Our time in Yap has come to an end. The last few days were spent visiting with locals (especially during our reception Monday night), visiting a local high school, taking in an elementary school graduation (with students dressed in traditional attire) and taking a short boat trip around the island (where two students caught some nice tuna). I’ll try to provide more information and pictures about these last days in a later post.
We are now in Guam. Actually, I’m writing this as we wait to board our plane for Kosrae, however, we have been here for 2 days. Since the flights in and out of Yap (and the other Federated States of Micronesia) are only offered on specific days we had no choice but to enjoy a 2 day stay in Guam. At first we had no idea what to do during this time. We figured it just might be a 2 day open pocket for students to catch up on sleep, call home (free calls to the US mainland through VOIP) or just relax. As we were preparing to leave Yap an opportunity presented itself that we quickly took without hesitation.
My colleague Reed Perkins teaches a course at Queens called “Tropical Island Systems”. The book he uses is written by Dr. Chris Lobban who is a biology professor at the University of Guam. Reed contacted Chris while we were in Yap and through a series of emails Chris suggested that we take a hike through the Limestone Forest during our short stay in Guam. He said that he could arrange for a local guide to come along and that the two of them could give us a guided tour of the Limestone Forest (Guam is a raised limestone island) and Pagat Cave (which is a water lens or basically the islands underground water supply). How could we pass this up! So without hesitation we took Chris up on his offer. So on Thursday morning (after figuring out our transportation) we took off for the University of Guam to pick-up Chris and his wife Maria and then drove to hike.
In the beginning we were hiking over fairly level terrain and dense vegetation. After 20 minutes or so that quickly changed to steep topography and hiking down and around tree roots and fragmented pieces of very sharp coral (which falling on them would be quite painful) that formed eons ago when Guam was completely underwater. At one point we passed through an ancient Chamoru village (where they believe people lived into the 1700’s) and Chris and Leevin pointed out various interesting plant species, such as the Guamia mariannae, which is endemic (it is found only on the island) to Guam. All-in-all, this was quite an interesting hike.
After a long hike down and through the forest we came upon Pagat Cave. Although we were going to explore the cave, Chris suggested that we keep walking just a little bit further and that we would come back to the cave later. After another 5-10 minutes of walking through the forest we quickly discovered why Chris wanted to keep walking! We had reached the shoreline and the view was simply gorgeous (as you can see by the pictures)! We must have spent 30 minutes walking along the rough limestone (known as karst) and taking pictures. The collection of colors (green from the dense vegetation, grey from the ragid limestone, red from the limestone “benches” on the shoreline and deep blue from the water) was amazing!
Reed, Jessica and I had a tough time pulling the students away so we could walk back and explore the Pagat Cave. After making the 5 – 10 minute trip back to the cave we said goodbye to Leevin (who had head back home) and prepared to enter the cave. The cave itself is not that long (definitely no more than 150 meters). It formed as groundwater dissolved away the more soluble part of the limestone over the years. What is left is a substantial cave with a pool of 3-6 feet of freshwater. Upon entering the cave we had to turn on our flashlights and headlights (as the cave is pitch black) to see and we were quickly greeted by the cold freshwater. In no-time I was standing in water up to my thighs. The water clarity was excellent. Maria brought along a mask and snorkel so some of us took turns cave snorkeling! Even with 16 people moving around the water remained fairly clear (there was little to no sand on the bottom). We saw no creatures except for a few cockroaches and maybe a few freshwater shrimp. Upon exiting the cave we gathered our belongings and quickly made the hike back to our cars (dripping wet, but no one really cared). In the end, this was an EXCELLENT way to spend our time in Guam.