Kosrae, Micronesia

Intro

mapThis is a part of our 1½ months trip around the world in the winter of 2011 - visiting Baltimore [USA], Hawaii, Marshall Islands, Kosrae [Micronesia], Guam [USA], Saipan [Northern Marianas, USA], Palau, South Korea and Taiwan. We are Birgitte and Erik with our two children (5 and 7) - Johanne and Anders.

Continued from the Marshall Islands


Tuesday 22.2 Kosrae, Micronesia

Kosrae. A lush and green island with high ‘mountains’ in the middle of the island. Similar to places like Bora Bora. We were the only tourists getting off the plane today together with 12 local. Mark from our hotel, Pacific Treelodge was waiting for us. He was hot happy with the tourist business – you were the only tourists on the plane? And Continental just cut back from 6 flights a week to 4 flights (two from each direction), and there are no other airlines servicing the island. February used to be a busy month, but there are no one now. We are the only guests at the moment. The drive to the Treelodge was not long – kind of a small island. But the change in humidity was stunning. Had not thought so much about it in Majuro. Treelodge was the first place we booked, since we were quite sure it was the place we wanted to stay. It was 110$ per night for the family.

At the Treelodge we opted for a quiet afternoon with a beach visit. It was low tide when we arrived, but high tide later. The Bully restaurant is a near perfect restaurant. Great food and a place to meet both for westerners on the island and tourists. Tuesday is Movie night where they showed Angels and Demons. You enter it through one of two pathways through a swamp and it has views over backwaters and the interior of the island. An idyllic place. The hotel room is also fine with a small kitchenette and a bedroom. We decided to make breakfast our selves though the prices are ok here. We visited a couple of stores and the selection is even smaller than in the Marshalls. I tried for a couple of hours to upload to travelblog, but it timed out or disconnected many times. Mark laughed and said this was as always on this island.

sleeping ladykosrae
mangrovebullys

Wednesday 23.2 Kosrae

After breakfast and a slow morning, we took a taxi to the Lelu ruins. ‘Widely considered a wonder of the ancient world’. Big words. The ruins date back to 1400-1800 and is now mostly walls (compared to the inca walls, though not, but well done). There are some small pyramids of stone where the kings were displayed and then left to rot inside. The bones were then later removed and put in the ‘blue hole’ in the water just off the course way to Lelu island. Lelu island was the place for kings and noble men and the commoners had to deliver food to here. There is a hill on the island where the Japanese dug in during the war, but the hill was too steep and difficult for our children. Returning we wanted to see the clam farm (they cultivate big clams up to 3 meters and also corals and fish), but we first entered a wrong place which was a crab farm. Much of the big crabs on the island has been depleted – probably because of harvesting, so now they try to cultivate them. It was a Filipino in charge and he said it was still government founded but would probably be sold if it had success.

I talked with Mark about this the next day and he had another version of the story. Nothing had been exported yet, and it seemed that all crabs died in the process. But it was still being funded by the government.

Blue holelelu
Lelufamily tombLelu church
car1car 2coconut smashed front shield

Thursday 24.2 – Kosrae

Treelodge has some sea kayaks and we took them out for a morning paddle. Much of the island consists of the interior, then a backwater swamp that floods by high tide. Next is another strip of land where the road goes around the island. A shallow sea is enclosed by a coral reef. So the Bully’s – the restaurant is next to the backwater and we started from there. Johanne with me and Anders with Birgitte. It was high tide going low tide, so we started north against the current and you could actually go quite far. There were birds but not so much else animal life. The scenery reminded me of Chang Mai with slow rivers and tree covered hills. We saw no one on the trip, though the road would not be far from the backwater. The children used the net, but caught nothing but garbage. Actually a lot of garbage was floating here. It is one of the things that is not so nice here – garbage everywhere. It is amazing how many rubber sandals that can be found on a single path. Another ‘garbage’ thing is cars. Every house has 1-10 old cars put up around the house. None of them has wheels and is missing several other parts – it definitely cannot work. It is really ugly and they should find a place where they need some land filling.

Next we floated sea-way and a bit further than Bully’s. Here the lagoon narrowed in to pass a bridge and that went fast so we decided to go back. We hardly could and we paddled like crazy to get back pass the bridge.

After lunch Erik and Anders went to the Blue Hole to snorkel. Here at the beginning of the trip, Anders liked places where he could stand and wait for the fish to approach and he still saw a lot. The hole really drops down and here by low tide the visibility was not that good. But millions of small (3 cm) fish around the corals. Mark told me later that I should go out beyond the hole, behind the small island – last time he had seen a dozen sting rays there, trapped behind the reef.  

Thursday is Sunset Cruise day at Treelodge. Mark took us to the harbor where 4 others were joining us. The box was packed with fresh yellow fin tuna sashimi (from this morning), spring rolls and sushi – with accompanying drinks. Two were Americans working as teachers at the high school, two were ex-pats that had also worked as teachers, but were visiting. We sailed out into Lelu harbour and talked while the sun set behind the mountains. The weather was beautiful and we learned many things about Kosrae from the people. The teachers told us about the only time of day where the students would learn was from 9-10 and from 14-15. A common island thing was to sleep/releax from 10-14 (maybe they reinvented Siesta?) and they would do that in class. The first hour was also impossible – they all show up late. They are very hard with the rules, i.e. no smoking, drinking, chewing beetle nut – all reasons for being expelled from school. Also a good story from Kwajalain – you remember the Marshall Island atoll used as an American army base. One of the girls grew up there, and the base is used for the defense missile system – still being developed. It started here since it was good for testing missiles sent from Alaska to here – the same distance as from Russia to Washington. When testing missiles, all personnel would be informed and on the evening/night, they would all take out their chairs with a beer and watch when the missiles being tested – they would drop each behind one of the islands in the atoll (in the water).

sea kayaksea kayak 2
sunset cruisesleeping lady

Friday 25.2 Kosrae

A bit of phoning about my wish to climb one of the ’mountains’. Each mountain belongs to a family, so the guides would be from the corresponding family. The guide from the highest, Mt. Finkol, was ill, and they had been trying to find someone else. We gave up on that, and it took only a minute to arrange for Mt. Ohma, also one of the 3 high peaks. I’m going tomorrow.

LapWe rented a BMW (old, wonderful 320i) from Mark and drove south. 15 minutes in the museum in Tofol. If the people listed in the book was representative of the visitors on the island, it was not good. The last that had visited was the 12 from California that I had met on the plane some days ago where we got off in Majuro. And before that it was just a few in January and February. The display was modest but they had a few good things. Like the red ‘Lap’ used for dye – only found one place on the island – the ‘menses’ from the sleeping lady of the mountains. I have included a new picture here since Birgitte had mocked me about the last one where only the breasts can be seen, and I had not seen that the face is to the right. The peaks to the left of the breasts are supposed to be her hands praying.

We continued south along the coast and it is just beautiful all the way (ignoring the dismantled cars and garbage). In the village of Utwe at the south point, the paved road stops, and it is a dirt road after that – very slow going. We were going to the Sipyen falls a few kilometers further on. A sign shows where the trail starts and it is easy to follow the discarded rubber sandals to the falls. We were the only ones at the falls – a 9 m fall with a small swimming pool at the bottom. We enjoyed an hour here – great place.

Going back we had lunch at one of the two up market places on the island – the Kosrae Village Resort. There were no guests beside us. The food was good, but Bully’s is much nicer surroundings and building. On the south side of the Lulu harbor we asked if it was OK to use the beach – it was low tide and a great beach here. We spent at couple of hours snorkeling and watched two fishermen who had snorkeled out in the canal to the reef and speared what they called a Sharp – it looked like it was 10 kilograms at least. Before we returned the car, we stopped at one of the many back yard ‘tank stations’ – many houses would have ‘gallons’ in the window, and then fill it in your tank (4.60$).

waterfallKosrae Village Resort
sharpa gallon

Saturday 26.2 – Kosrae

Japanese tunnels from WWII and island views and jungle hike. Today I was picked up by Hamilton, the owner of Ohma peak. His windshield was broken – he was cursing the government for not making landowner trim their coconut trees – one had fallen lately direct on his car. We went to Malem, a village on the east coast and started out from his house. The trek was regular jungle rain forest with green in green. It didn’t rain but I was sweating buckets. Hamilton first with his machete cutting new growth on the path. After one hour we reached a clearing where I saw the first Japanese tunnel. nipponThere were a couple of artifacts like a broken sake bottle with ‘nippon’ written on it. Not much animal life – surprised that there were not more birds. The walk was not difficult and we reached the top (my altimeter read 440m) after 2½ hours. Great views over all of the south, west and east of the island. The top had been cleared by the Japanese and there still did not grow trees – good for the view. Just below the peak was a maze of Japanese tunnels. We went in and walked maybe through 7 corridors, each 10 meters, twisting and turning. There was nothing there, I couldn’t even find a room, so wonder if they slept in there, or if it just was for hiding. I think we passed 10 entrances to tunnels going up here – very interesting, and Birgitte was envious – we’ll probably see more on Saipan or Pelileu. Hamilton dreamed of making a lift up to the top here or place a windmill. Going down I thought about how fertile the land was here and not cultivated at all. They import old cars – it seems to be the final resting place for the entire Japanese car fleet – why not make plantations of e.g. expensive cocoa and coffee and ship it back? I know it is in the middle of nowhere, but the problem is probably getting the work done and some westerners to start it up.

After returning, we had papaya, Kosrean oranges (green and more sour than regular), tangerines and coconut. As most families, Hamilton also had his parents buried in his backyard. White cements graves. Back at Treelodge we picked up Birgitte and the children and went with Hamilton to a place where they had eels in a creek. Big ones that were fed and splashed about.

The price of the trek was 40$ + 10$ transport.

While I was trekking, Birgitte and the children went to the Blue Hole to swim. Here they met the Island’s dentist who was American and married to a Kosraean – their children played well with Anders and Johanne. Some of the challenges that the island faces was nutrition – e.g. when he checked the teeth of the children in elementary school, there had been 5 children out of 300 who did not have holes in their teeth. There was also a great deal with Diabetes 2 – their diet is not varied, and it is easy to see that most are overweight. Not extremely, but there are very few ‘normal’ sized.

WWII tunnelstunnelMt Ohma

Sunday 27.2 – Kosrae

Why are you not allowed to swim on a Sunday when there is so much water around the island? Johanne asked. On Sundays, it is not considered polite to swim, wear short trousers, work, fish – just relax. Kosrae is Christian (like most of the Pacific). At one point in history there were only 300 Kosraean left – history tell that is was because of diseases introduced, but the former school teacher we talked to was convinced it was alcohol and syphilis. Anyway, the 300 left all introduced the strict rules for their society to protect them.

We were up a bit late and didn’t mange to get to the Lelu church until 10:15. Birgitte and  the children fist when to the building with service for the children, but came to the large church shortly after. The large church is separated with one side for women and one for men. All women dressed in long dresses with flowers. The choir was singing when we came – 60 people, I counted. They had the top quarter of the church, so there was maybe 240 in church, with the children and parents in the other building, maybe 450 in total. It was kind of gospel like, loud and intense. I wouldn’t say it was beautiful singing, but it was genuine. There was a one minute summary of the sermon in English and then a 7 minute sermon in Kosraean. One more song and some information and blessing. It was finished around 11 where many left. Sunday school followed where adults continued in the church, juniors in the other building (we heard them singing, and that was very beautiful and everybody joined). There was also a building with the smallest. The people were friendly, but reserved; several said thank you for visiting. The service was not very participating – you did not have to stand, sing or else participate, so it seemed like it had not changed much for many years.

aftensluppertThe teachers had told us that the gossip of last week’s service had been that a female tourist had been there wearing JEANS!

It was HOT today and the humidity was over 100% it felt. When we got back, we went inside and relaxed, had lunch, watched Karate Kid II (Anders still thinks he sees Mr. Miyaki everytime a Japanese passed by – usually addressing them).

Just before sunset, Anders and I did the crime of taking a swim – (Danish: vi kaldte det en snuppert – mix af at vi var nogle slupperter der snuppede en dukkert). We did it behind some trees though, so I don’t think too many got offended. Dinner tonight was at the nearby Nautilus resort.

Lelu churchlelu women

Monday 28.2 – Kosrae

Rainy day. It rained in the morning. It rained in the afternoon. It rained in the evening. Kosrae (and Pohnpei) is some of the wettest places in the world, I read, so I suppose it was time for some rain. There was a short break in the morning, so we walked to the Blue Hole to swim. It was high tide, so we used the small beach at the crossing opposite Bank of Guam. This time the water was clear, and the corals at the wall of the Blue Hole were actually amazing with lots of fish. Small ones though, but plentiful. I had Anders with me further out than he could stand up, so he was very proud that he now could snorkel properly. It started to rain again, and we waited – and waited for a break – that didn’t come. We started to walk home, we had one umbrella. Luckily a car stopped and took us the last stretch – an American who worked at making a new paving of the runway. As many, many had said: Palau is the best – we are looking forward to this.

Reading in the afternoon and we wanted to go to the Bird Cage – but the taxi never shoved up.

corals

Tuesday 1.3 – Kosrae – Pohnpei – Truk – Guam

Travel day. We left 9:45 and stopped at the Bird Cage. Hamilton had said it was full of ‘fregate birds’. Don’t know about that, but there were many bats and Anders was happy. The cave was big. Flight at 11:50, one hour to Pohnpei (raining), one hour to Truk where half of the Japanese fleet was sunk during WWII. Thought I might see the ships from the air, but the lagoon was HUGE – must be one of the largest atolls in the world. There was a couple of wrecked ships on the left side when taking off. Truk looked like a laidback place. There were Japanese tourists getting on in Pohnpei and Truk (none in Kosrae).

bird cageTruuk
Pohnpeisign 

Continue reading about Guam and Saipan



Tips and trip planning

Traveling in the Pacific kind of narrows down to Continental Airlines and a couple of other odd options. The best list the this one:
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=726510&start=32

We traveled on a 'round the world' ticket from Star Alliance - using the dream tool found on http://www.staralliance.com - select the 'book and fly' tab, press 'Start now', click the world map. A up to 16 legs costs about 4000$ for an adult and 3200$ for a child, but if you are visiting several islands, it can also quickly add up if buying single tickets.
Star alliance map

Two relevant guide books are the following, and I brought both - the Moon has the best maps and also covers all tiny islands around whereas the Micronesia and Palau is the latest with most updated hotel and restaurant info.
You can find the Pilot Guides from Micronesia on-line but it only touches Yap (together with Guam and Palau)



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