Micronesia

GUAM

January 10, 2013

Back to High School! We checked out the location of the High School that Annette had attended ‘65 through ‘67 and discovered that it lies directly behind our hotel. Annette had tried calling for an appointment but found herself talking to a student. Subsequent attempts just received a recording. In early afternoon, she decided that we would simply descend upon the school and “wing it”. Thus we arrived in the school parking lot and found ourselves weaving between dozens of large yellow buses. The school looked like any other high school and we checked in at the main office. Annette asked to speak to the principal and we were asked to wait a few minutes, as school was about to break for the day – hence the buses. In Guam, the high school day is 6:30 am until 1:20 pm. The vice–principal appeared within minutes and Annette explained that she was an alumnus and asked if it was possible to get a tour of the school. She also asked if the school had archived copies of the year books, particularly the years 1965, 1966 and 1967. The vice-principal was very gracious and arranged for a campus tour for us, following a trip to the library to examine the year books.

Annette in libraryJFK High SchoolHigh SchoolHigh School

Annette was ecstatic. She completely ignored my comments about turning in late assignments and returning library books. The library at first looked like a bust but the oldest year book was found moldering under some books that had not been filed. It was 1968. The intense use of higher mathematics indicated that her classmates would have been juniors in 1968, while their former classmate was cruising the Las Vegas “Strip” in a turquoise and white ‘57 Chevy. Every page or so, she would delightedly point out a fellow class-mate, or a teacher that she remembered.

The librarian gave us a tour of the campus that had been shut down for a couple of years, while much of the school was remodeled. When the school was reopened, it had been greatly expanded with additional buildings but the bulk of the original structures were unchanged. Gone were the open wall top ventilators and the louvered windows, as the school is now air-conditioned. Annette took pictures from the window of the very classroom, where she had gazed longingly out to sea instead of studying. Of course today’s view is partially blocked by hotels. The center quadrangle has been expanded but the builders managed to save the original tree and latte stone, which Annette remember well. For Annette this was an emotional experience and for me, it was a little strange trying to relate my wife of 42 years, super-woman to family, friends and enemies, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound, to the awkward, insecure teenager in JFK High School.

Sated with nostalgia, we headed south on Guam’s main highway and pulled into a parking area at Asan Memorial Beach near the point. The only other car in the parkingwedding couple at Asan Beach lot was a Japanese couple with a white limousine. The girl was very pretty and was adjusting her wedding dress, while the groom was attempting to pose her for photographs. Annette of course loves taking pictures and volunteered to help.

Our next stop was at the Pacific War Museum, a non-profit organization whose displays came from a private collection. An amazing collection of vehicles and artifacts, both Japanese and American, from the Pacific War but in particular from the conflict on Guam. The major conflict came with the Allied invasion of July 21, 1944 and by the time the battle was over, the American invasion force of 36,000 men had suffered nearly 25% casualties. Of the 22,000 Japanese defenders, more than 18,000 were dead with only 485 captured as POWs. The last Japanese to be captured was discovered by hunters on January 24, 1972. He had been in hiding and lived alone in a cave for 27 years, while Annette lived nearby, totally unaware of his presence.

January 11, 2013

The day began with an island search for a new battery for Annette's camera. Her existing battery, like us, get tired easily. Our third store and we had the battery! Next was a search in the village of Dededo for the house Annette had lived in in 1965. We missed the turn off, because Annette's memory of Guam 47 years ago hasn't beenthe house in Dededo super reliable - they keep blocking the view with buildings - thus we approached Dededo from a direction that was opposite to our original flight plan and turned into the first side-street. The first house on this street was the very house we had been looking for! It now has grass rather than mud and dirt and there were chickens pecking around in the yard but otherwise, the exterior of the house was unchanged. If anything, Annette maintains that the house looks better today, as the construction stains that resembled betel nut saliva have been washed off the walls by 47 years of rain.

The next goal was shown on our map as the "War Dog Memorial" and was alleged to be near Dededo. We drove up and down roads; we asked countless people; we followed directions that led us from one end of the island to the other, often terminating in backyards after negotiating pothole filled dirt roads. Eventually we came to a spot where we had circled and already visited two or three times, "You can't miss it! There is a large sign". There was no sign, no vestige of doggie graves, no memorial. The man across the street who was attempting to make a call on his cell-phone told Annette, "Yes, they came some time ago, dug it all up and took everything away somewhere". The War Dogs are forgotten. Well, we got to visit some interesting parts of Guam that are off the beaten track.

January 12, 2013

Annette had spent some of the night performing online research of the Guam snake problem. The brown tree snake is endemic to Western Australia and Papua New Guinea and had somehow been accidentally introduced to Guam during the period 1945 to 1952. It has no native predators and has lived off birds and shrews, exterminating the local species. Our early morning discussion roamed around the various biological catastrophes incurred elsewhere by attempts to introduce non-native predators to control the snakes. Pigs might work except that the snakes live in trees. My suggestion of flying pigs was ignored and Annette mused on the introduction of something like myxomatosis. When I pointed out that snakes didn't even have tosis, we left the hotel to seek the "Peace Festival" in Tamuning, where there was a talk on Martin Luther King, traditional dancing and local craftsmen. Annette found shell jewelry and a traditional Sinahi Chamorro necklace she liked. She has been searching for a local artist who incorporates snake bones into his creations and was directed to the "Chamorro Village", a clustering of restaurants, art galleries and artisans. This was our next stop and Annette met another JFK High School graduate (1970) and artist, Filamore Paloma Alcon, who sold her a traditional jungle calling horn made from the shell of a Giant African Snail. She spent the ride back to the hotel practicing her jungle calls with this.

At 3:10 p.m. we were picked up outside of our hotel by Guam "Hasher", whose non-mortal name is "Backwash". We joined around 80 or so enthusiasts in an AH3 event. This is put on by the Agana Hash House Harriers and "3" means a combo of jungle, swamps and mountains of Guam. Their website www.hashguam.com states, "don't bring your stupid children". This is a much larger group than the Saipan Hash and has a lot of young, fit, military members. We were tactfully warned that their hash would be longer and more strenuous than the Saipan Hashes we have experienced and they were right.

Guam HashGuam HashGuam HashGuam HashGuam HashGuam HashDead Soldiers

The Guam version of a "Hash" had us climbing rocky outcrops on the edge of vertical cliffs. The scenery was amazing but not if you had a problem with heights. The trail we followed led through dense "sword grass" and I did not notice or feel that my unprotected knees were cut in several places. We climbed muddy slopes where we gained purchase by grasping wisps of grass or vines or whatever was handy. Fortunately we had stopped by K-Mart earlier, to purchase a pair of utility gloves each, plus knee-high "soccer" socks. On the steepest down-hill slopes there were sometimes rope hand-lines but much of the trail was not so augmented and we witnessed several casualties of fellow hashers falling or slipping down rocks, with a dislocated shoulder and at least one hasher we met being subsequently transported to hospital. One of the most challenging obstacles was a deep gulley with a noisy stream. We descended a muddy slope followed by slippery rocks until we were wading in the stream itself. Next the route required us to descend a waterfall with using a knotted rope. We were already being soaked by the waterfall but the final pitch was near vertical, dumping us into a deep pool. We could not touch bottom in the pool and had to swim perhaps fifteen feet until we could wade again. The route continued, exiting the jungle and winding between monuments in a graveyard before plunging back into jungle and seemingly heading endlessly downhill. By now it was getting dark and large WW II naval guns loomed out of the jungle darkness. The final leg of the hash required us to swim the mouth of an estuary to a park beyond where a bonfire was lit. It had started raining lightly but since we already soaked from swimming the waterfall pool, the rain meant little. Just as we approached the final swim, a pick-up truck stopped on the road and offered us a ride to the terminus of the event, bypassing the swim. Since Annette knows that bull-sharks hang around in estuaries and hunt at dusk, she was not that enthusiastic about swimming and was easily persuaded to jump in the bed of the truck. I personally felt that I was way more likely to drown in the passage than be eaten by a shark (Annette is a much better swimmer than me) I had no hesitation in joining her. What a great experience and what a great group of people to play with!

January 13, 2013

A slow day – what a surprise! We made it to Denny’s by 10:00 a.m. for brunch and then managed to walk the beach in the afternoon. Didn’t hurt as badly as we thought. We must be getting conditioned to jungle running at night.

January 14, 2013

This morning we made a visit to Andersen Air Force Base where Annette lived around 1965-7. She had arranged a tour of the base with the base public relations officer and we were escorted around by a delightful young Master Sergeant Hinson. Of course much has changed in the nearly half century since she lived there, as American strategic needs as well as the normal march of time have made their marks. When Annette lived here , the Vietnam war was in full swing and Guam lay at the end of a supply chain that crossed the Pacific and was the last stop before Vietnam itself. B52 strategic bombers were based here and Annette’s step father flew air-to-air refueling missions in order to shuttle fighter aircraft to and from Vietnam, as well as shuttle operations between the various Pacific bases. Today America’s role in the Western Pacific is far from clear and just as subject to the whims and breezes from Washington as is the rest of the world. This was reflected in our tour of the base, with many of the residential units marked “vacant” and hint of abandonment that reminded me a little of post war RAF bases in the UK. The housing units were necessarily spartan and I could well imagine that during Annette’s tenure they were even more so, with the bustle of an active war in progress. For Annette the visit was indeed bittersweet and our visit to Tarague beach was both timely and welcome. This is a beautiful beach where Annette had spent many happy hours. We are both grateful to the USAF for allowing us this tour.

Anderson air baseAirbase housingAirbase HousingTarague BeachTarague Beach

Annette had been researching a local jeweler who uniquely combined snake bones with pearls or beads for his necklace and earring creations. She had tracked him down over the past couple of days and had made an arrangement to visit him at his home workshop to view his productions. Meeting artist Gordon Ritter was a very interesting experience as he is a retired high school biology teacher with wide ranging interests from mineral collecting to native canoe construction. Annette was delighted to purchase from him an near complete brown tree snake skeleton, guaranteed to entertain grandchildren.

The day finished with a trip to the laundry in a nearby strip mall. There was a bar a few doors from the washing machines that held but a single “customer”, although she seemed to be waiting for custom rather than imbibing. While Annette left to check the dryness of our laundry, she abandoned me to the conversation of the 58 year-old Vietnamese hooker “Misty”, who was trying to explain to me how disrespectful the Russians were when attending her church. I didn’t even know that hookers went to church.

YAP

January 15, 2013

Packing again! What fun! We are temporarily abandoning two thirds of our “stuff”and taking but a single bag on our trip to Yap and Palau. Our flight doesn’t leave until 11:00 p.m. and that will leave us lots of time to kill after we check out of the hotel. We hit the movie theatre and watched Zero Dark 30, the recently released movie about the hunt for Bin Laden. It was exciting and much better than I had expected.

The flight from Guam to Yap was alleged to be one hour and ten minutes but upon arrival over the island, the pilot announced that there would be a delay for “traffic”. The plane began to climb again and circled for the next thirty minutes. This was bullshit. Unless the Chinese airforce was landing ahead of us, there was no “traffic”. Eventually we did land and the folks on the ground were equally puzzled, as there were indeed no other aircraft. Whatever the problem was, we got to walk away from it. We are in Yap! As we cleared immigration, we were approached by a beautiful young girl, wearing a traditional dancer’s costume consisting of flowers in her hair and a brightly colored grass skirt. She hung a braided green leaf, interlaced with flowers around our necks and I wisely pretended not to notice that she was bare breasted. The Yap traditional custom is that topless is normal but it is not considered proper to show a woman’s upper thigh; hence bikini’s and short shorts are frowned upon.

January 16, 2013

Good Grief! Why did we agree to have breakfast so early? We arranged for a half day island tour before seeking a grocery store that sold beer and bugspray.

A healthy breakfast Local storeOur hotelOur hotel

The tour was well done and began with a trip to the waste plant, where the remains of a crashed American WW II fighter plane was on display. (Hellcat maybe?). There were almost forty planes lost in the battle for Yap and not all of the wrecks have been found. The tour continued to the “old” airfield which had been built by the Japanese but has been abandoned for decades. Near the airfield was the remains of a Japanese 80 mm. anti-aircraft gun, as well as two Japanese fighter planes that showed considerable battle damage. Our guide Theo pointed out that the landing wheels were extended but that the two aircraft were short of the runway, as if they had been either attempting to land, or shot down on approach. For Annette the most exciting find was a clutch of “pitcher plants” at the base of the wrecked aircraft. These are carnivorous bug eating plants and although we have seen them in encyclopedias and the like, this was the first time either of us had seen them on the hoof.

Crashed WWII Hellcat fighterJapanese AA gunCrashed Japanese fightersPitcher plantStone moneyStone money

The next stop was to see “stone money”. Annette has been researching this on the internet and was so excited to see it. The Yap people were unique in this practice of using stones as a form of wealth transfer. A group of warriors would travel the 300 miles by canoe to the island of Palau, where they would quarry and carve out a stone wheel with a hole through its center. The rock selected was from a crystalline formation found only on Palau and the hole was presumably so that a sturdy branch or similar timber could be inserted in order to roll or carry the stone. The stone was then transported by canoe back to Yap. The value of the stone therefore depended upon its size as well as the difficulty in transporting it, i.e. how many warriors had died in the attempt since warriors, stones and canoes were often lost at sea. Theo told us that the Yap stones were named, usually by the name of the warrior who had organized the Palau expedition. Sometimes the head of the expedition was killed and the stone later recovered but the stone would be named for the original carver. The carving of the stone itself was accomplished without metal tools. The stones were used to pay for large and valuable items such as land and were held both by the community as well as individual families.

There were some very large stones and Theo pointed out that they were almost machine smooth, the center hole was again machine smooth and they were up to 12 feet in diameter. The story is that an Irishman named O’Keefe, born in Ireland maybe 1848 and left during the potato famine for the new World, somehow married and left his wife in Savannah, Georgia in 1870. He it was that saw the opportunity for exporting copra and Beche de Mer from Yap. The problem was that the local people did not need any of the usual trade items that were typically offered, beads, trinkets and the like. They had the bounty of a tropical island and the sea for both food and clothing. What they wanted was stone money from Palau. He was granted the monopoly for importing “fei” stone money and he did little for it. The Yap people provided the labor to cut and load the stones on his junk and he just sailed to Yap to load up with copra and Beche de Mer in exchange. He supposedly never formally ditched the old lady back in Savannah, he sent her sizeable checks twice per year and the last check she received from his company was in 1936. Meanwhile he stayed in Yap and enjoyed the company of multiple wives and mistresses. He left Yap at the turn of the century and was shipwrecked and died in a storm in 1901. Quite a story.

Yap Island Mini-mart with stone money Carry leaf Pathway Yap sunset

We also saw and walked upon ancient stone pathways that linked village to village through the jungle. The men would quarry the stones which would be laid down by the women of the village. The individual villages still maintain their section of stone pathway today. When walking upon these and when visiting a village, it is the Yap custom to carry a leaf of a plant in your hand signifying both respect and that you are not on the war-path. This is useful when the locals have spears and bows and arrows. Apparently sling-stones weren’t used much since they are harder to wield in the jungle.

That evening we had supper with a lady we had met on the plane and who is an official with the Micronesian government.

January 17, 2013

Visiting Chief Justice of YapAnnette’s High School friend Judge John Lizama had insisted that we visit his college buddy, Cyprian Manmaw, who is now Chief Justice of Yap. This morning we visited the court house and tracked him down for a brief visit. He is a very charming man and although we could have cheerfully chatted for hours, we respected that fact that he had a real job to do, whilst we are mere tourists passing through. This trip has been so much fun in that the mix of contacts from Annette’s youth, added to Marian’s friends and the wonderful people you just meet by chance, has given us an almost cultural immersion in the islands we have visited.

Yesterday we had seen a woman carrying a baby’s basket, that is a basket woven specifically for the purpose of carrying a child. We found the local supermarket and Annette bought her own basket, sans child, although she could use it to carry her teddy bear. Next we sought out our newly met friend April, who was supposed to be visiting the Governor’s office. We marched through the various offices searching for “April”, since neither of us could remember her surname and at the Governor’s office itself, we were told that she had left the building some thirty minutes earlier. We wandered back towards our hotel when April showed up in her car looking for us.

Next stop was lunch and the waiter at the hotel gave us a long dissertation on the subtleties of basket making and carrying in the Yap culture. There are baskets for young women, grown women, grandmothers; For boys, adolescents, young men, mature men and chiefs; Baskets for carrying firewood; baskets for collecting vegetables; baskets for carrying babies, as well as dolls and cell-phones. He explained to us the variances of knot height, weave pattern, shape and size. Amazingly complex and I will never see a woven basket the same way again. Annette had indicated to the hotel folks that she was seeking certain souvenirs and the assistant manager came to our table bearing three ornate money spoons that were for sale. These were made from shell, bound with coconut fiber twine, decorated with two pigs teeth and a cowrie shell. They are “small change” compared to the stone money and are used for betrothal presents and the like.

Weaving Flowers Flower Children traditional canoe traditional canoe building Out-rigger canoe money spoons

In the afternoon we toured the northern part of Yap visiting the less populated areas, although we saw several stone pathways that joined the various villages, heading off into the jungle. These pathways look so exciting and mysterious, as they form darkened tunnels through the vegetation.

January 18, 2013

Annette wanted a traditional dancer’s grass skirt and was disappointed that the few she had seen were sized for children. This morning we headed back to the local general store “YCA” to check out those they had for sale. This was a leisurely affair, as they first needed to send someone to find a hooked pole to take down the skirts that were hung up high on the walls of the store. Naturally the one she wanted was tied instead of being hooked on a hanger, thus the skirt removing lad was again summoned, only this time he had to find a ladder. Next Annette was informed, she needed the correct belt and this was produced as she was gradually dressed in traditional garb. Finally we hauled her purchases back to the hotel before heading over to the post office to pick up one of those, “if it packs, it ships” boxes. Yap is not part of the United States - it is part of the Federated States of Micronesia. Nevertheless Yap has a US Zip code and is part of the US postal network; that is, mail from here is sent at US domestic rates. This was academic of course, since they didn’t have a suitably sized box. The immediate solution was to buy another piece of luggage to add to the one we brought here as checked baggage. We will sort out the mailing issue when we return to Guam. Back to the YCA general store. We found the suitcase that would work but it was locked with a combination lock and none could open it. The suitcase disappeared into the back of the store behind the curtain where the ladder guy had appeared from. Ten minutes or so later, the lock was opened and we were on our way.

Buying_grass_skirtmodelling grass skirthand loomhand loom

Back at our hotel to drop off the suitcase and we were shown our room cleaning lady operating a hand loom. The frame had been built by her husband and she sat on the floor with her feet outstretched against the frame. Behind her back was a wide leather strap that was hooked forwards to the weaving frame and by pushing with her legs she provided the necessary tension on the threads. This was a very physical process and we watched as she deftly tossed a shuttle back and forth and arranged a complex arrangement of thin bamboo rods as well as a larger bamboo tube that by some amazing method, separated the required threads of the warp. Each time that she laid a single thread, she would grab a thin and flat piece of black wood that was shaped like the blade of a machete and ram it firmly to press the weft threads home. This was real work and we could now see why the lava lava cloth is so sturdy. I could not help but think of the Luddites of circa 1811 who protested the introduction of the steam powered loom.

We had dinner at our hotel and noticed that a rooster kept crowing nearby. Annette spotted it as sitting in a van across the street in the passenger's seat. The driver seemwalking rooster unperturbed, until he noticed that we were both watching and laughing. He then added to the entertainment by gently shaking the roosters neck whenever he crowed, producing a warbling / strangling sound. The rooster didn’t seem to mind and we were puzzled by this treatment of the bird as one would treat a favorite pet. When our waitress who had also enjoyed the floor show came by, we mentioned that yesterday we had noticed a woman carrying a rooster on her arm. The rooster was wearing a kind of harness and she held the other end of the leash. We asked her what the significance of this was. She replied that, “It stops the rooster from running away”. Of course. Why didn’t we think of that?

January 19, 2013

We had arranged for a snorkeling trip with a local dive company for this morning and after checking out of our hotel and parking our packed suitcases, we headed over to the dive company. Our trip began with a boat ride that cruised through a narrow channel called the “German Channel”, separating the main island of Yap from its easterly islet. The channel itself narrowed down to 20 feet or so and the banks on either side were lined with mangroves. Like travelling through a long leafy tunnel. On the exit from the channel we changed course to head over to a reef system on the north end of the main island named “Manta Ridge”.

Annette and I were the only snorkelers, although there were about a half a dozen scuba divers already at our destination reef. We had signed a liability release swearing that we would wear life jackets at all times whilst snorkeling and we thought this a little peculiar, although it didn’t bother us much as we weren’t wearing life jackets. One of our two guides pointed to the form of a large Manta ray beneath us and Annette and I promptly free dived 30 feet or so down to take a closer look. When we surfaced our guide called a meeting to change the terms of our tour, as it was now obvious to him that Annette and I are not snorkeling novices. Manta Rays seemed to be all around us and the feature we approached is called a “cleaning” station. The Mantas seem to hover over a single shallow spot on the reef and allow shoals of small fish to enter their gaping mouths and “clean” their interiors of whatever it is that requires cleaning. The cleaning spot is fairly shallow, perhaps ten feet and the Mantas would emerge as huge ghostly shapes from the depths on the side of the reef before slowly approaching the cleaning station. We were told not to move and when we did so, the Mantas would come within feet of us as they examined us. By hovering over the cleaning station ourselves, the Mantas would pass beneath us. There were at least five that we thought we could identify, ranging in size from a juvenile with perhaps a five foot wingspan, to a mature male with a 12 foot wingspan (Size is hard to estimate under-water but Google notes that the average size of a Manta Ray is 20 feet wingspan with up to 32 foot wingspan). This was an amazing experience to see these gentle giants up close.

Manta RayManta RayManta RayManta Raysnorkelling with Mantassnorkelling with Mantassnorkelling with Mantassnorkelling with Mantas

Our flight was not until 1 a.m. and we had hours to kill. We had drinks in the hotel bar associated with the dive company, followed by lunch. We met our friend April later in the afternoon and continued to occupy bar-stools at the same bar, while we chatted and logged ourselves into the hotel Wi-Fi. Annette had noticed a bar drink called a Betel Nut Martini which she just had to order. A few minutes later we were startled to see the pretty bartender scaling a skinny tree in the hotel courtyard. She was wearing a sarong during this performance and when we called to her to enquire what she was doing, she indicated that she needed a particular leaf for the drink. We watched as she split a Betel nut, carefully added crushed coral, then wrapped in the fresh leaf before masticating it with lobster claw crushers. The mechanically chewed nut was dropped into a martini glass before a vodka martini was added. At first the drink tasted like a vodka martini but after everyone in the bar had sipped it and it had sat ignored for 20 minutes or so, it acquired a rosy color and tasted quite different. Not an unpleasant taste but since I am not a betel nut aficionado, I can’t comment on how betel nuttish it was. It was certainly worth the 8 bucks to see the cute little bartender scale the tree though.

first you need a betel nutmaking the martinibetel nut martinibetel nut martini

We also solved the mystery of the roosters. The two we had seen were indeed “pet” roosters as the Yap people do fight them. The big difference between Yap and Saipan is that the Yap roosters are not armed with razor knives on their spurs so they rarely injure each other. In addition the rooster owners only put up stakes of around $5 per combat, versus the $200 to $300 required in Saipan. As we were told, the Yap rooster fights are just for a “bit of fun”.

April had enquired as to how we were to get to the airport. We explained that we would walk back to our hotel and they would provide a shuttle. April said that she had to go to the airport to meet the President of Micronesia, who would be arriving on the inbound flight we were to take. She had a police driven car to pick up the President and she would have the driver swing by our hotel to get our suitcases. I pointed out that this was thirty minutes later than we had planned but she pooh-poohed this concern, saying that the police driver would have us to the airport within ten minutes. The driver was only two minutes late picking us up but he has to be the slowest driver on the planet. When we finally got to the airport it was 11:50 p.m. and the United Airlines representative announced to us that the check-in had closed 20 minutes earlier. I simultaneously looked bewildered, helpless and pitiful and they agreed to check us in and call the security back from watching their soap operas, in order to security screen our bags. We never got to meet the President of Micronesia as promised but we did make it onto the flight and at 0100 hours local time, we landed in Palau. We are here!

PALAU

January 20, 2013

We wanted to sleep in but hunger drove us to find breakfast, where we met and began chatting to fellow guests, Tom and Rose from Kentucky. Tom works for Corning and is a Project Manager of their plant in Taiwan, that makes the glass part of computer LCD screens. They were heading out to visit a waterfall in their rental car and invited us to join them, thus we headed north, with me attempting to read a sorry excuse for a map. I noticed that we were passing what the map called a “JapaneseJapanese monumentJapanese monument Monument” and we just managed to stop in time to turn into an overgrown, gravel area. The weeds and creepers covered the ground thickly and as we made our way on foot towards the monument we could clearly see a couple of hundred yards away, I cautioned everyone about sword grass. Of course the only way that I can personally identify it, is when blood starts running down my legs but nonetheless we trod carefully. The monument itself was huge, on a platform perhaps fifty feet per side, with four tall concrete “L” shaped walls backing into each other, forming the outer walls of a cross and leaving a four foot wide passage in the interior. All of the signs and hand written markers were in Japanese characters and unintelligible to us. The site was overrun by the jungle and the concrete bore signs of age and water stains. Was this pre-war or post-war construction? If post-war, it must have been built half a century ago during the time of American occupation and if so, why is it totally neglected today?

The next stop was marked on the map as “stone path”, an artifact that we had seen before on Yap but when we turned to follow the faded sign, we were dumped into someone’s back yard facing a trio of snarling dogs. We made a hasty retreat and decided we had viewed sufficient stone paths to tide us over for a while.

Finally we reached the waterfall hike and bought some beer from a small store run by a pair of lads, maybe 7 and 10 years old respectively. They had a price list of items Entrepreneurhike to waterfallMore pitcher plantssnake on trailwaterfallhike outpinned to the wall, one item per sheet and they laboriously used a calculator to add up our bill and to calculate the change. At the other end of the parking lot, we paid a $10 fee apiece to hike the trail to the waterfall. The girl who took our money made the cautious observation that she thought perhaps Annette was too old to make hike. When I asked her how old she thought Annette is, she muttered 48 or 50? (Annette will be 62 in March). The hike to the waterfall was exquisite (and yes, Annette did make it both ways) and after the excitement of finding a three foot long, blue – green snake on the trail, we arrived at a pool fed by a broad waterfall that poured from above, as though from the brim of giant cup. We waded the pool below the falls and then climbed through the fall to walk behind it. The water was cool and refreshing but not frigid.

Back at the hotel we struggled to get an internet connection, after discovering that they only had Wi-Fi available in the lobby and restaurant. In late afternoon we snorkeled at a nearby bay-side hotel where there was a deeper reef section just off the bar, containing 10 or so giant clams, up to 4 feet across. The water was clear and provided a fine swim to cap an excellent day on Palau.

January 21, 2013

This morning brought heavy clouds and the view from our hotel window was of bands of rain sweeping across the bay. We rented a car and set out to visit the grocery store (I found Sandeman’s Port!!) followed by a visit to the Etpison Museum and Gallery, followed by the Belau National Museum. Both museums were excellent and Annette scoured the gift shops intensely. She is still collecting “kitchen” artifacts from different cultures but is on a mission to find a “story board” – a wooden carving depicting Palauan Folk History. Our third cultural stop of the day was therefore at the local prison. We marched confidently up to the grim and grubby pair of doors bearing the sign, “No Visitation Today” and asked the turnkeys within where the prison gift shop was. They indicated a wooden door next to a a heavily grated steel door and we entered a long room with the walls covered from floor to ceiling with wooden carvings. These were obviously made by the prisoners and were for sale. The old lag at the single desk looked like Morgan Freeman in “The Shawshank Redemption” and I expected him to say, “I’m here because my lawyer f—cked me” but he just politely responded to our questions.

prison gift shop Tehang wood carving operation wood carvers wood carver traditional carving

That evening we drove to the Palau Pacific Resort, a fine hotel and where we watched a spectacular sunset view, with racing out-rigger canoes and small bats flitting around, to add spice to an already exotic view. We were to meet another of Judge Juan Lizama’s Law School friends and so we ate a fine supper with Ms. Ernie Krengiil and her daughter. Ernie has just retired as Palau’s Attorney General and today was her first day out of government. She is a delightful lady and we enjoyed talking with both her and her daughter who had just returned from a tennis school in Melbourne, Australia.

January 22, 2013

We decided that we would drive to the northernmost point of Palau and see what the map called a “monolith” and a “stone coffin”, stopping on the way for whatever caught our fancy. Driving in Palau is interesting. For one thing, most of the automobiles have been sourced in Japan, where they drive on the left side of the road. Palau drives on the right, thus most drivers have the steering wheel on the “wrong” side of the vehicle. This also means that the wiper stalk and turn signal stalk are also reversed, producing hilarity from the First Mate every time I hit the wipers by mistake when attempting to indicate a turn. Then there is the speed limit. The maximum legal speed on the best surfaced roads is 30 mph and in many places this is reduced to 15 mph or even 10 mph. These are roads that in Texas would warrant a limit of 50 or 60 mph. Nobody was driving at the posted limit, not the government workers, nor the school buses. For a tourist this is confusing because we don’t want to be bad guests and we certainly don’t want to be busted for speeding. Several times in town I was driving at perhaps 40 mph in a 25 mph limit and traffic behind me was piling up and “tailgating” me.

We first visited the Japanese communication center, a large building that had been heavily bombed and strafed in WW II. Navigation was tricky because the map sucked, roads unmarked and direction signs rarely present on the side roads. We were fortunate to have our iPad with a GPS connected to it by Bluetooth (I didn’t purchase the model with the built in cellular connection not realizing that this included the built in GPS) and this combination gave us a map with our current position indicated. A little cumbersome but it worked.

Japanese WWII communication centerJapanese WWII communication center

The highway was washed out in two spots necessitating a temporary diversion and this reminded us that Palau had been hit by a cyclone about a month ago. There was more signs of damage as we left the main drag to seek “stone faces” that were on the coast at the village of Odalmelech. Here were downed trees and villagers repairing homes. We found the stone faces, large weathered rocks of indeterminate age carved by artists long gone. They brooded at us along a section of coast, close to the waters edge and shrouded in jungle. We had approached the village down a deeply channeled and eroded dirt road, while blessing the high ground clearance and broad off-road tires of the Rav4 we had rented. The route back north was on a broad and smooth concrete road and we were back on the main drag within minutes.

We were scored for five bucks apiece to visit the “monoliths” at Badrulchau, a series of vertical stones in two parallel rows, dated to around 150 AD. The shorter stones were deeply notched on top and looking along the notches, we could see that they lined up and were level, as though intended to hold a tree-trunk sized support beam. The taller stones were down-slope and by looking across the top of the stones from short to tall, we could see that they lined up with the horizon, that is, a transverse beam placed across them would be level. To me the monoliths were the support columns of a large building and their placement on a slope above a good fishing hole in the lagoon and near a fresh water source seems to indicate that this was a good place to locate a dwelling, far enough from the beach and high enough to be safe from tsunamis.

Road hazardmonolithsmonolithsStone faceStone facestone coffinshrine

We travelled further north to see the stone “coffin” at Tet el Bad. We did indeed find it but spent little time on the site since we had a dinner date back in the south.

January 23, 2013

Rain, rain, rain. We ran errands in the morning seeking a cardboard box big enough to ship the souvenirs we have acquired and then the necessary tape and bubble-wrap. In the afternoon we drove out to visit the Western province of Aimeliik. Here is the Bai ra Keai, a 1980 reproduction of a traditional meeting house. The girl at the entrance to the site wanted $20 to let us visit but we felt this a little steep and declined the offer. Next we drove by ancient terraces that showed the passage of ancient farmers from several thousand years ago. Our destination was Malsol’s tomb which we eventually found after several enquiries. The site was totally deserted and showed little evidence of having been visited of late. A beautiful location at the intersection of several ancient stone paths. There was a long description of the legend of Malsol posted on a faded board at the site but not much else left of ol’ Malsol or his tomb.

January 24, 2013

Several trips into town and back and by noon, we had packed away almost all of the accumulated souvenirs from Yap and Palau and mailed them to the USA in a huge 34 pound box. We were both exhilarated and exhausted by this endeavor – we won’t have to schlepp them across multiple airline check-ins and customs inspections. We clam farmclam farmcelebrated by visiting the Palau “Mariculture” facility. This operation essentially raises Giant Clams from seedling size to maybe two feet across. When we arrived, an employee at the facility just waved at the tanks and told us to help ourselves to a tour. We wandered through the maze of huge concrete sea-water tanks and played at testing at what stage of development, the clams respond to shadows. When a shadow crosses their “eye” (wherever that is) they snap shut. The clams have brightly colored mantles and we have read that no two are alike in markings. In the past, when I have enquired as to why their coloration is so strikingly different, I have been told, “It is the bacteria in the mantle” and “it depends upon the water depth”. Thanks to the wonders of Google, I discovered that there are in fact 9 different species - which accounts for at least some of the coloration difference. These particular mollusks are being raised for transfer to area farms where they are to be raised for food. To me this seems peculiar, as although a mature clam contains a lot of meat, they take a really long time to grow. This slow growth rate combined with an inability to run away, means they have been over-harvested around the planet and although not endangered, they are certainly threatened. Their attraction today is that certain cultures consider the adductor muscle as an aphrodisiac. You would think by now that the same cultures that manufacture the world’s supply of Viagra would have moved on from Clams and Rhinoceros horn. The gift shop bore a sign that there was a two dollar entrance fee and inside there were shells for sale. However, the employee within explained that they were undergoing a change of government and in the interim were not collecting fees for tours, nor selling the marked items.

GUAM

January 25 - January 27, 2013

We re-packed again and set off for Guam. Our flight didn’t leave Palau until 3:00 a.m. and arrived in Guam at 6:00 a.m. No chance of a nice hotel room! We are out of practice at cat-napping and when we arrived at our hotel in Guam, we spent the day catching up with sleep and re-establishing a close relationship with the three suitcases we had stored at the hotel here. By Sunday, we were beginning to make progress with a serious internet search for an RV in Australia. By mid-morning, needed a break and went to the beach to snorkel, before settling back in front of the computer to make the next batch of flight, hotel and car reservations. We are heading for Brisbane.

January 28, 2013

The day began with a sharp tremor, which shook the bed and set the hotel to swaying. Annette was already awake and woke me up to ask me if I did this. She thinks I can do anything! The internet reported the earthquake, which was felt all over the island but not noted by the USGS. While I worked on the further internet chores, Annette had found a river tour on east Guam. When she called the outfitter, the price had risen from the internet quoted $25 per person, to $75 per person. When Annette queried this, she was told that the $25 price was just for locals, visitors were charged $75. She cancelled. We decided to make a tour of the east side, without the boat ride, by driving over to Talofofo Falls Resort Park, where we parked our car amongst a large herd of pigs and piglets, before negotiating the entrance fee down from the tourist price of $20 each to the “local” price of $12. A elderly Japanese man explained, in Hollywood movie style English, in what order we were to visit the attractions. The tour began with the pair of us groping through a “haunted house”. This was hilarious and wouldn’t have scared our three year old grandson. The haunted house discharged us onto the platform of a cable car ride and we boarded a car for the ride down to the river below. The cable car ride was worth the entrance fee as we passed over the jungle trees with a great view of the Talofofo river below and its multiple waterfalls. We walked along the river to the site where Shoichi Yokoi had spent 28 years of his life. He was a sergeant in the Japanese army and when American troop invaded Guam in 1944, he hid out in a “cave” he had dug next to the river, until he was captured by Chamorro river shrimpers in January 1972. Annette had lived on Guam concurrently with Shoichi and had even surfed in nearby Talofofo Bay. She admits to no responsibility for his mindset that at the time of his capture, he still believed the war to be ongoing. After his return to Japan, he was awarded about $300 in back-pay and a small pension. Of Shoichi’s cave there was merely a square hole in the ground that was roped off from visitors. His original cave supposedly had collapsed and the current reproduction was off limits to close examination.

cable airwayNo toilet?junglesoldier's cavesoldier's monumentTalofofo fallsparking lot hazard

Next on the tour was the very worst “museum” we have ever visited, followed by a walk to the upper falls, where a really cute, bikini clad girl, was jumping in the river next to the large sign stating no jumping or swimming in the river. The security guard was admiring the view from the bank.

The balance of our afternoon was spent finding latte stones, the ancient stones that had formed the foundations of pre-colonization buildings around 1100 to 1700 AD.latte stones The stones on the west side of Guam were hard to find, in that the “Latte Stone Park” had been renamed the “Senator Angel Leon Guerrero Santos Latte Stone Park” in 2005. Presumably the current administration couldn't afford the extra paint to update the signs.

January 29, 2013

Slow day. We spent our time researching packing companies for the few remaining souvenirs and locating used RV’s for sale in Australia. Our minds are now focused on this continent and we are concentrating on the logistics of our next step.

January 30, 2013

We mailed and shipped our souvenirs before heading to the east side of Guam to visit Talofofo Bay, a place Annette had surfed as a teenager. The Bay is unusual in that Talofofo Bay Talofofo Bay the sand is colored dark brown to near black, by sediments carried by the Talofofo river. This color contrasts sharply with the other beaches on Guam with their white coral sand. For Annette this was another bittersweet visit, bringing back good memories as well as bad memories from her past.

On our return, we stopped at the Chamorro village on the west side of the island, where they were holding their weekly open market. We admired the crafts and sampled some kebabs from the local vendors before heading over to the Hilton for a sit-down beer. Here our timing was near perfect as the floor show of local dancing began as soon as we arrived. Annette always enjoys watching “Polynesian style” dancing and noted that the lead female dancer was pretty good. The drummer really caught her attention as he was using a “slit” drum, a smaller version of the ten foot tall giant we acquired in the Vanuatu islands in 2011. Back at our hotel we ran into Marian’s friend and fellow “Hasher” Jim Cook from Saipan.

January 31, 2013

Another slow start to the day, perhaps due to the “nightcap” with Jim last night. Nevertheless we managed to check out of our hotel and caught the flight out of United States territory bound for Cairns, Australia.

We landed just after midnight but were delayed when the baggage handling machine had problems. Forty minutes later we were out of Customs and Immigration to find no sign of the airport shuttle we had booked. It was noticeably hot and muggy on the sidewalk, where a kindly bus driver loaned me his cell-phone to call the hotel. As we waited for our shuttle, I noticed that we were being attacked by voracious mosquitos. Seasoned traveller Annette had “Off!” bug repellent swabs in her backpack and we were able to fight back the hungry swarms that were now literally bouncing off my “Off” protected skin. The hotel room was of the type where you insert your room card in order to turn on the power and lights. Of course this means that the room air-conditioning had not been running until we arrived and we sweltered for the next ten minutes, while savoring the two beers we had scored in the lobby. We are safe! We have arrived in Australia! Should have bought four beers instead of two though.