It is hard to believe we have been here long enough to start having memories from multiple years of attending certain events. Most recently we went to the Canoe Fest (11/11 – 11/13), an annual event highlighting traditional sailing and navigation skills. It’s so popular everyone counts down to it all year long. Literally. A billboard near the center of town shows the number of days until Canoe Fest that someone painstakingly updates daily.
Miranda and I attended last year and had a great time, so we knew what to expect. Instead of waking up early to listen to the inevitable speeches, and generally waiting around for events to begin, we slept in late and went downtown in the late morning. As is our new tradition, we got beverages from the local coffee shop, and walked around a bit, sipping our excellent mocha smoothies.
Eventually we found a place on the concrete retaining wall above the waterside, and watched as races for various age groups were organized.
Lanes for swimmers and buoys marking the race track for paddlers floated on the water, gently bobbing on a calm sea under a clear and sunny sky.
An announcer sat close by at a table behind a mountain of radio equipment. His play by play and color commentary about the ongoing races boomed out from several gigantic loudspeakers, then echoed a few seconds later on various car radios tuned to the live broadcast.
Unsurprisingly, there are some potentially champion swimmers among the participating villages.
Michael Phelps, beware!
We missed out on the totang races, made out of a folded sheet of tin roofing, but did see one totang sink slowly beneath the waterline as the unfortunate racer tried to paddle to shore.
I was really impressed by the bamboo raft races. Even though they’re paddling with just a bamboo pole, these little crafts shot across the water as if powered by a small electric motor.
Aside from all the racing events, one of the best things about Canoe Fest is the food. Vendors with barbeques large and small tempted tourists and locals alike with the smell of cooking meat.
We sat in the shade on the outdoor patio of the Marina Bar and Grill, as a canoe sailed by and parked itself a few feet away.
Eventually, our food arrived, and we enjoyed an excellent platter of freshly barbequed chicken and pork. Usually these meals come with some form of local food, either taro or breadfruit, but I knew to save room for the real main course.
After asking about it once earlier, we were told to come back later. One of our friends heard that it had arrived, so we all quickly went over to the particular vendor and placed our order. Removing a large tupperware container from underneath the counter, she handed over several skewers of tender, marinated, barbeque meat. Turtle meat.
You might not think it when looking at one, but those serene, shelled giants sure are tasty. Turtle meat is generally not sold on Yap , except it is cooked occasionally at events like these. I’ve tried it, and while I don’t think anyone should open up a turtle-burger joint, I do think it’s pretty good. It’s not fatty, is very tender, and has a taste somewhere between beef and pork.
After lunch, we walked around a bit more, and looked at some of the handicraft booths. This lady sold nuwnuws made from flowers, and the multi-colored grass skirts worn by dancers.
This booth had the traditional wraps from the outer islands of Yap, and a table set up by the students of the High School selling food and offering non-permanent tattooing with permanent markers instead of tattoo guns.
Since I’ve accumulated a fairly large collection of various traditional items, I couldn’t resist buying a replica traditional spear, and some replica shell money, a curved piece of shell tightly wrapped with woven strands of rope. I’m sure several people had a laugh at the strange looking guy, brandishing a 5-foot spear in one hand and a camera in the other.
The spear now sits proudly in our living room, always at the ready to fend off any attackers.
Since it was getting late in the afternoon, we decided to finish our visit by watching a stick dance being performed at the community center. We’ve seen dances to these several times now, but each is as captivating to watch as the last.
Even though the festival was all weekend, I decided not to go back for the second and third days. After absorbing too many rays, and generally having seen all there was to see, I used the remainder of the weekend for rest. Miranda went back on the next day and watched a band made up of expats, followed by a magic show performed by a Disney magician from the States. It rained pretty heavily, which thundered on the tin roof of the community center, nearly drowning out the music of the band.
All in all, it was a good Canoe Festival. Good food, good times, and a nice break from monotony of island life. Only 365 days left till Canoe Fest 2012!
A first for this blog: video! Here’s a short clip from the stick dance, seen above.