"Arctracer" Letters

Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia, May 2004

We left Kosrae May 16th after being there for 17 days. We had a very relaxing passage to Pohnpei. We didn't sail very fast because the wind was only 3 - 8 knots most of the time, but we used our big spinnaker and made pretty steady progress over almost flat seas. What a difference this trip was from the strong NE trade winds we'd been dealing with for months! We arrived in Pohnpei in less than 3 days (2 hours less). After being at the commercial dock from 11:00am until 5:30 pm they let us proceed to the anchorage for yachts. In some countries the officials sure are slow! The officials were pleasant enough, but they had a container ship and two planes to meet so perhaps they were busy.

We had a good time in Kosrae - ate at the Island Cafe, the Kosrae Village Resort and the "hole in the wall" food opposite the post office. Eating out was very cheap compared to the Marshall Islands. We visited the ruins of an old royal village circa 1200 AD at Lelu with our guidebook as our guide. Then we took lots of tours with wonderful 60-year-old Tadao and his 29-year-old son, Salik, from Utwe. We went in Tadao's 9-year old breadfruit dug-out outrigger canoe (with motor) through the mangroves and actually learned things we didn't know before (we've toured mangroves in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) and saw a monitor lizard, hiked to the Menke Ruins - a religious site circa 1000 AD and learned a lot about the flora and fauna of the rainforest, drove all the roads of the island and saw some traditional signs of law (stick stuck in the ground with a rotten banana leaf on it meaning that the owner knows the bananas were stolen and please don't touch his property), went to the museum, clam farm, Island swiftlet cave, Sipyen Waterfall, and snorkeled at Walung on the west side of the island. Our Lonely Planet Guidebook said there isn't a road to Walung, but there is from Utwe. We drove to the Walung village path (a short distance from the ocean), then snorkeled to see some of the giant clams the employees of the clam farm had left there, hoping they wouldn't be poached by the locals. There were still a few around. We visited the clam farm, where they raise 4 of 9 species of clams. There is presently only one kind left on their reefs and they used to have 3 kinds. The natives really like to eat these! They got some clams from the Marshall Islands and from Palau to try to restore the other two species on the reefs of Kosrae. Soon they will be sending two tanks full of year and a half old clams to Chuuk - but the last ones they sent were apparently eaten by the Chuuk people. Near the clam farm we snorkeled and made an attempt at low tide to go to what they call "The Blue Hole" to snorkel. However, it was difficult to walk over the reef and too shallow to swim, so we never got all the way there.

(view photos of Kosrae)

Some of the things we learned about the local plants: they have (1) a seed they use for soap, (2) the inside of a seed that they rub on burns and the moist part of the inside of a thick dead leaf-stalk that they use for a bandage for the burns, (3) betel nuts to chew on - grown on a kind of palm tree, (4) trees that are used for firewood and have a fruit the native pigeons love - so they hunt the pigeons when they are nice and fat after they've eaten this particular fruit (5) special leaves used to cover their ums (earth ovens), (6) lots of bamboo for roofs, (7) lots of sugarcane to snack on, especially during week-long celebrations at funerals, (8) mangrove trees and roots for firewood for their cooking, (9) ironwood trees that are very expensive and people that have these old trees on their land are rich, (10) vines that cover the trees (a real jungle) and are used to make a tea for diarrhea and the berries are used for burns, (11) an indigenous tree with red flowers (one of few flowering bushes) that they plant near grave sites, (12) a tree that has a nut that is used for filler in canoes when holes or leaks start (this tree is also used for tie beams and rafters in houses since their trunks are always very straight, (13) kava to make a mild sedative drink, (14) edible "mountain apples" that grow on the trunks of a tree, (15) terminalia trees for making outrigger canoes, and they have a nut you can eat, (16) trees whose stems are used to poison fish so they can be caught easily, (17) eucalyptus trees from Australia, (18) a flower that can be squeezed to produce a good amount of conditioner for one's hair, (19) wild ginger leaves to wrap fresh water eels in for cooking, and (20) special expensive mangrove trees used in wood carvings.

We learned that the Japanese brought the monitor lizards to Kosrae to take care of the rats - neglecting to realize that the rats are nocturnal, while the lizards aren't - no help there!

We enjoyed quite a few tangerines, but the season is about past. We never did take out a crab trap to the mangroves to get mangrove (mud) crabs, but both other boats in the anchorage - "Stardancer II" from Mooloolaba, Australia and "Kujira" from Hamburg, Germany gave us several crabs. I, Nina, caught fish from the boat for them to use as bait, but neither Jerry, nor I felt like rowing a long distance to the mangroves daily - are we lazy or what? The two other boats had dinghies with motors. Anyway, one crab was enough for a meal and we had 6 of them - delicious!

(view photos of Kosrae Flora & Fauna)

At the post office yesterday we picked up the magazines sent from Norwich, but haven't received the bulk of our mail yet. We went to the Australian embassy to start the process of getting the visas required before entering that country. Since we want to be there more than 3 months, we also got brief medical examinations and chest x-rays and had a doctor fill out forms too. The chest x-rays are to show that we don't have TB.

Saturday we went to a dinner/dance show with Keith and Shayle of "Stardancer II." It was mostly Polynesian- style dancing, but one group did a traditional Pohnpei dance. The missionaries managed to get most of the traditional culture stamped out here, (as in most Pacific islands) but there are some efforts to preserve a few fragments. We plan to rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle to tour the unpaved roads as well as the paved roads here. We've stopped at the tourist information center and read our guide book, so now have some idea of the things we want to see. Hopefully in a week or so we'll have permission from the landowners of uninhabited Ant Atoll nearby to go there for some snorkeling and relaxing before stocking up for the next 6 months of being in the "boondocks" of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. The water here is very muddy because of all the rain and rivers. Kosrae gets over 200 inches of rainfall a year and Pohnpei gets even more (NY gets about 40 inches a year we think). At least the rain here isn't cold. In fact, it is generally too warm to wear a raincoat so we just opt to get wet. Generally a rainy session doesn't last too long anyway. They're just frequent. Ant Atoll, just a few miles away doesn't get as much rain and has good visibility in its lagoon for snorkeling.