Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Commute: Work to Home

By Mike

Back in Seattle, one of the things I enjoyed the least about my weekdays was the commute. I’d sit for hours and hours in bumper to bumper traffic just to make the trip from work back home. I’d inch forward on the highway, surrounded on all sides by motorists in various stages of road rage or boredom, or having very engaging conversations on their Bluetooth headsets. In Yap, traffic definitely isn’t a problem. From work to home takes less than 5 minutes. If I get stuck behind a truckload of people, or if I’m riding my scooter especially slowly and carefully after (or during) a rainstorm, its 10 minutes max. Sometimes, on the ride home, I’ll think about the Seattle commute and chuckle a little.

For the past couple of weeks though, my scooter has been out of commission due to mechanical issues. It needs relatively minor repairs (a new tire and battery), but getting replacement parts can be a costly and time consuming process since few are available on-island. It doesn’t help that my generic, made-in-unknown Asian country scooter mysteriously lacks serial numbers, part numbers, or identification markings of any kind. Usually what happens is that other scooters will break down first, and be sold and scavenged for spare parts to breathe new life into other island scooters. This race to stay ahead of entropy is Darwinian in a sense, but I fear my scooter may have lost.

Not a big deal. I have access to another vehicle, and Miranda is always happy to be woken up early just to shuttle me back and forth every day to work. Of course, I joke. In the morning, she’s still too sleepy to be happy.

Since it’s been so rainy lately (with Yap barely missing a tropical storm and a super-Typhoon), I’m grateful for the dry ride. Another benefit of being chauffeured around is that I can sit back, drink my coffee, and really have time to look at all the random landmarks along the way. I thought that might make a decent blog post, or at least a blog post with lots of pictures, which is always a fan favorite.

DSC00048So here’s the starting point, my home away from home, the Yap State Administration building. As I mentioned in the previous blog post, this used to be the site of a fort. Now, it houses many critical State government departments, like Finance and Budget, Youth and Civic Affairs, and Resources and Development. The Governor’s office is there too, across from mine.

DSC00046At the back of the building, there’s a small patio of sorts where government employees can sit and enjoy their lunch underneath the shade of a tree. There’s a clear view of the harbor, and the commercial dock where container ships are unloaded on a regular basis.

Right behind the administration building, on a tiny peninsula across the water, is the remains of the Cecilia. I don’t know much about the backstory of this once stately vessel, other that it has remained parked off-kilter at this spot for some time now.



Heading away from the Cecilia into the center of Colonia is another sign of the destructive power of age and weather. This vacant building is across the street from the Yap Cooperative Association grocery and household supply store, a couple of video rental shops, the FSM bank, and a restaurant. The mural gets very infrequent touch-ups, but was painted with care and good intentions.


Next to the courthouse used to be a vacant lot overgrown with vegetation. Over the past six months, there has been a great deal of work done to transform this space into the future Yap Living History museum. Every day, dozens of workers toil to build these structures using traditional methods and local materials. There is a men’s house and a stone platform for dances, to be eventually supplemented with a climate controlled building to house cultural artifacts.


Driving away from downtown, across the Ganir bridge, gives a picturesque view of the harbor on one side and Chamorro Bay on the other. In the evenings, kayak practice is held there. Longboats of locals and expats paddle their way to and fro across the water, joined occasionally by a homemade one-seat raft built from a folded sheet of tin roofing. After the bridge is a stop sign. Making a left brings you to a ‘bank’ where many pieces of stone money are kept, along a road that passes by the FSM petroleum corporation facility, where all the gas reserves on the island are stored.


Back at the stop sign, if you went straight instead of left, you’d pass by one of our most frequented stores. Alternatively called “Blue Lagoon” or “E.M.I”, this place sells a little bit of everything, and at fairly consistent prices. They even have a row of freezers that sells luxury edibles from the States like ice cream cones and TV dinners. We’ll sometimes buy a DiGiorno’s frozen pizza from there, but at $10, it’s a rare occasion.


On the other side of the street, people have built a few small homes on the waters’ edge. This one even features a deck on stilts.


DSC00062-1Also along the shoreline is a dock with a couple of small fishing/diving boats. You’ll often see boats similar to these zipping across the water beyond the reef, ferrying eager, wet-suited tourists to the numerous dive sites around the island.

Across from this dock is the “Pathways Hotel”, a self-described eco-tourism establishment where you can rent local-style bungalows with views of the bay.




DSC00063There are also some oddities along the way, like this spiritual reminder on the side of a church building. Many different faiths compete for the salvation of the souls of the people here.

There’s also a couple of junked cars along the road. All those vehicles with mechanical issued that aren’t able to be repaired eventually have to wind up somewhere. The easiest place is wherever you can park it. When we first arrived, the silver van below was mostly concealed by plants and crawling with vines. A while ago, some of that growth was machete-chopped back, revealing the wreckage of several other cars that had been completely reclaimed by the jungle.


It’s not just old cars that become homes for jungle plants. If left unattended, I wonder how how long it takes before these discarded shipping containers grow a leafy green outer layer? Only time will tell.


DSC00068To get to our house in the Talguw area of Rull Municipality, you have to climb a steep hill up a road not quite wide enough for two cars. Even in tiny subcompact Japanese imports you still have to be careful not to tumble off the edge of the concrete while passing another car. This area seems to be the territory of many chickens, that dart across the road (who knows why?) without regard for life or wing. There’s also a pack of local dogs around, who look up at you with sad eyes and a bark or two, but are mostly harmless. At worst, a particularly lazy or stubborn mutt will refuse to yield the middle of the road to a car. Many dogs each year are injured by cars in Yap.

At the base of this road is a little fruit and vegetable stand. They sell a variety of local produce, including taro and bananas.


DSC00069-2Up the hill, near this apartment complex, appropriately named “Blue Lagoon” (not to be confused with the grocery store of the same name, but it is owned by the same company), I was stopped by a pair of our friendly neighborhood missionaries. I had decided to walk home that day to take these pictures, and got caught in a rainstorm, and was huffing and puffing up the hill. They asked if I was a tourist, since I probably looked the part with my camera and rain jacket! After assuring them that I did indeed live here, and knew where I was going, I went on my way.

DSC00070-3Down the street from the house, I pass by the USDA Forest Service branch office. Seeing that familiar sign in the same colors and font as all the various National Park signs back in the US always makes me remember my youth, trekking through the wilds of New Mexico on some Boy Scout backpacking trip.

Finally, it’s back to home sweet home: Government Quarter #37. By this time, I was covered in mud from the shins down, but that didn’t stop my loyal pal Peanut from bounding out of the jungle to greet me with so much enthusiasm you’d think he hadn’t seen me for years.


No matter how it goes, I always enjoy seeing this sight at the end of every day.

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