MICRONESIA BY BRYAN VILA

Micronesia. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Bryan Vila, one of the authors of a truly fantastic book called ‘Micronesian Blues’, gives his recommendations.

Go diving

Diving in Micronesia is spectacular. Chuuk lagoon is popular among divers because it contains more than 100 sunken, mostly intact Japanese ships and about 270 planes. It’s considered one of the best wreck diving destinations in the world.

But my favorite place to dive when I lived in Micronesia was in the blue holes in Palau’s huge reefs. The marine life is amazing, like something out of a movie. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. And it’s a lazy dive, you just fall off the side of the boat and drift slowly and quietly downward next to the reef face, watching as colors and critters and life swims around you.

Visit Nan Madol, Pohnpei

Nan Madol off the eastern shore of Pohnpei is an ancient compound/city made from huge, terribly heavy basalt ‘logs’ that was under construction for centuries. Construction probably began in the seventh century A.D. In its own way, Nan Madol is just as fascinating as the pyramids of Egypt, but without the hordes of tourists and hawkers selling souvenirs (or at least not back when I lived in Micronesia – I hope it hasn’t changed).

I remember that as you arrive (by boat) there’s this enormous plaza with 25-foot-high basalt walls. But the really impressive thing is that all the basalt that was used to create it and the other buildings at Nan Madol was brought to Pohnpei from neighboring islands on bamboo rafts – or maybe under them. I don’t know that anyone has solved the mystery of how a culture without a wheel could move such heavy objects so far over that kind of terrain.

Attend local events

The best way by far to experience Micronesia is to get to know people and participate in local culture. This isn’t hard to do if you’re polite, inquisitive, and respectful. Most Micronesians are friendly and welcoming.

Listen, smile, and be genuinely kind. Learn some of the language wherever you are. Read up on the culture, so you’ll know how to behave – and remember that proper behavior varies a lot from island to island. Once you get to know people, you’ll probably be invited to a local event. If this doesn’t happen, it’s OK to ask politely if you may join in a feast, a ‘real’ sakau ceremony, or some other activity.

Micronesian feasts are incredible – be sure to bring your appetite. They typically feature traditional foods such as cassava, taro, giant yams, giant chestnuts, fish, pigs, turtles, giant clams, mangrove crabs, coconut crabs, pigeons, lobsters, and – in Palau – crocodile. You will not want to eat again for a week!

Whatever you do in Micronesia, remember always to be mindful that you are the outsider there, and it’s up to you to fit in. For example, in Micronesia, things don’t always happen on schedule, so don’t complain when the shark dive you signed up for is three hours late. Savor the opportunity to sit back and observe a truly unique world, a sky that goes on forever or a sunset even Van Gogh couldn’t imagine. You can’t always get what you want, so don’t whine, just improvise. It’s part of living in the middle of the Pacific.

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