A peek into Palau’s past

The sun was blazing hot and burning into our skins and we were all panting. We were approaching the fifth and final historical site in the State of Ngaraard in Babeldaob. Perspiration drenched our bodies when we finally reached the the remains of a traditional village that might have existed about 800 or 900 years ago.

Still reeling from a hangover, I had to drag heavy feet and was always at the rear of the group. There were eight of us, including two archaeologists, staff from the Historical Preservation Office (HPO) and a couple of Palauans who were well versed with the oral history of the countryside. The silence of the jungle was broken only by our heavy breathing and an occasional grunt when somebody’s foot got tangled in the roots of the trees. I was getting tired, my body unprepared for the long walk we had as I was thinking we will be covering only one historical site. But Rita, our Palauan archaeologist decided to cover the five registered sites in the State.

I had been battling the urge to drink water for almost three hours, not wanting to drink for fear I might be needing to empty my kidneys and I know it would be hard to do it just about anywhere in the jungle.
We were following a stone pathway about one meter wide that our American archaeologist companion said, are coral stones. It means that the former residents of the place must have been very strong and skillful to be able to drag the huge slabs of stones and cut them to form pavements and stairs. And to think that there were no backhoes or bulldozers or electric saws then!
The stone pathway snaked its way into several directions, and here and there we could see stone platforms where the village Bai (a meeting house) must have stood. We traced another stone pathway heading towards a dsried up pool which could have served as a bathing area and saw several broken urns and bowls- remnants of what could have been used as a container for drinking water.

I could just imagine that the hundreds of years ago, the place we were treading was populated with early inhabitants and bustling with day to day activities. I saw several burial places and felt a shiver of chill ran up my spine thinking that underneath us were the remains of long-ago Palauans.

An interview with an archaeologist from the HPO previous week led me into this expedition into the jungles of Babeldaob, where only a few feet have trod in the recent past. I am not much of a history fanatic. I passed all my history subjects with barely passing grades. I mean I found reading novels and short stories much more interesting than digging into what transpired thousands of years ago and memorizing dates and numbers but I have committed myself to write something about the remains and I had to do it.

I was silent on the trip back to Koror, my hangover completely gone. I was thinking way ahead into the future- probably thousands of years later, when archaeologists and reporters and HPO staff would trod on the very place we were living in and say to themselves- “this used to be a bustling city, and thousands of people lived here, based on the relics and pieces of things they left…….” while we might be lying beneath the remnants and never hear what they are saying…..uh-uh. Next week I’ll be visiting old graveyards and stone monoliths in Ngarchelong State.

Dry-diving in Palau

Palau has already carved its own niche in the tourism industry for its spectacular attractions and world-class diving spots. Every day hundreds of tourists arrive to sample the island’s natural wonders- both in land and underwater. Not everyone though has the chance, the financial resources or the guts to go diving and get a feel of the underwater wonders. At present, most of the visitors in the country are limited to scuba diving, sea kayaking and land-based tours but with the recent launching of the Flying Fish Tours, I finally got the chance to get a real feel of the underwater world and yet staying dry about it. Everybody on board the Kok 1 (there were less than 10 of us) waited with bated breath as the computer screen was set up and the camera was lowered into the water at the Neco Bay last Saturday. In a few minutes, we were looking into a wonderful array of corrals, colorful fish, and the whole underwater kingdom, a live video of what lies beneath the sea surface-while staying dry in our seats. The tour took two hours, with owner retired Divisional Chief of Police Columbus Sakuma at the helm. Sakuma said the trip includes a guided tour of the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), Palau Aquarium, and Rock Islands eco-adventure. We also got the chance to see several wrecks of Japanese vessels which sank and had been there since World War 2. To sum it up, it’s one of those never-to-be forgotten experiences that everyone in Palau should grab (if you still haven’t done so)-the chance to get to know Palau’s history and culture through the trip. For information, call 779-0293.

By ontheraks Posted in Palau

Museum Island Revisited

From the looks of it, Orange Beach in Peleliu is just one of those ordinary beaches with white sand stretching along the shore and attracting beach lovers but for Peleliu residents and those who are familiar with their history, the beach is a silent witness of one of the fiercest battles fought between the Americans and Japanese forces during the World War 11.

Peleliu World War 11 Museum director Tangie Hesus sat on a fallen log as he animatedly transported us to that fateful morning 62 years ago when the blood of thousands of American soldiers were shed on the beach, tinting the white shores till it was believed the water turned orange, hence the name Orange Beach came to be.
A few meters from the beach is the 81st Wild Cat Memorial site but every grave was exhumed in 1947 and the bodies of the soldiers were claimed by their families.

A tour of the island would provide one a view of scattered relics and remnants of the Battle and the Japanese Occupation, depicted in buildings, tanks, planes, battle sites, shrines, monuments and man-made caves used by the Japanese troops during the battle.
The World War 11 Museum is housed in an ancient block house built during the Japanese times. A musty smell greets a guest when he enters it, making the experience complete as he goes through alley after alley of war mementos. Japanese and American remnants like machine guns and cannons, broken shards of kitchen ware, water canteens, medicine bottles, helmets and all other reminders line up the walls, each telling their own sad stories about their long-lost owners.

Because of the rich history of the island, the United States Department of Interior designated the place as a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

It was dusk when we (Tangie, Jun R. of the other paper and I) returned and we were only able to visit the Peleliu WW11 museum, Japanese Shrine, US Marine Memorial at the Bloody Nose Ridge, 81st Wild Cat Memorial and the Orange Beach.

Peleliu island boasts of natural tropical forests and offers so much activities for guests, but it is the history and the deep secret of the island that lures thousands of not only Japanese and Americans but other nationalities as well to visit and see

“Every year, I get to guide a group of war veterans both Americans and Japanese in the island and its touching to see them cry as they reminisce the war they were part of 62 years ago,” Tangie said. He also added that families of slain soldiers visit the place to remember their loved ones who died in the battle.

Beachside Bungalows

The bungalows are set in the ocean’s edge, right in the picturesque traditional fishing village in Melekeok, giving one a complete feeling of ‘getting-away-from-it-all’ and going back to the basics of sun, sand and sea. We arrived at the Palau Beach Bungalows at dusk, breathing in the salty tang of air from the sea and settled in for a relaxing weekend.

This ‘Palauan style’ site for relaxation, as aptly described by owner Palau Community College (PCC) president Patrick Tellei brings you the basics of traditional Palau, far away from traffic and roaring of vehicles, blaring television sets, crowds and your daily routine.

A respite at the Palau Beach Bungalows gives you a chance to do what you want- enjoy the view of the long stretch of green blue sea, surf the huge waves at the edge of the reef about half a mile away from the beach, stretch on the bed in your cottage while sniffing the fresh sea breeze, or be lulled to sleep by the sound of the rolling waves crashing on the breakwater. You can also swim and snorkel, fish for brilliant colored fishes, hike through verdant green jungle to see one of Palau’s meeting houses (bai), walk though the village along the water’s edge to find an ancient stone monolith. Time is never enough before you have to go back to “civilization” once again.

Patrick designed and built the bungalows on weekends or during his spare time until the bungalows were opened for business in July 2005. Patrick said he built the bungalows to help pay the electrical bills of the family, and to give interested family members a way to get their hands into the tourism business.
He also said that since the Capitol was moving to Melekeok, and boats going back & forth to Koror were dwindling, he wanted the place to be there for people working on the construction of the Capitol and for anyone who wants to get away and relax.

Four of the five bungalows have a private bath, a bedroom with an air-conditioner, and living room with a furnished kitchenette, complete with coffee maker, electric burner, toaster, refrigerator, cookware and kitchen utensils
The fifth bungalow has two studio units with an outside bath.
Guests can bring their own groceries, or for a chance to savor delicious Palauan specialties, meals can be ordered from Ubal Tellei’s family living nearby (with 12 hours advance notice).
And oh yes, the place has a signal in case you need to contact somebody via cellular phone.
The rate is only $40 plus 14% tax per night per bungalow ($46.30) but Virginia, Patrick’s wife said weekly and monthly discounts are available. Palau Beach Bungalows is about an hour’s drive away from Koror, passing scenic views and the new Capitol building. For more information, please call 680-587-2533 or email palaubeachbungalows@palaunet.com.

Kiss from a dolphin

??????I had mixed emotions of fear and excitement the minute the dolphin’s cold mouth landed on my cheek-and stayed there for about a full minute. It was the first time I saw real live dolphins outside the television screen and got a kiss from one, too. We were at the Dolphins Pacific Bay, one of the rare places in the world where people could experience close encounter and interaction with the dolphins, lessons you will not get in the classrooms. Eight dolphins occupy the lagoons and only two of them are males, Echo and J. The females are Surech, Rubak, Ariel, Ekei, Layla, and Roxanne. Ramirez said each dolphin can be identified by its own distinctive features.

We watched in fascination as the dolphins dived, executed perfect somersaults, flipped over, waved their tails tumbled and did as the trainers ordered them to do. “Training the dolphins takes at least two months and you have to get them into activity everyday,” Arturo Ramirez Jr., our Mexican tour guide said. He added that using the reward system helps, which means they will reward a dolphin with fish or ice cubes if they follow the instructions and do something right. Because dolphins tend to eat leaves that fall into the lagoon and eventually get sick from it, the trainers taught the dolphins to retrieve leaves and give it to them, and the dolphins get rewards for doing so. It is also a puzzle that dolphins live in salt water yet they drink fresh water. ??????

Every couple of days or so, dolphins are given water through a funnel and a hose and they sure drink a lot, says Ramirez. Interaction with the dolphins starts with an educational lecture about the natural history of dolphins and getting acquainted with the eight dolphins from their photos. This is followed by a walk along the lagoons and finally getting into a wading platform where one is given the rare chance to touch a dolphin’s body, and get a handshake or a kiss from them. For the more daring, you can snorkel, swim, scuba dive or dive with the dolphins to get a really close encounter and see their world beneath the surface of the water.

 

Dolphins, Ramirez said, are sensitive creatures. “If you make unnecessary movements or actions they will get confused and this could affect them but they are very playful,” he said. “The purpose of this dolphin facility is to teach people to study the special abilities of dolphins, to put them as teaching materials for environmental education,” says Ramirez. He said it is important for people, particularly the children to learn the importance of protecting the dolphins and saving them for the future generations.

??????The Dolphin facility costing $2.5 million was established in July 20, 2000. Ramirez said the dolphins were brought in from Japan in 2001 and were trained here. The Dolphin Bay is one of the main tourist attractions of Palau (A visit to Palau won’t be complete without going there) and is becoming a destination not only for tourists but for locals, for children, elderly people and the handicapped. For more information, visit http://www.dolphinspacific.com or email smiles@dolphinspacific.com or call 680-488-8582.

Inter-action under the sea

If you’ve always dreamed of diving into the deep blue sea and interacting with the marine life but you still haven’t got the chance to do so, a visit to the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) can offer you the rare experience of an adventure under the sea without getting yourself wet.

The Palau Aquarium at the PICRC is the best place to experience the wonders of Palau’s unique marine world without even getting your feet wet. The Palau Aquarium was opened in January 1, 2000 but it was formally launched on January 18, 2000. Kambes Kesolei, Chief Aquarist of the PICRC said the aquarium was established to stimulate interest, increase knowledge and promote stewardship of Palau’s coral reefs and the world’s ocean environment through innovative exhibits, education and awareness programs, and scientific research. He said it also shows the inter-relationship of the habitats in the ocean.

He said this also gives visitors a first hand look into the world of the diverse coral reef ecosystem. There are over a hundred different species of fish in the aquariums. He added that keeping corrals alive inside aquariums is no small task because it requires extra care, skill and knowledge

PICRC is the only aquarium who has 18 exhibitions and among these are the exhibits on Palau Islands, the legend of Chuab, mangroves, sea grass bed, inner reef, reef crest, marine lake, camouflage, creatures of the deep, cave creatures, symbiosis, the outer reef, coral biology, video on Palau, coral cultivation, crocodiles,

Kesolei said the Aquarium is getting at least 34 percent of the market share of the total number of tourists visiting Palau. He said the peak was during 2004 when the number of tourists and visitors was at its highest.
“For last year, the number of visitors has declined but this is based on the decline of the tourist arrivals in the country, too,” Kesolei said. One’s visit to Palau won’t be complete without visiting the Palau Aquarium. It’s a whole new world full of revelations and discoveries.
Entrance fee for the aquarium is $7 for tourists and $5 for local residents. There are also group discounts and special rates for students on a fieldtrip.

Off to the Big Island

With tourism as the backbone of the economy and with hundreds of tourists scouring the island everyday, locals may tend to take for granted the scenic attractions Palau has to offer.

Come with me on a day’s tour to Babeldaob, (the Big Island) with the Palau Visitors Authority (PVA) at the helm as they conduct a familiarization tour to a batch of tour operators and travel agents from Australia. The group was composed of Kristyn Ward and Fern Fraser from Dive Adventures, Cheryleigh Jacobs from Continental Airlines, Michael O’Leary from Travelscene, Bill Coleman, Lisa Edwards from Nautilus Scuba Centre Toowong Pty. Ltd., Michael Harris from Harris Park Holdings Pty. Ltd., Steve and Lee Grow from Aquatic Explorer and from Tweed Seasports.

The day started with a brief visit to the NECO Marine compound in Malakal, with guide Jessica then the group proceeded to the Etpison Museum, where they took photos and bought souvenirs of Palau. The long but scenic ride to Babeldaob proved interesting for the guests.
We had a brief stopover at the Capitol in Melekeok State before proceeding to northernmost tip of Ngarchelong, in Badrulchau where the famed stone faces and monoliths are located. Open cottages with tempting benches are available. Guests were treated to a soothing cool breeze and a superb view of the stone faces and monoliths down the valley. A short distance away, we can see the waves crashing on the shore endlessly.
To get to the monoliths, we had to go down more than a hundred crudely-built stairways and walk under the heat of the noonday sun (don’t think about the return trip yet). But the walk and the heat was worth it.

It felt awesome to be standing in the site of the ancient stone monoliths which are mysterious in origin. After a quick lunch under the shade of the open huts, we got back on the bus and proceeded to the island’s highest waterfalls in Ngardmau State. I hesitated to go down as I was warned that the trail was not easy, but I had to complete the trip. We had to go down steep slopes with the aid of thin wooden canes, pass through rivers and bubbling Jacuzzi-like lagoons, enticing us to take a dip.

Very soon, we heard the splashing and the huge waterfalls with its curtain of water cascading down met our eyes. The group, except me bathed in the cold water. It was time to go back and I realized the warning was wrong. The return trip was not hard. It was very hard. Going up the hill with the sun beating down your back and your sweat steaming down is not fun, but again, it was worth it.

Tired but happy, the group boarded the bus again, it was time to go back to Koror, and for the group to go back home the next day, this time to entice their countrymen to come and experience the wonders of Palau.

Sailing with the wind

For those who do not have the chance, guts or opportunity to go diving and experience Palau’s underwater wonders, one alternative the island has to offer not only for tourists but for locals as well is sailing.

Sailing is one thrilling experience where you let all your cares go and allow the wind rule your route, says Royal Belau Yacht Club (RBYC) secretary Rachel Walton, who has been sailing for the past 25 years.
Since most visitors travel to Palau for the best diving in the world, they miss much else that makes Palau unique.
Sailing through Palau’s calm waterways, protected lagoon and dense tropical forest between the famous Rock Islands can be quite an experience to really explore the island, without the fear for getting seasick.
Sam’s Tours offers free sailing lessons for interested participants, including the opportunity to sail to distant island paradises as actual lessons. Sam’s gives even those new to sailing ample opportunity to take the wheel and feel the joy of steering a fast boat and surge through warm tropical seas under a full press of canvas.

Despite the rough and windy weather, there was a good turnout of participants who joined the Youth Sailing Sampler arranged by the RBYC at Sam’s Tours in Malakal last Saturday. It was an opportunity for the young (and the not so young) to try their hand at sailing, assisted and coached by RBYC members who were on hand to help them enjoy and have fun in the water.

The young people got a chance to sail out in the three Hobie Cat sailing catamarans and the kayaks the club provided. Other kids just swam and snorkeled near the dingy.

Dermot Keane, Sam’s Tours manager and RBYC Port Captain earlier said that the club is holding at least a couple of events every month not only for members but for outsiders, too.
“RBYC offers activities that are designed not only for enjoyment but for environmental awareness, too,” Keane said. RCB