We don’t do any diving on our last day in Yap, because we will be flying out at midnight. We have the whole day to explore the island.
Sorin, Heather and I decided to hire a taxi to drive us around. The taxi arrives promptly at 8am, driven by a guy who almost looks too young to drive. Like most Yapese, he chews betel nut. This small soft nut grows like dates at the top of palm trees. The islanders bite the nut into halves, then sprinkle one half with ‘lime’, a white powder made by baking coral and then grinding it to a fine dust. The lime and nut are then wrapped in betel leaf, which comes from an entirely different plant. Sometimes tobacco is added to the package. (Are you confused yet?)
Once the nut is wrapped in leaf, the entire packet is popped into the mouth, where it’s slowly chewed. This results in a huge amount of bright red saliva, which should never be swallowed. The chewer’s mouth fills with this mixture of chewed nut and spit, and it makes it hard to understand what the person is saying. Occasionally the person will walk to a convenient spot and let let out a huge gusher of red spit. Because of this, betel chewing is prohibited in many places, including airplanes, government buildings, and restaurants.
The other effect of betel chewing is that your teeth become stained a dark blood red. This is disconcerting, especially the first time you encounter it. You land in Yap at 1:00 in the morning, you’re given a lei by a beautiful bare-breasted young woman, and then she smiles at you, and you think “Holy Mother of God!”
So our taxi driver Nathan chews betel:
Nathan drives us up to the old airport, where during World War II the Americans bombed a bunch of Japanese Zero’s as they sat on the runway. The zeros are still there sitting in a grassy field, slowly falling apart. Most of the smaller portions of each plane have been taken away by souvenir seekers, but they’re still very recognizable as small prop planes.
After that we head out to see the German cable and radio relay station. This was built in 1905 as part of a chain of communication throughout the region. Unfortunately the building was recently torn down to expand the Yap school, so there isn’t anything to see.
We wander around the school grounds, looking into classrooms and checking out the lessons sitting un-erased on blackboards. At the far end of the school I find a thatch shelter where the kids can get out of the sun. Inside the shelter is a notebook filled with english essays written by one of the students. I start reading the essays and I can’t stop. They’re an amazing reminder of the awkwardness and confusion that comes with adolescence.