Wondering what we'll find inside
We got to Guam in the wee hours of the morning and found our next gate…then lied down and went back to sleep. These all hours of the night flights suck!
A few hours later we boarded our plane and were on our way – to Chuuk!
Chuuk is a small cluster of islands in Micronesia, 192 outer and 15 main islands and more than 80 inlets. We were headed for Weno, the main island; it has a booming population of 15,000 people making it one of Micronesia’s most densely populated islands. It’s Chuuk’s capital and commercial center. Like most islands in Micronesia it is usually safe during the day but it is not recommended to go out at night. High unemployment means young men have little money and too much free time which leads to trouble. It is a beautiful looking green island fringed with mangrove trees but has a nasty pollution problem and the sewage system can’t support the island. Raw sewage & garbage ends up directly in the bay.
Some of the spectacular wrecks
But then why visit Chuuk? Divers from all over the world get giddy just thinking about its sunken war wrecks. An entire Japanese fleet rests on the ocean floor – a bloody time captured in an underwater museum. Together, these navel wrecks represent the largest naval loss in history. During WWII Chuuk’s huge, sheltered lagoon became the Japanese Imperial Fleets’ most important base. On February 17, 1944 the US navy air bombed the Japanese fleet docked in the bay and sank 60 ships.
Everything went untouched and forgotten until in 1969 when Jacques Cousteau and his team explored Chuuk Lagoon. Following his 1971 television documentary about Chuuk and its ghostly remains became a wreck divers dream. We were here to see what all the fuss was about.
We landed in a tiny airport next to the sea; we do that quite often in Asia but I can’t get over the feeling that we might land in the sea. Rob, a huge (tall) hippy of a man, picked us up after our quick trip through customs and we were loaded into a SUV. We had to drive down main street Chuuk to get to the Truuk Stop Hotel & Dive Shop. Main street was a dusty, bumpy dirt/rock road. It had the usual tiny shops filled to the brim with an odd assortment of wares. Bright muumuus danced in the dusty air over stacks of dirt crusted plastic bins and rusty shovels. Rob pointed out the grocery store and the main jetty. This was the island that catered to everyone living in the surrounding area and a few dozen colorful wooden boats were tied up.
It only took us about 10 minutes to reach the Truuk Stop which was pretty much the end of main street. I think it went for miles in either direction along the sea but only had a few houses or tiny villages. If we had any doubt before we were certain now; we were here to dive.
We were shown to our room and I was very impressed. It was a little worn but clean and huge! We also had a beautiful ocean view. I opened the patio doors and let the breeze in. We were in town a few extra days so we decided to take today off from diving but went for the information briefing. It turned our Rob ran the dive operation along with his partner Cindy. They were full of information and got me even more excited about the dives. I was tempted to do an afternoon dive. The need for sleep won and James and I both crawled into bed and fell sound asleep.
After a few hours we wandered down to the restaurant for a bite to eat and to check our emails. It was a busy spot; Rob has told us it was the place to be in Chuuk and everyone from divers to government officials visit. I looked around during dinner and couldn’t see anyone important looking.
Exploring the wrecks
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 4.6MB, 3.2MB and 12.2MB)
Diving! I am getting more and more addicted to diving. It has only been three days and I was itching to get in the water. We lucked out and only had two other divers in the boat. One was a friendly guy named Jeoff from Hong Kong who we hit it off with. He had done a few dives the day before and had an issue with his BCD. While in the wreck he hit the button to add a bit more air and the button stuck. His BCD started filling faster than he could empty it. He floated to the top of the wreck, which he figures was better than floating to the surface, and with the help of the guide got it unhooked. It shook him up a bit and reminded me that anything can happen and to be prepared for it and not to panic. I’m a very cautious diver but things are bound to happen.
We did two great dives and for official details of all the Chuuk wreck dives please visit James’ site, www.nibsy.com
. The third dive was very cool - and very scary! We were taken to a shark cleaning station. Yikes! I love cleaning stations, I have hours and hours of video of them, but a SHARK cleaning station!?! So cool!
We moored beside what I can only describe as “the” deserted island you see/imagine in movies, cartoons, dreams…I was tempted to swim ashore and pretend I was on another Survivor episode. Jeoff, James, the guide and I jumped into the shallow turquoise water and drifted down about 15 meters to the sandy bottom. We had been told to quietly creep up to the coral head and sit and wait. We did. Once the sharks got use to us being there they went back to being cleaned. It was very cool. We tried to get video but we were too far away. We are used to them stealthy skimming the bottom of the ocean moving with grace and speed….today we saw something completely different. They would swim up a bit then, nose up, hang in the water while the cleaner fish went to work. They would slowly sink down until, after a few seconds, they popped out of the trance like state and swim off. They came back a few times. Very cool!
At one point our attention was drawn to the surface – behind us. EEK! I hate when things sneak up on me! A bunch (6-12) of sharks were at the surface hunting or fighting over something (or both) and were thrashing around. The sun was behind them so it was like some old scary black and white movie. To be honest I really felt like shark bait again! We continued to watch both the fight and the cleaning. I was never far from hysterical. As we slowly surfaced, back up the sandy slope, sharks circled us, swam between us, over us. Breathe Susan! Breathe!
By the time the guide signaled it was time to swim up off the safe (?) sandy bottom there were a few dozen sharks EVERYWHERE! I replied no way! I was not going to swim up dangling my chubby white legs for all the hungry sharks to see. I figure the amount of chocolate I eat I must taste sweet – possibly even smelled sweet.
A small shark frenzy-ish
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 2.8MB)
I somehow worked up my nerve to surface and made my fastest exit ever from the water. Once we were all in the boat the guide and driver started to feed the sharks. Again, I’m not a big fan of feeding the wild animals but it was cool. They all rushed to the surfaced fighting for the scraps of fish. James climbed on top of the seats to get a better shot and almost fell in. He wacked his head on the roof rails, what likely kept him in the boat, and he cut himself pretty good. (Blaine – second time today he hit his head and drew blood, in case you are keeping track) They fed the sharks for a few exciting minutes while we oohhh’ed and ahhhh’ed. Sharks are pretty cool!
We bounced our way back to the dive shop in the tiny boat. We finished the day with pizza in front of the TV.
Some of the many many things that can be found in the wrecks
January 22, 23, 24
We spent the next few days doing some amazing wreck dives. The ships were so interesting and we got to go in and explore them. Almost all were filled with artifacts; everything that was in them when they sunk. Not much, or so it seems, has been salvaged, stolen or destroyed. Some had cargo holds full of sake bottles, some still corked. Some had old timey jeeps and cars; their tires flat and sunken in the silt. One had a hold full of plane parts and one plane almost completely intact. Huge spools of wire, gas masks, plates, bowls, pots & pans – it was kinda creepy. A few had human bones and we saw two skulls. One skull was from a poor engineer who had been too close to an explosion; it was embedded in the ceiling.
Skulls and bones
We got to penetrate almost all of the wrecks. A few of them we’d swim down a few levels along stair ways and walking platforms. Sometimes we’d just swim through holes bombs had made.
A couple of the vehicles in the cargo holds
On our second last day an older couple joined us, well not us – the dive boat and were put in the same group and shared a guide with them. They seemed like experienced divers but then that doesn’t always matter. They were late both days we dove with them and very unorganized. Almost every time we descended one would be on the bottom swimming in the opposite direction of the guide and the other floating on top. A few times the dive guide banged his tank repeatedly trying to get the guys attention (he was just swimming on the bottom in the opposite direction of the wreck) until he had to swim after him. The first wreck we did with them they freaked me out. Normally you go single file and try as hard as you can not to kick up silt or everyone behind you swims through a cloud of it and can’t see anything. The stick “with your buddy” rule is even more important in a dark deep wreck than almost any other kind of dive. So when one somehow managed to squeeze past me (I still have no idea how) and get between me and James I got a bit anxious. The old dive nerves kicked in. Everything went fine but as we were coming up to do our safety stop the guy raced towards the spare tank (almost every dive boat will hang a spare tank of air in case someone runs low and needs a little extra for their safety stop.) and frantically, with the guides helped, started to use it. This was the first time I had ever seen one used in my over 300 dives.
Plane wreck. I look so tiny.
Back on the boat I, as nice as can be, I explained that we (James & I) preferred to stay in our buddy pairs, especially in wrecks. They looked very confused but agreed.
Creepy Japanese bunker
The next dive started the same, with the guy swimming deep, deep, deep in the opposite direction and his wife floating near the top. Thankfully they didn’t try to bud or get between us in the wrecks and the guide somehow separated us a few times so we were spared their silt cloud and James could get some pictures. But…as we came up for our safety the guy was back on the spare tank. It scared and amazed me that they could be so unsafe.
Between dives the boat docked at a tiny island. From the water all you could see was a few wooden huts and trees. Once docked you could walk to a decrepit Japanese bunker. Rob explained that this this island was a main stop for ships loading and the one beside had a runway that was now completely grown over. The stone walls holding up the re-claimed land were still intact on both. So much history in this tiny area.
Lucky dolphin encounter
We originally planned to take one day off but the wrecks were just so interesting we added one last day. That is saying something considering neither of us are “wreckies”. We did three dives; one was a repeat but our favorite. It didn’t matter that we repeated it, or if you spent more time and repeated more of them, because they are quite large and the holds, engine rooms, bunks, infirmary…are filled with things to look at. We saw a bunch of stuff we missed on the first go. On the way to lunch a pod of dolphins started playing in our boat waves. Rob suggested we jump in; 5 seconds later fins & mask in hand I was in. They only stayed with us a few minutes but it was amazing. What is it about dolphins that makes everyone, young and old, get so excited? They were like a cherry on the top for the day and we were happy we didn’t take the day off. (But might be one of the reasons why I am so far behind blogging!)
Spooky reminder of history
We were flying tomorrow so we had to take a day off, or we may have been tempted to do a few more wrecks. We thought about doing an island tour but it didn’t get high reviews from anyone. There isn’t much to see and the land is owned by the locals who live on it. If you want to veer off the road and see anything you have to negotiate a price directly with the owner. This can be frustrating and time consuming. We decided to relax and enjoy a day of nothing and maybe have a few drinks. Like all day offs, it went too quickly.
Rob & Cindy joined us for dinner and gave us helpful hints on diving strong current and the Maldives (they worked on a live aboard there for about 5 years). We swapped dive stories and hands down they had us beat. Both of them had us both laughing; I’m still smiling at the “you are fat just like my wife” lady! I’ve been known to complain a little (maybe a lot) but a huge thanks and recommendation to Rob & Cindy and the crew at the Truuk Stop Dive Shop! It really makes a big difference when the diving is organized and the guides not only know what they are doing but seem to enjoy it. It’s just more fun.
Some of the cool and/or pretty things living on the wrecks
Eagle ray brightening up a lengthy deco stop
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 9MB)
And we are off again! I must admit the packing up and moving every few days has become easier; it’s like we have fallen into a routine. Today we are flying to Japan! When booking we found a flight that went through Narita so decided to do a stop. If I had to pick one favorite country it would likely be Japan. I know I’d like to live there for a few years and really get to experience it.
We had a quick breakfast and lugged our bags to the lobby to wait for our transfer. There was a lot of luggage already there but no people. One young guy showed up a few minutes later and sat down. A couple finally came in and checked out, then he suggested they get breakfast. Really? 5 minutes before the transfer was scheduled? Man I hate people who do that. The transfer vans and we (and the young guy beside me) will have to wait while this late couple eat. The couple was part of a group that finally wandered to the lobby (15 minutes late) and we climbed into the vans. The ride to the airport is about 15 minutes; just far enough you can’t walk with your luggage (or want to). Or I would have left. Two minutes into the ride we turned down a side street. Huh? The “group” wanted to stop and visit a medical centre. WTF? They have been a 5 minute walk from it for how long and on they pick now? On the way to the airport with strangers in the van? I of course let the driver know this sucked. The young guy had gotten out of his van and was standing under a tree looking very confused. I suggested we get in one van and they take us to the airport, the second van wait for the group of visitors. The driver seemed to think this was a good idea…too bad she hadn’t thought of that before we left. At the airport James complained that it was no big deal, the airport was small and there was only one flight, but it just irked me that after the whole group was late they would just expect us to wait in a van while they went touring. Jeeze.
James Note: Susan left off the best part of the airport. She had gone ahead to get us seats so I pushed the trolley through security behind her once the bags showed up in the original van with the tour group. Before even getting to the check in counter they decided to do a detailed hand inspection of our checked bags in the middle of the airport. I was hard not to laugh as the confused security was pulling things out of Susan’s underwear bag and asking me what they were and why I had them in my bag.
Our plane was late. Yikes! We had a tight connection in Guam and when the plane took off we figured we had a 50-50 chance of making it. Normally I wouldn’t worry too much but this was Guam, U.S.A! And it could take forever to get through the check points. We crossed our fingers.
When the plane landed we made a mad dash out…then ran to the first check point to find a huge line up. Ugh! I got in line and James went to find an official to see if we could jump ahead. He explained that a few flights had been late and he would call us soon. So we spent the next 10 minutes or so staring at him waiting for the signal. It finally came and we flew to the front. There were about 50 or so people who also needed to make this connection; and they all looked a bit anxious like us. Once through immigration it was on to the next check point…a table where two lady boys (not really a necessary part of the story but weird in the Guam airport) sat checking our boarding passes. Then we waited….once we were all checked they opened a door and we rushed through to the next check – where someone else checked our passports and boarding passes. Then the scanners. Shoes and belts flew off and bags were crammed though. Whew! Then off again… Have I mentioned I’m not a big fan of flying? And North American airlines/cities drive me insane. So much rushing to wait in a line. We, and the other 50 late passengers, made the flight. I figure they are used to delays and this was confirmed a few days later. Geoff, the guy we were diving with in Chuuk, emailed for pictures and mentioned his flight was not only delayed but cancelled and he had a 12 hour wait for the next. Luckily it was his final fight; we would have been screwed.