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Published: October 14th 2012
A toast to where, what, who??? To Pohnpei, a small island located about 7 degrees
north of the equator on the far east side of the Micronesian Islands in the southern Pacific ocean. Tropical, remote, serene. But why on earth would anyone, other than the native Pohnpeians, spend the bucks and the time required to get to this out of the way place that doesn’t even have a white sandy beach to boast of? In the short 8 days which we spent in this beautiful place, we encountered not a single other tourist. We did; however, discover at least 10 different reasons, other than tourism, that people will journey from their home comfort zone and endure the hardship of working in this tropical destination:
1. US Department of Health and Human Services grant assistance: “We are working with the Ponapeian people to assure that they are using their grant monies, particularly in the area of AIDS and STD education, effectively.”
2. Peace Corps: The toughest job you’ll ever love. 2 years, living local, assigned to assist teachers in a remote hot and humid rainforest elementary/middle school. Imagine working 9 months immersed into a different culture and geographic region before
The best dining table in Micronesia
One night we dined out in the little stilted gazebo. Stars, breeze, fresh fish, cushioned comfort, warm friendly service - what a nice memory.
having your first vacation.
3. Green Peace: This is a really hard job to influence members of the Tuna Commission at their global meeting to consider sustainable fishing methods. “It’s not that we don’t want people to eat fish. We all want the same thing.”
4. Bank auditors – no explanation needed.
5. Australian disaster relief and eco environmental services: “We’re here to train the people how to live with the effects of global warming.” E.g., contaminated fresh water supply and increased salinity of water supply. Yes, global warming is legitimate and it’s time to acknowledge and prepare.
6. Cardiac surgeries volunteer team from L.A., CA doing testing and non-surgical care. “In 1 week, we see approximately 90 kids with cardiac issues. Unfortunately, due to cost, only 1 or 2 of our patients will be able to travel to have cardiac surgery. “ “Sometimes when I am back in California working, I’m restless and it almost seems wasting my time considering the great extent of needs here.”
7. Representatives from US Congress: Pohnpei receives US aid and it is their job to view the use of those funds first hand and meet those responsible for
its proper use. Matt thinks they’re CIA.
8. US Coast Guard search and rescue team out of Hawaii: Pohnpei is within the zone of search and rescue coverage for this team and they are working to establish face to face communications with the Pohnpei rescue teams and coordinate efforts.
9. Divers. This is one of the top dive locations in the world.
10. Water sampling and studies specialists from Hawaii. Glad it wasn’t until AFTER we swam in that waterfall that they warned us of the unsanitary contaminant level in the water – it was really a fun swim!
11. American GSA departmental meeting. 😊 NOT! Just checking to see if you’re still reading…..
Ok, so there are lots of non-tourism related reasons to land on this island state, but we discovered that for those who are willing to explore a bit, Pohnpei can truly be a trek back to a way of life reminiscent of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Bali Hai. Volcanic, often covered with misty clouds, waterfalls, rainforest climate, plants with leaves the size of a dining room table, striations of hues of aqua blue in the surrounding ocean water and big
Beautiful, distinctive falls under which we swam and felt the power of the strong current and the rushing water on our heads. Our amazing guide, Ward, takes a poetic leap.
skies, happy frolicking children, and large, gentle mamas in flowered dresses. Where the sky meets the sea, here am I, your special island, come to me, come to me.
Our experience surely would not have felt as authentic had it not been for the gracious proprietors of our eco-resort, The Village. A mere 20 thatched huts perched onto a densely forested ocean side hill compose this truly Pohnpeian accommodation. Each hut is raised on stilts and contains simple amenities like a ceiling fan, attached bathroom/shower facilities, and double queen sized waterbeds shrouded by mosquito netting. Open screened sides permit ample breezes AND during high wind and rain, lots of moisture to enter the large mahogany floored room. Indeed, our late first night arrival in a tropical depression caused us more than a bit of angst as the winds howled, shadowed palm trees swayed, and heavy rain mist soaked our bed covers. But oh, the reverberations of bird sounds echoing through the surrounding forest and the spectacular scene of distant islands perched atop expansive ocean that greeted us in the morning! Life is easy going here. Without rigidity and formality, the family owners of the Village opened up
their world of adventurous, gentle, and hospitable Pohnpei. Mother Nature herself set our daily activities. Consult the tidal charts, surmise the direction of the distant patches of rain, and coordinate with a handful of other guests to plan the best day for a waterfall trek, snorkel on a distant reef, tour mysterious ancient ruins, or kayak through the mangroves.
Now, here I am in Guam airport, 8 days after arriving in Pohnpei, awaiting boarding of our return flight to Seoul. My insides still sway a bit from the ocean cadence, I still can taste the fresh tuna bento box lunches and soursop smoothies and still remember trodding over gigantic leaves as toads and lizards scurry aside on the rocky pathway to our hut. The sounds of the constant pounding waves on the distant reef and tick tock pitter patter drips off the big rainforest leaves are still fresh in my memory. To the many many smiles which greeted me as I explored this island, I raise my toast of coconut milk with gratitude.
So ends yet another journey for Matt and me during our time of living in Asia. We haven’t yet repeated a
Racing home at sunset with J, our guide, riding honeycomb style on the double motors.
travel destination and, at least as far as I’m concerned, still have barely scratched the surface of interesting places to visit. Soon we will be saying “Seoul long” to Korea and on to more, should I say, domestic adventures. So, enjoy this “last hurrah” island escape with us through our many colorful photos. And if you find that you too hear the calling, schedule a sojourn, or perhaps a job related conference, to come away, come away.
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