My Micronesia—a pearl in the Pacific

Pohnpei is the capital island state of the Federated States of Micronesia and my new home. Situated 10° above the equator in the middle of the Pacific, it’s the second wettest country in the world. Mountainous terrain is covered in lush rain forest but also bathed in sunlight. The average monthly temperature fluctuates between 30 and 31° Celsius, which is great for the garden!

Surrounded by dense coral reefs broken by narrow passes out to the deep blue water beyond, the shoreline is embraced by regal ancient mangrove forests with rare sandy beaches or open rocky shoreline.

Locals have navigated river channels through the mangroves out to the inner and outer reefs forever, to feed families and supplement their income. They troll, bottom fish, spear, net, and use drop stoning techniques. Their main fishing equipment are hand-lines, regardless of the size of the species targeted.

Fishing has always been intrinsic to the island way of life, for sustenance, local trading and, in recent times, to help fund the country through commercial fishing levies. There are between six to eleven large commercial transporter mother ships always moored inside the reef to receive tuna from the international fleets of purse seiners.

All the game fish are here; not necessarily the biggest ones in the Pacific but just as tasty. The huge range of reef fish are more popular and readily available. I have not yet come across a fish not described as “great for sashimi,” with the other main preparations being baked, steamed, cooked over open fires or fried. My Kiwi style smoked fish is very popular here and I could spend most days smoking if I chose.

Our fishing crews are nearly always a mix of locals and ex-pats. Generally, the system that works well is we supply the boats, fishing gear and fuel, while they bring their wealth of area and species knowledge, along with their traditional and learned techniques to ensure everyone goes home with a feed.

Their traditional drink is sakau, which is kava on steroids. Pounded root juices of a plant closely related to our kawakawa are wrapped in the inner lining of the hibiscus bark and strained to give it its potency. It is everywhere on the island and is drunk in sakau bars, in community nahs and homes. It is an integral part of their culture and is always used to celebrate and, if you need to apologise or make a marriage proposal, you know you have succeeded if they drink the sakau you have provided! Unlike kava, if someone passes you a half coconut portion—you sip not scull—otherwise you could end up in hospital, or at least feeling sick for several days like some overeager expats.

Islanders are lovely people who are honest, very helpful and happy. The standard of living is not very high, but their expectations are very simple and often non-materialistic, which complements their humility. Life is chilled and relaxing, sometimes a bit too much so, but that’s the way they roll— you just need to get in step.

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