Scenic island-hopping in Micronesia and a lesson in letting go – Borneo Bulletin Online

|     Nicole Evatt     |

POHNPEI STATE, Micronesia (AP) — I’m panicked and soaked as smiling locals fish me out of the bay on the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia. “Trip of a lifetime,” I sarcastically thought as we made our way back to land with an upside-down kayak, our cameras and cellphone ruined.

How did I end up drenched, emotionally drained and out a few thousand dollars in electronics in this remote island nation, one might ask? More importantly, here’s why it was totally worth it.

My husband and I travelled to Micronesia on United’s Island Hopper route from Honolulu to Guam. First stop, 4 ½ hours from Hawaii: Majuro (MAH-zhu-row), a coral atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

We shopped for groceries for a stay on a nearby private island but ended up mostly with items like pasta and cereal; fresh produce was scarce and overpriced. After a 30-minute boat ride to Eneko Island, we spent a few days completely alone, kayaking and chasing colourful fish through turquoise water. Evenings offered breathtaking sunsets, stargazing and cooking our carby meals. Highlights of Majuro included the tiny Alele Museum featuring Marshallese folk art, history and stick charts used for nautical navigation. Handicraft stores downtown sell traditional, intricately woven baskets and bags. Hotel Robert Reimers offers a solid restaurant and accommodation. Pricier lagoon-front cabins are a worthy splurge.

For a pampered vacation, the private Bikendrik Island offers two charming bungalows stocked with three-course meals and occasional visits from the lagoon pet, Oscar the octopus.

The dive shop at the Truk Blue Lagoon Resort, which offers diving tours through the WWII shipwrecks located in Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia Aerial photo shows the thin strip of coral atolls separating the ocean from the lagoon in Majuro, Marshall Islands. – PHOTOS: AP Colourful floral skirts for sale in Pohnpei’s capital city of Kolonia in Micronesia. The skirts are a fashion staple throughout the island The Kepirohi Waterfall located near the ancient city of Nan Madol in Pohnpei, Micronesia Underwater photo shows the hull of a WWII shipwreck in Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia. The US sank more than 50 Japanese ships in the lagoon. It is one of the world’s premier destinations for scuba diving Intricately woven baskets and accessories, which are traditional crafts made by locals in Majuro, Marshall Islands

A short flight west (with a quick stop in Kwajalein Atoll, a US military base where you cannot deplane) took us to Pohnpei (PAWN-PAY), a lush, mountainous island and one of four states making up the Federated States of Micronesia.

Pohnpei’s capital, Kolonia, has souvenir shops, remnants of a historic Spanish wall and a helpful tourism office. Don’t leave without a colourful floral skirt, an island fashion staple. Arnold’s Restaurant offers tasty American fare and Grace’s Special Bakery on Nantuelek street serves sweet treats. An hour’s drive took us to Pohnpei’s crown jewel: the ancient city of Nan Madol. Picture 13th century ruins rivalling the splendour and lore of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat or Peru’s Machu Picchu, minus the crowds. As with most of this trip, we were the only tourists.

Kepirohi Waterfall is a gorgeous cascading pyramid near Nan Madol. A hard-to-spot sign on Circle Island road marks a turn-off where you pay an entrance fee.

The waterfront Mangrove Bay Hotel has scenic views and a restaurant serving exclusively sushi and chicken wings. The onsite Pohnpei Surf Club can arrange water excursions and guided Nan Madol tours.

To reach some of the 100-plus man-made islets, you can pay local families a few dollars per person to cross their land. But we opted to navigate Nan Madol’s shallow channels by kayak. After winding through dense mangroves for about 30 minutes, the dark, twisty jungle opened into vast, clear-blue ocean. Massive shadows darted around our wobbling vessel — stingrays from a nearby sanctuary.

At this point, I noticed the kayak inching lower into the sea. But we were by then an hour from the marine institute that runs the small boat rental business. We had no choice but to carry on.

On shore we found walls of stacked basalt columns, an engineering feat still shrouded in mystery. We traipsed through megalithic ruins by foot for a few hours before starting our doomed return to civilisation. The hull of our punctured kayak was slowly flooding.

My panic grew exponentially after a number of near tips. My husband paddled gently as I clutched the phone, drone and fancy camera purchased days earlier.

The water was calm and we’re both fine swimmers. But I was upset: This was not the plan.

With the dock in sight, the boat’s sway became unmanageable. In the blink of an eye, we were underwater.

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