Posted January 9 ’13

I went to the island of Yap because it is one of the few places in the world where you are pretty much guaranteed to see an abundance of giant manta rays.  Yap is in the Caroline Islands of the western Pacific Ocean.  It is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

When you get off the airplane in Colonia, the capital, you are met by a beautiful young woman who, in the Yapese tradition, is wearing only a grass skirt and woven lei that discreetly covers her nipples.  In Yap, the breast is viewed as a source of nutrition and nothing more so many of the women are still topless.  However the thigh, knee to hip, is a highly sexualized part of a woman’s body and must be kept covered at all times.   I was warned before I got there not to show my legs because walking around the island in a pair of shorts on Yap is the equivalent of bouncing down Main Street U.S.A. bare-breasted and considered highly offensive.  Luckily I came equipped with my trusty Capri pants so everything was fine.

Katie Arnoldi on Yap

I spend the first two days scuba diving with the mantas, over and over, I couldn’t get enough.  It’s a very simple dive.   You drop down to a cleaning station, which is in about twenty feet of water, then spent the next hour or more watching these incredible creatures, some of them with a 14-foot wingspan, flying through the water.  They frequently brush right up against you.  It is unbelievably cool.

Mantas on Yap










Then I did a shark dive with a crazy guy called Dieter that involved a wire cage and a bunch of bloody fish heads.  First I jumped in the water, dropped down onto the reef, and got situated on the coral.  There were a couple of sharks swimming around but no big deal.  I waited for a few minutes.


Katie Arnoldi on a shark dive

Then Dieter lowered the bloody cage down onto the reef and placed it about eight feet in front of me.  The fricking sharks swarmed, 30, 40, maybe 50 sharks.  They were crazy to get at the food inside the cage and the longer it was down there, the crazier it got.  Imagine being in the middle of a huge dogfight, with insane starving Rottweiler’s all vying for chunks of bloody meat.  That’s what it was like.  I was right in the center of a violent storm.   My pictures do not do it justice.

After about a half an hour, just as the frenzy was subsiding, Dieter opened the cage and the sharks went nuts again.  Dieter hovered by the cage and one of the sharks started bumping him.  Here’s a video of Dieter playing with the shark:


I had a great time diving Yap and would recommend Dieter’s crazy shark dive to anyone who is interested.  Shark baiting is frowned on around the world and it’s probably a bad idea but it sure was fun.



On my last day, I went for a tour of the island with a Yapese guide named Tomag.  First he took me to a stone money bank where the traditional currency is stored.

Stone Money Bank, Yap

Today U.S. dollars are used for most business activity but the stone money still has great value and is traded for land sales and other transactions amongst the traditional people of Yap.

Katie hiding behind the money

Then Tomag took me to his village and introduced me to his chief, who was simply called “Chief”.  He was a fantastic person, extremely generous, and eager to show me around.

The Chief of Yap

I got a tour of the beautifully constructed Men’s House. The entire building was lashed together with handmade rope; not a single nail was used.  The Chief was the architect and he told me that this traditional way of building is no longer being practiced.  Normally women are not allowed in the Men’s House so it was an honor for me to be invited inside.  There were fishing traps and nets and poles.  A canoe was being built.  The Chief showed me his cooking fire which is separate from the general cooking area and explained about how men spend their time in the Men’s house being men, while the women are doing women things.  That was the explanation I was given when I asked about function.

Inside the Men’s House

After the tour, Tomag and The Chief decided it was time I try betel nut.  Tomag climbed up a tree and pulled down some ripe betel nut.

Tomag gets some betel nut

Betel nut is actually the seed of the Areca Palm that is wrapped in betel leaf, sprinkled with lime, and chewed like tobacco.  It is used by people all over Melanesia, Micronesia and parts of Polynesia.

Preparing the betel nut


Like tobacco or coca leaves, it has a mildly narcotic effect and is a stimulant.  The downside of chewing betel nut is that it turns your teeth and gums brown, it causes tooth decay and has been associated with oral cancer.







The guys really wanted me to try it.  I was on the fence. Finally I popped the betel nut in my mouth, gave it a couple of chews, and spit it out before I felt anything.  Basically, I did not inhale but we were all pleased that I made the effort.

Katie Arnoldi tries betel nut

I said goodbye to the Chief and promised I would write about him here on the website.  Then I headed for the airport where I boarded a plane for Palau.  Yap is in the middle of nowhere, very hard to get to and it takes forever to arrive, but well worth the time and energy.  It is a beautiful country and I hope to return someday.