Saturday, April 3, 2010

Everyday Yap

Some days it’s hard to keep a fully up-to-date, yet still somewhat interesting blog. Even on a tiny tropical island out there in the Pacific Ocean, there are the familiar, humdrum routines of everyday life.

There’s a morning commute of sorts, even if it’s only five minutes long. You share the one winding, potholed road into town with a surprising number of cars. There are trucks loaded with more people than you’d think would be safe, giant yellow school buses straight out of the 70’s, and drivers in every shape and size of tiny Japanese car waving to each other as they race to work at daredevil speeds of up to 20 or 25 miles an hour. Sidewalks are generally considered the outside two feet of the road, so one also has to avoid groups of kids walking to school, or any number of thu-wearing and/or shirtless pedestrians.  

Like anywhere else, there’s always the garbage to take out. Unlike being forced to have someone else take it away, out of sight and mind to some faraway landfill, here we have a choice. The easiest/laziest way is to just bag it, and take a short walk down to a few unguarded barrels across from a nearby an apartment complex. If you’re stealthy enough, and quick enough, you can make it all the way there without feeling the shame of someone seeing you. Everyone does it, no one’s said anything to the contrary, and there isn’t a “No Dumping” sign posted. For all we know, it could be for community use.

The other, slightly more disturbing way is to take it to the dump. Load up your one, white kitchen-sized garbage bag into the 80+ degree car. Head down the main ‘highway’ for five minutes or so, and make right turn onto a completely unmarked dirt road. Keep going until you start passing by massive piles of scrap metal, and hit the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop down at least 20 feet. At first, the view is actually not bad. There’s a wall of pristine jungle with tall palm and coconut trees. You can hear the cawing of flocks of birds in the sky, circling hungrily overhead. Then you look down. All you can is one vast pile of trash, mostly made up of white kitchen-sized garbage bags, that stretches from the edge of jungle halfway up the wall of the cliff. It’s so much garbage; you could easily jump off the cliff safely (and permanently psychologically scarred) into the hot, squishy mass of trash. Not that you’d ever, ever want to. To say the least, it’s a strange and somewhat sad sight to see the natural beauty of the place in such close proximity to the inevitable result of modern civilization. One can’t help but be shocked at how much garbage even a small population can generate.

DSCN0524While we do have a clothes washer, we don’t have a dryer. Thankfully, it’s not really necessary. The slats of our windows make a convenient drying rack, and on most days it’s hot enough that clothes dry fairly quickly.  Since the windows get a lot of sun, the clothes also create temporary curtains. Of course, the Hawaiian pattern curtains, hand-made by Miranda, work perfectly well too. On laundry day, it’s not unusual to see our windows completely covered in a variety of t-shirts, shorts, and towels, all catching the breeze like some strange, multicolored sail.

Drinking water comes in knee-high bottles from the aptly named “Drops of Life”, the local water treatment and distribution service. We order several of the bottles, that last us for at least a few weeks. DSCN0466 They cost only a couple of bucks a bottle to refill, and arrive via a friendly Yapese guy in a blue van. Since we’re so close to the store, he shows up in our front yard only a few short minutes after we call them up. We were also very lucky to inherit a hand pump from the former residents of the house, since the pumps are currently out of stock. It attaches to the top of the bottles, and with a little care, one can manage to not make too big a spill (this applies more to Miranda than Mike). We use the bottled water for cooking and drinking, but we’d probably be safe with the tap water too. It’s clear and tasteless for the most part, except on random days when you turn on the faucet and get a silty, dark brownish brew.

Of course, life here isn’t all just work and domestic chores though. There’s entertainment to be had, all around really. Along with drinking at one of the half-dozen bars scattered around town, diving is the major activity. You can’t have a conversation with a stranger without “Do you dive?” coming up in the first five minutes. We’ll try it eventually, but after seeing Jaws too many times, there’s no rush. Those Manta Ray’s, so highly praised by the divers, will still be as serene and graceful tomorrow. Yap’s apparently a world-renown location for divers, if you believe the glossy full-color brochures, and ignore those of every other island in Micronesia. You can’t walk through town without seeing at least a couple of very clean, very tan, very out of place looking tourists. They’re hard to miss really. They stick out plainly, talking loudly in their blue jeans and Hawaiian shirts, and snapping pictures constantly for the folks back home of the ‘quaint, remote’ surroundings. Some of them probably arrive via yacht. There’s always at least a few ocean-going sailboats moored in the harbor, like a billboard advertising the importance and wealth of the adventuresome, world traveler. Some days it would be nice to have a that say “No, I live here” on the front, and “Really” on the back.

Now we’re fully admitted, card carrying friends of our television, and being thousands of miles away from Comcast won’t change that. Luckily, the island probably has more video stores in a square mile than anywhere else. People here love to watch movies. Anything from the big Hollywood blockbusters from six to ten months ago, to shaky, camcorder captured movies shown in theaters across the US are available for rent for only a few dollars. One of our favorite shops is tucked away in the back of a grocery store. If you didn’t already know the store was there, you’d never guess. It’s always overly air conditioned, and the chilly tile is soothing on your feet since they don’t allow shoes. In a place where no one has heard of Blockbuster or Tivo, renting DVD’s is big business, and business is good. Mike was also pleased to notice one store had a Playstation 3 (on sale for $800!), and a couple of outrageously priced games, but there wasn’t an Xbox or Nintendo Wii in sight.

There’s other things to do, but the least expensive and probably most satisfying is just to explore, and see the sights. A postcard-perfect panorama of coral covered beaches and the ocean beyond isn’t difficult to find while driving along the coast road that circles the island. Along with a canal that cuts horizontally across the island, this road was originally laid down back in the late 1800’s by one of Yap’s first colonial masters, the Germans. There are also a few ‘public’ areas that one can go, without explicitly asking permission of the owners of the property. Other beaches, like the one pictured below on the southernmost tip of the island, can be rented out for a nominal fee.

Beach Panorama

Even on a small island, there are many places to go. To say the least, in our short time here, we’ve only scratched the surface. There are many more locales we’ve never been to or heard of, but would like to. We just need to get out there and find them. 

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