“Ohmygawd, you sleep on the floor, they cook over open fires and there are dozens of kids running around,” a US friend had warned before I went to spend a night with a local family in Kosrae.
“How perfect,” I had replied.
And it was.
This was a chance to really see how the locals live in a place so remote, when people talk of “off the grid” vacation spots, it isn’t even on their radar.
In Your Bucket Because
- You want to get really off the beaten path.
- You like to meet new and different people.
- You are willing to travel far for your experience.
- Good for: People who don’t mind roughing it for the sake of adventure.
Authentic Island Life
The place is so friendly, even the feral cats come up to you, roll over and let you scratch their stomachs. My personal kitty, who I named Pink Nose, sat in my lap every night as I edited pictures on my laptop. And it’s been like this, probably forever. Back towards the end of WWII, the Japanese occupation force was told to kill off the locals but they had become such fast friends that the soldiers stood in the way of the guns.
Congregational missionaries arrived here in 1852 and nothing much has changed since. I was there two days when the local women skirted me.
“Young ladies (I’M YOUNG??) don’t walk around in pants,” I was told.
So we went to a local seamstress and in a few hours, I had a skirt. I didn’t know you could crawl through the jungle and swim in a skirt, but you can.
Yes, Kosrae has a road and air conditioning in some hotel rooms and internet. But none of these things exist in Walung, a village beyond the pavement. You get here on high tide by boat.
I stayed with Kamsky Salik, his wife Lisining and their children. I was in a separate bedroom of their concrete house, on an air mattress on the floor. The shower and toilet were out back.
A String of Simple Homes Along the Ocean
A single footpath connects the homes, sometimes cutting right through someone’s front or back yard. There’s the usual one or two room concrete house with tin roof but also a traditional bamboo and palm thatch hut, with sand floor for the cooking fire and a wood platform for folks to rest on.
Drinking water is rain that rolls down the tin roof, into a split plastic pipe and through a piece of cheesecloth filter into a huge metal barrel. The Salik family then puts it into a large thermos … with ice. I never did figure out where the ice came from.
We went for a walk and saw that most folks were cooking dinner in their “uhm.” You find these ground ovens all over the Pacific. A shallow pit is lined with rocks, then covered with coconut husks which burn and heat the rocks. You remove the husks and wrap the food artfully in banana and palm leaves, lay it on top, cover with more leaves and leave it all to steam.
Every single family either invited me in for dinner or gave me coconuts, bananas or papayas to carry home.
“You don’t go hungry here,” my new friend said. “That is the way here.”
He wasn’t kidding. Everyone lectured me about not eating enough, even though those BMI charts insist I should drop 50 pounds.
I also went for a swim. The beach here is Kosrae’s finest — wide, creamy sand edged by palms and protected by a fringing reef.
That night, dinner was coconut and sliced papaya grabbed from trees, along with chicken that had been, astonishingly, imported from California.
“Our chickens don’t really have enough meat,” was the explanation.
There’s no nightlife to speak of here, beyond listening to elders tell legends. So we were all unconscious by 7 pm.
That was a good thing, though.
Anybody who says roosters crow at dawn hasn’t lived with them. The energetic little creatures start at least an hour before sunup, which here means 4:30 am. By the time the sun has dragged itself above the horizon, the exhausted beasts have, thankfully, crowed themselves hoarse.
The next day was church. This is a “must do” thing on Kosrae. Everyone bathed, then Kamsky’s wife rubbed coconut oil into her daughter’s hair and braided it, leaving it glistening like oiled obsidian.
Church Services Are Simple And Beautiful
Sunday services are identical to those brought with the those missionaries in 1852. The sermon, in the lilting Kosraen language, is punctuated by singing. Women in white lace dresses call with high pitched chorals that are answered in soft tenors by the men.
And then, there was Sunday Soup.
The day of rest is taken seriously here. Men must swim wearing shirts, women in skirts. There is no work that breaks a sweat, which means, among other things, no cooking.
So that leads to the soup … a yummy porridge of rice or breadfruit, along with whatever you can gather Saturday from the jungle and the sea, then left to cook overnight.
Over the past several years, Kamsky has had only 20 visitors. He’ll take them for a boat ride through the mangrove, out to snorkel reefs, for walks to visit villagers, to see the ruins of an old boarding school that was abandoned in the early ’60s or fishing.
His very first visitor caught a 300 pound blue marlin while trolling with a hand line.
I decided then and there, if my life ever unravels, I will crawl off to Kosrae to lick my wounds. The place totally captivated me.
Homestay visits cost around $25 to $35. Though they can be arranged anywhere on Kosrae, if you want to experience more traditional island life, go to Walung. On the main part of Kosrae, there are three hotels used by tourists:
- Kosrae Village Ecolodge & Dive Resort (KVR) with its ten picturesque, traditional style bamboo and palm thatch bungalows at water’s edge that have electricity and hot water but no air conditioning or telephones. (Kosrae Village Ecolodge, www.kosraevillage.com.)
- Pacific Treelodge Resort with six rooms that have air conditioning. This sits in a picturesque mangrove swamp with a boardwalk and an open air restaurant over a river. (Pacific Treelodge Resort, www.divekosrae.com).
- Kosrae Nautilus Resort with 16 plain but servicable motel rooms that have air conditioning, TV and telephone. (www.kosraenautilus.com).
A few tips to help with planning:
- There won’t be air conditioning or electricity at Walung and drinking water comes from a rainwater catch barrel. Bring bug spray and sandals or shoes you don’t mind getting wet. Also bring a small gift such as instant coffee.
- Average air temperature is 85 degrees but with extremely high humidity. Average water temperature is in the low 80s year round. Winter brings rain. The trade winds blow in winter and spring, bringing cool breezes but limiting scuba diving and boating. Summer (July – Sept.) brings calm water, little wind and the best conditions for diving.
- United is the only airline serving Kosrae, via an island hopper from Hawaii. (www.united.com). This usually means overnighting in Hawaii.
- Contact Kosrae Office of Tourism, www.kosrae.com.