Abgelegen | Remote Insel | Island Reportage

Island #12: Chuuk – the rough side of Oceania

Chuuk has amazing diving grounds and an impressively green nature, but it is also extremely rainy, under-developed, and not particularly safe: A country that is far from all stereotypes you might have about tiny Pacific island nations.
Chuuk State
Capital: Wenö (name of the main island)
Inhabitants: 48.654
Area: 121.5 km2 (cf. Appenzell Innerrhoden: 173 km2)
Inhabited islands: More than 30
Languages: Chuukese, Mortlockese, Pááfang, Puluwatese, Namonuito language, English
Around the island: ca. 25 km around Wenö, but the road is not continuous and generally hardly passable by car

Chuuk

The Passport Party

Entering Chuuk was easy: A tiny airport, a queue of 25 persons who left the United island hopper during the brief stop, a brief control and here I was, in front of a huge sign welcoming me in Chuukese: RAN ANNIM. Five more steps led me to the hotel pick-up, which was waiting right at the spot reserved for the President. The 3 km ride to the hotel revealed a true borderland of a country, with potholed roads, typhoon-ridden houses and rather grim looking locals.

Leaving Chuuk was easy, too, but in order to get the boarding pass I had to pay a 30 USD “State Departure Tax”. The boarding pass stated that the “gate may change”, but there was only one gate. Interestingly, even persons leaving Chuuk for Pohnpei, the neighbouring state which also belongs to the Federated States of Micronesia, had to pay and got their passport stamped.

P1040738.JPGChuuk International Airport

What makes Chuuk unique

  • Chuuk has truly horrible roads and most probably even features the world’s largest pothole. Even though Wenö, the main island, is really small and densely populated, there is no road which runs around the island. Even getting to Sepuk with its famous Japanese lighthouse, where the road theoretically ends, was not possible during my visit due to “road conditions”.
  • Chuuk is the least developed country I have seen in Oceania and even most countries I have visited in Africa look better. So many buildings are destroyed – some since World War II, others due to typhoons which hit the island frequently, and all of them overgrown by the island’s incredibly lush vegetation.
  • The Chuukese men look rather intimidating in their US ghetto look, with oversized torn clothes, golden teeth and machetes. Gang tags on many houses (“Bloods”, “Fuck cribs”, “Mountain Boys”) complete the picture.
  • Chuuk is the only country in this region where the majority of the population does not live on the mainland (Wenö with just 12.000 inhabitants), but on outer islands.

GOPR0583.JPGDowntown Wenö, Chuuk’s main island

My best experience

…was getting stuck under a roof in a small village during a heavy downpour. It represented the essence of Chuuk: Not only the heavy rain and the view of the excessively green mountains, which seemed utterly inaccessible, but also the children playing and swimming in the little lakes which had quickly appeared. It looked like everybody was very much used to that situation and it was just us visitors who sought the protection of a roof. Eventually, a taxi driver rescued us and brought us back to the hotel.

IMG_20190909_120811.jpgSinging in the rain: Chuukese children

My worst experience

…was trying to see some of the sights of the island. Chuuk is a rainy place, which means that the paths up to the mountains are too overgrown to get there, and also that the roads are in constant disrepair. This made it even impossible to get to Sepuk for its Japanese lighthouse, 10 km away from the airport. Renting a car would cost 70 USD per day, but there is nowhere to drive and a high probability of damaging the car, so it was much more comfortable and way cheaper to just take multiple taxi rides.

P1040919.JPGOceania’s worst roads: Welcome to Chuuk

National symbols

Chuuk.jpgPassport Stamps of Chuuk State, Federated States of Micronesia.

GOPR0576.JPGThe flag of Chuuk in my hotel room.

P1040928.JPGThe government complex of Chuuk in the middle of Wenö island, one of few buildings in a good state on the island.

Did you know that…

…the run-down taxis in Chuuk charge a flat rate of 1 USD per person.

…the waters of Chuuk feature the world’s biggest collection of WWII ship wrecks, making it a diving destination.

…no tuna is available on the island during rough seas, since nobody dares to go fishing in the open sea.

…most shops in Chuuk sell Puu, which is betelnut and calcium powder, packed into vegetable leaves. The Chuukese are chewing it constantly and taxi driver even permit themselves short stops to resupply.

…like German, Chuukese has the Umlauts ä, ö and ü. A warning sign at the airport tells people to “kosapw üün supwa”.

P1040964.JPGChuuk does have its nice spots, not few of them actually

Wenö.png

Practical Information:
International transport: The island hopper planes of United stop four times a week in each direction, connecting Chuuk to Guam, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kwajalein, Majuro, and Honolulu. Air Niugini flies once a week from Port Moresby via Chuuk to Pohnpei.
Inland transport: The only means of transport on Wenö, the main island, are taxis, which charge a flat rate of 1 USD per person and usually do not take more than 4 persons. Some rides, such as to the southern tip of the island, cost 2 USD per person. Most eastern parts of Wenö are not accessible by taxi. Travelling to the outer islands is more difficult. Caroline Islands Air has irregular flights and no schedule online, locals mostly use boats with equally irregular operating times.
Accommodation: Chuuk has two hotels for tourists, Truk Stop and Blue Lagoon Resort. Both look quite good – Blue Lagoon has a nicer location, while Truk Stop is more centrally located. There are a couple of other accommodation options, mostly close to the airport and with no sea access, e.g. Level 5 and High Tide – they also look quite OK.
Security: Taxis stop running at 5 pm and it is generally recommended to stay indoors afterwards. I don’t know if this is overly cautious (as some hotel staff said) or reasonable, but there is not much to do at night anyway. The biggest risk are probably drunk pub brawls. Given most young men carry machetes, I think it makes sense to avoid that.
Food: There are a few modest restaurants in downtown Wenö, plus the Hotel Restaurants in Truk Stop and Blue Lagoon hotels. I only tried the Hard Wreck Café and Bar at Truk Stop and was satisfied with it. They even have locally inspired food, and some good beers – all foreign, Chuuk has no breweries and rather high taxes on alcohol.
IMG_20190909_174054.jpg
Local style food at Hard Wreck Café
Money: Chuuk uses the US Dollar, which is easily accessible elsewhere – but do not count on ATMs in Chuuk! Credit card payment may work, but it is better to have cash reserves to be on the safe side.
Communication: My European SIM card had no roaming in Chuuk or other states of the FSM. Local SIM cards are available, but Wifi was working well at Truk Stop Hotel, which covered my needs sufficiently.

 

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