In preparation of our visit to Yap, we very much looked forward to seeing the stone money for which the island is famous, and on our first day, after walking around the main town Colonia for a while and preparing our visit to the island, we headed out for an afternoon walk to Balabat, which is the closest stone money bank. On our way, we stopped at a store where we paid an entrance fee: no receipt given, the lady of the shop simply told us to tell anyone who might ask that we already paid her. We walk further south, and just before a sharp bend in the road where the asphalt ends, we see a row of big disks with a hole in the middle, resting against palm trees: our first rai, or stone money! But this is not the stone money bank we are looking for, so after examining these precious pieces of stone, we walk down the track, turn left, and end up at the stone money bank of Balabat.
Here, we find another row of stone money disks of various sizes leaning against palm trees that lead directly to the sea shore. There is a stone platform, with more stone money on the other side, and rectangular stones standing up. At the far end, just next to the sea: a traditional men's house with steep sloping roof made of leaves. At first, we walk around to explore, look at the impressive disks, walk around the platform, and take a peek into the men's house, and then, just sit down to soak up the atmosphere of this quiet and empty place. We will learn more about stone money later during our trip, but we already know it is still being used sometimes, and all the disks we see have been carved from one of the limestone quarries on the island of Palau, and transported here on a canoe by brave seamen.
Of course, there are many questions that come up, and which we hope to find answers to during our visit to Yap. There is no one around, so no one to talk to either. When the sun sinks behind the trees, squeezing the light out of the sky, we get up and walk down the road, chat to a few people living at the roadside, before we head back to Colonia, passing the other stone money disks again, and are back in town when it is already dark. Time for a good dinner and an increasing curiosity to find out more about this island, and more specifically, their curious tradition of using stone money, or rai, which is used as the symbol of Yap and can even be found on the number plates of cars. Off to other stone money banks, then!
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Balabat Stone Money Bank (Federated States of Micronesia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Balabat Stone Money Bank.
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