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October 2006 Vol. 21, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Pohnpei, Kosrae, Micronesia

the best of second stops

from the October, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Reader:

While Truk and Palau are the major Micronesian dive destinations, folks traveling so far frequently make a second stop to amortize their investments in time and tariff. Last year Undercurrent reported on Yap, and last month my short piece on Rota made these pages. On that same trip, I visited Kosrae and Pohnpei, two destinations that are excellent additions to a Micronesian adventure. Consistent with Undercurrent policy, I paid for my hotel, diving and other expenses. But, I must disclose that at the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association convention, I won round-trip air on Continental to Guam, so I got a trip I otherwise couldnt afford and Undercurrent got a story.

After departing Guam, my flight stopped in Truk before proceeding to Pohnpei, where my buddy and I landed after midnight. A smiling hotel representative hefted heavy dive bags into the van and took six sleepy divers to the Village Resort, a hillside network of wood-thatched, open-air cottages on stilts 20 feet above the rain-forest floor. Narrow gravel paths led to the cottages from the main building housing reception, bar, restaurant and dive shop. I plopped onto my water bed for as much sleep as I could muster before my 9:30 a.m. dive.

 

Pohnpei Dive Boats

Pohnpei Dive Boats

The dive staff trucked all gear to the 28-foot shaded dive boat, a short downhill walk from the hotel. The sites are less than 30 minutes away, so I soon found myself 50 feet underwater at Manta Road, kneeling behind brown and green plate and dome corals, while a dozen mantas soared above. The biggest one, perhaps 12 ft. across, swam right at me, mouth agape. If that dive hadnt already convinced me Id made the right decision to come here, an hours dive at Mwand Wall did. Back-rolling into 82-degree water, I followed divemaster Jimmy down to 60 feet, staring deeper into the 100-foot viz to the walls base in white sand. Evergreen tubastria coral sheltered pyramid, raccoon, pennant, and threadfin butterfly fish, yellow tangs, black-stripe cardinal fish, blue and gold fusiliers and zebra lionfish. A bridled parrot fish and Moorish idols lazed in sea fans as wide as I am tall. Crinoids, red whips and a rainbow of feather stars wafted in the light current.

The fish action here rivaled Palau and without Palaus long boat rides and tough currents. See-forever viz made photography easy at Tawak Channel, where gray reef sharks came for cleaning and a white-tip shark cruised at 100 feet. At Peleng Pass, I snapped pink anemone fish, orange-stripe triggerfish, lemon-peel angelfish, humphead banner fish and Napoleon and wedge-tail wrasse above purple lace coral and sea grapes. A sharp-eyed dive buddy spotted nudibranchs of purple, yellow, white and orange. At Palikir Pass, I marveled at the sparkling blue mantle of a large Tridacna clam. These were all beautiful, fishy, two-tank dives well-briefed by locals, DM Jimmy or Captain Stamp.

During lunch intervals, we anchored off mangrove islands and devoured steamy servings of white rice, grilled fish, Portuguese sausage and boiled egg, all wrapped in banana leaves and eaten with chopsticks. Afterwards, I snorkeled and explored the islands. The 28-foot skiff carried oxygen, first-aid kits and cell phones, provided dry areas but had no life preservers or seats. Divers sit or recline on stadium cushions. At the end of the dives, I removed my gear in the water, the guys hoisted it aboard, helped me up the skiffs short ladder and handed me dry towels.

For dinner, my dive buddy and I, plus fellow divers (an American submarine captain stationed in Guam, a Chinese-Swiss PR consultant, a young writer and sales rep from Scuba Diving Magazine and a Japanese couple) joined locals and the owners, Bob and Patti Arthur, in the hotels al fresco restaurant/bar. Tonight, it was grilled local fish seasoned with Pohnpei pepper, with salad and sides. Another night it was beef stroganoff. Breakfast was either a fruit-topped Pohnpei pancake big enough to share or a modest bowl of oatmeal.

The Arthurs, U.S. expats, built their eco-resort in the 70s, before the term was coined. Who needs TV or telephone? Tropical ambiance, romance-inspiring sunsets and diver camaraderie come together nicely here. And the rooms are pleasant Go naked in your curtainless cabana if you like; banana trees, coconut palms and bougainvillea conceal your cottage from others. Ceiling fans and ocean breezes blowing through screened windows provide the only AC. Mosquito netting (not needed) hangs above each water bed. The large bathroom area has shelves and shower.

Pohnpei, Kosrae, MicronesiaIn town 20 minutes away, there are places to sample sekau, the local fermented brew, but why, when there are diver stories to tell? However, visiting Pohnpei without going to Nan Madol is like visiting Egypt and not seeing the Pyramids, said the Arthurs. So one afternoon, we kayaked through Nan Madol, 14th-century Saudelar-dynasty ruins of partially submerged ceremonial and community structures constructed of basalt logs that weigh tons each. They come from an area on the island twenty miles from Nan Madol; how they got there remains a mystery. Even John Chatterton and Richie Kohler (Shadow Divers) who shot a History Channel documentary here, couldnt figure it out.

Then it was off to Kosrae, a four-hour flight. Within an hour of our 4:00 p.m. arrival at the Kosrae Village Ecolodge, co-owner Katrina Adams asked if we cared for a twilight dive. It took no arm-twisting, and minutes later, KVEs pickup truck had deposited us and our gear on the dock in town, where we boarded the 28-ft catamaran, Sleeping Lady. After Captain Cheff stopped at Hiroshi Point and a briefing by divemaster Roman, we dropped on top of a cabbage coral the size of an office desk. A hawksbill turtle flippered by. Colorful Christmas tree worms -- blue and orange with black centers, white with a brown center - snapped closed. Waning afternoon sun lighted immense green and blue coral formations that resembled the Nutcrackers giant Christmas tree. Saddleback, Meyers and dotted butterfly fish, orange-fin anemone fish, regal angelfish, orange-stripe triggerfish, blue dartfish, purple anthias, and iridescent blue chromis flitted over lettuce and cabbage coral. On the surface, one hour later, I removed my gear. Cheff and Roman hoisted it aboard, gave me a hand up the ladder and offered a towel, hot tea and fresh brownies for the short ride back to the dock. Roman and Cheff promised to care for our gear and a complimentary cab took us back to the hotel.

After a late supper, I borrowed a flashlight to pick my way over sandy paths to my traditional, wood-floored Kosraean cottage. The thatched roof was open to the sky, as were the roofs of the dining room and dive center. My large, breezy room had two beds, a wicker settee, and a small table with two chairs. A mini-fridge held green-skinned tangerines and a pitcher of drinking water. There is no A/C, but ocean breezes are supplemented by electric fans. In the semi-outdoor lean-to, theres a toilet and shower big enough for two dive buddies, their wet gear and soap-eating crabs. I crawled into my queen-sized bed and closed the mosquito netting tightly. No matter, next morning, in what would become a daily ritual, I applied anti-itch ointment to the nights accumulation of ant and mosquito bites. Not even DEET kept them off. I left with 63 red, itchy bites.

Pohnpei, Kosrae, MicronesiaDiving was highlighted by brain, mushroom and lobed leather corals, rare blue coral, varieties of stony corals: some lumpy with dents, others plate-like; spiky fire corals, and white staghorn. At Walung, I saw blue-mantled giant Tridacna clams, bird wrasse, flame angelfish, fire dartfish, dusky anemone fish, puffers, triangular butterflyfish, Pacific hogfish and fried-egg nudibranchs. With so many colorful critters, I never missed big guys, of which there arent many. We drifted every dive in less than one-knot current. Depths varied from 65 feet to 117 feet in 82- degree water with viz more than 100 feet. KVE offered night diving from the shore.

During mosquito-free dive intervals onboard, we assembled sandwiches from meat, cheese and veggies, stuffed ourselves with fresh brownies and tangerines and joined in Cheff and Romans banter. The Sleeping Lady, with removable shade, was well equipped with DAN O2, a cell phone, dry storage and first-aid kit. From its four-inch-high flat bottom, seated entries are easy for small divers with heavy gear, as well as disabled divers (Katrina Adams is a certified instructor for divers with disabilities, and the resort is fully accessible). But waves can wash over the Sleeping Lady so she is limited to dive sites close to shore. KVEs on-site dive op provides sales and rentals, 3000 PSI fills, tanks from 50 to 90 cf, Nitrox for $5, gear cleaning, storage and setup, plus shelves full of critter ID books.

I must say, however, that the meals need upgrading. I was disappointed in everything other than a Kosraean veggie soup. The dinner menu presented a variety of local dishes featuring seafood, but it was all greasy. A breakfast option cost $10/day; I ate either pancakes or oatmeal with coffee and would have done better paying a la carte. Undercurrent readers report that the Nautilus hotel here has a good restaurant and better food. Their dive operation has a more powerful, highsided boat better suited to diving sites farther from shore. While the hotel has AC and a pool, it lacks the ambience of the Kosrae Village Ecolodge.

There is no nightlife on conservative Kosrae, where bare thighs are considered offensive. Both men and women must wear long pants or skirts and cover up swimsuits with a towel or long shorts on approaching the dock. It is illegal to do pretty much anything Sundays, including diving, and alcohol is not sold. So, I visited a local church and while I didnt understand a word of the sermon or hymns, I was enthralled by the a capella harmony that resounded like a pipe organ. After services, we stepped outside to find tables laden with complimentary sodas, cookies and sandwiches. Not diving on Sunday wasnt so unpleasant after all.

That afternoon, I joined a three-hour, T-shirt-soaking, mosquito-biting jungle hike. Local guide Salik led us over sneaker-sucking mud trails overgrown with pink ginger, banana trees, eucalyptus, sakau, and taro to Menka, 14th-century stone ruins dedicated to the goddess Sinaku. That evening, I cooled off with a beach snorkel at Blue Hole, an ancient royal burial site.

While a real adventurer would enjoy island hopping, most divers pick one island as an extension to their trip to Palau or Truk. While Yap is often the island of choice, I dont think it measures up to Kosrae or Pohnpei, culturally distinct places with friendly residents and unique eco-resorts. Both have great fish life and Kosraes stunning hard corals and visibility are tough to beat. But those vicious bugs are a serious detraction.

-- N.M.

Pohnpei, Kosrae, MicronesiaDIVERS COMPASS: Both hotels on-site dive ops offer instruction, gear storage and setup. In Pohnpei, Village Hotel (2800 PSI fills; no Nitrox) does not rent, sell or repair gear. KVE provides sales and rentals, 3000 PSI fills, tanks from 50 to 90 cf, Nitrox for additional cost . . . All dive boats carried oxygen and communications; no heads or showers . . . Continental flies directly from Honolulu to Guam and runs an island-hopper that stops in Kwajelein, Majuro, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Truk. Continental is the only choice for reaching Palau and Yap . . . Flights dont operate daily and even Continentals website and phone reps often dont have all the information, so I used World of Diving in El Segundo, CA (www.worldofdiving.com) to manage my trip . . . Airports are one-room, open-air concrete buildings. All bags are opened and inspected in front of you. If your flight stops, half the coach class passengers (first class is exempt) will be randomly selected to leave the aircraft while officials inspect every seat and bin. Passengers remaining on the plane may not use the restroom. Passengers asked to temporarily leave the aircraft will be confined to a secure room that may or may not have restroom access . . . Dinner prices averaged $10 to $15 on Pohnpei and Kosrae, beer $4-$6 . . . Air temps ran in the 80s . . . English is spoken but accents can be a challenge . . . American dollars are the official currency . . . Electrical outlets are 110 current; no adapters needed . . . Internet is available at telecommunications buildings. Kosrae Village Ecolodge and the Village Hotel allow guests to use their office computers for a fee. Kosrae Village Ecolodge (Standard cottage $69.50 pp, do, includes breakfast . . . www.kosraevillage.com.) KVE can arrange fishing, kayaking and other sightseeing tours . . . Pohnpeis Village Hotel (double/twin in Sunrise Room, $113) (www.thevillagehotel.com

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