I’m travelling from Pohnpei to Chuuk with trepidation. I’ve read that it’s very dirty and heard that it’s unfriendly and dangerous. Carlos, on Kosrae, has told me I should not go outside my hotel without an escort.
I’m more surprised (and relieved) when the hotel I have booked with sends a man to meet me at the airport. Booking procedures were laid back, to say the least. There’s me and an American couple and they’ve sent a 15 seater minibus and a separate van for the luggage. The driver says they were expecting more people…..
The road is so full of potholes our pace is exceeding slow past the port, before the familiar palms close in as we end our way across the island. We stop at a supermarket (yes, a proper supermarket, there are several of them) so my companions can buy beer. People in the shop are reserved, but polite. They seem to be stocking up for major Christmas barbeques.
My room aspires to be more luxurious than those in the last two states. there are new lampshades (still covered in plastic), carved wooden panelling behind the bed, a diamond patterned vinyl tile (very slippy) floor, beige (!) curtains falling off their runners, lots of power points and a large bathroom. The beds are very hard. There’s a musty smell emanating from the air con and an odd chemical smell, overlaid with disinfectant permeating the whole room.
At first glance it’s equipped with all the modern amenities. But the fridge doesn’t work, neither does the hairdryer and there’s a Samsung smart TV, but that’s not smart enough to work either. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of aerial or cable connection. The ‘hot’ water is erratic (the maintenance man assures me it will come on later. (I hope so. I’m half way through washing my hair.) He has managed to cure the shrill whistle emitted by the bathroom taps (temporarily).
The outside of the buildings is very green. Green balconies and green fake grass steps. My balcony isn’t quite overwater this time, but there is another great view across the huge lagoon, through the bendy palm trees. There’s no Wi-Fi in the rooms - just a very intermittent signal in the lobby. The residents cluster on the seats outside, heads down, phones in hand, fingers working furiously.
The restaurant is all enclosed, which is annoying when it’s such balmy weather, but it’s a long menu that features considerably more than sushi. A good half of it isn’t available, (it’s not our busy season) but that’s still a vast improvement on recent offerings.
Chuuk used to be known as Truk (lots of puns there and the locals have made free use of them - Truk stop café etc. Of course, there’s potential in Chuuk too) and it has an enormous lagoon that is still called Truk; this is dotted with numerous islands large and small. The biggest island, where I’m staying, was called Moen, but they’ve re-named it Weno. (I think that’s brought you up to date.)
Truk Lagoon was the site of one of the most brutal naval battles of the Second World War. Because the Americans sank a large number (over 60), of Japanese ships, here (The Japanese version of Pearl Harbor), Truk Lagoon is reputed to have the best wreck diving in the world.
I’m snorkelling over two planes and a reef, by the resort’s private lagoon island today. I’m on my own in the dive boat, which could be fun, but the boatman speaks hardly any English, the motors are struggling and the ship’s canopy roof is so frayed, that half of it is missing. The boatman’s forgotten to bring a ladder. He and his mate have to heave me back in by the outboards after I’ve looked at the planes, him in the water shoving and his friend in the boat pulling. It’s not very dignified, but painless.
Unfortunately, I can confirm that Chuuk's reputation for being dirty is justified. The little island we visit is filthy, the coral is littered with bottles and cans, and there are old doors and other bits of wood lying around. (The banks of the lagoon at the resort are mucky too. Bottle caps and Styrofoam beakers roll around on the grass.) They’ve found me an old plastic sunbed with some broken slats to prop on the coral (there isn’t a beach). There is a smallish reef and reasonable visibility, but the sea is rough today and snorkelling is hard work. And the final straw - tomato salsa has leaked all over my picnic lunch. It looks as if Jack the Ripper made it.
Christmas Eve is as quiet as any other evening in Micronesia. (Nightlife is generally non-existent and by 10 p.m., bars and restaurants are all closed.) Most of the hotel guests are American and Australian divers, but there are some Japanese too. No Christmas menus here, though the resort has splashed out on half a dozen trees and a galaxy of lights. Even the dive shop is decorated.
I’ve run out of puns now. I don’t want to tempt fate with Chuuked up.....
There have been a plethora of Happy Christmases from the staff. The women are all wearing embellished circlets on their hair.The weather is continuing to change its mind every five minutes. There was a big storm last night. The wind moaned all round my balcony and the whistling pipe joined in too. This morning the grass beneath the palms is covered in litter.
And I’m giving the snorkelling another go. I’m promised a different island and I’ve managed to obtain an English speaking guide this time, and a ladder. We putter off, but don’t get beyond puttering. Neither of the outboards is functioning at a level beyond feeble, and half an hour later, we’re back at the dive-shop dock, being transferred to yesterday’s boat. I point out that the motors on this one weren’t very efficient either, but my boatmen just grin. I’ve just noticed a Yamaha engine hospital up behind the dive shop. There must be fifty of them stacked up there. Or is it a graveyard?
My amiable guide is sporting the fashionable hairstyle in Chuuk. His dark hair is short, apart from one thin pigtail that sprouts from the centre of his skull. This is braided and woven with silver decorations. (A bun is also a popular choice). Three wrecked boats today; this is more interesting. The water is really clear and it’s fascinating to see the tiny fish nibbling on the layers of coral that now covers the ships. We head, finally, for a different islet on the horizon. On the way, a squall blows up, the remainder of the boat's roof blows off and the island disappears from view completely. The boatman maintains his course and we arrive to find this ocean dot is a little cleaner than yesterday’s offering. Maybe the clutter has been blown away.
The late start means a late return and the restaurant’s closed, so it’s Snickers for Christmas lunch. I doubt I will be catching the queen’s speech either.
My change the name knowledge has come in useful this evening. One American (who’s had rather too much to drink), is down at the bar asking about trips to Moen. He’s desperate to visit. ‘You’re already there,’ I inform him. The barman nods his bun to confirm that I’m right. It’s a bit like an episode of Dr Who.
My temperamental pipe is still whistling. I’ve worked out I can silence it (for a while) by flushing the toilet and turning the bath and sink taps on and off in sequence. I haven’t cracked the TV, hairdryer and fridge yet.
And today I’m off to Yap, the last of the states of Micronesia. There must be potential for really bad puns there too…I’m charged an exorbitant amount of departure tax - 40 dollars- at Chuuk airport. They must figure everyone will be desperate to leave.
Read more about Micronesia (FSM) here.
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