Mi­crone­sia: Scenic is­land-hop­ping and a les­son in let­ting go

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Life - By NI­COLE EVATT AP PHO­TOS

POHNPEI STATE, Mi­crone­sia — I’m pan­icked and soaked as smil­ing lo­cals fish me out of the bay on the is­land of Pohnpei in Mi­crone­sia. “Trip of a life­time”, I sar­cas­ti­cally thought as we made our way back to land with an up­side-down kayak, our cam­eras and cell­phone ruined.

How did I end up drenched, emo­tion­ally drained and out a few thou­sand dol­lars in elec­tron­ics in this re­mote is­land na­tion, one might ask? More im­por­tantly, here’s why it was to­tally worth it.

Ma­juro

My hus­band and I trav­eled to Mi­crone­sia on United’s Is­land Hop­per route from Honolulu to Guam. First stop, four and a half hours from Hawaii: Ma­juro, a coral atoll in the Repub­lic of the Mar­shall Is­lands.

We shopped for gro­ceries for a stay on a nearby pri­vate is­land but ended up mostly with items like pasta and ce­real; fresh pro­duce was scarce and over­priced. Af­ter a 30-minute boat ride to Eneko Is­land, we spent a few days com­pletely alone, kayak­ing and chas­ing col­or­ful fish through turquoise wa­ter. Evenings of­fered breath­tak­ing sun­sets, stargaz­ing and cook­ing our car­bo­hy­drate-rich meals.

High­lights of Ma­juro in­cluded the tiny Alele Mu­seum fea­tur­ing Mar­shallese folk art, his­tory and stick charts used for nau­ti­cal nav­i­ga­tion.

Hand­i­craft stores down­town sell in­tri­cately tra­di­tional wo­ven bas­kets and bags. Ho­tel Robert Reimers of­fers de­cent restau­rant and ac­com­modawas The thin strip of coral atolls sep­a­rates the ocean from the la­goon in Ma­juro, Mar­shall Is­lands. city of Kolo­nia in Mi­crone­sia. The skirts are a fash­ion sta­ple through­out the is­land. tion start­ing from $45.

For a pam­pered va­ca­tion, the pri­vate Bik­endrik Is­land of­fers two charm­ing bun­ga­lows stocked with co­gnac and Grand Marnier, three­course meals and oc­ca­sional vis­its from the la­goon pet, Os­car the oc­to­pus. Rates start at $570.

Pohnpei

A short flight west took us to Pohnpei, a lush, moun­tain­ous is­land and one of four states mak­ing up the Fed­er­ated States of Mi­crone­sia.

Pohnpei’s cap­i­tal, Kolo­nia, has sou­venir shops, rem­nants of a his­toric Span­ish wall and a help­ful tourism of­fice. Don’t leave with­out a col­or­ful flo­ral skirt, an is­land fash­ion sta­ple.

An hour’s drive took us to Pohnpei’s crown jewel: the an­cient city of Nan Madol. Pic­ture 13th-cen­tury ru­ins ri­val­ing the splen­dor and lore of Cam­bo­dia’s Angkor Wat or Peru’s Machu Pic­chu, mi­nus the crowds. As with most of this trip, we were the only tourists.

Kepirohi Wa­ter­fall is a gor­geous cas­cad­ing pyra­mid near Nan Madol. A hard-to-spot sign on Cir­cle Is­land road marks a turn-off where you pay a $3 en­trance fee.

The wa­ter­front Man­grove Bay Ho­tel has scenic views and a restau­rant serv­ing ex­clu­sively sushi and chicken wings. The on­site Pohnpei Surf Club can ar­range wa­ter ex­cur­sions and guided tours of Nan Madol.

To reach some of the 100-plus man-made islets, you can pay lo­cal fam­i­lies a few dol­lars per per­son to cross their land. But we opted to nav­i­gate Nan Madol’s shal­low chan­nels by kayak. Af­ter wind­ing through dense man­groves for about 30 min­utes, the dark, twisty jun­gle opened out into the vast, clear-blue ocean. Mas­sive shad­ows darted around our wob­bling ves­sel — st­ingrays from a nearby sanc­tu­ary.

At this point, I no­ticed the kayak inch­ing lower into the sea. But we were by then an hour from the marine in­sti­tute that runs the small boat rental busi­ness. We had no choice but to carry on.

On shore we found walls of stacked basalt col­umns, an en­gi­neer­ing feat still shrouded in mys­tery. We traipsed through me­galithic ru­ins by foot for a few hours be­fore start­ing our doomed re­turn to civ­i­liza­tion. The hull of our punc­tured kayak was slowly flood­ing.

My panic grew ex­po­nen­tially af­ter nearly cap­siz­ing a few times. My hus­band pad­dled gen­tly as I clutched the phone, drone and fancy cam­era we pur­chased a few days ear­lier.

The wa­ter was calm and we are both fine swim­mers. But I was up­set: This was not the plan.

With the dock in sight, the boat’s sway be­came un­man­age­able. In the blink of an eye, we were un­der­wa­ter.

Chuuk

If Pohnpei was an ex­er­cise in rolling with the punches, Chuuk State was a mas­ter class in re­lin­quish­ing con­trol.

An­other hour on the Is­land Hop­per gets you to this large atoll known for world-class wreck div­ing. The US sank more than 50 Ja­panese ships here dur­ing World War II and most re­main pre­served in its shal­low la­goon.

None of our stops of­fered much tourist in­fra­struc­ture, but Chuuk the most chal­leng­ing. The hand­ful of tour com­pa­nies claimed to be fully booked. The ho­tel had lost our reser­va­tion. We couldn’t get an­swers to ques­tions like “can we take this tour?” or “do you have a ho­tel shut­tle?” In­fre­quent taxis stopped run­ning at 5 pm.

I quickly re­al­ized you have to show up in per­son and keep ask­ing un­til you get what you need. When we fi­nally reached the Blue La­goon Re­sort dive shop, the pre­vi­ously unavail­able wreck trips were mirac­u­lously avail­able and, it turned out, well worth the ef­fort.

Chuuk’s un­der­wa­ter world is sim­ply in­cred­i­ble. We swam through mas­sive schools of trop­i­cal fish to find a sunken Momi-class de­stroyer and coral-en­crusted cargo ship.

There’s plenty for non-divers to see, too, like a downed Mit­subishi Zero fighter and a 1937 coastal freighter nearly 3 me­ters down. We spent an af­ter­noon on the pri­vate Jeep Is­land with un­be­liev­able coral reef snor­kel­ing and shark spot­ting.

The air­port-ad­ja­cent L5 Ho­tel of­fers the new­est ac­com­mo­da­tion, but the Blue La­goon and Truk Stop Ho­tel are the best bets for ar­rang­ing wreck tours.

As we boarded the plane for our fi­nal stop in Guam, sun­burnt and still reel­ing from our ad­ven­tures, my boat-flip­ping hys­te­ria was a dis­tant mem­ory.

It was a small price to pay for an unplugged, truly un­pre­dictable jour­ney and a much-needed les­son in let­ting go.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

From top: An ae­rial view of a hy­dro-elec­tric power plant in the Tianmu moun­tain range; mist cov­ers Mo­gan Moun­tain in the early morn­ing; Naked Cas­tle com­mands spec­tac­u­lar views of the land­scape.

Left:

Right: Col­or­ful flo­ral skirts are for sale in Pohnpei’s cap­i­tal

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