Friday, October 21, 2011

The Commute: Home to Work

By: Mike

Back in July, I wrote a blog post about my evening “commute” home from work along the generally circuitous road that borders Chamorro Bay. I had always intended to complete this theme by writing about taking the road on the other side of the bay. As often happens, I never seemed to get around to it.

On one particularly clear and sunny morning this week, I brought a camera along to document my routine morning journey from Quarter #37 (“Home”) in Talguw to the Yap State Administration Building in Colonia (“Work”).

DSCN2131I started off by heading down this unnamed road, which has been recently repaired to fill in the numerous ruts and potholes that naturally develop as a result of continuous cycles of rain and baking sunshine.

Every few months, a work crew will come along, armed with shovels and truckloads of rocks and earth, to painstakingly fill in these sometimes cavernous hazards. They’ll also dig shallow drainage trenches on either side of the road, but it is a constant losing battle against Mother Nature. When the next heavy storm blows through, these trenches become fast flowing mini-rivers. Loose dirt and sediment are swiftly carried downstream, opening fissures that eventually form new potholes. Soon enough, the road returns to its usual teeth-rattling condition.

DSCN2130The first stop along this road is our local convenience store, called Gilmar’s. Owned and operated by the Director of Health Services (many government employees have their separate side projects or businesses), it is a neighborhood resource for all the essentials, like bottled water, betel nut sold by the bag, canned tuna, and a well-stocked assortment of spirituous liquors (like the previously mentioned White Wolf Vodka) and beer. It also has a laundry-mat. Across the street is a building with a solitary pool table, which is a popular venue on weekend nights for locals to hang out and drink.

A little further down the road is the Family Chain Auto Shop, where I’ve had my scooter repaired a number of times. Since it is a Japanese-run establishment, explaining exactly what the mechanical problem is can be difficult due to the language barrier. It usually requires a little patience and good pantomime skills, though I’m always impressed by the low prices for their work. Patching a flat tire was only $7, and they’ll often fill up your tires or perform minor repairs for free, depending on how nicely you ask.


Next to this compound crammed with cars in various stages of repair and disrepair is probably one of the best maintained buildings on the island: the Seventh Day Adventist Church. On an island where everything built is continually worn down by wind and rain and sun, this place always looks brand new. It is both a testament to the industriousness of its congregation, and a gleaming beacon of “un-Yapness” in its striking and obvious contrast to its surroundings.


Hanging a right at the church brings you to the main paved road into town. There is a very steep hill with an actual sidewalk (one of the very few), that I thought would make a great racetrack for a soapbox derby. I joked that Miranda could slalom down it on her roller-skates, but given the incline, it’s unlikely she’d make it in one piece!


On any given morning, children can be seen trudging up this slope on their way to school. The blue truck on the right in this picture is the Drops Of Life delivery truck. Drops of Life is a business that provides clean drinking water to many on Yap, including us. A pick-up window is quickly slid open by the employee who dutifully leaves their solitaire game on the computer to help as we approach with our two empty five-gallon bottles to be refilled every week or so. It’s not a bad deal for $4. For another dollar more they will deliver it to our house, which was very helpful before we had our car.

DSCN2113At the bottom of the hill the asphalt road continues over a low bridge, and around the mangrove choked shore of Chamorro Bay. Recently someone took the time and effort to wade into the murky waters and chop down the trees and other plants that created a natural hedge between the water and the road. Now, instead of being faced with impenetrable a wall of aquatic plants, you can actually look across the Bay from the road. Alongside, a well-worn dirt path serves as a sidewalk, where you’ll sometimes see entire families traversing it in single file.

This store, called Ace’s Mart, is one of several little shops along the way into town. Best described as a “household goods” store, you can get everything from pots and pans to sunglasses and clothes here. It is rumored to also sell a ‘Sega: Genesis’ video game system, the height of entertainment technology, circa 1989.


Here’s the main “financial district” on Yap, featuring the Bank of Guam and the Federated States of Micronesia Development Bank. We use the Bank of Guam primarily because it has the only ATM on the entire island. Since the bank closes at 3:00PM Monday through Thursday, and 5:00PM on Friday and is also closed all weekend, if we ever run out of cash, it’s an easy drive to the always open (but not always stocked with cash) teller machine.


Continuing down the road, on the right side are several houses built on stilts over the water, next to which sits the Lagoonia Store. I’ve yet to venture inside, but Miranda has reported that this shop sells, among other things, reasonably priced bolts of cloth that their seamstress will sew into shirts and other clothes for you. They also have a bakery that brings the smell of frying dough to this street each morning.


Next up is the Post Office. You’ve likely seen pictures of this before. It may have a weird color scheme, but without a doubt, it’s one of my favorite places. It’s our fragile lifeline to home, friends, and family in the form of letters and boxes of precious, priceless artifacts from the western world. The simplest, most forgettable things back in the U.S., like jars of salsa, cans of artichoke hearts, or boxes of Kraft Shells and Cheese, are worth their weight in gold here.


It’s still the high point of any week to check P.O. Box 1191 and find that little slip of paper alerting us to a newly arrived care package.

DSCN2118Across from the post office is an open space that was once used as a motor pool for government vehicles, and sometimes as a soccer field, though its close proximity to the water would seem to make any wild kick of the ball a game-ending occurrence. Several times a week canoes are launched here for paddling practice, where locals and ex-pats alike stroke their way back and forth across the Bay.


Other boats, used for fishing and diving within the reef are moored here on a regular basis.

Here is the Yap State Division of Public Safety, where Yap’s proud, fearless firefighters and police officers work. At the back of this building is the jail, as well as an enclosed yard where prisoners are allowed outside. An unintended quirk of urban planning located Yap’s premier luxury hotel, the Yap Pacific Dive Resort, directly above this yard so that anyone eating at the restaurant or swimming in the pool has a birds-eye view of all the going’s on down in the jail yard.


DSCN2120A path from the hotel high above the jail leads down to this dive shop and pier, where patrons of the resort embark for their afternoon underwater diving adventures.







Across the street from Public Safety is the site of ongoing construction on what will be the Yap Living History Museum.


In the four months since I last posted pictures of this place, a great deal of progress has been made. A stone wall studded with carved rocks circles the area, and many fine woodworking details have been added to the individual buildings.


A stone platform has been mostly completed in front of the structures, where dances and other tourist-friendly cultural events can be performed. Given the rapid construction progress, it’s likely that this living museum will soon be a highly visible and attractive addition to ‘downtown’ Colonia.

Just past the museum site is the rest of Colonia, including among other landmarks, the State and FSM Courthouse, several stores, a gas station, and the community center, which I’ve photographed and blogged about numerous times in the past.

On this day, before heading down the last few blocks to work, I paused for a moment at the ocean-facing shoreline and simply stared out at the glassy, unbroken surface of the water. On my daily walk to work, this is one of my favorite vistas. I think it’s a powerful reminder of the beauty of this island that frequently fades into the background of everyday life.

I sometimes look out at that white line of waves crashing against the reef, and think that just beyond there (give or take a few thousand miles or so) is all that I’ve left behind, and the promise of an unknown future*.


* I’ve been subsequently informed that technically, this view is actually facing South-Southeast, meaning that all this time, my melancholy gazing has been directed towards the wilderness of Papua New Guinea, the western coast of Australia, and the vast expanses of the South Pacific Ocean. Even though my sense of direction is slightly inaccurate, the sentiment remains the same.

1 comment:

  1. The church that is so well maintained is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) Stop in some Sunday, there is a wonderful English speaking couple that doesn't speak Yapese either. I have visited Yap and agree that Yap is a beautiful place.