Archive for Island

The Mystery of Yap

Do you know of any destination in the world where the airport code is the same as the name of the place? Welcome to Yap! Situated between Guam and Palau in the Federated States of Micronesia, this tiny island paradise is unknown to many…

If you want to learn more about the Yapese culture but you can’t afford an exotic trip to the Western Pacific, don’t worry! This blog will introduce you to this magical place of stone money, flying fish, fruit bat soup, and topless islanders with betel-stained teeth who never stop smiling… It’s the true island feeling you’ve always dreamed of.  So “Mogethin”! You already know how to say “Hello” in Yapese .



We often hear the phrase “Money is just paper”. It is light and colored, and looks almost the same in all countries. But what if money is made out of stone, it is heavy and costs more if someone died because of it? That’s exactly the case on Yap.

Yapese money, also known as “rai” was first invented on the island of Palau when a man tried to carve a stone in such a way that it would resemble the shape of the moon. In order for him to carry it, he had to carve a hole in the middle of the disk. The Yapese embraced the idea and soon it became their official currency.

According to the article  “The Stone Money of Yap: A Numismatic Survey” , the money ranges from a foot in diameter to about ten feet or even more. The value is determined by how the disk got transported to the island. The more difficult and hazardous it was, the higher the value.

The supply is now fixed since no more rai are being carved or imported from the neighbor islands. What matters to the Yapese is not the quality of the disk’s carving but who the owner is and how they got it.

Even though the US dollar is their de facto currency, one can still buy property on the island using rai that has a high value to the Yapese. There are around 6,800 rai scattered on the island and its inhabitants know the owner of every single disk. They don’t move the money because every inch of Yap is private property and that accounts for a certain etiquette among the islanders. More about that fascinating code of behavior, coming up in the next post.

Why Yap is So Cool

There are many things which are common on Yap but very unusual to any outsider. For starters, where on Earth can you get truly happy people to greet you with their red betel-stained smile? Where can you see topless women talking on cell phones? And what gives the Yapese their genuine politeness and their love and respect for one another?

Something interesting about politics on Yap is that elders hold supreme power on the island. When they give orders that concern the community, everyone obeys. Because if they don’t, they can banish them. And that is a major problem. Why?

Every inch on Yap including the surrounding ocean water out as far as the reef is private property. Some say it takes about three minutes to walk from the center of the island’s capital, Colonia, to the outskirts but every time you take a walk in any direction, you are trespassing someone’s property.

This is the secret ingredient in their all-get-along recipe. In order for you to get where you need to go, you should be nice to people so they can let you walk on their land. Locals say you have to ask permission if you see anyone on your way. They will always let you pass but you have to be polite and ask before you walk through people’s yards. How cool is that?

How Do You Get to Yap

There is only one airline with service to the island of Yap and that is Continental Micronesia. Its flights almost always go through Guam. You can also fly to one of the cities close to Guam- Manila, Palau, Hong Kong or Koror, and continue to Guam from there. Continental Airlines Micronesia have a very enticing offer for travelers with enough money and time on their hands. The service is called the  “Island Hopper” and it gives you the opportunity to “hop” on all of the major islands in Micronesia. You leave Honolulu, Hawaii, and stop in most of the islands in eastern Micronesia en route to Guam. Flights are scheduled three times a week so plan accordingly.

If you decide you don’t want to fly directly into Yap International Airport, you can fly to Guam and get to Yap by boat. Speedboats are the main means of transportation between the islands. Canoes are also used but they take up to three times longer in travel time. You can also take the filed trip ship but it only operates twice a month. Same vessel goes to the islands of Ulithi and Fais. If you plan on visiting Ulithi, you have to make arrangements with the Chief of the island (Piiluung (Yapese for Chief) Ignacio Hapthey) who resides on Yap. Once you have the Chief’s permission, you can also take the Pacific Missionary Aviation plane which is usually used to transport doctors and patients from the remote islands but you can charter it and get to the island of your choice.  But remember, you can’t just show up on the island unless you’ve notified the Chief about the purpose of your visit.

Flying Fish

So what is a flying fish? A fish that has wings and flies? Well, pretty much, only that its “wings” are called pectoral fins. According to Wikipedia, in order to glide upward out of the water, a flying fish moves its tail up to 70 times per second; then it spreads its pectoral fins and tilts them slightly upward to provide lift.

Flying fish love tropical and subtropical waters. That is why they can be found in Yap. Different countries have different ways of catching flying fish. In Yap, they are usually caught while flying, using nets held from outrigger canoes. The Yapese light torches because they know flying fish are attracted to the light. Fishing is thus done only when there is no moonlight.

Fishing on Yap is seasonal. “Roahroah” for example is Emperor fish which can also be found in Yap, and it’s caught during the summer when ocean waters are calm and the Yapese do bottom fishing inside lagoons. When flying fish are in the lagoon, at first only one canoe goes out into the water. The men who can make magic are on that canoe.  The ritual goes that a local magician or the men who know magic put it in the channels. Then people usually wait about a month before anyone can go out fishing.

When they fish the first fish of the season, the whole Yapese community goes. Women pick breadfruit and bring it to the Men’s House in return for the fish the men have caught. If a magician’s spell on the waters does not bring fish, the Yapese blame him, not the ocean, and the magician can stay in the Men’s House for up to a month.


Manta Ray Bay

Manta Ray Bay is a dedicated dive resort on the island of Yap. The resort was built by divers for divers and they made sure that the quay is literally steps away from your hotel room.

Their fleet of boats are available both for group diving trips and private charters around the island. The resort is also the only place in the world with a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified Manta Ray Awareness educational course.

Yap has been called the “World Class Diving’s Best Kept Secret” because even though there are plenty of dive sites, about a half of its reefs are still unexplored. It has to offer more than 30 dive sites but sometimes there aren’t even that many tourists on the island so there’s a pretty good chance that if you go for a dive on the outer reef, you might be there all by yourself.

Manta rays are the largest of all rays and while they may be closely related to the sharks, they have no teeth and are completely harmless. Mantas funnel the food in their mouth as they swim and their meal consists of tiny crustaceans, small fish and plankton. According to Wikipedia, the largest known manta ray was 25 feet long (7.6 meters) and weighed about 5,100 pounds (2,300 kilograms). Even though they are solitary creatures, mantas like to swim along with divers.

Coral Reefs

In the previous post we talked about the giant manta rays. One of the reasons why they love Yap, besides the warm tropical water, is that the coral reefs between the lagoon and the Pacific ocean act as their cleaning station. The reef fish feed on the parasites from their skin and their mouths. You can dive in and watch them hover around, letting the fish take turns in cleaning them. The Scuba Safaris websites explains that “Valley of the Ray”s is a section of Goofnow Channel, the eastern side of Yap, where the mantas can be found during the summer months of May through November.

If you prefer to dive into a “non-manta” area, head South. The Southern most point in Yap is famous for its swim-through caverns which cut anywhere from ten to sixty feet into the coral wall. The sunlight passes through the holes in the coral wall and you can observe numerous fascinating species in all colors of the rainbow as you swim around. Yap Caverns, Yap Corner and Lionfish Wall are the three famous southern dive sites.


According to the official website for the Yap State Government, the island has a constitutional democratic form of government. The Federated States of Micronesia, which used to be under the rule of Germany, Spain and Japan, is now an independent sovereignty. It is however in alliance with the United States through an agreement of free association which helped the Federated States of Micronesia become self-sufficient.

The U.S. dollar is used in the FSM, the U.S. Postal Service serves the island chain, and the government is also largely funded by the United States.

The Yap State Government website states that its Constitution took effect on December 24, 1982, and while much of Yap’s structural setup and constitutional mandate is modeled on the U.S. democratic system of government, in addition to the three branch system of government, the Yapese government has a fourth branch of traditional power- the Councils of Pilung (Yap Proper) and Tamol (Yap’s Outer Islands).

The executive power of the State is vested in the Governor who is the head of government. The Executive Branch consists of five departments and three offices. Governor Tun is given credit for the much repeated saying in Yap, “If you don’t have a dollar, you don’t spend it.” Another famous Yapese saying: “If you don’t save for a rainy day, you will get into a lot of trouble” also shows the importance of frugality. This is one of the reasons why Yap is in a better fiscal position than the other islands. A very interesting article by Robert Underwood from the University of Guam points out that the bank loan default rate is the lowest in the FSM and when the Bank of Hawaii branch closed in Yap, there were still individual saving accounts totaling over $10 million (article can be found in the blogroll section).

If you’re looking to make Yap your new home, however, finding a job would not be an easy task since the government has made it an official policy to give FSM citizens first priority for employment consideration. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you are lucky because you come second. Third country nationals are last on the priority list which makes a lot of sense. Maybe living in Yap is not a bad idea if you’ve quit your job back home, you’ve sold all your stuff and you’re ready to live on your savings and experience the ultimate island transformation.