It’s a vast region, a miniature country, speckled about with plenty of islands, islets and atolls - 607 to be exact with only 65 inhabited. It would be bigger than the continental United States, if two percent of its territory weren’t water. In many aspects, it's quite the tropical paradise, but off the grid, off the beaten path and on the way to nowhere. Once here, you wonder, Where did the world go? This vision of rapture still leaves you with a sense that paradise in Micronesia is earned, not bought or stumbled upon.
It’s the perfect combination of heaven and hell. It’s what you make of it. It’s not a backpackers' haven, it's an island hoppers' trial. It takes travel to a whole new level. Every expatriate on these shores has a reason to be here and a story of his own. Tourists are a rare breed.
In comparison to any other global region, it's unique, distinctly out of sight, even out of mind. Micronesia represents an exotic, unfamiliar paradise. Yet in memory, it's still the adventurous land on the path of bygone whalers. It makes the mind balk at natural forces not bound to be kind to man. It's a place of foreign and superstitious rites, but it's a whole lot of fun.
My home Pohnpei has its particularities, overlooking a panorama of islands and atolls that makes dazzling seem bland. On the other hand, little happens here. American influence brings some high standards, but one must surely maintain different expectations on many things. Island time is a lifestyle I placidly adopt and do so with a smile. I thought it was just a concept, but I was painfully wrong. It’s a way of life. People are languid compared to our frenzied lives. Locals lead an unhurried, carefree existence to say the least.
Micronesia is also quite the wild frontier, where food (natural food not the imported kind) is scarce and must be hunted or gathered. We get overgrown, suspicious-looking Chinese chicken and American turkey tail scraps in containers. It's not entirely true to say there's no meat on Pohnpei. There are no cows, but wild deer exist. So, learning how to cut and filet venison is vital, but not as easy as it looks.
It’s a good thing I like fish, because we get plenty of yellow fin tuna. I barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, and sauté it. I make fish salad, fish steak, fried fish and pineapple fish. I innovate lemon fish, sashimi-style fish, coconut fish, pepper fish, fish soup, fish stew, fish burger … and that's about it. Half the time, I catch it myself.
It’s the kind of place where I must sit defending the homestead like a cowboy with a rifle, sipping a coconut while playing cat and mouse. Every morning, I find the little critter up a tree chowing down on the bundle of bananas I've waited for months to see ripen. The first time, I shout and he dashes. The second time, I hurl a rock and he sprints. The third, he only sees me and runs off - smart bugger. The last time, I shoot him. I get annoyed when parakeets eat the papayas I’ve been nurturing, however adorable the birds may be. When I’m eagerly waiting for my soursop tree to deliver, it’s irritating that bats gobble them up. The same goes for my mangoes. Good thing there are no monkeys or I’d be a full time security guard. Food is a big deal here!
When I purchased my one-way ticket to the end of the world, I thought Pohnpei was simply the last stop. Little did I know I’d be swimming in shark infested waters, combatting moray eels to save my fingers, being chased by wild dogs, getting rained on eight times a day while still complaining about the heat, surfing over razor sharp reef, hunting for food on distant atolls, dodging falling coconuts, and making a connection deep enough to write about all this nonsense.
It’s an adventurer's land. I get a kick out of it, and it also kicks my butt. This place is no joke. Nothing modern lasts. As I write these lines, my computer is falling apart. I live in the present. After all, I'm lost on a Pacific Island, what else could really matter? Today is like yesterday and tomorrow will be no different.
Stephane Crayne is French and American but was cradled in Africa for his first 19 years. He doesn’t know where to call home. He writes to help others understand that paradise is earned not discovered. After years of nomadic living, he left a career as a military officer to volunteer in Micronesia. He shares the insatiable quest of past explorers in a connected modern world where all is known but little is authentically lived.