Monday, January 25, 2010

Yapese Creatures Great and Small

After the concrete jungles of Seattle, where most of the animal life is either behind bars at the zoo, on leashes with their owners, or hidden deep beneath the waters of the Puget Sound, seeing the large numbers of animal inhabitants of Yap has been a shock. It’s a real jungle here, with all its wild diversity, and we humans just have to learn to get along. 

Upon arriving, the first thing we noticed was the number of dogs. They can be seen everywhere on the streets. While some young pups are adopted by families here, it seems that the majority are self-sufficient and have simply adapted to life in the wild. They roam the neighborhoods either in small packs or on their own, living contentedly on scraps and garbage, without the need for Alpo, water dishes, or much human intervention at all. They’re mostly big dogs too - as this is no place for toy poodles, terriers, or Chihuahuas – but very friendly, if not a little skittish at first. Just in our little neighborhood, we’ve met a number of them, whom the expat’s have given names like ‘meaty’ (because he’s so fat) and ‘lippy’ (because she’s got a busted lip from a long forgotten fight with another dog). While Miranda has made some initial comments about the cuteness of some of the little puppies, we’ve both agreed that after leaving behind our beloved cats Sox and Pumpkin, the emotional strain of abandoning a pet here would be too great.

However, Miranda has taken a real fancy to a terribly skinny, probably previously mistreated dog named Tails Morris(though we recently learned he may actually be named Morris!) who lives in the neighborhood.  He comes around every couple of days and waits patently at our door for Miranda to feed him scraps. He’ll eat pretty much anything – from old fish bones, to bread, bits of cheese, and even an occasional green bean – and then trot away once he’s had his fill. Maybe in time he’ll feel comfortable enough to stick around a while, instead of eating and running!

We were really surprised at numbers of wild chickens that roam all over the island. Before the crack of dawn, the first thing you hear is the sound of the roosters. Not just a couple, mind you. Close up of Rooster Every morning, it’s a loud chorus of crowing from perhaps a half a dozen different beaks. They are plentiful due to a diet of plentiful insects, and don’t seem to be owned by anyone in particular. In fact, in our front yard, we have constant entertainment watching a hen lead around her group of little chicks. Though, the first time we ate at a restaurant here, we did ask whether the chicken on the menu was ‘local’. Thankfully, most of the eating poultry is Foster Farms.

Mike’s favorite creatures have to be the geckos and lizards. Not only do they clear out the toy-car sized roaches from places like the medicine cabinet, kitchen, and closets, they’re pretty cute too and mostly harmless. Gecko’s large and small can sometimes be seen migrating along the exterior walls of the house, and sometimes in random places inside too. They provide entertainment too, as we’ve seen two geckos, inches apart, staring each other down completely motionless for five minutes or more. On another occasion, we watched a gecko carefully stalking grasshopper nearly its own size on our front window. Apparently, the geckos like to hang out on top of doors left ajar, so if you’re not careful and push the door open too fast, you can wind up with a scared gecko falling on you!

Lizard Up CloseThere are also some huge lizards of an unknown variety that live in the mango trees outside our front window.  On sunny days, they’ll climb down and warm themselves on the trunks.

 

One evening, we were sitting outside on our porch, watching the wind whip the large fronds of the banana and coconut trees, and drop leaves from the mango trees onto our yard. All of a sudden, we heard a rustle among the dead mango leaves, and spotted a dark shape moving quickly across the yard. First thinking it might be another giant lizard, or a rat, upon closer inspection it was a crab – probably about 8 or 9 inches long! It sidestepped nonchalantly past us, and went on its way, ambling across the street. Mike wanted to track it down and break out the melted butter, but after seeing its tiny little claws, thought the better of it.

While we have both adjusted to sharing our environment with local creatures like bugs and lizards, some guests are simply not welcome. Such is the case with our new friend “Wally”. By way of back story, the second night we were here, we mistakenly left out a brand new loaf of banana bread, nicely wrapped in cellophane. The next morning, the cellophane was ripped open and at least a good third of the bread was missing. Several days later, we left a bunch of bananas on the counter, and the next morning, several of them were eaten – peel and all. So, thinking we’d learned our lesson, we then put the bananas in a sealed Tupperware container. Surely everything is safe inside Tupperware, right? To our surprise, we awoke to find to find the all the edges of the container nibbled clean away! To make matters worse, that night, as we were sitting watching TV on the couch, we heard the unmistakable sound of something clawing and scratching away in the wall right behind our heads. Of course, since that wall is shared by both the kitchen and bathroom – any time we are in those rooms either, we can hear the scurrying around. Just let your imagination run wild there. Since then, we’ve searched everywhere for some kind of a mouse hole, or some way he can get in and out of the house, but found nothing. Now, most every night, we’re visited by the creepy sound of something living inside our walls – hence “Wally”. From the intensity of the sound coming from the walls, Mike is convinced our guest is one of these famous 2 or 3 pound, foot long Norwegian Rats. This may not be too unrealistic, as we’ve seen similar-sized rats on the streets of Colonia. Thankfully, unless he comes out while we’re awake, we may never know. In any case, soon we’ll buy some mouse poison or traps to take care of the problem – although having a dead rat in the wall may be just as bad as a living one. Looking on the bright side, we’ve heard that even if our new friend decides to find a last resting place inside the wall, with the number of bugs and lizards also residing there, at least it likely won’t smell bad for too long. What a pleasant thought!

Note: Most of these creatures were found here, in our front yard:

Panorama of Front Yard

Monday, January 18, 2010

Our First Week in Yap

Our first night in Yap was fairly short since we arrived at 9:30 PM.  After leaving the airport we were driven to our new home by Mike’s co worker and our new friend Bill.  We walked into our new home with open minds, but were still in shock regarding this complete lifestyle change.  We weren’t expecting the welcoming party of various sized cockroaches, which have since packed their bags and moved out ( we hope!). We unpacked the essentials and crashed for the night after a very long day.  The next morning (Wed the 6th) we woke up and took our first of many cold showers.  Apparently the previous tenants had the choice of A/C in the bedroom or a hot water heater. At least we sleep comfortably at night. Mike headed off to work for a few hours for introductions and to get a little more oriented.  Miranda stayed home and adjusted to our new surroundings.  Our boxes were delivered by another one of Mike’s co worker’s Joseph later in the day and he gave us a ride down to The Oasis restaurant, Mike’s now daily lunch spot, where we had lunch with Bill.  The food at Oasis is pretty good.  They have a daily lunch special for $5 that includes a cup of home-made soup, a small salad, rice, and two types of meat, usually one fried- chicken, steak, fish, and one not- Salisbury steak, stir-fried etc.  We came home and unpacked.  Its funny how quickly you learn just what you need to survive.  While unpacking Bill’s girlfriend Taylor dropped by and introduced herself.  Currently Bill and Taylor live a stone’s throw away, but will soon be moving as Bill has accepted another job here in Yap, requiring them to move out of the gov’t housing. 

We have been so lucky to have such welcoming neighbors! Bill and Taylor have really taken us under their wing to show us how to not only survive, but also enjoy island life.  Bill introduced us to betel nut- the popular local vice of choice.  The betel nut is a nut from a tree that looks similar to a palm tree. One bites the nut in half sprinkles some lime- the mineral, onto it then wraps it in a pepper leaf. Then you put it in your mouth and chew. The lime creates a chemical reaction that produces a buzz that neither one of us felt.  It also causes you to salivate heavily, spitting blood red juice out. But at least now we can saw we tried it.  Everyone here “chews” including kids, even while in school, spitting out the window.  One must be careful when walking to not step in the products of betel nut that litter everywhere. Notice the bulge in our cheeks. Resized Mike and Miranda

They then took us on a car ride to see some of the island.  Miranda was in shock and had little say while driving past shacks built of bamboo and tin roofing.  The poverty is like nothing she has seen before, but yet the people are so happy. 

Thursday and Friday went slowly as Mike worked full days and Miranda struggled to adapt to the much slower pace of life.  Dinners were difficult since we had one large frying pan and a large pot Miranda picked up at a local store.  We did get to enjoy dinner at Bill and Taylors, a dinner of fresh yellowfin tuna sashimi that Mike and Bill picked up at the fish market conveniently located across the street from their work. We have a feeling we will be eating this often as a huge 3 pound fish, filleted at the market to order was a whopping $4. The shopping alone is worthy of its own post in time.  Miranda is finally starting to get the hang of it.  Options are limited, and prices often vary even within the same store, and always between each store.  One day we picked up a bottle of 409, careful to choose the one marked $2.95 instead of the one right next to it marked $4.95.

Our first weekend in Yap was something else.  Now as most of you know, we enjoy a quiet weekend at home with some tv, movies, and other electronic habits to keep us busy.  Well here in Yap they like to party it up!  On Friday evening we joined Bill and Taylor at their place to sample a local alcoholic drink called “tuba” taken from the coconut palm tree.  It was milky white, smelled like bad eggs but, tasted surprisingly ok.  It did provide a lovely warming sensation and was a great way to start the night. We then headed to our favorite bar (there are only a few to choose from) O’Keefe’s. It has a nautical theme with lots of wood paneling, it would be the diviest of dive bars back home. Here they drink either Budweiser, bud light (both in cans) or Heineken in a bottle, but at $1.50 a can or $2.00 for a bottle it isn’t so bad.  We met the expat group, approximately a dozen or so folks from all over.  It seems every Friday night they all get together to be around others who can relate to what they are experiencing here on Yap over many beers and often (groan), karaoke. We successfully dodged the karaoke bullet, but know that can’t last for too long.  It was a pretty late night, but we enjoyed getting to know everyone a little bit.  Everyone was giving us a hard time, pointing out we haven’t been on island for too long as we stuck together some, while the rest of the room was divided by gender.  It was later explained that after spending a week with their significant others, these get-togethers allow a time to hang with the girls or guys respectively.

Saturday was spent sleeping in till noon, finally getting a chance to recover from the jet lag, and the prior evening’s excitement. We had lunch with Bill and Taylor at the Marina restaurant and pretty much laid low the rest of the day. 

Sunday we were also laying low reading and enjoying the nice trade winds blowing through the house when another expat John stopped by and took us for an extended tour of the Northern part of the island.  We saw great view points, the sports complex which is currently under renovations, John’s “boat house” where he builds wooden canoes and other traditional boats.  We are eager to take him up on the offer to take us out on them.  John took us to Kadai, a traditional village that a few years ago was featured on Survivor All-Stars as a reward.

Stone Money Resized Yap and Surrounding Area 060

We also got to see his house with an elevated deck he built with a 5 million dollar (at least!)view of the rolling hills of Yap.

  Mike Overlook

Near Kadai is the only community owned park on the island. It is fondly named “Sunset Park” as it offers an amazing view as the sun dips into the Pacific. We will definitely be heading back there at sunset when we get a car. Yap and Surrounding Area 048

  Monday Mike was off to work, Miranda busied herself around the house.  It has to be swept at least every other day as dust is blown in by the wind.  We have laminate tile flooring that gets dirty pretty quick. A mop is definitely on the “must get soon” list. 

Mondays are the hardest for Miranda, its so quiet in the house during the day, and with household duties to do in the 85 degree heat, its tough not to let her mind wander to back home. So a little retail therapy Yap style always helps.  Today she bought fabric to begin making curtains.  Her limited abilities and resources shall make it an interesting challenge that will keep her busy for some time. Especially since there are 12 windows in the living room alone! 

We are adjusting to the slower pace of life.  For instance it took almost a week to get our home phone set up.  And all they had to do was some paperwork and then activate the connection- from the telecom office, they didn’t even have to go anywhere! It is nice to slow down, but some things just seem a little ridiculous, and when pressed they will do it. Ah Island Life!

There has been talk amongst the expats of how to employ Miranda.  We were a little worried at first, because everyone was asking if she was going to work, and what she did in the states.  But after some clarification it turns out they just don’t want her to be bored stiff and unhappy.  Someone knows someone at the hospital, that they are sure would love her assistance in any way possible, and may even create a position if desired.  There are a few mentally ill or troubled people here on island that tend to get in legal trouble a lot, mostly due to drinking, a prevalent problem on the island. There is also another opportunity that Miranda is leaning towards though. A break from social work would be nice, and since Miranda tends to get a little attached to the people she works with it would be very emotionally taxing to know what could help, but not have the resources to provide it! The other opportunity is at the Women’s Association’s daycare. We shall see, in time.

So this was out first week in Yap, busier than we thought, but good over all.  We miss everyone at home, including our cats, but we have a new pet, well we have never seen it. But we will leave that for the next post! Everything is an adjustment that we are growing from every day.  One day at a time! One week down, 103 to go! Not that anyone is counting!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Baggage Roulette

After a nice, relaxing (and fully paid-for by Hawaiian Airlines) couple of days of a mini-vacation touring around Honolulu, on Monday we were prepared to head out to our new life and home in Yap.

We woke up on time, arrived at the airport well ahead of schedule, and even got our tickets and were checked in without incident. Then we inquired at the ticket counter about the four pieces of luggage that we assumed were waiting for us patiently until our new flight. When we were first waylaid in Honolulu, Hawaiian Airlines even nicely called us to confirm that our luggage was 'all accounted for'. However, on the morning of our flight, the airline told us that apparently only three of our bags had made it, and instructed us to query the ticket counter at our final destination!

As we sat waiting for our plane to board, we wondered about which lost, lonely piece of luggage would not be joining us. Would it be suitcase #1 with all Mike's clothes, suitcase #2 with Miranda's clothes, suitcase #3 with the PlayStation and our collection of movies, or a large tub of our kitchen items such as pots and pans?

Nevertheless, we got on the plane and began a long flight to Yap. Originally, our itinerary called for a direct flight from Honolulu to Guam. Since we missed that one, the only available flight was on the so-called 'island hopper' plane. True to it's name, it meanders from the east to west among the various islands of Micronesia, in short 30min to 1.5 hour hops. As a result, we were treated to a tour of every major town in the island chain, or at least of their various airports. From Honolulu, we first hit Majuro, where we were able to get off and stretch our legs at the little waiting area/bar while a security sweep of the aircraft was performed. From there, we hopped over to Kwajalein, a tiny military installation on 3-mile long outcropping of rock with little more than an airfield. Next was Kosrae, with it's verdant, jungle covered mountains and bright blue waters that gave us a taste of what Yap might be like. The capital of Micronesia, Pohnpei, was next followed in rapid succession by Chuuk, and finally, Guam.

Compared to the tin-roofed buildings and runways of patchwork asphalt we had seen previously, Guam was like an oasis of modernity. The airport was like a high-end luxury mall, with it's Gucci and Rolex retail shops. More importantly, we had our last taste of American-style fast food at the food court Burger King, but after a half-dozen takeoffs and landing, neither of us could finish our dinner.

After the layover, we had an uneventful hour ride to Yap. Since it was nighttime, the only aerial view of the island was the lights of the runway and a few little dots of scattered about the island from various houses. After getting off the plane, we were greeted by a pair of traditionally dressed and shirtless natives who presented us each with a band of flowers and woven palm fronds to drape around our necks. Getting through through immigration and customs was a quick and easy affair after telling them Mike was employed by the AG's office. They even informed us that someone was waiting to pick us up, and that they were glad we arrived after our no-show on Tuesday night!

The moment of truth came when a pickup loaded with all the luggage on the plane was backed up into the small building that comprised the airport terminal. Mike was very relieved when Suitcase #3 with the PlayStation was there, along with the clothes. Turns out the tub wasn't on board, so no pots and pans for us this week. Oh well. We won't be cooking much, but at least we won't lack for entertainment.

Out front of the airport, one of Mike's co-workers, Bill, and a local police officer, were there to greet us. Considering we were the only bewildered-looking American couple on the plane, we weren't hard to identify. They loaded up our 200+ pounds of baggage drove it and us back to our new tropical home, identified by a big sign over the doors as Quarter #37. After a brief tour in the middle of the night, and some shocking encounters with a couple of giant-sized roaches that had occupied the place, we fell asleep quickly, wondering what adventures tomorrow would bring.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

ALOHA!

Hello everyone,

We were not expecting to post on here so soon, but yet here we are!  So we had a "small" hiccup in our travel yesterday, but we are both safe, and very happy!  Our flight out of Seattle (scheduled to Honolulu) was delayed due to mechanical problems- the front right door (which we didn't get on through) was registering as open even though it wasn't. My opinion- they should have noticed this before they boarded us! We sat on the plane for almost 2 hours, before they pulled everyone going to Guam (that’s us) and put us on another flight to Maui then had us connect to Honolulu, hoping we would still make the Guam flight. Of course we arrived an hour after it left. Now this wasn't a huge problem for the people going to Guam, because they all got on a flight to Fiji to connect to Guam, but we knew this would mean us sitting in the Guam airport for 3 days since the Yap flight only flies on Sat, Tues, and Thurs. So when we finally got to Honolulu 4:30 local time (6:30 PM Seattle time) we went to the Hawaiian Air people and had some words. There is no Hawaiian Air in Guam, and it was an easy decision, be stuck in Guam or stuck in Honolulu? A very nice manager names Ross, or was it Russ? assisted us and we got to sit in the airport for 3 hours while the figured out hotel and food vouchers and our next flight info. They had a hard time because of us crossing the date line, they almost had us arriving in Guam the day after our Yap flight left, but luckily they figured it out. It also made it difficult that we will be flying on Continental from here on out. So, we are now at a hotel near the airport for three nights, including last night, with meal vouchers for all meals while we are here.  We will leave for Guam at 6:55 Am local time Monday morning, and catch our Tues 7:55 PM Yap flight connection. We actually have a longer layover in between this time which makes us feel a little better, 2 hours vs 40 min.  So we got a 2 day 3 night Hawaiian vacation paid for by Hawaiian Air! Meals and all. I must say, if this were to happen in Seattle I think there would have been a different outcome. The people here are so incredibly nice.  It is difficult to adjust from Seattle, everyone says hello and asks how you are, not just a tight lipped smile and nod.  But this is allowing us to relax a little and acclimate to the time and weather change. 

Dealing with all of this yesterday was extremely stressful and enraging at times, but in hindsight it worked out pretty well. We were exhausted from both moving, doing our best to transition the kitties to my parents house, which of course was difficult on everyone, and getting only two hours of sleep the night before our flight. It was New Years Eve, and Miranda spent a few hours under the bed trying to comfort Pumpkin who had been hiding for a day, terrified.

Here we are after hours at the Honolulu airport, waiting to find out our fate.

 honolulu airport photo

It is beautiful here.  Funny since after we booked our tickets we wondered if we should have taken a few days here, but decided we couldn't really afford it.  Thank you universe!  Today we went to Waikiki beach and also walked around a huge outdoor mall. Miranda at Waikiki beach We navigated a foreign bus system "The Bus" here not metro.  We both bought Hawaiian shirts and are enjoying the heat. It is a shame that we decided to have the airport hold our luggage, as it is too much for us to handle on our own, as our wardrobe and toiletries options are limited to what we happened to shove in our carry-on’s, and a few essentials we bought last night.  Tomorrow we are looking into either a tour, or tracking down some LOST filming sites.  We didn't run into Obama at the airport or the shaved ice stand, nor have we seen Rush Limbaugh.  But we have seen some beautiful sights and are looking forward to seeing Yap. In a way this is good, when we get to Yap we will be so happy to arrive rather than stressed from all the travel. We just want to get there! And who knows Mike has already mentioned taking the Hawaiian Bar when the two years are up- like 30 minutes after we left the airport!  Well I just wanted to let everyone know of our travels so far. We are safe, warm, and well fed.

Love,

Miranda and Mike