We loaded into the van to head to Utwe Ma. We had no idea where/what Utwe Ma was, other than it was on the south side of the island and Christina was very excited to go there (she hadn’t been before either). In addition to the three of us, there were two Japanese Peace Corps workers in the van with us who had decided to make the trip out there.
For reference, and I apologize for the size of the graphic – it’s the largest I could find – here’s a map of Kosrae. I’ll try to use this as reference when talking about our adventures.
Our hotel is labeled on the map – Pacific Treelodge. To get to Utwe Ma, we had to go to Utwe Marina, located at Utwe Harbor.
I don’t know about you, but I have certain visions in mind when I hear the word “marina”. As with many things in Kosrae, Utwe Marina wasn’t quite what I expected.
That’s Roy checking things out.
We found out from one of the locals also waiting with us that Utwe Ma literally means “old Utwe”. Where we were going to go used to be part of the island, but due to erosion was no longer part of it. We were going to take a boat to get to Utwe Ma – we were just waiting for the captain to show up
That made a lot more sense. There didn’t seem to be much going on at Utwe Marina, so I wasn’t sure why we had to go there. Regardless, we were ready for this adventure!
It turns out that the boat in the background in the first picture was to be our ride. Due to space constraints, the three of us sat on the bench placed across the double hulls in the front. Sooooo against anything to do with safety, but you only live once, right?
Me in a typical pose – the camera in my hands.
A short ten minute boat ride later, we had our first view of Utwe Ma.
Utwe Ma is like a festival grounds that’s been constructed for public use. There are several grass huts – including a floating one! – and everything you need to have a festival/celebration.
There was a shrine in the center of the buildings.
We wandered around a bit, a little uncertain about what to do. Earlier “today” we had been in Honolulu and had breakfast in Starbucks. Now we were surrounded by grass huts in the middle of a tropical paradise.
On this day, they had people demonstrating different crafts in each one of the huts. Christina and I went into one where some women were weaving.
The end result of the weaving is shown in the foreground – mats and containers are popular uses for palm fronds. I was transfixed as I watched the woman weave a palm frond into something recognizable.
After a remarkably short period of time, she was finished. What was even better is that she told Patricia that she wanted me to have it!
One of the best gifts I received on the whole trip.
In the next hut, a man was making fah fah, a traditional Kosraean dish. It’s made out of taro root, fermented bananas and coconut milk. Only certain people are allowed to make fah fah, typically the oldest man in the household. At one time only royalty was allowed to eat fah fah.
In this picture the man is trying to soften the taro root; it will get blended with the banana and coconut milk later.
Watching the festivities (and us) were some of Christina’s students.
I have to admit that I took this one without them knowing. In Kosrae it’s very common for teenagers and children to flash hand signs when they know you’re taking their picture. I’d try to take some with, some without.
The floating hut!
While we were still soaking everything in, we found out there was going to be a boat tour of the local mangrove preserve. Would we like to go? Of course! And so, we got ready for our second boat ride of the day.
The tour guide was the man on the right, who introduced himself as Grant. We got to meet Grant a few times over our visit – he is the head of the Kosrae Visitors Bureau.
Grant told us that there were mangrove channels throughout the island and that you could navigate around the entire island by using the channels. We took a quick tour throughout the dedicated mangrove preserve at the southern end of the island, which gave us wonderful views.
Then, of course, there was the mangrove preserve itself.
On our return to Utwe Ma, feast preparations were in full swing. A pig and some chickens were being prepared for the oom, an underground oven that is covered with leaves to smoke the meats.
Then, we were asked if we were thirsty, since they had something for us to drink.
That’s right – coconut water straight from the coconut. Coconuts are quite different there than here; the white meat is much thinner and there is at least two cups of coconut water inside. It tastes, not surprisingly, like coconut, but it’s not a strong taste.
While waiting for the food to cook, we took in a few more sights.
We also met a couple little friends.
Our first hermit crab!
And our first monitor lizard.
Finally, it was time to head back. The feast wasn’t complete, but it was late in the afternoon, and Christina wanted us to meet her host family that night. So we said goodbye to our friends at Utwe Ma (most of whom we would meet again in the next two weeks) and headed back to the island.
I think this is one of my favourite pictures of Roy on this trip, taken on the way back to the island. We at least traveled on the inside of a boat this time, but we made Roy stand in the front.
We did spend a wonderful evening with Christina’s host family. We’d brought some small presents (Legos, of course!) for the boys, Axa and Heisey, as well as some food presents (several kinds of jam, cheese, and candy) for the rest of the family.
They had dinner for us, which was so good. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this time, since it’s a statement to my level of tiredness that I forgot my camera at the hotel before we left for dinner. I made sure not to make that mistake again for the rest of the trip.