I could tell you that Pohnpei is an island a couple thousand kilometers northeast of Papua New Guinea, but that would probably not tell you much. There are thousands of islands in that part of the Pacific, but few have a population large enough to warrant an airport. Pohnpei boasts a population of 34,000 and is the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Missionaries were the first to make any real inroads on the island, and their presence is very clear today. Ever few miles, there is a large church. Some are easily a hundred years old while other are large, modern and pristine. Only two radio stations can be picked up on the island (and only on the north side). One plays music while the other is a mix of Radio Australia and American televangelism broadcasts. Sadly, the televangelists get more airtime.
I continued down the path of built-up stone and coral. I knew my three dollars was a good investment as this walkway took some considerable effort to build. In some places, there was water on both sides and small wooden bridges to let the briny water pass through. Despite the afternoon sunshine, it was quite dark in that mangrove swamp. The occasional fish that splashed and darted away as I approached, turned out to be mud skippers. They would climb onto the rocks to sun themselves!
I knew there was a Japanese battery somewhere near Nan Modal, but I saw no clues indicating where it might be. I stopped some teachers on their way to school and discovered that I was very close. They told me to take a road just a stone-throw away. The road was not very road-like. It was more a cart path leading into a very dark jungle. The ruts were not too bad, though, so I ventured in. I drove carefully for about a kilometer when the road branched. The path leading up the hill was much too overgrown while the path leading down was cluttered with large rocks. I started down but soon abandoned my car to go on foot. Just around the bend, I discovered two homes; a normal island-style house and a more traditional "outdoor house" that was open on one side. I asked the fellow there if the Japanese guns were somewhere nearby. He went to the other side to fetch his brother-in-law, the owner.
Robert, a police officer on the island, agreed to guide me to the battery. I didn't think a guide was necessary, but I was very, very wrong. We walked back past my car to the road leading up the hill. It was so overgrown that he needed his machete to cut through. When we reached the top, he pointed out the first of four gun emplacements. It was totally hidden by the jungle but the entrance through the overgrown concrete was a visible.
We toured the other three batteries. I wondered at the effort it took to build the fort and haul those great guns up the hill on an island that was mostly jungle seventy-five years ago. Although it was nothing like Nan Modal, it still took considerable effort. In the end, the guns were never fired.
Robert pointed out what I thought was a mound. It was a mortared stone cone with steps leading up the side. From the top, I could see the hollow, unfinished interior, but it's purpose escaped me. My guide didn't know either. We took a different jungle path down, Robert whacking the jungle back with every second step. He lead me to an ammo bunker built into the hillside. The walls were a foot thick and it once had heavy steel doors. The interior was small, maybe the size of a small bedroom. It was now the home of a few hundred bats ... who excited flew out as I approached.
We continued back toward his home were we saw a small artillery piece and what could only have once been a shrine. The Japanese had also left him two great cisterns. One had a hole blasted in it's side—apparently the soldiers had converted it into a defensive position—while the other was still being used to store water for Robert's home.
Not far from the Nan Madol site, I found the gorgeous Kepirohi waterfall. It was a short walk through the jungle and well worth the trip to the other side of the island to see.
|The dive master relaxing after the first dive of the day.|
We stopped on the island for lunch afterward. We were in the middle of nowhere. There was no sign of civilization from horizon to horizon. I was just starting to appreciate this degree of isolation when another boat came around the island. The beached and a dozen locals decided to picnic right next to us, ha, ha!
Being on Ant, I had an opportunity to explore a real deserted isle. As I made my way into the interior, I spotted the biggest hermit crab I've ever seen crawling over a fallen branch. His shell was the size of a baseball. I grabbed him to take him back to the beach for a proper photo. While most hermit crabs are somewhat shy, this one wasted no time coming out and letting me know what he thought of my plan, by grabbing my fingers with his pincers. Before he could grab me, I tossed him toward the beach, but he fell short. I spent the next several minutes trying find him in the brush, but he eluded capture a second time. That was one impressive crab!
It's tough to know which is more photogenic, the island ...
... or the surrounding atoll.
Despite its famed diving, Pohnpei does not get many tourists (mostly due to the excessive cost of flights). The hotels are rather worn and the choice of restaurants is limited. One exception is The Village, an eco-hotel built back in the seventies that is still going strong. The rooms are individual huts built along a ridge. The result is that each cabin feels like it's alone in the jungle.
See more photos of Pohnpei here.