Monthly Archives: September 2007


Posted by on September 12, 2007

Kosrae Lodge Inside HDR 1 - Kosrae, FSM
Inside my bungalow

After having gone ga-ga over Pohnpei, I wouldn’t think I would have been as impressed with Kosrae, but I was.

My stay on Kosrae was at the Kosrae Village which was very similar, at least in construction, to the Village in Pohnpei. All of the structures were built by locals out of local materials in the manner that old Kosraen villages were built. Most of the joints in the buildings were also lashed together which brought out my inner boy scout (I used to work at a scout camp and teach knots and lashing. I can still do them all…)

The inn was owned by an American couple who moved to Korsae 15 years ago to start their own resort and dive shop. I have to say it was one of the most thoughtful places I’ve stayed at on this trip. They had fresh lime juice, coconut oil for bathing, and books about Kosrae in every room. Unlike Pohnpei, on Kosrae I was right on the water so I could hear the surf pretty much all day and night.

The resort was only 10 rooms, but had a good sized restaurant, one of the better ones on the island. It was very affordable as well. This wasn’t a big chain hotel resort, you were greeted by the owners and they live there on the property.

My first day I went diving, which I haven’t done since I was in Fiji about two months ago. The reef on Kosrae was magnificent. It was one enormous wall of coral going down to forever. The coral formations were the largest I’ve ever seen. I also got to see a large spotted eagle ray. Our dive did something I haven’t seen in other places that made loads of sense. We just drifted with the current carrying a tethered buoy along with us. The boat up top just followed the buoy and was right where we came up at the surface. In Fiji I had a one dive were we wound up at least a half mile from the boat.

It was also the first dive I have made where I didn’t wear a wet suit. The water temp was 84°F down to 80 feet.

Menka Ruins - Kosrae, FSM
Ruins of Menka

The next day I took a hike into the heart of the island with a couple from Virginia to visit the ancient ruins of Menka. The walk out to Menka took about an hour through rain forest. I took my hiking boots but eventually took them off and used my sandals as we had to cross a stream five times. Our guide was studying botany so knew a fair amount about the plants and trees we saw on the way.

The ruins themselves were not nearly as impressive as Nan Modal. They were mostly piles of stone laid out in squares with a mound in the middle of the square. Our guide assumed they were tombs which I think is a reasonable assumption. I was told that there are many ruins on Kosrae which have yet to be studied by archaeologists. I’d think a promising young archaeologist would take advantage of trips to Micronesia to work on their PhD. I was told there are ruins on the island similar to Nan Modal in structure, but I didn’t get a chance to see those.

Like Pohnpei, Kosrae is one of the real secrets of the the Pacific. There are only 8,000 people on the island, great diving, great hiking, nice people, it is affordable and they have several initiatives in place to protect the reef and keep it in a pristine state.

Post Card Extravaganza!!!!

Posted by on September 12, 2007

I’m off to the airport in 30 minutes to spend most of today on an airplane to Palau.

Seeing that Palau is the last place I will be in the world with any sort of link to the US Postal System, I’m going to make a special offer to the readers of this website.

To out all the lurkers out there who never comment, if you send me an email with your name and address in the next four days, I will send you a Post Card from Palau. Palau postage costs the same as US postage, but they make their own stamps.

Also, just tell me one of the places you’d like to see me visit in Asia….and don’t say “The Great Wall”.

I reserve the right to limit this offer if it if the requests get too crazy…

Working Vacation

Posted by on September 11, 2007

I’ve been here two days and I’ve done little more than catch up on my writing and photo editing. I haven’t seen much of Majuro (not that there is much to see). I have had some interesting conversations with some American ex-pats however.

I’ll try to take a few photos to give you a flavor of what the city is like. It is basically long and flat. To call it one dimensional wouldn’t be an exaggeration. It is a single 30 mile road where you have the ocean immediately to your right and left.

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Palau for my last stop in the Pacific and the one which I’ve been looking forward to the most. My plans are several dives, a trip to jellyfish lake as well as a kayak tour of the rock islands.

My current plans for the Philippines are shaping up as well. I’m looking at trip to the north of Luzon to the rice terraces as well as a short flight to Palawan to the underwater river.

You also may have noticed that my latest photos on Flickr are shots of Easter Island and Rennell. I have been monkeying with Photoshop and I have figured out how to salvage some photos that I thought were lost due to poor lighting.

Fun Fact: The Marshall Islands is one of three countries the United States has detonated above ground nuclear weapons on. (Japan and the US being the other two).

The Most Beautiful Island In the Pacific

Posted by on September 11, 2007

Kepirohi  Waterfall Vertical HDR - Pohnpei, FSM
Kepirohi Waterfall

Pohnpei is the most beautiful place I’ve visited in my trip so far. Hands down, no questions.

I was completely taken aback at the flowers, birds, lagoon, mountain, and the reef. The place I stayed was the Village Hotel, which is exactly what you think of when you dream of living on an island.

All the buildings were made of nothing by palm frond thatching and wood. No glass windows, just screens. There were no “rooms”. All rooms were individual bungalows made of mangrove timber and palm fronds. You could hear the birds outside chirping. I had a giant gecko in my room. My view overlooked the lagoon and its islands. It was awesome. If I ever get married, I know where I’m going on my honeymoon. (they had water beds too. I never slept so well..)

I’m amazed that more people don’t visit Micronesia as a tourist destination. Micronesia lacks any large resorts or chain hotels. As far as I know there are zero in the entire country. They use the US dollar, drive on the right, have US/Japanese electrical systems, speak English, and even use the US Postal service. (believe it or not, the banks are also FDIC insured too)

Given how beautiful and affordable Micronesia is, you’d think there would be more tourists, or at least more attention given to it. It suffers from being in the middle of nowhere more than most of the Pacific and having tourists destinations on either end of the flights that come in (Hawaii and Guam). Micronesia is 5-7 hour flight from Hawaii which is itself 5 hours from Los Angles. Getting anywhere in Micronesia is commitment and most people prefer to take short trips to Mexico or the Caribbean for vacation.

Nan Modal Tomb HDR
Tomb Ruins at Nan Modal

In addition to the beautiful scenery, Pohnpei also has some ruins which are on a par with Easter Island: Nan Modal.

I would guess that the majority of the people reading this have never heard of Nan Modal. I never heard about it until about a week before I saw it first hand. Despite its lack of fame, it deserves to be listed alongside other wonders of the ancient world including the maoi of Easter Island, Machu Pichu and Stonehenge.

Nan Modal (meaning the water in-between in Pohnpeian) is the ruins of an ancient religious complex on Pohnpei. The total area of the complex is about 200 acres and sits on 92 small islands with canals running between them. Think Venice meets Machu Pichu. The only fully intact structure are the royal tombs. The structures of Nan Modal were mostly built with long pieces of volcanic rock that look like hexagonal logs.

It is the basalt logs which makes this place a real wonder. You’ve probably read or heard about the “mysteries of Easter Island” and how archaeologists have tried to figure out how the moai (stone heads) were moved from the quarry to the sea. Having been there, I never really thought it much of a mystery. Yes, the moai were big, but I could come up with several solutions which involve nothing but manpower, wood and rope. They might not be the most efficient, but I think they would work given enough manpower and time. In fact, they have tried and succeeded with at least five different methods of moving the moai that I know of.

Nan Modal Wall at angle HDR
The walls of Nan Modal

Nan Modal seems like a much more challenging construction project. For starters, the complex is surrounded by water. I was told a team from the Discovery Channel came out last year and tried to build a raft to float the stones, but it didn’t work. Even if there was a network of bridges connecting the islands (which I think is the case. Some of the islands looked to have small broken bridges between them), I still don’t think enough men walking in a straight line could carry a single basalt log. Using the exact same methods they used on Easter Island wouldn’t necessarily work either, because unlike Easter Island, Pohnpei is still covered with thick forest which would make dragging the logs that much more difficult.

Furthermore, once the logs got to the complex, some had to be lifted into place up to 20 feet in the air, whereas on Easter Island they just had to be tipped upright. The largest of the basalt logs at Nan Modal are estimated to weigh 70 tons, which is as large as the largest moai on Easter Island. The moai are all made from a volcanic tuff which is much lighter than a regular basalt. The Nan Modal logs are very dense. Also, some of the pieces of the structure at Nan Modal aren’t logs but are just large basalt boulders.

Pohnpei from sea - Pohnpei, FSM
Pohnpei from the lagoon

For the most part, the Pacific is devoid of ancient structures. Aside from Easter Island, I’ve only herd of a few other places which are nothing more than mounds and are pretty unspectacular. If you put some amazing, accessible archaeological ruins on top of a beautiful island, you should have a tourism winner….but that isn’t the case.

I don’t usually give travel advice on this site but I have to say, if you want a trip to someplace unspoiled, adventurous, and affordable, consider Micronesia. I’d recommend it higher than anyplace else I’ve been in the region.


Posted by on September 10, 2007

I don’t think I was prepared for Saipan. Most of the places I’ve been in the Pacific have been….well, Pacific. There has been a common thread to them. They are all sort of laid back and underdeveloped to various degrees. They take pride in local customs and languages, even if they are only used to show tourists.

Saipan can best be described as Vegas 50 years ago run by the Chinese.

Everywhere around the central business district in Garapan there was prostitution. I’d say 30-40% of the business were massage parlors or “clubs” where they didn’t even try to pretend they were anything else. I have never been propositioned by a prostitute in my life, but I was several times within 10 minutes of entering the downtown area.

It's really out in the open
They don’t even try to hide it

People who are legitimate masseuses probably have a difficult time distinguishing themselves from less reputable people who claim to share their profession. You can usually tell them apart by how they present themselves. A legitimate masseuse will advertise themselves as “therapeutic” or will specify what type of massage they offer. Moreover, their offices will have things like windows and look like a legitimate business.

Most of the massage parlors in Saipan confused things by saying they were “therapeutic” or advertising specific Chinese foot massages. However, I really can’t believe that an economy can rest on foot massages. Moreover, foot massages by young, attractive, scantly clad Chinese women who aggressively pander their massages to all male (and only male) passers by.

Another thing I noticed in Saipan were karaoke bars. I’ve actually noticed them before. I’ve seen them in LA, Auckland, Guam and anywhere you find a decent sized Korean community. I’ve never really thought twice about them actually, I just assumed they were bars where they sang karaoke. I did notice that none of them ever had windows. Well, on Saipan I think I figured out what karaoke bars really are. There were a few on the main shopping plaza that had lots of girls in mini-skirts out front trying to bring people in. I think they are really nothing more than a different twist on the massage parlor which cater specifically to Asians.

The reason why there is so much prostitution in Saipan is an interesting one. The Northern Marinas Islands are a territory of the United States. They have a status similar to Puerto Rico, USVI and American Samoa. Because they are not full blown states however, they have more freedom from federal laws than most states do. In the 80s and 90s, they took advantage of the loophole in laws and set up garment factories in Saipan. They imported cheap labor from China and the Philippines (almost all women) and were able to ship garments into the US avoiding tariffs but also avoiding federal minimum wage and labor laws. They basically created sweatshop industry within the US and made a killing off of it. Moreover, the methods used to get Chinese and Filipino were really shady. They were basically indentured servants. The women shipped over would have to work off their transportation from the small wages they were getting.

The garment factories were eventually shut down as the loopholes were closed, but many of the women stayed behind because they hadn’t worked off their passage yet. (Saipan has the largest ratio of women to men in the world). Saipan is a big tourist destination for Japanese and it didn’t take a rocket scientists to see what would happen when you mix large number of Asian male tourists with large numbers of unemployed Asian women. Prostitution exploded. (the Asian part of the equation isn’t there by accident. Japanese men are notorious for their trips to places such as Bangkok for sex tourism. Obviously, it’s the world’s oldest profession so it happens everywhere, but the proximity to Japan I think ended up making the industry bigger than it would have been if it had been located in the Caribbean or the South Pacific).

Despite everything I’ve just said, I got the impression that the future for for the CNMI and Saipan in particular might be very bright. Prostitution aside, there is a dynamism to the island I haven’t seen elsewhere in the pacific. I think it mostly comes from the Chinese, but it’s there nonetheless. If Macao is becoming the Vegas of Asia, then Saipan could become the Tahoe, or at least the Foxwoods of Asia.

I think the prostitution is also a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. Shutting down the garment factories led almost directly to the growth of prostitution (I wasn’t here before, so I don’t know how big the prostitution business was when the factories where in full swing, but I have believe it is much larger now). The desire to shut down the garment factories came from good intentions, but the plight of some of the women certainly became much worse than it was before.

Battle of Saipan Memorial
Battle of Saipan Memorial

Outside of getting propositioned by prostitutes on the way to getting sushi, I also visited the National Park on Saipan dedicated to the Battle of Saipan and Tinan (a smaller island south of Saipan). I didn’t really know much about the Marinas campaign in WWII, so everything was brand new to me. The Marinas campaign had two connections to the use of atomic weapons on Japan, one direct and one indirect. The direct link is that that Tinan was where the Enola Gay took off to bomb Hiroshima.

The indirect link really stunned me….

Sapian was Japanese territory before the start of WWII. They got it from Germany at the end of WWI. There were about 20,000 Japanese civilians on the island and it was the first time the US military had to deal with Japanese civilians. As the American forces took the island, the Japanese military and civilians were driven to the north of the island where there are very large cliffs. The civilians had been told that if they were captured by the Americans they would all be killed, tortured, raped, etc. As the civilians (mostly women) were trapped at the cliffs, most chose to throw themselves off and commit suicide with their children. Much of it was caught on film.

The decision to drop the bomb ultimately was a calculation based on how hard they thought the Japanese would fight to protect the mainland. The images of women beating babies with rocks and then throwing themselves off 800 foot cliffs had to be shocking to the people who saw it at the time. It, along with the suicide banzai charge the soldiers did at the end of the battle of Saipan, probably cemented the belief in American military decision makers that the invasion of the main island of Japan would be enormously difficult (this was later confirmed at the battle of Okinawa which was also had an enormous loss of Japanese life)

Road sign - Saipan
Chamorros worship Lord Stanley’s Cup

I should also make note of a symbol I saw all over Saipan and to a lesser extent on Guam. It is on their flag, the license plates, the highway signs, all the government buildings and even some of the hotels. It’s a very odd symbol. At first I thought that someone brought the Stanley Cup here years ago and the locals worshipped the cup as a god, but that story would be way too cool. In Guam, at first I thought it was an upside down bomb or torpedo. The one on the airport sign literally looks like a long, upside down torpedo. Turns out there are some ancient stone ruins on Tinan called a latte stone. The Chamorro have adopted it as their symbol. That’s why you only see it on Guam and CNMI, because that is where the Chamorro live.

Saipan was surprising because it seemed much more Asian than Pacific or American. I suppose as I’m moving further west that is to be expected. I’m only a few weeks away from being in full blown Asia now.

*The title of this post is taken from the term “pan-pan” which was used to describe prostitutes in post war Japan.

Marshall Islands Internet

Posted by on September 10, 2007

For a country so tied to the US, I had rather assumed that the Marshalls would have decent internet connections.

It is the worst I’ve seen in the pacific by a long shot.

I’ve been almost everywhere in the pacific so I got an idea for how expensive and slow it is to get online. I am at the National Telecom Authority in Majuro right now using a terminal. While I was waiting for a computer (20 teenage Mormon missionaries descended on the place) I checked out the prices for “broadband” internet connections in Majuro.

A 512k connection, worse than most DSL connections in the US, is $5,000 per MONTH….and that isn’t even for the bandwidth which is an extra $800 per month. A 64k connection, about as bad as a dial up modem, is $800 per month and $200 for bandwidth.

I haven’t been enough places to compare, but the Marshalls just might have the worst internet set up in the world.


Posted by on September 10, 2007

I stated in one of my entries from Tonga that it was my first time on a coral atoll. That should be corrected. The main island of Tonga, Tongatapu, isn’t at true coral atoll. It is a raised atoll. It is flat like an atoll, but it is not the classic ring shaped one dimensional shape of a true atoll.

Majuro is my first time on a true atoll

….and let me say, when you have no expectations for a place, you will always be surprised.

My five days in FSM were quiet to say the least. At no time did I see anything resembling anything urban. The villages were very small and didn’t even have the stores I normally see in most pacific villages. Pohnpei and Korsae were quite, peaceful, with very few people and little development. I assumed that going to an atoll even farther out in the ocean would be more of the same. Even during my very very brief stay on Kiribati, I didn’t get the impression that the place was a hopping destination. I was preparing for three days of boredom on Majuro counting coconuts.

Boy was I wrong.

The moment I got off the plane I could tell I was wrong. The airport had…..people. There were kiosks with people selling…. things. BOOKS were sold. After we got into the car to go to the hostel, the entire drive there was houses and stores, and many of the houses would be right in place in an American suburb.

In fact, I’m writing this on my laptop in a god damn sports bar watching the Cowboys vs Giants on a plasma TV eating a cheeseburger. (The bar is 20 feet from my hostel room and was the closest thing open).

Within the next two weeks i’m going to write a post about the Micronesia region and the former Trust Territories of the Pacific and how it wound up ending in three independent countries and two US territories. I think its a fascinating story, more-so having talked to locals about it (its not ancient history either. It all went down in the last 10-20 years)

While I sort of have access to the internet here, it is slow. Photos may have to wait until I get to Palau or during my layover in Guam.

A Micronesia Moment

Posted by on September 9, 2007

I haven’t had an internet connection this week and I’m currently on a dial up, so this will be short.

Micronesia has been one of the highlights of my trip so far. I’ve been living in grass shacks, eating fruit off the trees, diving, hiking in the rainforest and living life like it was a James Mitchner novel.

I have a lot of photos and much more to say, but it will have to wait until I can get a broadband connection and a USB port.

Caesar in Ponhpei

Posted by on September 2, 2007

When you travel on the seat of your pants like I do (not booking far in advance and doing things at the last minute) there is always the risk of not being able to go somewhere at the time you want. The biggest risk is running into a busy weekend or a convention and there not being any rooms or plane seats available.

So far on my trip I’ve been lucky, but I think I might have just hit my first snag. There are no rooms on Chuuk the next two days. There is some sort of conference on the island. I may have to skip Chuuk (aka Truk) and move right to my second destination, Pohnpei, tomorrow.

….and Saipan? Oh man…

***EDIT*** I had to make a quick judgement call. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone in Pohnpei, so rather than risk it, I’m going to stay in Guam for two days and go directly to Pohnpei from here. My schedule will be exactly the same, I’m just replacing Chuuk with Guam. Not really the ideal situation, but I’ll make due.

McPacific America

Posted by on September 1, 2007

Taro Pie (by Everything Everywhere)
It’s as psudo-american as taro pie!

I’m lumping McDonald’s for Hawaii, Guam and Saipan all together. They are pretty much the same and all share the one unique thing I find interesting.

The McDonalds in Waikiki did something I liked an haven’t seen anywhere else. They gave you a free package of diced pineapple with every meal: breakfast or dinner. It was a descent sized portion of pineapple too. A similar sized package cost $3.99 across the street at a convenience store.

Waikiki, Guam and Saipan all served Spam and rice for breakfast. In Guam they also served Chamorro sausage and Portuguese sausage. I tried them both (not at McDonalds) and couldn’t really tell the difference. They are both rather spicy.

The idea of rice (and even fried rice in some places) is something which you wont find in the mainland United States, but is something you get used to pretty quick. In fact, I have really come to like rice and eggs.

What all three places have in common at their McDonald’s is they serve taro pie. (see photo)

I guess taro pies were originally served in Asian McDonald’s then picked up in Hawaii and later in the Marinas. The idea of a taro pie isn’t shocking, but serving it as a dessert sort of is. Taro is a root vegtable. It’s like a potato or perhaps a sweet potato. Usually if a pie has potatoes in it, it would be joined with meat and served as an entree. (One of my favorite dishes are pasties which are Cornish pies that are really big in Northern Michigan)

The McDonald’s taro pie is sweet. It is designed to be served as a replacement for the apple pie. The sweetness comes from the purple, jelly like filling that is inside the pie. It is far sweeter than a sweet potato is sweet, so its not coming from the taro itself.

The other reason I’m surprised they have taro pies has to do with the difficulty of taro cultivation, at least in the Pacific. Taro is probably the biggest staple food in the Pacific. Growing it can be a real pain. Often, if you live on an atoll, you have to dig very deep pits to access fresh water to grow the taro. I don’t know how they do large scale cultivation of taro, but I can only assume they don’t have to dig enormous pits.

I would really like to see a McDonald’s cassava pie….