is a tradition of stone money in Yap. Round stones of all sizes, Yapese rai, can be found around the island with the larger the more valuable. The smallest weigh almost a ton and the larger coins are more than 12’ in diameter. No one can rob the bank here! This money is used in traditional ways like for bride dowries. US dollars are used for commercial transactions.
My morning snorkel was through a canal dredged by the Germans through the mangrove to the area called Goofnuw Channel (Valley of the Rays). The divers saw mantas but the snorkelers had to be content with teeny, tiny, versions of common reef fish. Baby wrasse and Moorish Idols, butterfly fish and surgeons swam in a lovely coral garden.
From there we rode back through the canal and into Mi’l Channel (Manta Ray Bay). We entered the water near the reef and drifted nearly into the shipping channel before we re-boarded the boat. The current was very strong and when I tried to swim against it for kicks, I couldn’t make any headway at all. Once away from the reef, the bottom was mainly sea grass with small coral heads but as I neared the channel I began to float over a beautiful coral garden. The fish were still small but very abundant and the coral we healthy and beautiful. I saw giant cobalt blue starfish and a vivid lavender-purple coral both unfamiliar to me but no rays, sharks, barracudas or parrotfish. The water was 86 degrees. This is one island I would love to see again and explore in detail.
We are rocking and rolling today. One lady fell coming out of the theater. I hold on to the rails whenever I walk about and if the pool were larger I could body surf.