February 24, 2005

Pohnpei, Micronesia

Our new mainsail and new furled mizzen sail arrived safely from Hong Kong with no delays. Several days were needed to fit the Dutchman reefing system and learn the peculiarities of the new sail before we said our “Good-byes” to new friends in Kosrae. The crossing from Kosrae to Pohnpei took several days. As the winds were just off our beam, the crossing was a fast one – the faster, the better!

Several of you sent notes about our last letter…concerned that we sounded frustrated and ready to quit sailing. That really is not the case at all, but we wanted to communicate that the cruising life is not all fun and games. We regularly stop to discuss whether we really are enjoying the life enough to continue. It seems a realistic thing to do.

Of course we are now excited about what the next phase of our cruise will bring. Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap are the Federated States of Micronesia. They truly are quite “loosely” federated. So far they seem most comparable to Great Britain. The ties between the four states seem to be in foreign relations. They all use the U.S. dollar, the U.S. Post Office, and are dependent on the U.S. for defense. They have their own passport (please except my regrets at that mistake in the last letter) but are free to come and go to the USA and to work in the USA. Each of the states has their own laws, government and culture. In Chuuk women have a very subservient role. If a brother and sister are in the same class at school, the girl is never allowed to have her head higher than her brother. In contrast, the ownership of land in Pohnpei was always passed from mother to daughter. When the Germans took over from 1899 to 1914 they insisted that the land be handed down through the gentlemen of the island.

We have been told that the people managed to arrange marriages so that they could continue to keep the culture the way it had always been. Kosrae is very controlled by the church. Absolutely no work is acceptable on Sundays. Here in Pohnpei Sundays are quite like home…stores open, cabs operating, restaurants serving alcohol etc.

One of the tourist draws for Pohnpei is the ancient ruins of Nan Madol. Having visited Machu Picchu in Peru, we were doubtful that we could be much impressed. Nevertheless, we had heard about the ruins and were eager to see them. Machu Picchu is at the top of a mountain and Nan Madol is at sea level. From about 500AD to 1500 AD numerous (we have seen numbers from 82 through 98) islands were built with piles of coral rubble. The whole area is about 220 acres with canals running between the islands. On the coral rubble were placed huge boulders of basalt rock. On top of these rocks were placed rows of prismatic shaped basalt logs. Our guide said that the rocks were heated and then cooled suddenly with ocean water, splitting naturally into these prismatic logs. When we saw the ruins and considered the monumental task of collecting and assembling the logs, we had to admit that it is just as impressive as Machu Picchu. It is a U.S. National Historic Landmark and has been nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List.

From all the literature that we have seen, Nan Madol began with a religious purpose. As the structures grew, the importance of the chiefs directing traffic grew. From 900-1100 the political centralization was established at Nan Madol and the magnitude of the constructions was the greatest.

Our trip to Nan Madol was by boat. We traveled with a Belgian cruising couple in an open (quite uncomfortable) boat to get to the site. A second boat carried the kayaks that we would later use to travel the canals within the ruins. Because Nan Madol should be seen at high tide we visited a waterfall first. Looking at the photo you may imagine that the water is very cold, but it was lovely! It would have been easy to spend the whole day right here at the falls!

The photo of the two of us is taken at Nan Douwas whose purpose was to house the high chief. It is the most recently built and the most impressive of the structures with walls sometimes reaching 25’ in height. The kayak trip through the rest of the ruins was a little disappointing. The ruins have been allowed to become over-run by vegetation and many of the walls are falling under the weight of the rocks. Perhaps the world will afford as much recognition to these ruins as to Machu Picchu if and when the ruins are restored to some of their former glory as is being done in Peru.

We are busy now with taxes and with the formalities of the paperwork needed for our trip through Indonesia. We will need a cruising permit as well as advance visas before we enter Indonesia in June. It is so complicated that we begin to see WHY very few other cruisers take this route.

If all goes well, we will be leaving Pohnpei within a week to travel through the atolls of Micronesia towards Yap. We plan to skip Chuuk altogether as it has a very bad reputation for thievery and unpleasant people. We will write again from Palau in April.

We would like to remind you again of the lovely webpage that is being done for Satori by our friend Bob Dick of the Anchorage Yacht Club back home. We have sent extra photos to Bob and they will (over time) be added to the webpage. Their site is located at www.anchorageyachtclub.com Our best to all of you. Remember to stay in touch via our ham radio address when you can. Sander and Jane