Sunday, June 6, 2010

Us vs. the Termites

We’ve battled against roaches, rats, and mosquito’s. Now a new challenger to the title of ‘most annoying household pest’ has arisen. Termites. They first arrived about a month ago, when a pile of tiny wings mysteriously appeared in our spare bedroom and hallway. We swept them up, unsuccessfully looked around for their source, and forgot about them. It must have been a freak occurrence, we thought. Then, weeks later, we found a couple of half inch sized roach-looking bugs crawling around on our couch. We debated about whether they were baby cockroaches, or some other sort of random Micronesian insect, but didn’t think too much about it. We should have taken immediate action, but it’s only a couple, right? That’s when the invasion began in earnest.

We’d be sitting on the couch, relaxing after a long, hot day when out of nowhere one of us would feel that telltale crawling sensation on our leg, neck, or arm. For the first few nanoseconds, the mind thinks, “It’s just the breeze or something.” Then we’d feel the crawling start to move. Sure enough, another of these little bugs was there, roaming across our skin. We would kill it and hope more don’t appear, with some half-hearted talk about buying Raid or a bug-bomb. Since it didn’t happen that often, we just chalked it up to the fact that our house has a lot of bugs. We’d seen roaches before in the cupboards and ants if we didn’t wipe down counters well enough, and learned to manage a somewhat uneasy truce with these co-inhabitants of the house. This would be something completely different. This would be all-out war.

Every couple of weeks, we’d experience these nights when the termites would start falling from the ceiling above the couch. It always happened at night, around 8:00 pm. The first time, we’d kill twenty or so over the course of the evening. The next time, it was more of them on the couch… and the floor… and in the hallway. They’d run in and out of the occasional gaps where the baseboard doesn’t sit flush against our tile flooring. Disturbingly, they seemed to concentrate right outside our bedroom door. The termites swarmed around a wooden ladder that leads to a ‘storage space’ above our kitchen where the roaches and the geckos fight their own private nightly war. We walked around the house, crushing termites as best we could. There were so many it seemed like a fight we couldn’t win. Then, as suddenly as they arrived, they stopped for the evening and we sighed a breath of relief and hoped that would be the last of it.

Of course, it wasn’t. Last night, the termites arrived in full force. There we were, innocently watching the series finale of our favorite TV show “Lost”. We’d settled down to watch the episode, which we’d both been anxiously awaiting for the past several weeks, and got comfortable. Then, without warning, the termites were on the couch, in numbers we hadn’t seen before. Again we tried crushing the termites we saw, but there were too many to handle. At one point there were at least twenty five crawling on the couch, with more falling down from the ceiling with each passing minute. They must have gotten together and strategized the attack last night. We were too distracted with crushing couch termites to notice whole platoons advancing from other areas of the house. They were in the spare bedrooms. They were in the bathroom. They were falling out of the ceiling all around the house! There were flying termites swarming in tight formation around our outside lights. A few very smart and very happy geckos positioned themselves on the lights and joined us in the battle, eating their fill. But even with our hungry gecko allies, we were no match against the sheer numbers of termites. Hours were spent roaming the house with paper towel and Raid in hand killing as we went. We went through almost an entire roll of paper towels that night. Miranda feared the worst, termites falling into her hair and crawling around, which happened only twice. As before, the termites retreated unexpectedly into the various holes and cracks throughout the house. Some we were sure lived to fight another day. But little did they know; we too had a plan.

After consulting with various long-time residents of Yap, we settled on using bug bombs. People said that it wouldn’t work on termites anyway, and we too knew this after researching, but we had to try something. A line had to be drawn in the sand, saying this far but no further. So Miranda went out to our oddly named hardware and general store called PBC, which stands for “Pacific Bus Company”, and bought a small arsenal of bug killing supplies. We got bug bombs, we got more Raid, and for good measure, we got some roach killing bait. This morning, we woke up earlier than usual for a Sunday and began covering, closeting, or closing anything we didn’t want coated in a layer of pesticide.

The brightly colored packaging of our Japanese manufactured bug bomb promised to “evolve all species of roaches, bedbugs, fleas, flies, mosquitoes and small flying and carwling insects”. While having the termites evolve into a stronger, more virulent pest isn’t what we had in mind, we decided to take our chances. The package included a plastic jar, and a small metal can with holes poked in each end containing dangerous looking yellow crystals. The instructions said to fill the jar partially with water, and place the can in the water. With the windows closed as tightly as possible, we simultaneously ‘set off’ one bomb each, which resulted in nothing more than a slight crackling noise. Nevertheless, we quickly ran out of the house, holding our breath.

Now we had time to kill, a much more difficult thing to do on Yap than you’d expect. CIMG1210 Since killing termites is hard work, we drove into town for lunch. We went to the Marina Restaurant, actually called the Marina Sports Bar and Grille but has neither a grill or a television or anything sports-related, and ate a tasty lunch of fish and chips and iced tea. Even though the restaurant was one of the few places open, it was mostly empty.

A traditional canoe was moored out in the harbor a few feet from the restaurant. This canoe recently made the 500 mile journey to Guam and back. CIMG1209Another canoe accompanied them, but got separated from them one night on the return voyage. For almost a week, search and rescue  boats from the coast guard looked for the missing canoe. Everyone  in town was talking about what had happened to the crew, whether they had encountered rough waves on the open sea or got lost and sailed in the wrong direction. Thankfully, they were found near the island of Palau, no worse for wear, and were flown home to their worried families.

After lunch, we drove the ‘loop road’ along the western coast of the island. CIMG1221 It’s by far the best maintained road in Yap, without the usual potholes every few feet, and allows for driving at breakneck speeds of up to 40 mph. With the wind whipping in Miranda’s hair, driving is often the most enjoyable form of air conditioning. It was a good time, but as we circled back towards town we wondered what the state of the house would be.

Back at home, it didn’t look any different than how we’d left it. There wasn’t smoke or poisonous fog billowing out of the windows, in fact, we weren’t sure if the bomb worked. Then we opened the door. Roaches were scattered literally everywhere, lying on their backs motionless or with legs twitching rapidly. What looked like dirt, but later turned out to be ants covered certain corners. As far as we could tell though, there were no termite corpses. Only dozens of giant roaches, more than we’d ever thought was possible.

Warning: The following image is of a graphic nature. Parental discretion is advised.



Several hours later, we’d cleaned out all the numerous dead roaches, and sanitized every possible surface. Now we have to wait and see whether the bomb did anything about the termites, or if we should consider having an exterminator flown out from the US. Just kidding.

As night begins to fall, we hold our breath and hope that whether or not the bombs scared away or killed the termites, that at least tonight will be a termite free night. Keep you fingers crossed for us!

The adventure of Yap continues…

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sightseeing in downtown Colonia, Yap

We’ve written about a lot of topics on this blog, but haven’t mentioned anything about ‘big city’ life in Colonia. While it might not even be considered a small town back in the States, its two major streets and random assortment of shops, restaurants, and hotels make up the economic, political, and social hub of Yap.

This town has a history to it. Formally established in the late 1800’s by the Spanish as a trading post and Catholic mission, it was occupied by the Japanese during WWII, and later was the center of operations for Yap’s US overseers before Micronesia became a sovereign nation.

At the center of Colonia is our local courthouse, where both the Yap State court and FSM national court are located. Mike has been spending a fair amount of time there lately, which is thankfully only a few minutes walk from his work. He’s still getting used to the court employees knowing his name. Apparently, the “YAP” written on the side of the hill is a recent addition. It’s not uncommon to see one tourist standing there, while another tourist tries to get that perfect photo (without a line of cars at the stop sign, or a passenger making funny faces in the picture) from the other side of the street.


The Y.C.A, or Yap Cooperative Association, is the single biggest grocery store on the island, and also houses a liquor store, video rental business, and the FSM Immigration office in its strip-mall style building. The upper level has apartments and a few offices for rent. There’s a little courtyard in the center that is a frequent hang out spot for locals to stop and chat in the shade.


It’s also not uncommon for people to have extended conversations under the awning in front. Instead of standing next to one another, usually they will face each other at a distance of a couple of feet apart, forcing anyone walking under the awning to go in between them (or around them, risking exposure to the hot, baking sun). Local custom dictates that when you walk between people you are to bow and say “Sirow” or excuse me. How low you’re supposed to bow is determined by where you fit in Yap’s complicated, unspoken social hierarchy. For us expats who don’t know any better, a slight bow is usually sufficient to avoid being disrespectful.    

Down the street from YCA is a popular restaurant, Oasis. The lunch special is a reasonably priced $5, and includes soup, salad, some local food (either taro or plantain) and main course of rice and some kind of meat. While there isn’t a set routine to the lunch special menu, often times Friday features a truly great combination: barbeque chicken and pork. Really though, you can’t go wrong with anything served there.

Directly next to Oasis Restaurant, is arguably the most popular watering hole on the island, called O’Keefe’s. Named after local legend Captain David O’Keefe, an American who helped the Yapese transport stone money to the island from Palau, it’s a cozy, wood paneled bar that can get quite lively on Friday nights. The beer selection is limited to Bud, Bud Light, and Heineken, but they’re always cold, and the attentive staff make sure you’re never left too long with an empty bottle.  It also has a small stage for live music, usually occupied by a teacher of math at the local college who plays the keyboard and sings. His renditions of “Margaritaville” and “Brown Eyed Girl” are unique to say the least, and certainly make for a memorable, entertaining evening.


Another favorite establishment is the Mnuw, a Chinese junk converted into a bar/restaurant, moored next to the Manta Ray Bay Hotel. Most weekends the place is filled with a motley assortment of divers. The Mnuw features home-made beer, which comes in both “light” and “dark” varieties. The upper deck of the ship is a nice place to sit and enjoy the breeze, or watch a movie projected of the screen at the bow. Although a high priced menu makes it a little out of our budget for dinner, they have a $20 pizza that’s so large it’s more than enough for two meals. 

Across the street from Y.C.A is the main gas station, which is conveniently located right on the water next to an old boat ramp . Prices vary from expectantly expensive to outrageously expensive, now $4.10 a gallon. Prices also change day by day though. Every time we’ve filled up the tank, a different price has been written in black marker on the little sign taped to the gas pump. There’s no self-service option here, and credit cards are not accepted. You just pull up, tell whoever is working how much you’d like to spend, fork over the cash, and they’ll fill ‘er up.


Below is the Public Library, located across the street from the state government administration building. Filled mostly with expat castoff books, ridiculously outdated textbooks, and encyclopedias, it has a decent sized children’s section and piles of magazines from the 90’s. DSCN0796

Behind the library you can see a covered basketball court, that is the Colonia Community Center. After 3:00pm when school gets out, this area will be crowded with kids enjoying their time in exciting downtown Colonia. The area is right next to the water, and offers a great view of waves crashing against the coral reef barrier that surrounds the island. Miranda hopes to use the basketball court as a training ground for Yap’s first and only Roller Derby team. Current team size: 1.



Of course, there’s a lot of other things to see and do in town. There’s a post office, two banks (one with a brand-new ATM), and a fish market where the catch of the day is literally the catch of that day. It may be a small town, but it almost never seems boring.  Everywhere you go you see familiar faces and with each day we notice the little things that make this our home.