Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Palau

  
  
  
  
  
  
 

Palau's a funny place - where the majority of jobs are with the government and the gravy train runs full steam ahead.  I suppose it's not an uncommon post-colonial story, where an island nation enjoying a newly arranged independence has negotiated tremendously lucrative long term foreign aid funding arrangements from the old colonial power - in exchange for the right to use the islands for military purposes long into the future.  Consequently, Palauians seem to do pretty well on the US taxpayer's dollar - as long as someone in the family's got a cushy government job.  Their other revenue stream is tourism. And they seem to do their best to mop that stream dry too...

They really push Palau as having some of the best diving on the planet - and that could well be true... But we wouldn't know, as the fees are just so high it put us off completely.  Just to be in a boat anywhere south of Koror to the "rock islands", everyone is milked for a $50 tax.  And if you want to snorkel with in a lake filled with jellyfish - you're supposed to cough up a $100 tax for the privilege of the 10 minutes in the soup - let alone the $100+ the tour company will charge you to get there.  Despite what the tourist board proclaims, it's not the only place in the world where "stingless" jellyfish live in a lake - and between the fees and the tour costs, it just didn't make sense.  Moreover, the diving costs are even higher, with the dive companies nickel-and-diming divers for rental on every iota of gear and essentially price fixing at a level five times as high as we'd paid on Bali.  Hmm.  And when you're ready to leave - you'd better have $50 ready for an "environmental impact fee" before the immigration officer will stamp you out at the airport...

Anyway, one of the odd bonuses of the American influence here was a big surprise on a late November Thursday.  Thankgsgiving!!!  We were surprised to find an EXCELLENT pumpkin pie for sale in a local supermarket and bought it right away - figuring that that'd be our TG experience.  But, later in the day we learned that it's a national holiday here too - and we went for a great TG dinner (with more pumpkin pie) that evening at the Rock Island Cafe for only $9.50.  Not bad!  But it gets better...

The semi-weekly boat we took town to the island of Peleliu runs on Friday, so when we got down to the island everyone was looking forward to their relatives' return and it was time for yet another Thanksgiving meal!  In fact, there was a huge free food and drink party going on Friday night in the island's meeting hall (Bai).  When it was time to eat, there was a countdown to lighting up the radio tower like a giant neon xmas tree, and everyone started to get busy chowing down on turkey and all the trimmings.  Nice.  In fact, the party with the free food was actually funded by the local governor, who'd just finished his first term and wanted to throw around some government money make sure that he was well up in eveyrone's good books on the island.  To keep his cushy government job, of course.


Perfect, Pacific Paradise: Palau. Famous for its spectacular marine life including a lake where you can snorkel with hundreds of jellyfish. It also comes with a paradise price tag and due to this we decided to do our own budget tour of Palau. Ty and I were both happy to be back in island mode after spending a few months in Asia. 

After staying in Koror for a couple of nights we got an inexpensive local boat to the island of Peliliu, famous for the bloody battle between the Japanese and Americans during WWII. Codenamed Operation Stalemate II, many men lost their lives here. In order to see some of the relics we hired a tandem bicycle. This was the first time that we had tried one, but after a short while we had mastered how to cycle in unison and it was a lot of fun. It was fascinating to see the remains of the Japanese HQ, tanks and even a runway on the island. We spent 3 and a half hours cycling around; a very good workout and a good excuse to get burgers for lunch! Even though we set off at 7.45am the heat in Peliliu was pretty fierce and I had images of the soldiers in their thick uniforms with no water, a sobering thought. 

Another day we hired a one man canoe for 15 bucks and paddled out to a little rock island about 600 metres from shore. I perched precariously on the back of the canoe whilst Ty oared. The water was incredibly shallow, crystal clear and the snorkelling was like being in a tropical fish tank. There were so many small electric coloured fish, particularly blue and aqua. However, we didn't find it so easy to make our way back to shore. Trying to both get on the canoe from the rock island wasn't easy and once on, the canoe kept sinking and we capsized a few times. After trying to empty the canoe and jump back on, it was still sinking. The current was getting stronger and we wanted to get back before dusk. Instead we had to both swim and push the canoe. However this wasn't really working either. I managed to clamber on and row whilst Ty swam and pushed. The paddling was hard work against the current and we were racing against the clock to get back. Eventually we made it back! It was a slightly stressful end to our rock island adventure. 

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