Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

by: Mike and Miranda

We’re doing a little bit of catch-up on blogging with this entry.

Aside from the increasingly difficult task of coming up with even marginally interesting topics to blog about (any suggestions, readers?), so far 2012 has been a very busy year. Even if we had the time, the motivation for writing a reasonably positive and objective blog entry often isn’t there. After a long, stressful, or frustrating day of work, all we feel like doing is using those precious short hours to rest and recharge to face whatever new challenge tomorrow surely will bring.

That’s also why it’s so important to enjoy the weekends as much as possible. It’s a chance to finally slow down, put things into perspective, and actually enjoy living here. Sometimes that involves simply vegetating in the comfort and security of our living room, listening to the wind rustle through the trees, with a good book, the television, or the always therapeutic, non-stop antics of Peanut. Other times, we’ll have the opportunity to venture outside the home, to do something different or have a new adventure.

Last month, just such a chance arose. We were invited by an expat friend to visit the remains of an old Japanese dock in Leebinaew Village on the eastern coast. It’s a rare treat to see a new part of the island, so we readily agreed and packed up the car for a day in the sun.

We drove north along the main road as far as the pavement would go, until it abruptly turned into packed dirt and gravel. Our car rumbled and jolted on the uneven surface like a jeep on safari, kicking up a plume of rust-colored earth in its wake. The scenery transitioned from inland rolling hills covered with savannah grasses and brush, to the more typical jungle setting as we got closer to the water.

Eventually we came to an intersection of dirt roads, and headed down a single lane path deeper into the jungle. There were houses along the way, some only barely visible down numerous little footpaths that branched out from the road like tributaries of a river. The village was very quiet, likely because it is one of the least populated villages on the island. This is rumored to be because many of the younger people have moved away. Even so, residents of the village took notice of us, and some children waved and yelled “Bye!”, as we drove past.


The road meandered out of the village, sometimes narrowing to what felt like a tunnel carved through the overhanging canopy of trees, sometimes suddenly opening up to a vista of the ocean or a deep mangrove swamp with its crisscrossed tangle of roots.



It had rained earlier in the day, and we hesitantly joked about the car getting stuck, or the road getting washed out, or any number of other clichéd horror movie type scenarios. The still quiet of the jungle, punctuated only by the strange cries of unseen birds or insects, combined with the twilight murk underneath so much foliage, made everything feel a little bit creepy, especially the mangrove swamp.

Mangrove Panorama 1

Since we’d never been to this part of the island, we followed our friend in his much larger vehicle, who powered through the potholes and wide patches of mud with relative ease. Thanks to Miranda’s off-road driving skills that she has acquired here on Yap during adventures such as these, and luck, we made our way through without much trouble. Clearing the jungle, we came around a corner and observed a narrow path, just wide enough for a car, stretching out from the shore to a square stone platform out in the water.


This picture here, taken on the dock, shows that narrow causeway, looking back towards the island. After some careful parking maneuvers (and making certain the parking brake was fully secure), we had arrived at our destination.

Here’s another, showing the side of the causeway, now home to local plants that have taken root among those ancient stones.


We unloaded the cars and readied our snorkel gear, eager to jump in the water.


This remnant of an old Japanese WWII dock sits on a channel away from the open ocean. Out on the horizon, we watched a fisherman returning from beyond the reef, with his pallet of collected nets in tow.


DSCN2298Unfortunately, the water was fairly murky and visibility while snorkeling was difficult at times. But not all was lost, we did get to see some great stuff! We saw schools of small and brightly colored fish hanging out in coral that was a brighter blue than even the fish were. We saw brain coral the size of our car, literally.

To enter the water off of the dock there was a very old, moss-covered stairway made of concrete. It was slippery and sharp in spots, so we took great care climbing in and out of the water. We would have loved to be able to dive off the dock into the water, but the enormous brain coral prevented us from jumping.

If you’re wondering what brain coral looks like, you’re right. It indeed does look like a giant, underwater human brain.

The water was fairly shallow and warm close to the dock, but got increasingly cold out in the channel. Diving underneath the water, Mike unsuccessfully tried to touch the bottom as his ears popped from the pressure change. He swam out to what looked like a smaller island or clump of mangrove trees directly across the channel from the dock, and tried not to disturb the carpet of coral around its periphery.


Mike learned that this outcropping is actually the nature-reclaimed remains of a bridge that spanned the entire channel, partially constructed with stones from fishing weirs (a traditional fishing method) used in the nearby villages.

Apparently, Japanese ships would moor at the dock, and then transport their goods by truck across the bridge. While looking out across the channel, we could only imagine that this area was a hub of activity during the Japanese occupation, with transport vessels loading and unloading, and possibly even warships patrolling these now peaceful waters.    

After we snorkeled and air dried in the breeze of the trade winds and the glorious February equatorial sun, we relaxed while our friend played the guitar. We sang along to songs we knew, and during ones we didn’t, a calm quiet came over us as we listened to the music and enjoyed the amazing scenery of our island.

Dock Panorama 1

With panoramas like these, it was an easy reminder of the unique benefits of the island life, and that even after two years there are always new places to explore.  

Later, more friends joined us bringing their own stories of surviving the road, and dishes to add to the growing potluck dinner. However, our meal wasn’t complete until the majority of our group set out to catch some dinner, in the form of land crabs. 

Mike joined the hunting party. He admitted some skepticism at the prospects of this large, not particularly stealthy group stomping into the jungle in search of food. Surprisingly, with the help of some local friends experienced in the art of crab hunting, soon enough we spotted the tell-tale scuttling of shadows across the jungle floor. Once we knew what we were looking for, it seemed like there were potential crab dinners all around us.

One of our group demonstrated how to catch a crab, with the helpful instruction to grab the main section of the body and to “avoid the claws”. It was actually good advice. The next time Mike saw a crab illuminated by a flashlight, he went for it. He was able to tightly grab an area behind its claws and managed to hold onto it without losing any fingers. Eventually, others were able to catch a few more, and we all proudly marched back to the dock, seafood dinners in hand.

The crabs were placed right on the grill, after being humanely euthanized by machete to prevent them from crawling off. Being smaller than what you’d find as an entrée on a Red Lobster menu, these crabs had a lot less meat on them, but were nevertheless really tasty.

The only thing missing was about a gallon of melted butter.

While the original plan was to camp out, as the evening drew on, and the prospect of a night sleeping on the cold stone dock seemed less inviting, we decided to pack up and drive back to Colonia.

We all said our good-byes, tired from the sun and the swimming, but happy after a long, enjoyable day. 


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