Getting off the plane and walking into the airport I am met by a smiling face and a lei is placed around my neck – along with everyone else that gets off the plane. Welcome to Yap!
Arriving in the evening I was soon in my room at O'Keefe’s Waterfront Inn - it's pure old-world charm with charming staff to match. The entire ambience in this small 5 room plus bar/lounge (neither being the right word for it) 'Inn' is colonial and perfect. Music, of the times, wafts to greet you as you walk through the garden path to the entrance. Each of the five rooms has an over water balcony to sit and while away the time in - and it's easy to do. If you're going, do yourself a favour and get a room!
Yap is, as said, fascinating. I’m not one for culture but here you can’t help but be interested – think stone money, no public land, communities tending the roadside areas, and a traditional culture based on sustainable use of the land!
And, Yes you heard me right, there is stone money! All major transactions are done via stone money. US cash is now used for everyday shopping for food etc but the rest is in stone. You can walk around the ‘money banks’ and see for yourself and you equally can stumble across money in the forest. It’s quite simply fantastic.
Equally cool, this small country has had sustainable use of their land as a part of their culture for ages past. No clear felling of trees here and they are the first country to have put into place extreme protection of their manta rays - injuring, harming or killing a manta ray within the local sanctuary is a felony that comes with minimum jail time and huge fines.
As you drive around the few roads in Yap you also notice that the land is covered in beautiful lush tropical forest but the roads are lined with the likes of hibiscus. Women from local communities tend the roadsides in their area as a way of giving back to the community. The forest is well cared for and still in its natural state over almost the entire island. The local people tend it in what seems perfect harmony - in return it provides food and medicine as well as stability of the environment. Plain Beautiful.
Beachfront sand and palms are rare in Yap. The majority of the coastline is mangroves and the few beaches are privately owned as there is no public land in Yap other than the roads and a few stone pathways (which are gorgeous as they cross through the tropical forest). The most well known walking trail is the Tamilyog Trail, which follows one of these stone pathways and provides wonderful views across the island as well as lush and beautiful forest walking. It is definitely worth doing while you are here! Along the way villages provide resting spots. The slanting stones in one of these photos you can see are not cemetery markers as I first thought but backrests in a designated resting place for people walking and needing a rest! You will also find ‘men’s houses’ dotted around. Here the men meet to determine the days work and monitor the sea - any 'foreign' boats coming in must 'report' to the men's house. (Read more about walking in Yap here.)
Yap was under Japanese control before WWII but after the Japanese surrender went under US control. If you are into it, there are remnants (in various states of crash) of a number of US and Japanese planes dotted around the island - with others in the sea. Some are only recently found and there are no doubt others yet to be discovered! I loved ‘finding’ these (my father was in the air force in the Pacific in WWII so there is a personal interest) and just to keep more in tune with the times, there is also the wreckage of a Boeing 727, which crashed in 1980, to discover!
But people that do make the trek to Yap, tend to come for the diving. In fact, during my visit, I believe I was the only tourist taking a hike or land-based trip. There’s a reason for this – the manta rays and the cleaning station are very accessible, and the diving is from all accounts, fabulous. My ears may prevent me from diving but not from snorkelling and that alone was brilliant. The water in the outer reef of Yap is an insane blue - I really couldn't believe it when I first went under to look (at the shark in the pics)! Yap may be famous for its diving - and especially for the manta rays (which are easy to see snorkelling too) but I'd go back just to see this blue again - it was awesome.
Is this starting to sound like utopia? It is in many ways – there are of course local politics which you can find out about when you are there. Yap is however a huge success story in preserving traditional culture while getting along with the modern world. Remote, friendly and fascinating - it’s definitely a top destination!
Facts and Travel tips below….
Facts & Travel tips:
Colonia is the capital of the state of Yap. Colonia administers both Yap island and 13 atolls and islands reaching to the east and south for approximately 800 km.
Yap is one of the member states of the Federated States of Micronesia.
The population of Yap is approximately 11,000
There’s a small info centre / museum up the hill behind the waterfront.
Money: $US are used for everyday transactions, 2 x ATM’s available
Language: Yapese, but English is widely spoken
Getting there: private yacht or fly from either Guam (1x per week) or Palau (2x per week)
Departure tax: currently $20 US – but check as it was more when I visited.