Yap? The island with the giant stone money discs, right?
Well, yes, indeed. But this most traditional of Micronesian islands has guarded its cultural heritage as well as its currency. Located between Guam and Palau, the remote archipelago with four main islands was largely untouched by both colonial empires and wars. As a result, traditions (including the famous stone money) remain an intrinsic part of daily life. Grass skirts and brightly colored loincloths are still the fashion of the day in thatched villages outside the capital of Colonia. Dance is a living art, the way history is recorded and passed down – albeit in a colorful, sometimes raucous fashion. And this is an island that still values such tasks as weaving a basket, launching a canoe, and fishing.
Yap doesn’t attract a large number of visitors, and most of those who do come are divers – for this may be the best place in the world to glide through the blue depths with schools of massive, effortlessly graceful manta rays. A few other modern activities – mountain biking and kayaking among them – are available, and the beaches are pleasant. But Yap is really a place to see a rare part of Oceania that the modern world has mostly passed by.
Rest Easy Traders’ Ridge Resort is an intimate hilltop hotel in Colonia complete with butler service and fine dining. Its partnership with the Ethnic Art Institute, which preserves the artistry of Yapese culture, results in weekly traditional dance performances and the chance to watch Yapese craftsmen at work. The resort can arrange for you to sail on its outrigger canoe, fish with locals or tour men’s houses and village meeting houses, where you’ll be able to see stone money. Rates from $215. www.tradersridge.com
Manta Nirvana More than 100 giant mantas reside in the 81-degree waters off Yap. Divers make the pilgrimage from all corners of the world for encounters with these plankton-sucking winged beauties seen in Mi’il Channel (late November to early May) or in Gofnuw Channel, also known as “Valley of the Rays” (June to October). Other surprises await: seldom-seen mandarinfish, pipefish and nudibranchs. Traders’ Ridge and Manta Ray Bay Hotel have full-service dive centers. Two-tank dive trips from $99. www.mantaray.com
Grin Red Chew the mildly narcotic betel nut. Nuts, leaves and lime are available in the shops, or try the cherry-red betel-nut martini at Traders’ Ridge.
Bring Back – Visit the Ethnic Art Institute of Micronesia on Yap where native artisans, learning from elders, live and work to keep Yapese woodcarving a vital art form. Only local materials, most commonly breadfruit wood – and traditional tools such as the adze are used to create these Oceanic crafts. This Tapuana (meaning “sacred spirit”) mask was worn by a secret society of weather magicians, the Soutapuana on Chuuk, who performed a ritual at the time of the ripening of the breadfruit. The Soutapuana danced on the beach, facing the storm, and sang sacred chants to protect the island from harm. Masks range from $50 to $325, and this mask is $95.