26 July, 2011

Welcome To The Jungle ...

It is such a blessing, when in a foreign land, to befriend a native. My parents and I have been so blessed in our friend, Danny. Danny works in the Ace Office Supplies store in Kolonia. This is where we met him. He comes from pretty solid Pohnpeian stock, as I understand it. His mother’s family owns some land around Sokehs Rock. Sokehs Rock is the island’s most notable (or, perhaps, most noticeable?) natural landmark. It’s a very large rock with strong cliff faces to three sides, and it is visible from most everywhere on the island. Danny’s father’s family owns one of the islands situated just off the coast of Pohnpei. To own land in Pohnpei is a sign of wealth and status.

Danny is a very nice fellow. I met him shortly after my arrival on Pohnpei while doing some shopping at the Ace Office Supplies store. He offered to show me around the island if I was interested. I took him up on his offer.

Last Saturday, Danny took us to Kepirohi waterfall and to Nan Madol. Kepirohi is arguably the most beautiful waterfall on Pohnpei. According to the Pohnpei Ecotourism Travel Guide it is approximately 66 feet tall, 98 feet wide, and is made up of large, square basalt stones. There is a lovely little lake at the bottom of the falls where we went swimming. Most of it is pretty shallow, but just at the base of the falls it becomes a little deeper … maybe 6 feet deep or so. We had a fun time swimming in the lake and feeling the cool spray of the falls showering us on its plunge down the stone face of the basalt cliff. Danny climbed a third of the way up the falls. He said he can climb all the way up, and used to do it all the time when he was younger, but he doesn’t go to the top much anymore now that he’s getting older. I got about three feet above the water, but couldn’t climb any higher than that. (The rocks were too slippery, and I was too afraid that I would slip and crack my head if I got too zealous about the climb. It’s also not so easy to climb up against a wall of water that is crashing down.) It was so beautiful there. Thick tropical foliage surrounded us echoing the large stones that circled around the little lake. It was like we had entered an enchanted bubble where the world was pristine and quiet but for the sounds of the falls dancing on rock and water below, and birds singing in the trees. Sunshine would catch in the water creating little tiny rainbows and sparkles of light throughout the place. And the air was soft and cool and smelled clean and green. It was lovely.

Nan Madol is an ancient ruins site. It is a place shrouded in mystery and mysticism. It consists of a city with many Venetian-style canals built around and through it. The structures were constructed by stacking large basalt logs on each other in alternating patterns – kind of the way one would stack Lincoln Logs. The stone logs are huge and have a specific hexagonal shape to them. It is believed that the stone was quarried elsewhere and brought to the site by ancient islanders called Saudeleurs. The Saudeleurs were great magicians, and many Pohnpeians believe that they built the city by moving the stones into place with their magicks. There are, of course, variations of this legend, just as there are variations of practically every legend ever told. But, this is the gist and it seems to be the most common version of the story. The Saudeleur Dynasty ruled Pohnpei for some time with the seat of their power residing at Nan Madol. I have yet to learn what exactly happened to the Saudeleurs, or when it happened, to bring about their extinction. It is written that the Dynasty governed between 1000 and 1600 C.E. Nan Madol, itself, consists of 92 separate islands covering 222 acres. It was a center for both political and religious activities. According to the Pohnpei Ecotourism Travel Guide, Nan Madol is said to have been constructed between 500 and 1500 C.E., and included the residence and tombs of the royal family, servant quarters, a guest house for visitors and separate islands for funerals and storage. (The possible discrepancy in dates is another of the mysteries of this place.) The name Nan Madol means “land in between.” It has been speculated that this mystical city may have been a passage or border between our world and another world. Whether that is true or not, the ruins are quite beautiful. I can only imagine the city’s magnificence when it was in its full splendor.

Yesterday, Danny agreed to be our trusty guide again. We asked him to take us to the Pohnpaip Petroglyphs, and to a place that one of the Peace Corps volunteers referred to as the “Bat Cave.” It is a cave behind the Pahn Takai waterfall. Being a cave, it is a natural home to bats, but this cave also affords some amazing views of Pohnpei from behind the curtain of the cascading falls.

The rain started falling just as we were leaving the house to meet Danny. I think I was the only one who was happy about this. I love being in the rain, and being in the rain in a jungle is an extra special treat for me. However, I seem to be in the minority on this topic … at least within the tiny tour group of me, Mom and Dad. As we drove to our destination the rain fell, then the rain stopped, then the rain fell, then the rain stopped. (Perhaps we were driving in and out of the cloud’s radius?) The road to the falls was a very steep uphill one. Dad’s little island car, the Mitsubishi Toppo, has very little power when it comes to hills. So, halfway up, Mom, Danny and I got out and walked while Dad drove the car the rest of the way up to the parking area. It was raining then. And it continued raining as we got the car parked and headed into the jungle on the path that would lead us to the waterfall. The path was a very narrow one, and quite a steep uphill climb. The footing was tricky with vines and rocks littering the trail. Add to that the fact that it was raining and you might be able to imagine the slippery disco that was our trek up this jungle mountain. Mom and Dad were such troopers. They were ill equipped for rainy hiking. Neither of them had a raincoat. Both of them were trying to hold onto umbrellas – closed at this point. Mom was wearing flimsy flip-flops, and Dad was wearing Crocs. One of Mom’s flip-flops broke at the very beginning of the hike. The piece between the toes ripped out of the sole. Luckily, I had my trusty collection of safety pins and Dad had his trusty multi-purpose tool, so we were able to pull a MacGyver maneuver and mend her shoe on the spot. (This was the same way I mended my friend’s broken flip flop in Naples, Italy several years ago. Piece of advice: Always carry safety pins.)

So there we were slipping and sliding up the mountain, groping at vines and tree trunks and each other for stability. Rain was steadily pelting us so that we looked like a bunch of drowned rats scrabbling through the jungle. Higher and higher we climbed. Eventually Mom decided she’d had enough. We had been hiking for quite a while in these conditions, but were still only about halfway to the falls. We could see the waterfall across the valley that separated us from it. It was beautiful, but it would be quite a bit further to get to it. So, in deference to Mom, we turned around and headed back down the way we came.

If we thought going up the mountain on a slippery muddy path was an adventure, going back down proved to be twice the challenge. There were a few instances of some of our party pounding the trail with their butts, but we all made it back down free of injury or any real insult. As we were nearing the exit point of the trail, Mom’s other shoe broke, so we had to rig it up like the first. Amazingly, she didn’t have any trouble from either of them once we mended them for her. By the time we reached the car again the sun was emerging and the clouds were parting. Oh well. We’ll try this hike again when it’s not so wet. Besides, Danny talked to a woman near the falls who told us that there is another shorter hike that will take us to the cave, so we’ll go that route on our next visit. I know that Mom and Dad were probably not bowled over by the experience of hiking in the rain, but I had a grand time!

Next stop: Petroglyphs! So, in case you are wondering what the heck a petroglyph is, it is basically an ancient rock carving/drawing. There is a large dome made of stone in the middle of the jungle here on Pohnpei. Apparently it is, at least partly, hollow inside. No one knows where the entrance to the inside is, but the outer roof extends out of the earth like a stone terrace. One can walk along the top of the dome (or mosquito net as the locals called it). There are lots of pictures engraved in the surface of this outer dome roof thingy. There are depictions of swords and daggers and feet, some people and animal shapes, and other shapes that we couldn’t definitively identify. The carvings are very primitive, and are, undoubtedly, very old. No one seems to know who created the petroglyphs or exactly when. But they are really interesting to see. In addition to the carvings, the view from the mosquito net is phenomenal: Panoramic jungle foliage crowned with halos of wispy clouds. Gorgeous! There was another muddy hike to get there, but it was much shorter and much, much tamer than our previous foray into the jungle, so we were able to boogie through it easily.

After we climbed back down from the Petroglyphs and washed our feet in a sweet little brook, we loaded our soggy, muddy selves into the car for the return trip home. On the way, Danny suggested we make one last quick stop at a nearby local site called Lizard Rock. We didn’t really know what to expect when he said it was ‘where the Lizard came out of the rock and got stuck there’. Being good Americans we just smiled and nodded at him and told him to show us the way there. Turns out Lizard Rock is a natural rock formation that looks like an alligator emerging from stone. It corresponds to an island legend about a Lizard Woman (half alligator and half human woman) who was cast out of heaven. This is the story as it was told to me: She was cast out of heaven, and emerged on earth from this particular mass of stones. The Lizard Woman had two daughters. (It was not clear to me if her two daughters came with her or if she spawned them after her ejection from heaven.) The daughters were human and very beautiful. They would often bathe themselves in perfumed oils of white ginger and other tropical scents. When they did so oil would wash away down the river and into the sea. A king near the sea saw the oils on the water. When the heady scents reached his nostrils, he became enchanted. He sent folks to search out the women who bathed in these mesmerizing oils. Surely they would be as beautiful as the scents that kissed their skin and hair! The daughters were captured by the king’s lackeys, and enslaved by the king. The Lizard Woman was furious and went in search of her daughters down the winding river (which symbolizes her slithering pursuit) toward the sea. The king, upon learning the Lizard Woman was on her way, sent minions to burn her house. (This part got a little fuzzy in the telling. I am not sure how she was burned in her house while she was out looking for her daughters, but in any case, her house was burned and she was in it, and she died.) The daughters, seeing the smoke above their mother’s house, knew that she was dead. They, then, escaped to their mother’s house and joined her in the fire. The end. Okay, so it’s not a super happy story, but it’s a fun landmark. The Pohnpeians who own the land on which Lizard Rock resides - the police chief and his family - had some local artists come and paint the rocks with the images of the Lizard Woman and her two daughters. It is nestled aside a clump of large boulders that create a path to a scenic overlook area. More spectacular panoramic views … these of jungle on one side and sea on the other. The chief’s daughter, a woman named Joyce, was there at the site and told us the story. She was a really congenial and charming lady. It was good fun, and a great end to our day of touring.

I’m not sure when it’s going to happen for sure, but I think Danny’s going to take us on a hike up Sokehs Ridge next. There is reportedly an abundance of beautiful flora and winged creatures on that trail. There’s also another waterfall nearby, so we’ll probably try to stop by there, too. And, of course, we have to make a return trip to the Bat Cave of Pahn Takai. I will, of course, be sharing all of these adventures with you here as they happen. Just stay tuned. Same bat time. Same bat channel.

No comments:

Post a Comment