With Guam behind us, we flew on our midnight United Airlines flight 185 out to Yap of the Federated States of Micronesia, landing at around 1:30am in the morning.



Yap is one of the 4 states of Micronesia and the land of stone money (more on that later), the original cryptocurrency.



At the airport there’s only two immigration officer booths for all of arrivals; one for FSM citizens and the other for everyone else. Get to the front fast, or be prepared to wait totally outside, even if it might be under the rain.



As tradition for all their welcomes in Yap, a local topless and garland adorned girl and boy will very likely greet you at arrivals with a lei.



We were then directed to our transportation waiting outside. 

Since I had unknowingly planned this trip to be in the middle of their Yap Day festivities, everything was fully booked out on the island except for 2 rooms (at the last minute too!) at the nicest resort on the island: the centrally located Manta Bay Resort & Yap Divers in the middle of Yap’s main town of Colonia.



Taking 20 minutes to drive to the resort in Colonia, we were given an orientation of the small town and resort before I crashed at 3am.



Back to the lands where everything is painted, not printed…



…unless it’s a memorial to U.S. troops who flew and crashed-landed their Hellcats or B-52s here during World War 2. Apparently Yap was a centrally fought over island during the war where the U.S. tried to isolate it from the rest of Japan’s supply chain.



From there we walked a minute over to the center of Colonia



Its Supreme Court is the first to obviously remind us we’re in Yap:



The YCA Business Center is probably the largest structure in Colonia comprised mostly of a very large supermarket and a few businesses, ID services, and the reliable Ganir restaurant.



Across the street, there is a 24/7 free open-air Living History Museum where you can lay your first sight on the Yapese’s traditional meeting houses and stone money if you haven’t already yet (like WW2 memorials, they’re everywhere here).



If I haven’t already mentioned it yet, I should now: Yap is most famous for being the home to its stone money, known as Rai or Fei. Large doughnut-shaped disks are carved out of calcite stone, measuring up to 12 feet in diameter down to inches. Most had originated from Palau with many more arriving later from other islands such as New Guinea and their value is based on both the stone’s size (smaller may actually be worth more since they’re more mobile and therefore more practical) and its history. 

The Yapese chiefs then valued Rai/Fei because the material looked like quartz when presented to them by other islands, and being that these were the shiniest objects available and not local to their island, the chiefs deemed them legal tender. Some have now even become mandatory in payments of tradition.

Since there was and is a finite number of them, the value of the stones was kept high due to the difficulty with both creating (imagine carving these stones with nothing but a seashell), quarrying, and transporting them back to Yap; Yapese sailors had to venture to other distant islands and confront hostile local natives there, quarry the stones, and then tow these behemoths by sail-driven canoes. Like the idea of an otherwise arbitrary concept of bitcoin, the finite number of Rai on its island as well as the effort behind them created value to the Yapese.

And like the idea of what makes a bitcoin “valuable,” Rai are no longer being made or transported; therefore the money supply is fixed. When ownership changes, much of the stone money remains in place due to their size and weight (the largest ones require 20 adult men to carry). They therefore rely on memory and institutionalized ledgers (think blockchain) to know who owns each stone money on the island. 

And even though the United States Dollar is now the official currency for everyday transactions in Yap, Rai are still used for traditional or ceremonial exchanges between individuals or tribes such as marriages, transfers of land, or as compensation for damages or shame suffered by another, aggrieved party.

So let’s say if I were to buy land, only wanted to use Rai and found a seller willing to accept Rai instead of USD, I could tell my buyer that the Rai located next to Hotel XYZ, second from the left, is mine. The seller would confirm ownership of that Rai with a ledger/local chief/blockchain (lol) and once accepted, that Rai is now theirs and their land is mine. Like the idea of bitcoin, the Rai never has to physically “move” and can remain in place by Hotel XYZ; it’s just now under a different owner.



We continued on our tour of Colonia by walking further by Pine Bar & Grill:



We then passed by the local post office:



Peeked in a cute small store:



And ended our walk at ACES MART 1, another larger store selling all these wonderful little treasures, such as saran-wrapped burgers and Spam Musubis:



Signs of heavy import fees with overinflated brand-name kitchenware:



And have you ever seen AriZona Green Tea Fruit Gummies?! Only in Yap.



We then took a detour up north up a flight of stairs to St Mary’s Catholic Church, currently undergoing renovations:



Afterwards we headed back to Manta Bay Resort/Hotel for happy hour at 4:30 with $1 off their $7-$10 drinks (hmm, not much of “happy hour” but I’ll take what I can get). I then scheduled myself a massage at the resort’s Taro Leaf Spa at 6pm, followed by dinner at 7pm, and then turning in by 9:30pm for 10 hours of glorious catch up sleep. And that’s day 1.

On our second day after breakfast, all of us boarded Manta Ray’s free 8:30am shuttle bus 25 minutes to the town Makiy on Gagil, the sub-island northeast from Colonia, to witness the festivities involved in Yap Day. 

Back in 1968 the Yap Islands Congress consecrated Yap District Day to preserve Yapese culture, choosing March 1 as the date representing its “most pleasant” season because of the relative dry period. The name was then officially changed to “Yap Day” on March 1979.

After arriving early at 9am on an 8:30am shuttle, we waited for things to start, and boy does island time really make a difference here; bring a book to pass the time as everything moves here refreshingly casually.



In between each event, you can also wander around the 10-15 tents and booths set up behind the seating area; one tent offered free health checks for the community such as measuring BMIs, blood pressure, blood glucose, or offering pamphlets, etc., another tent appealed towards small businesses on the islands:



. . . and the rest were local vendors from convenience stores around Yap, functioning also as food stalls selling platters of food such as raw and cooked turtles, sashimi, roast pork, and pickled vegetables:



Or what we were all looking for: free food. For that, look for the very popular “Taste of Yap” booth where you try to cram as much as you can on this single banana leaf they give you as a handheld plate. And you can come back for seconds. Their coconut crab was THE BEST.



And pro-tip for those of you worrying about disrespecting the locals when you have to go, instead of peeing on the many trees here the very well-kept and often-cleaned bathrooms are hidden away to the east of the vendors among the remnants of a Japanese school from World War 2.

The festival begins with a local blowing on a conch shell and with opening remarks by an MC. Then a presentation of colors by Officers of Public Safety:



Afterwards, we sat through more opening remarks by the local chief of Gagil, the governor of Yap, the president of Palau that came just for the weekend, a Benediction by a priest from Guam, and then a procession where a local tribe demonstrates a presentation of stone money.



Afterwards, the dances begin. Most of them are Womens’ Sitting Dances:



During an extended lunch break, a series of talent show like competitions are waged by a range of first to eighth graders from various schools in Yap with their schoolteachers looking on in the background. Activities are judged by both speed and quality of the items being made.

First to eighth grader girls compete in various weaving contests to make baskets, balls, rice bags, fans, hats, and fruit baskets. Boys compete with rope and raft-making.



There are also conventionally physical races: Girls compete in juggling while running, dodgeball, and relay races, while boys compete in stick balancing, dodgeball, pole climbing, and relay races.



Many of us then headed back at 3pm for an early dinner, and after a 30 minute head and shoulder massage back at the hotel, I turned in early at 8:30pm for bed. I might as well start getting readjusted back to my time zone back home early!

Waking up at 5:30am the next morning and catching up on blogposts, I enjoyed our later start with a 9:30am departure for the second day of Yap Day. Arriving early before the program, Stephanie and a few other friends we made at the hotel, a Spanish researcher in CHamorou culture Alba and her friend, famed Guam artist Julie Flores, signed up for a free tour to the Gagil tribe’s nearby stone money bank.



Luckily for us, our guides had gotten the Gagil chief’s permission to let women inside this stone money bank (previously women were only allowed to view the bank from a platform). We also were asked by our guides to break off a piece of a branch and hold it in our right hand during our tour; this act of respect was meant to show the local tribe we were coming in peace.

Even the guides carry them just to be safe; they all take this pretty seriously here.



The walk to the bank took about 7 minutes from the Yap Day site in Makiy.



The bank is constructed around a communal meeting house where the tribes can gather inside. The house is surrounded by Rai, and faces a ceremonial path that also functions as a dancing platform for visiting and hosting tribes.



After half an hour on this tour, we returned to the festivities of Day 2, beginning with a Copra Husking Race where both tourists and locals were invited to partake:



Then we saw a very abrupt betelnut climbing race, which involved only local Yapese men (because liability) who know how to climb:



Afterwards the high schoolers presented their program, with a very impressive and intricately choreographed bamboo stick dance:



We then were given a Tattoo Display; the MC, however, suggested the practice was becoming more obsolete as it appeared they were struggling to find even one local volunteer with the necessary tattoos this year.



Finally, after few more women sitting and standing dances, the Yap Day program closed out with the Men’s Standing Dance by the Gagil tribe:



We then returned on the 4:30pm bus back to the hotel, where once again after an early dinner brought back from Yap Day I slept in early at 8:30pm to get closer to my NYC time zone back home.

The next morning I woke up at 4:30am and enjoyed the free time in the dark doing push ups and fixing up the blog. I then signed up for the optional 3 hour land tour Manta Bay was offering to all of Colonia every 9:30am Saturday for $79.

We first drove by the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:



Our first stop was at the Joseph Cox Memorial dedicated to Ensign Joseph Cox who on a routine mission from the USS Enterprise, collided his F6F-5 Hellcat with another plane and landing in Yap. His remains were found nearby and returned to his hometown in Idaho while his F6F-5 Hellcat fighter plane remained here on Yap:



We then took a detour southeast to the largest stone money bank on Yap at Baleabaat, branch and leaf in our right hand as always:



Next stop: the old airport from World War 2 when Japan had occupied Yap where we came upon the remnants of a Japanese Zero:



Another part of a Japanese Zero was hidden a few steps away in the bushes:



An old Japanese artillery cannon was left intact nearby:



We drove further south to another site featuring another tribe’s impressive and more open display of stone money.



Offered to take a short 4 minute hike by our guides, we then quickly came upon the remains of a Japanese tunnel that was dug out as a shelter from daily American bombardment during the war:



Some of us, including yours truly, totally missed it on the first pass:


For our final stop, we relaxed with fresh coconut and more stone money displays at Ngariy:



The local meeting house here has the most established interior out of all the ones we’ve been in:



One of our Manta Ray Resort guides, Stella, then showed how to make a traditional Yapese leaf basket with her bare hands in less than 3 minutes:



After half an hour with Stella and munching on coconuts, we then returned back to Manta Bay Resort. After a failed attempt to walk to and eat at Pine Bar & Grill which was closed on weekends (and then turning down the owner’s attempt to drive us to Esa Bay Resort for lunch), we had a great meal instead at nearby Ganir’s, seemingly the only other open restaurant on Saturday in Colonia. We then settled our bills back at the hotel front desk and packed for an ungodly itinerary home.

Knowing I would not get any sleep with all my 1-2 hour flights coming up on the UA 133 island hopper from Yap to Guam to Chuuk to Pohnpei to Kosrae to Kwajalein to Majuro to Honolulu (yep you read that correctly) and despite having gotten over 9 hours of sleep every night the past 3 nights, I remarkably was able to harness the power of low-light and blue blocking sunglasses to convince my body to sleep at 4pm. Thank goodness, because we were then summoned by the hotel front desk at 11:30pm for a midnight departure to the airport.



Yap airport is probably one of the few left in the world where the obligatory departure tax is not included in your ticket; after check-in and bag drop off, we had to line up to pay $20 in cash at a counter, before lining up again to stamp out of Yap.



Then we headed through security into a very crowded waiting room that became standing room only. At least with all the farewell garlands that every traveler was bestowed upon by a fellow local before departing, the room was pleasantly infused with the smell of fresh flowers.



And after an hour in the waiting room where I even met a few more travelers and hopefully will keep in touch with them (hi Jasmine and Ryan!), it’s time to island hop on our way home.





- At time of posting in Colonia, Yap, it was 29 °C - Humidity: 71% | Wind Speed: 29km/hr | Cloud Cover: occasionally sunny, partly cloudy


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