Yap, Micronesia

The country Micronesia is a group of 4 main islands, Kosrae, Chuuk/Truk, Pohnpei, and Yap, and are still sometimes referred to as the Caroline islands. They are not atolls, but actual islands, the Jurrasic park kind of islands, tall and big and lush, spread out long and far between Palau and the Marshall islands. The only way to get to these islands is with United Airlines, who has a complete monopoly on Micronesia, and only connects them with cumbersome little island hopper flights. So, if you want to go from Majuro, Marshall Islands, to Palau, like I did, I had to stop at every Micronesian airport, except Yap (which came after Palau). The only thing I knew about Yap before going was that they used to (and still today) use stone money from Palau to settle disputes and mark wealth. The bigger the stone, and the more men whose lives were lost at sea bringing it back to Yap, the more its worth.

a traditional Yapese house and some stone money around it

a traditional Yapese house and some stone money around it

Yap was a pleasant surprise, maybe my favourite Micronesian island, but the one I spent least time on. Because of the United flight schedule of only one flight a week in each direction, I could stay 3 or 10 days, and being this close to the end of a 6 month trip means I dont have much choice other than rushing through 3 days. I magically found a couchsurfer, the first one since Samoa 6 islands ago, at the very last minute, and this guy Graham was one of only 9 profiles, and randomly studied in Isafjordur, Iceland, for his masters degree three years ago. What an awesome coincidence, except that we probably spent more time talking about Iceland than Yap, but I still got so much more out of Yap in 3 days because of him.

slaughtering lunch

slaughtering lunch

He lived in Tomil village, with a local family and all their Philippino workers (the owner ran a construction business), so it was like living in a village within a village. I arrived in the middle of the night my first day, and we sat up drinking rum and eating smoked fish with our fingers until I succumbed to a food coma in the little blue treehouse that was my ‘couch.’ The next morning I woke up to the sound of pig squeals, which continued for a few minutes until the Philippino’s finally had her tied down well enough to slit her throat. She was then roasted in a sealed oven of burning coals and served for lunch, including pigs head bits soaked in pig blood – which happens to taste much better than it sounds.

the beach house in Maap

the beach house in Maap

The food kept up to this standard throughout my stay, with boiled crayfish dinners and midnight snacks of fish soup. I only ate at 2 restaurants – Oasis, which felt kind of like an Irish pub meets pirate tavern, where I had a super American-styled burger and fries, and once at Village View Hotel up north in Maap, where the okonomiyaki was better than I’d had in Japan (its like a pizza with en egg/potato pancakey crust instead of dough).

the women prepare for their sitting dance

the women prepare for their sitting dance

Graham took me to Maap because him and his friends share a beach house there. It was a tiny shack on stilts, with electricity run over on an extension chord from the neighbours. There was no toilet but a shower, but of course the sea served both purposes just fine. I only wish I could have stayed there for 3 more days, since it felt like the type of place you would automatically fall into meditation just from being there, totally alone and relaxed without a care in the world.

photo 4

practicing for Yap day

But luckily I also spent some time in Graham’s village, where upcoming Yap day (March 1st) sent every man, woman and child into preparation for dances, costume making, or more pig slaughters. We went around the villages to watch some of the dance practices, and the women’s sitting dance was so touching. It was a line of nearly 30 topless women, ranging from 2-60 years old, wearing beautiful bark skirts, green leaves and colourful headresses. They sang these sweet and somber songs while sitting cross legged and dancing with their arms and heads, and watching them gave me goosebumps. The men’s dance was a little more commanding (and had twice the number of men), erotic even (their skirt is tied and hung to resemble a big ball and penis), as they thrust their hips around and yelled staccato words at the tops of their lungs. The mixed dance was the most technical one, when men and women of different heights, ages and skill danced together with bamboo sticks, synchronizing their dancing and singing with hitting their sticks together. Graham participated in the men’s dance, the only white guy, but they cover their bodies in tumeric-infused coconut oil so everyone just looked really yellow and greasy from far away.

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