Micronesia – Quaint And Serene Islands Bursting With Colour

Micronesia – Quaint And Serene Islands Bursting With Colour

Country #149. Let’s start with the obvious. You didn’t know that Micronesia was a country, did you? To be fair, I had for many years believed it was a fictitious one. The (limited) plot of the film Zoolander sees the protagonist attempt to assassinate the president of Malaysia, which Hansel (the other protagonist) refers to incorrectly as Micronesia throughout the film.

Pohnpei, Micronesia. Most of the island is empty and unspoiled.

Pohnpei, Micronesia. Most of the island is empty and unspoiled.

So, we have established that Micronesia exists. And I must tell you it is quite spectacular. Micronesia’s main island Pohnpei – one of over 600 in the country – is one of the most beautiful islands I have ever visited. It’s simply bursting with life. Colourful tropical flowers and vegetation jostle for any inch of available space. It felt like I was viewing everything in technicolour. Craggy volcanic peaks loom over the island. The rainforest-covered interior is largely impenetrable. The island’s road ‘network’ is comprised of a single track which loops around the circular island.

A Catholic church in Micronesia. Jesus is still very popular here.

A Catholic church in Micronesia. Jesus is still very popular here.

Unearthing Historical Gems

Micronesia houses an astounding historical sight, which I had not even heard of before I visited. Nan Madol is the incredible 2,000-year-old ruins of an ancient city settlement, situated on the beach. Little is known about it. Even less is known about how its giant slabs of basalt – which must weigh tonnes – were hoisted into place. My guide assured me it must have been local “spirits”. With trees and vegetation growing out of the crumbling city walls, Nan Madol has striking similarities to the world-famous Ta Prohm, at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. You don’t know this either… where Tomb Raider was filmed, for the philistines among you.

Nan Madol, Micronesia. It’s a far sight more impressive than Stonehenge in the UK, which is around 100 times more famous and 100 times less imposing in the flesh.

Nan Madol, Micronesia. It’s a far sight more impressive than Stonehenge in the UK, which is around 100 times more famous and 100 times less imposing in the flesh.

The only difference between here and the Cambodian ruins is that you will have this UNESCO World Heritage site all to yourself. I felt like the man who ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu when I visited Nan Madol. Hiram Bingham III set his eyes on the historical sight in Peru in 1911. Despite locals knowing about it for generations, its existence was only formalised in the eyes of the world after a western person had seen it. Thank me later.

Nan Madol, Micronesia. A live shot of me ‘discovering’ the ruins of the ancient city. And also still struggling to know what to do with my hands when someone takes a photo of me. I don’t think I ever stand like this, unless a camera is pointed at me.

Nan Madol, Micronesia. A live shot of me ‘discovering’ the ruins of the ancient city. And also still struggling to know what to do with my hands when someone takes a photo of me. I don’t think I ever stand like this, unless a camera is pointed at me.

Pohnpei is just an hour’s flight from the Marshall Islands, my previous destination. But it feels very different to the other Pacific Islands. It does not feel particularly Polynesian. The influence of Japanese rule from 1914 to 1945 can still be felt via the variety of local languages spoken and the food. Micronesian sushi is one of the country’s main delicacies. Micronesia is also much cleaner than many of the other Pacific Islands. By comparison, residents of Nauru, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands appear to be more comfortable dropping litter wherever they please.

Nan Madol, Micronesia. My stance here proves the point I made in the last photo.

Nan Madol, Micronesia. My stance here proves the point I made in the last photo.

A Gentle Pace Of Life

That said, the Micronesian pace of life is a touch Polynesian. My guide Augustine was lovely, and very relaxed. As I’ve witnessed in so many countries around the world, this included a baffling dislike of seatbelts. “Why are you doing that? We don’t wear seat belts here,” he chuckled proudly as I clipped myself into his rusty old Suzuki. We passed the crumpled wreckage of a van at the same time as he delivered his sage words of advice. Like so many Micronesians, Augustine moved to America for a few years. Most people here refer to the US as “the mainland”, given that the country has been largely administered by the US since WWII.

A typically colourful scene in Micronesia. And while I have slightly edited the saturation settings in some of these pictures (as we all do when posting pictures online), I needn’t have. The sky is as blue here as anywhere I’ve been.

A typically colourful scene in Micronesia. And while I have slightly edited the saturation settings in some of these pictures (as we all do when posting pictures online), I needn’t have. The sky is as blue here as anywhere I’ve been.

He didn’t stay more than a few years, disliking the pace of life and how hard Americans worked. Many Micronesians own land on the island, which they use for subsistence farming. They sell any excess produce they have. Augustine said that if you don’t feel like working for a day here, you just don’t work. It’s up to you. He said that the focus of life here in Pohnpei is to relax, enjoy yourself, and spend time with your family.

This in itself must be quite a task. He’s one of 15 siblings and has six children. I questioned how the hell the population here is just 100,000, when the birth rate is so high. But I got my answer quickly. By the age of 48, Augustine had already lost six of his siblings and one of his children. However serene and relaxing life may be over here, the realities of poor healthcare and economic isolation are stark. If you fall seriously ill here, there are few appealing options available.

A paradise island in Micronesia. The irony with any remote ‘paradise’ island is that you would probably die very quickly if stranded on one. With a nice view at least.

A paradise island in Micronesia. The irony with any remote ‘paradise’ island is that you would probably die very quickly if stranded on one. With a nice view at least.

Despite this, Augustine and most Micronesians remain extremely upbeat. Happy with their lot. They don’t yearn for an influx of tourists, worried that it will change their way of life. They’re quite happy for Micronesia to remain a made-up country in the eyes of Westerners.

One of Micronesia’s many pretty waterfalls.

One of Micronesia’s many pretty waterfalls.

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