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.
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.