The Micronesian islands bask in the equatorial sun shining on the Pacific Ocean. The federated states comprise many exotic locales, including Yap and Palau. Getting there is part of the adventure and, for us, included a stop-over in Guam. After touring the three islands, we discovered more culture, history, and underwater adventures than expected.
SCUBA divers know Yap as home to the manta rays. The notion of gliding through the sea amongst these giant animals piqued our interest in Yap. While this was a remarkable experience, we found rewarding encounters out of the water.
Arriving in Yap close to midnight, our shuttle to the Manta Bay Resort was nothing more than a crowded, dark, and bumpy ride. This experience was replicated eight hours later during our first dive in the Mi'l Channel. Rough seas and low visibility were remanence of a recent storm. Divers bobbed in shallow seas waiting for mantas to visit. Surprisingly large rays glided slowly in and out of view evoking and eerie, but exciting feeling. This was the first and last dive in which we saw the manta rays.
Après dive drinks on the Bridge Deck of the MNUW ship is where guests and locals meet. Our introduction to Yap culture came from a couple of Peace Corp. volunteers. Subsequent cultural tours and a kayak trip revealed fascinating insight to island life.
Through a pre-arranged village visit, the Chief explained how Yapese people maintain balance between modern life and retaining their traditional lifestyle. For example, tribal history is shared across generations in the form of dance, or churu. Elders teach the village youth stories and how to communicate them through dancing. These dances are preformed for locals and visitors such as us. The churu we saw explained the Japanese and subsequent U.S. occupation in Yap during World War II. We recorded video of some of the dance with our digital camera, see for yourself (click on the links below). After the dance we mingled with locals over coconut milk and beechnuts.
Yap Island is home to manta rays and preservation of Yapese culture. While stellar diving was not the order of the day (due to weather and water conditions), the cultural encounter proved to be a singular experience. We came away with a newfound appreciation for the history of Yapese people and their lifestyle.