Chuuk, Micronesia Shinokoku and Yamagiri Maru

I’m kicking around waiting for my flight to Pohnpei. Got about 6 hours to kill.

If I were less of a slacker, I’d be posting the last of my New Zealand entries right now, as well as covering Yap and Palau. But doing entries that have pictures is sort of a pain and I just didn’t have it together.

My hotel in Chuuk is kind of strange. I think I’m the only actual guest. It’s always filled with people, but they’re mostly Chuukese families with screaming babies and whatnot. The halls are filled with guys chewing beetlenut and drinking beer. My theory is that tourism on Chuuk hasn’t quite worked out the way they hoped. So with all these empty rooms, they just started letting the natives move in.

My room has cable. But it’s not real cable. Between movies, I get a blue screen with the words stop and play. I think there’s some guy on the island popping tapes in a VCR and calling it cable. Videotapes don’t last long with the weather here, so the movies usually have really bad tracking problems and occasionally no sound at all.

There’s a new reality show on channel 11 that I’ve gotten kind of hooked on. It’s called War in Iraq. There are two tribes, and this jackass in one of the tribes keeps trying to form an alliance to boot a guy from the other tribe off. It kind of backfired, though, and it’s gotten really ugly. Now I’m hoping they boot the jackass off instead.

The toilet in my bathroom makes a constant sound of screeching terror, like it’s begging me to put it out of its misery.

I mentioned beetlenut before. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Chewing beetlenut is huge on Yap, and it’s just now getting popular on Chuuk. It’s this nut that grows on trees. You crack it open, fill it with lyme (the caustic mineral, not the sour fruit), wrap it in some kind of leaf, then put it between your molars and chew. The combination of those three things forms a chemical reaction that gives you some kind of mild and slightly addictive buzz. I tried it a couple times on Yap. It requires a certain amount of skill to prepare and chew properly, so both times I ended up spitting it out after a few seconds.

The thing about beetlenut is it puts your salivary glands into overdrive, so you have to spit a lot. And your spit comes out blood red. A lot of tourists who come to the island think there’s an outbreak of TB or something, cause everyone is hocking out mouthfuls of this stuff.

My divemaster on Yap actually chewed beetlenut while he was underwater. His excuse was that it kept him warm. He told me about one time when he had two Western divers with him and he pulled his regulator off to spit. The divers thought he’d been bit, so they freaked out and shot to the surface. He learned his lesson. Now he goes behind a rock when he needs to spit.

A lot of chewers have taken to stuffing tobacco into the nut along with the lyme. This puts them on a fast track to mouth cancer, which seems like a really fun type of cancer to have. There’s nothing quite like having your jaw removed.

My second day of diving on Chuuk wasn’t quite as cool as the first, but still pretty amazing. I saw the Shinokoku Maru, an oil tanker for the Japanese fleet that helped lead the attack on Pearl Harbor. It had absolutely amazing coral growth. I saw some gas masks and an operating table, swam through where the torpedo hit, and spotted two big grey reef sharks circling around the bow. It looked like a set from the 20,000 Leagues ride at Disneyland.

The final dive was to the Yamagiri Maru. This one had a very interesting background. It was carrying shells for a new Japanese "secret weapon" that they’d invented and tested, but never got to use in battle. It was a super-gun with bullets that were 18" in diameter. We saw them in one of the holds.

I’ve gotten very good at conserving air, and the guy who was with us that day was fairly inexperienced, so he sucked his up in only a few minutes. While Mackenzie took him to the surface, I got to spend a while hanging around down there by myself. I let all the air out of my BCD so I would sink, and I just sat on the hull looking around. It was nice to get to just be there for a while. You only get so much time in your life that you can spend sitting on the hull of a sunken WWII battleship.

The rash I got on Palau has spread all over my body. I think yesterday was the worst of it. It got pretty nasty. There were patches on my knee, my stomach, my waist, my chest, and my neck. On my back it manifested as a massive breakout of pimples, which was just lovely. It didn’t hurt — just some mild itching. The hydrocortizone cream I got from the navy helped with the itching, but didn’t seem to reduce the swelling and redness. I think it’s getting better now. At least I hope so, cause if I show up in Australia looking like this, no one will go near me.

Okay, on the subject of SARS, I would like to formally announce that I’ll be extending my stay in Australia for a little while. I don’t know how long, but Kristin has cancelled her plans to meet up with me in Hong Kong, so that takes care of that decision.

The situation in Vietnam is still mild compared to the other affected cities. There are no new cases in the last few days and every indication is that they’ve got it under control, so Brad and I are still planning to meet up there in late May. I don’t know what I’ll be doing before that, though. I might just leave for Singapore in early May and give myself a couple weeks to make my way up to Bangkok for the flight to Hanoi. That would mean extending my stay in Australia by just over two weeks, which might be too much.

It was hard enough getting out of there the first time.