Upon returning to the Treelodge, the first thing we did was consult Maria, one of the fabulous owners. She had recommended a number of activities, plus we had a list of recommendations from Christina. One activity was on the top of both lists: climbing Mt. Oma, the third highest mountain on the island. Christina had climbed it some months before and mentioned that it was “intense”. Roy and I looked up as much as we could on the hike and it looked to be about a mile and a half to get to the top, and about 1800 feet in elevation gain. We’d done those hikes before, so really, we weren’t sure what Christina was meaning when she said it was intense.
Maria asked if we’d like to try to climb Mt. Oma, and since we had a good day (and didn’t know how many more we would get), we asked her to try to set something up. It was already almost noon, and we didn’t know if that was too short of notice. Silly us. I don’t think anything is too short a notice in Kosrae. The converse of that – nobody really cares if you don’t show up for anything, either.
And so, half an hour later we met our tour guide for the hike – as well as one of the more colourful characters on Kosrae – Hamilson Philip. On Kosrae, in order to hike to the top of the mountain you have to get permission from the family that owns it – mountains are not considered public domain like they are here. Hamilson’s family owned Mt. Oma, so he’s the only one who provides the guided hikes.
Hamilson took us to Mt. Oma in his own vehicle, which was a trip in itself. I was struck by the lack of wiring, or really of anything remotely resembling a steering column or a radio.
Hamilson took us to his home on the far side of Malem Village. As with every trip I took pictures along the way of some of the homes.
When we got close to the house, we saw the welcome sign.
Once arriving at Hamilson’s house, he explained to us that he no longer takes people up to the top of the mountain personally, that he had trained a couple of local young men to take over that part of it. It was too strenuous to do so much, he said. He did this while leading us to a covered shelter area next to a river. Then he pulled out waivers – yes, waivers. They were handwritten, and I really really wish I’d taken a picture of it. Basically we were signing our life away to not blame Hamilson’s family if we killed ourselves on the mountain. Then Hamilson collected $60 from us for the hike and introduced us to our guides: Vincent (the main one), Kino, and another young man whose name we never learned. With that, we started on the hike. Hamilson promised us refreshments we when came back, and said that not to worry, if we don’t make it to the top, that would be okay. A lot of people didn’t make it to the top.
We had water with us – one 32 oz bottle each – but in hindsight, that was nowhere near enough. The hike started right in Hamilson’s back yard, climbed and got steep – and stayed steep. Before we got too far, we stopped to take a quick picture of a mangrove.
It was a good thing that we did. We didn’t take many pictures on the way up (or the way down, for that matter). Remember that the temperature in Kosrae never falls below 80 – and that’s at the coast. Being inland like we were, the temperature was probably over 90, with at least 90 percent humidity. The hike was very steep – you can do the math between the distance and the elevation. Every step was a step up – it was like an eternal stairclimber. Complicating things was that there was no “trail” – we followed a faint path. Vincent had a machete, and was continually clearing jungle growth so we could get through. Have I mentioned that every step was a step up?
This is one of our many many stops. Vincent is in the foreground, Kino is right behind me and the unnamed one is in the background. I’ll note that Kino and the other guide are not behind me because they want to be – those are literally the only places available to stand. Also – all those leaves on the ground? Make for very slippery footing. Thank goodness we were both wearing our Keens.
After what felt like a really long time, we had a peek of what we’d see at the top – if we made it up there.
Have I mentioned this was a hard hike?
I think most of you reading know that I have a structural flaw in my lungs that only allows me to inhale and exhale at half the rate of a “normal” person. This results in me sounding like I get out of breath a lot sooner in some situations, and this was one of them. I’m guessing pretty early on our tour guides were thinking that we would be turning around. And we were close, really, close. This is one hike that I can say we almost didn’t make. I was thatclose to saying “I’ve had enough. Let’s go back.” I didn’t think I could make it to the top.
I have to admire my husband. While I was huffing and puffing away trying to catch my breath, he was always talking with the guides, asking them about school, about what music they liked, if they had travelled anywhere, just whatever came to mind. I would chime in sometimes, but mostly just concentrated on breathing.
During one of these stops, I asked how much further we had to go. “Oh, we are not far now,” Kino said, and gave me an appraising look. “You are one tough lady. I think you can make it.”
That gave me enough impetus to make it to the top!
We were very sweaty, but very happy.
Then, of course, we had to take lots of pictures from the top. The building you can see is Malem church, not far from where we started the hike.
This is a view of the Blue Hole, the site of some great snorkeling just offshore of the Treelodge and the Naultilus.
Then, of course, we had to prove we were there.
And more views.
This is the nameless tour guide. I mentioned our footwear before – Keen sandals. All three of our tour guides wore flip flops, but only for the first half of the hike up. Then they all took their flip flops off and went barefoot (!!). This guy – he never ever broke a sweat.
Once we got finished taking pictures, we relaxed for a bit, too. I love this next picture. One of the conversations we had on the way up was what type of music they liked listening to. It turns out that Kino is a fellow Def Leppard fan. However, apparently none of them were all that familiar with U2 (Roy’s favourite). This is Roy playing U2 to the tour guides trying to win them couple new fans. I’m not sure he succeeded.
Then, the way down lay ahead. Unlike many of the hikes we’ve done in the States, where the hike down is always easier, this one was not. Since the trail was well, not a trail, any misstep could have you tumbling down hundreds of feet. Kino and/or Vincent held my hand a good part of the way down – they didn’t really need to (they certainly didn’t offer the same assistance to Roy) – but I think they’d been instructed that the lady didn’t kill herself on the hike.
It had taken us two and a half hours to get to the top, and it wasn’t hard to figure out it would take us that long to get down. However, thanks to my lungs conversation was a lot easier, so we (or rather, I) got to talk to our guides a whole lot more.
We learned that only about a third of the people who start the hike actually make it to the top – most turnaround even before the halfway point. In case you were wondering why we had three guides? Well, that would be in case they had to carry one of both of us down the mountain. They’ve had to do that several times, and they were very glad to find out that we were both a whole lot tougher than we originally looked.
On the way down, we also mentioned that we were there to visit Christina. It turns out that Kino, the Def Leppard fan, is the brother of Cia, Christina’s host mother. he was delighted. “This means you aren’t tourists,” he said. “It means you’re family.”
Part of the way down, we stopped off at the Japanese tunnels. During the Japanese occupation, Mt. Oma had been used as a lookout point, and there are tunnels all through the mountain. How the supplies and such got up the mountain is beyond me. It was hard enough just getting me up the mountain, not to mention anything else.
This is/was a 55 gallon drum. It’s been here since the 1940s, it won’t be long until there’s nothing left.
Around 5:30, we found ourselves Hamilson’s backyard again. He looked at us askance when we said that we made it to the top, but seemed to really believe us when the guides confirmed it. He congratulated us and led us to our refreshment feast:
Bananas, cucumber, watermelon, green tangerines, coconut water – it was all COLD. Nothing has tasted better ever. It’s a really good thing that Roy doesn’t like watermelon, because I scarfed down every bit of the watermelon on that plate on my own.
That was one hard freaking hike.