Saturday, January 03, 2009
Chuuk would have been my favorite stop on my trip to FSM if I were a wreck diver. The chuuk lagoon is the final resting place for over 100 Japanese WW2 Ships and 270 Japanese planes. Unfortunately, submerged garbage creeps me out, especially when it represents such tragic loss of life. I prefer to stay at the top and look at the fish through my snorkel, thanks!
I arrived at Chuuk International Airport at Weno on New Year's Day (afternoon) to alot of happy clanging and banging on pots and pans and old metal pipes and shouting Happy New Year to everyone they encounter. The percussion ensembles have played almost continuously for the 2 days I've been here. It's a Chuukese New Year's tradition, I'm told. Wow, they're really into it!
I decided to stay just out of town at the Kurassa Hotel at the suggestion of Rensily, a Chuukese teacher colleage of mine at CMI. The hotel is a family business run by the family of a former student of mine who is now studying at University of Hawaii. When I arrived all the local businesses were closed for the holiday and windows were covered with plywood as if a hurricane were on its way. Actually, the hurricane they were anticipating was the throngs of young percussion bangers who might be inclined to bang on nearby shop windows in their New Years excitement.
Since everything was closed, I decided that it was a good afternoon for a hike out to a small waterfall. Weno is not as tall as Pohnpei or Kosrae, but it is much taller than Majuro (which isn't saying much! Majuro is only 20 feet elevation at the highest point). I started walking along the road away from town (basically there is just one road that runs around the perimeter of the island (except down the east side it is only traverseable on foot). Like Pohnpei and Kosrae, Chuuk is amazingly green and beautiful, as long as you keep looking up at the hills. But once you look down there is garbage strewn along most of the road and lagoon and the road is filled with gigantic potholes. Seriously, I found potholes in town that are about 6 carlengths long! (see photo). Perhaps it is the Chuukese way of forcing drivers (and walkers!) to slow down a bit. Anyway, on the road toward the waterfall a pickup truck stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I agreed and hopped in to the passenger side to find out that the driver, who told me his name was "Marvin the Martian" was still quite drunk from the New Years reveling the previous night. I was very grateful for the potholes because they prevented him from driving faster than 5 miles per hour. He dropped me off next to a catholic church and told me that the nuns would take care of me. I thanked him and kept walking toward Peniesene, the villiage with the waterfall. As I neared the villiage it started raining and a local family invited me to wait it out with them under their outdoor tent. The nice guy who called me over explained that he was the assistant attourney general in Chuuk state and asked about my stay in Chuuk. When the rain stopped, he asked his three teenage cousins to accompany me to the waterfall. They didn't speak much English, but we had small conversations. Again, it's so frustrating that all my study and practicing Marshallese is good for nothing here in FSM.
The waterfall was small but nice, and the girls LOVED that I was willing to take photos of them all over the place (digital cameras are great!!) I was hoping to swim at the base of the falls, but the water was not very clean looking, so I opted not too. I'm glad they came with me because otherwise I never would have found the place and I would have had to walk through a bunch of people's back yards without permission by myself. I guess they don't get that many foreigners out that direction, so I created quite a scene. Sometimes I wish I were not so pale so that I could fit in a little easier.
While walking back, a car stopped and the lady inside asked me if I'd like a ride toward town. Diana grew up in Chuuk but her husband joined the US military and as a result she has lived in California for many years. Even her children, now grown, have never seen Chuuk. It was her first visit back for the holidays in a long time. She was very kind and dropped me at my hotel and I cleaned up and enjoyed a peaceful night while listening to gangs of people outside the hotel still banging away on thier instruments.
The next day I checked out town (the opposite direction). There is not much to it. I decided to start by going to the Chuuk Ethnographic exhibition to explore Chuukese culture a little. I walked all the way through town and never found it. The people where it used to be were very friendly and informed me that the visitor's bureau had relocated to the south side of town. When I got there, the visitor's bureau was closed and no one in the vacinity knew what had happened to the ethnographic center. Even the hotels in the area didn't know what it was. A government official I met at lunch informed me that the Chuuk historical preservation society had relocated to the North side of town. In order to get there I had to re-traverse the same main road and the ginormous pothole muddy lakes that stretched across the width of the road. After hiking all the way back up north, I found the building only to discover that they too were still closed (this is January 2nd people!!) My tourist handbook said that outer islanders come in to sell tropical fruits (such as mangos and pineapples) by the dock but all I found there were bananas and rolls. Good enough for me. I bought some and headed back to the hotel to ask about snorkeling sites. There must be some place local, I thought. Nope...it's surprising, but islanders don't really swim that often! The young many I asked at the front desk told me I could call a dive company, but I was looking for something a little less formal than that. I gave up on sight seeing and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and sleeping.
After 1.5 days in Chuuk I was very, very glad that I only booked 2 days there. The people here are wonderfully nice and the scenery is great, but there just isn't much to it unless you like diving WW2 wrecks, or have enough time to go to Outer Islands. Wish that I did! Next destination was Yap via Guam. I hear that Yap has amazing marine life, and I'm determined that I'll get into the water there and perhaps find some manta rays (Yap is famous for them). This whole experience has really helped me to realize the great potential tourism opportunities in my own place on Majuro and take advantage of them. For example, I've never gone to visit the Alele Museum of Marshallese History and Culture. And also there are amazing relics of WW2 on several of the outer Marshall Islands. This has inspired me with the idea to set up a trip to Mili Atoll for Spring Break. More from Yap and Palau Later...