Yap consists of 10 municipalities and on every trip students and faculty tend to make their way at least once to 9 of the 10. There is 1 municipality that our group (and visitors in general) typically does not have a chance to visit which is Ramuung. If you have read my previous posts over the years you know that pretty much all of Yap is privately owned and to travel to or through a village and municipality you need permissions from locals (usually chiefs). Obtaining those permissions for most of the villages and municipalities is typically fairly easy especially when we are working with various agencies and organizations. However, Ramuung is known for denying permission unless there is a specific purpose. Additionally, what makes it easy to keep visitors out of Ramuung is the fact that it is not connected to the “mainland Yap”. About 400-600 feet of water separates Ramuung from Maap (the northern most municipality). Once on Ramuung there are no roads, no cars, and almost no electricity (there is a generator that is used occasionally usually late at night). Visitors are often asked to not take pictures on the island (and on a side note, the largest piece of stone money is found on Ramuung and pictures are hard to come by). The villages on Ramuung have chosen to follow a simpler way of life and by allowing visitors (those from the other municipalities or those from other countries) on the island some feel that way of life will be threatened. Thus, due to the strict rules and difficulty involved in accessing the island Ramuung has been named “The Forbidden Island”….
Over three trips we have never been granted permission to visit the island, though, we haven’t necessarily had a need to visit the island. In fact, many folks that have lived here for several years have never had a chance to visit Ramuung. In 2013 we did map portions of protected reef near Ramuung but we were still a distance away on a boat. This year, many were thrilled to see that one of our projects would be to map a few wild-fire burn areas on the south end of Ramuung. Although we had discussed the project a few days after arriving we would not know if we had the necessary permissions and approval till the day before we were scheduled to do the work. On Monday afternoon our friend Ryan with Ag & Forestry gave us the good news that we were clear to leave Tuesday morning for a short valium trip to Ramuung. The trip would be quick as we needed to make sure we left and returned during high tide. Traveling to and from the island around low tide is challenging. On Tuesday morning all 15 from Queens and about 10 locals from Land Resources, Ag & Forestry, the state Fire Department and other offices left from Colonia and Maap, respectively for Ramuung. We were greeted by an older gentleman in a motor boat who directed us where to dock. Moments after arriving on Ramuung students were taking pictures to document this event and experience.
Upon our arrival we quickly were informed that some of us (a few locals from Ag & Forestry and FSM Quarantine) were not welcome and would need to return to the main island. These individuals were hoping to look at some invasive grasses and plants that were rumored to be around the local village. Our guide informed our spokesperson from Ag & Forestry that they did not want these individuals poking around the village and that they would need to discuss their plans at another time. We however, were welcomed with open arms and quickly made our way towards the burn areas we were to map.
After a 5-10 minute hike we stopped at a point on the hillside near the burn area. The burn area was at the top of a relatively steep hill and one group (about 7 students, my colleague Reed and a few fire fighters) made the trek up to map. The rest of us, along with our guide and folks from Ag & Forestry hiked up the neighboring hill to identify points that would be mapped for a separate project involving fire breaks. The views of Ramuung, Yap and the Pacific were absolutely some of the best to be seen anywhere in Yap. My colleague Dr. Perkins often refers to this voyage to Yap as the trip to the edge of the Earth. The pictures, although stunning, do not capture the beauty of our surroundings (sorta like how pictures of my wife, although stunning, do not capture her natural beauty). Though you can see how one might describe Yap as the edge of the Earth.
Our stay was only a few hours but we left with stories and memories few people in this world will ever share with us. After all, not everyone has the chance to travel to the Forbidden Island!