Almost the first thing we see on Pohnpei island is Sokehs rock, a remarkable rock standing independently across the bay from Kolonia. It seems to be cut off from the ridge more to the south of which it must have been a part - once upon a time. While there is a track leading straight up to the top of the ridge, the rock can obviously only be climbed on foot. And the way it looks at you, it is just begging for it to be climbed. So, on our second day on Pohnpei, I wake up before sunrise, and walk around the bay to climb the rock. A boy in one of the small villages on the way asks me if I am to climb the rock, and when I confirm, tells me that there has been a fire and that the rock cannot be climbed. When he says that I find this hard to believe, he shrugs his shoulders, and tells me that I should be careful anyway. The sky is clear, and when I reach a small church in the village of Danipei, I know I have to backtrack a little to find the trailhead. The top of the rock is visible straight above me, and it incites a feeling of awe. The well-made and precise leaflet I took at the information office advises me to ask permission from someone living in the house at the trailhead, and I am lucky: when I reach the house, a man with a smile on his faces comes out of his house. He confirms that there has been a fire three days before, caused by a couple of young boys, but also tells me that I should be able to climb it.
While we are talking, we hear the regular sound of mangoes falling on the ground, and I jokingly say that breakfast seems to be coming from the sky. The generous Pohnpeian invites me to take as many mangoes as I want from the big mango tree behind his house, and I wholeheartedly follow his advice. The first part of the trail is easy, and takes me through the tropical forest at the base of the mountain. Then, there are a couple of big boulders with caves, and soon after that, the trail becomes steeper and I know that this is the real start of the ascent of Sokehs rock. There is an enormous tree, and a rope at its roots that seem to hang in the air. I work my way around them, and when I arrive at the other side of the tree, at the end of the rope, see smoke billowing out of the earth. Part of the rope has been destroyed by the fire, and I now realize that this fire is more serious than I imagined. Every step I take on the black soil causes the ashes to swirl arround me; the earth is still warm.
A little higher up, I find the last stretch of the climb, and the most challenging one: a 70 degree climb on bare rock with an old iron tube as the only way to hold yourself to the mountain, with a strong wind swirling around the vertical rock. I had thought there could be no fire on what from a distance seems a bare rock, but I now see the reality. Every small crevice in the rock is filled with ashes. This must have been a quite serious fire! I carefully place my feet on the rock, holding on to the tube that is not attached to the rock in all places. The wind is now blowing ashes all around me. When I reach the top of 210 metres, I a elated - the views are stunning. But even here, the fire has raged, and black patches suggest that there was vegetation here just before. I soak in the views on all sides: the green mountains of the interior of Pohnpei, the calm sea between the coastline and the reef, Kolonia town, the runway of the international airport on a separate island just below, the village of Danipei. Then, I decide to not wait anymore and go down: with the dry conditions and the wind, you never know if the fire could start again. On my walk back to Kolonia, I learn that the police have tried to extinguish the fire a few days before, that the village had been evacuated, and that it was officially forbidden to climb the rock. Two days later, heavy rains come to Pohnpei, extinguishing the fire for good.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Sokehs rock (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 Sokehs rock. Read more about this site.