Pohnpei Part VII

With an entire city to explore, we waded through another channel and approached the traditional seaward entrance of Nan Madol on the northeast corner. Like the several layers on Nan Douwas, the entryway featured several layers of seawall. Climbing to the high point on the outer seawall, you can look down into the churning surf at the entryway. Traditionally, sharks would be found here, “guarding” the city, and brave youths would jump off the seawall and into the water. If you survived, that was good luck. It would have to be. It’s actually right past this point that I paddled out the previous day, but I had no idea that the temple was just over the seawall. After exploring around this area we forged off to the city interior. Dave had been a little put out about having to contend with the largest crowd he had ever seen at Nan Madol. A group of teachers was on a tour, and we shared the ancient wonder with a whopping seven people.

Our first stop was Peinering and there we paused for some delicious honey and peanut butter sandwiches. High tide is ideal for traversing the city by boat, as I had attempted the previous day, but at low tide it is relatively easy if a bit muddy to make it around on foot. After our lunch break, sloshing into the city, the scene was mangrove swamp. But here in there, in gaps in the trees and rising out of the water, you catch a glimpse of the basalt edges that hint to something more. It was very cool to see the hidden city in a forest. Ankle-deep in mud, I really began to grasp the engineering marvel this city was. The city is not just the walls you see looking up; the city is also the foundation they would have had to put down to build their city on the reef. I am still stunned at their choice of building material. We think the statues of Easter Island are impressive, but these people looked at each other and thought to themselves “alright, so what if we did that, but, you know, an entire city.”

Looking back at the pictures, except for the temple and the seawall, most of the city these days looks like rocks in the jungle. It’s hard to grasp the grandeur of the place when you can’t see much farther into the jungle than twenty or thirty feet. But when the Mayan and Aztec ruins were first discovered, that is what they looked like as well, covered in jungle and largely obscured. By removing that jungle layer they unearthed massive temple and city complexes. I think you could pull off the same effect on Nan Madol and unearth a massive and majestic city.

Earlier, though, I said that the city of Nan Madol is still very much alive. In our tromping around, we actually got a bit lost and wound up exploring Pahn Kadira, the temple/palace of the Sadaleur ruler. On the island are piles of coconut husks, evidence of the people still coming to the island to hold meetings of secular and religious natures. The upswing of that is the people who own Nan Madol don’t really want it developed – although you can visit, a widescale development in the lines of Mayan ruins would take something away from the people who still live there. In its present form, Nan Madol is a mysterious and quiet place to visit. Making it more easily accessible to the outside world would help preserve it and get it the attention it deserves, but would take away some of its character.

To be a bit anti-climactic, after tromping around for a while we eventually figured out we were lost. We decided to head back in case we got stuck in Nan Madol. We made it though, and on the drive back into town we listened to the different mix-tape CDs Dave and put together for Leeah, featuring a heavy dose of 90s pop. We parted ways and I headed back to the hotel, where I got some dinner and then did some more souvenir shopping. My flight was at two in the morning, so I took a nap before heading to the airport. I arrived in Guam a few hours later and managed to make it into work on Monday, mysteriously more tan (sunburned) and having seen one of the greatest examples of ancient architecture in the world.