Tuesday dawned for us like many other mornings – cloudy with the threat of rain. March is the wettest month of the year in Kosrae, but based on talking with the locals I’m not sure that it’s significantly different during the other times of the year. One thing we never quite got used to was how a day could turn sunny, then cloudy and rainy and then sunny again within a few hours.
Still, the water that morning was very still, and I never pass up a chance for pictures.
Seeing the figure in the distance, we figured he was doing what we had done several times – going snorkeling in the Blue Hole. It was a relatively short walk offshore (albeit through water) to get to the Blue Hole. A close-up reveals that probably wasn’t the case. It was pretty unusual for us to see the water so calm.
After breakfast, we made arrangements with the wonderful Maria to go on the Menka ruins hike. Our experience with Mt. Oma had taught us that it really didn’t matter if it was sunny when we took that hike since the canopy of the jungle is so dense sunlight doesn’t make it to the ground anyway. Since we were going to be in class for the next couple days and it looked to be a non-sunny day, Menka was what it was going to be. We made arrangements to have a cab driver pick us up shortly after noon.
In the meantime, we did a little more exploring around the island. We ventured into one of the Kosraean stores, which are rather quaint experiences. The variety of products offered in one place is quite amazing. This store offered everything from automotive supplies to frozen food.
Much of the packaged food is Japanese, but there are some occasional U.S. products. Of course, the Japanese packaged food is all labeled in Japanese, so we didn’t know what a lot of the items were (and we weren’t brave enough to buy some to find out).
We also passed another gas station. Again, no secondary containment, and a creek right behind it.
Around noon-ish, the cab came to pick us up. We took the cab until the end of the road down in Utwe. At that point we picked up another passenger – another tourist who was taking the hike with us. I say “the end of the road” – I mean the end of real paving. The road continues, but the road is in such bad condition and has so many potholes that there is a real mechanical risk to any car venturing that far. That being said, our intrepid driver took us another few miles down the bumpy/rocky path to the entrance of the Menka National Park.
It was amazing to me that even in this remote area of the island, there were still houses.
At the park we met Salik, our guide for the hike. The hike started off uphill, where we got a good view of the jungle canopy. It was amazing to me how many colours of green there were.
Before long we descended to the jungle floor and the rest of our hike. We were incredibly lucky to have Salik for our guide. He is one of the few remaining people on the island to know all the stories and secrets of the jungle and the ruins, having learned them from his grandfather. Throughout the hike he would point out plants and tell us the medicinal qualities – one that was like aloe and had healing properties, another that was similar to Pepto Bismol and would settle an upset stomach, one that could heal burns. Another plant could be used to stun fish enough to get them to float to the water’s surface for easy fishing. We got a botanical lesson every few minutes.
Salik also introduced us to the ka trees, the trees that were commonly used to carve canoes. He also showed us how those enormous roots were hollow; and so you could bang on the side of them and make quite an impressive noise. Salik said that technique is very common for those who have lost their way in the forest and need some help getting out.
Then, of course, there were the groves of the rainbow eucalyptus trees. The picture doesn’t do them justice; there were many pinks and reds and blues beyond what you see.
One of the many beautiful flowers on the hike.
It was at least a two mile hike in the jungle to get to the ruins. We had to cross the river five times.
It didn’t seem all that long, and we were there!
Salik told us that the Menka ruins were well over 1000 years old, and date back to when Kosrae was an animalistic culture and worshipped an animalistic goddess. All the buildings were square in shape with an altar in one of the rooms. Salik said that the goddess of the island ruled peacefully for many years, but eventually foresaw a time when the people would no longer worship her; so she retreated to the forest.
You can see the altar in the centre of this picture.
The stones were clearly hand stacked, nobody quite knows where the stones came from and how they got there.
One of the best things about the hike was that for a snack, Salik climbed into a nearby tree and brought down more of those divine green tangerines. What a fabulous treat to have in the middle of the jungle!
The ruins are the site of a number of excavations; Salik took us to another location a short distance away. They weren’t significantly different than the ones I have pictured, but we soon discovered the real reason Salik wanted us to move – he could see rain coming, and one of the archaeaological camps was the only place nearby that remotely offered shelter. the four of us stood under a plastic tarp when it started to rain.
And rained some more.
Then it poured.
When the rain let up (note: it didn’t stop), we headed back to the trailhead. Salik wanted to make sure we got back before dark, plus with the immense amount of rain we’d experienced there was a real danger of flash floods. Hence, like with many other adventures on Kosrae, we got totally soaked.
It rained so much that we didn’t dare take the camera out for further pictures. We were very grateful that we were wearing our Keen sandals, since they are about the only shoes in the world that you can wear and not really care if they get wet.
After returning to the trailhead, Salik wanted to climb a nearby tree to serve us fresh coconut water, but the amount of rain had been so great it was too dangerous to climb. That was fine with us, though – we took the time to wash off our very muddy arms and legs in the river and wait for the cab driver to come pick us up.
While waiting for the driver, we learned something that we had suspected but nobody had admitted: that dogs are indeed used as food on the island. We had noticed that most houses had dogs – in many cases you could call them pets – but they weren’t treated the same way as pets are here in the U.S. Christina had also warned us about the possibility of packs of wild dogs on the island; fortunately we didn’t experience any. However, we didn’t notice any vets on the island either, and there wasn’t exactly a spay and neuter campaign going on. Christina’s host family’s dog had had puppies in December, and then had another litter as soon as the others were whelped. Since the island wasn’t totally overrun by dogs, we figured they had to be going somewhere. Sadly, that’s it.
We also encouraged Salik to keep learning the stories of the island from his grandfather so they wouldn’t be forgotten. I don’t know that will be the case, though. Salik is interested in leaving the island, and so is studying automotive technology in school. Like many young people on the island, he is looking to leave to build something better, and then come back.
On the ride back to the Treelodge, we had a similar talk with our cab driver. He was the same age as Salik. His dream is to make it into the U.S. military, because “all the military people are rich”. We found out later that all Kosraean men take the military aptitude test, and that it is a goal for many young Kosraeans to get into the military as a ticket to get off the island.
At the end of our cab ride, we went to Bully’s for our second movie night of the stay (don’t remember the name of the movie) and pizza. It was very strange moving between the first and third worlds, all in the space of 20 miles.