7 days in Paradise
August 17th it was finally time for us to go on vacation. This is our first trip outside Korea since our arrival in March, and we (I) needed it bad ! Paula, the loving wife, had agreed that I should choose the destination for our first vacation, and I had no great trouble in choosing a trip to Palau. 14 years ago I started reading a diving magazine called Rodales Scubadiving, and thus began my obsession with Palau. Now it was finally time to go there....
We started with a stopover in Seoul ! After finding a good hotel we met up with Youngae, our Korean friend from Malmö. We haven't seen her since we left Malmö, so it was good to catch up. Next day we flew to Taiwan and then on to Koror, Palau, arriving just as it was getting dark. We had planned to catch a taxi once there, but hadn't thought that there would be no taxis to be caught. With the help of some of the locals we were able to call for a taxi though, and drove off to the main town Koror. At first we were a little surprised/disappointed by the town (well, village). Arriving in the dark didn't give the best first impression and the situation wasn't improved when Paula realized that the internet connection from the island was dead slow ! At this point she was looking at 7 days in hell !!
Seeing the town in daylight made a huge difference. Very green, very tropical until we reached the coastline - from then on it was emerald, marine and blue. The town is basically occupying parts of three islands connected by bridges, from where you can enjoy the clear water and beautiful scenery. We spent the first day doing exactly this. And snorkeling from one of the beaches/parks. Also managed to sign up for a dive trip next day and visit the national museum.
Tuesday morning we were picked up by Sam's Tours, with whom we had booked our dive trip. The distances within town are relatively long and all tour operators include free pick-up. We were planning for a 8:30 pickup but were called at 7:15 with changed plans. Pickup was now 7:45 so breakfast on the run. We were off to Peleliu island (long ride - hence the early start) with, amongst others, two Americans from Rodales Scubadiving! Funny coincidence!! The boat trip through the Rock Islands was out of this world and the water was completely flat. The first dive was great although we were fighting a slight current all way through. You can read more about the diving here or on my diving homepage. In between dives we stopped at a dock on Peleliu Island, the southernmost island inside the protective reef surrounding most of Palau. Here, much to our surprise, we found "the best ice cream in Peleliu. Less surprising was the fishermen and their catch of multiple exotic fish. After a second dive we came back to Peleliu where we had a tour of the WWII remains ahead of us. Paula snorkled during both dives and thought she saw her first shark! Brave till the end, she didn’t get out of the water ! She loved it and ended up snorkeling during all my dives in Palau.
Back to the dock we were met by Des – our guide for the 2½ hour tour of Peleliu, host for one of the fiercest battles of WW2, the battle of Bloody Nose Ridge. The Americans landed on Orange Beach on Sept 15 1944 and instead of securing the island in 2-3 days as expected (the islands measures 15 by 3 km), the battle ended with the two Japanese general's suicide on November 25th although 26 Japanese soldiers hid in the many caves until 1947, when a Japanese general flew down to convince them that the war was over. The reason for the fighting was the airstrip, which the Americans wanted as a refueling station for missions to Philippines. Bloody Nose Ridge lies right at the end of the airstrip, which probably meant the shortest bombing missions during WWII. We saw the Japanese headquarters, several tanks, amphibian vehicles, a fighter plane and one of the more than 300 caves the Japanese had dug for their defense. The movie Letters from Iwo Jima did all of a sudden not seem exaggerated - the Japanese started with 13000 men and only 300 were taken prisoners during or after the battle. As this is an island, only the 26 hidden soldiers can have escaped unseen. That is a lot of killing..... It was eerie to be at the headquarters and listen to the jungle birds call – it was not hard to imagine it was the souls of the fallen soldiers !
Read more about the battle here.
Next day we went for two more dives. Paula again spent the time snorkeling from the boat, and this time she got a closer look at a shark. Yesterdays shark was not a shark at all - but these ones were very real and there were three of them !! Still, she braved it out as long as they stayed at a safe distance. If they came too close, the boat never too far off. I had some more excellent dives. As good as I could have imagined or maybe better! At night we had dinner with a couple of my dive buddies. Jordan was a dive instructor like me, doing pretty much the same as I did 10 years ago, so we had lots to talk about.
Thursday went by the same recipe, though we now stopped at the Jellyfish Lake on our way back from the dives. Several Jellyfish lakes can be found in Palau but only one is open to the public. It showed ! We had to stand in line on the trail through the jungle. It was a bit of a shock after the tranquility of the diving, but well worth it; the experience to swim with these only mildly stinging jellyfish was amazing. So strange that they have survived all these years isolated from their natural habitat, the Ocean. Back at the dive shop Jordan and I went for a muck-dive at Sam's dock. Even the muck-diving (dives below docks, in harbours, off the beach etc) was amazing with many small interesting creatures. At night we all met up for a serving of fruit bat ! Bloody disgusting, if you ask me ! The bat is boiled with fur and intestines in a soup (although it is sold as a pie !) and cut open there in front of you, as if the big fury thing in the soup wasn't enough to put you off. "Waiter - there is a fur in my soup" ...
Friday we went to Carp Island. We had decided to splash out on some romantic island holiday on the holiday. It was really pretty and quiet. Unfortunately it rained a lot and the mosquitoes were on the war path. Still, we enjoyed the tranquility. On Carp island it is possible to see a Yapese stone money. People from Yap would sail to Palau to cut their money from a quarry near Koror and then sail them back to Yap - over 1000km away. For some reason or another, one of these stones ended up here on Carp. I've always wanted to see one of these stones, so I there was another thing crossed from my to-do list.
Last day we rented a car and went sightseeing on Babeldoab Island, the largest island in Palau. The road has just been paved, but venturing beyond the new main road required a lot of patience. Even if it is a small island, it still takes a long time to get around on dirt roads! The island is pretty though. Even in the rain ! Jungle all over, except for where they have built their new government building - a mini Capitol Hill. This is the most ridiculous waste of money I have ever seen. Totally overkill for a country of some 20.000 inhabitants. By the way; Palau is divided into 16 states, many of which has less than 200 inhabitants!
All in all we had an unforgettable time in Palau and would love to return. For us it was the perfect place to relax and enjoy the wonders of the underwater world.