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Monday, February 09, 2004

February 8, 2004-Turn Left to Palau

wingssail image-fredrick roswold
Sam’s


We did make it to Palau, maybe you heard, maybe you didn't either because we haven't written yet. We were waiting to get a good photo to send. We didn't get it. It seems that the film we bought in Kavieng was counterfeit. It wasn't a Kodak moment when we had it processed in Palau, flat, grainy, washed out, no detail. SHIT! One more memory of Papua New Guinea to add to the list.

Well, we did some creative work on the computer and salvaged the shot you might be getting with this email, at least you can see a bit of what it looks like here in Palau.

So then, what about Palau? This is not the South Pacific any more, Toto. Right about that...it's the North Pacific. We're back in the Northern Hemisphere after more than four years, but that's not what is different about Palau. The most striking difference from anywhere we've been are the lack of people out in the islands. This is an island country, just like Papua New Guinea or Solomons, of Fiji or Vanuatu or any of several other countries we've visited. But here the islands are uninhabited. No villages, no villagers, no pangas driving every where, no canoes full of people trying to trade for T-shirts or maybe just get a good look at us and our boat. It isn't too surprising that there are no people on these islands, other than tourists and the Palauan population which lives on the main islands of Koror and Babeldoab. It would be very hard to live on the outer islands of Palau. You can't get ashore. There are no beaches. The islands themselves are limestone rocks with vertical sides and impenetrable tangle of vegetation on top. No soil to speak of, and the shorelines are all, invariably, undercut by the sea so that they have rock overhangs of about 10 feet. They look like a bunch of cupcakes overflowing the paper cup. They are called "the Rock Islands". You can't even climb up. But they are beautiful to look at and there are thousands of them, with winding channels between them and quiet little coves. The diving, snorkeling, and fishing are good here too. The water is clear. The word everyone uses to describe Palau is: pristine. Sailing here is only fair, because there are coral reefs everywhere which you have to be on guard for, and little or nothing in the way of charts. Sailing can be nerve wracking, although we met one man, John, who, after 20 years, has learned where the reefs are and he sails his Cal 48. Eclipse, pretty casually. We're a little more tentative with WINGS. But if you motor, you can retreat into the Rock Islands and be totally alone for days or weeks.

So it is a beautiful, and empty, country, all except the one city, Koror. Koror is crowded, and since we're now in that part of the Pacific called Micronesia, its full of Micronesians. The people are a mix of Malay and Japanese/Chinese and I am not sure what, but they are different from the Negroid Melanesians of the South West Pacific and the Polynesians of Tahiti and Tonga: smaller, lighter, and very Asian looking. In fact there is a big Japanese influence here. Japan ruled this place during the first half of the 20th century, after the Spanish and Germans, and built the schools and hospitals, put up the factories, and fathered a lot of mixed race children. Japanese is still spoken here among the older people. Japanese products abound in the stores. Japanese tourists fly here by the thousands each month. Sometimes I get the feeling that if the USA hadn't bombed the dickens out of Palau in 1944 and kicked out the Japanese, Palau might still be content to be a Japanese Island.

What Palau is now is a small piece of America. The currency is the US dollar, the postal system is US, they have a senate, a president, and a congress. And they get a big chunk of US dollars each year, which surprisingly, everyone seems to think they spend pretty wisely. We're pretty happy to be able to buy US products, (like mayonnaise and paper towels and bagels) and get shipments of boat parts delivered in something less than the eternity it took in the South Pacific. But it's expensive here, that's one of the down sides. Everything is shipped from Japan or the US, (except some stuff from the Philippines, which is cheap). Another is the fact that, despite the attractiveness for cruising sailboats, Palau does not encourage people like us to visit. They are big on regular tourism. They get 5000-7000 visitors a month, in a country with only 19,000 people. Most are Asians, here to dive or snorkel around the reefs and lagoons. There are 40-50 tour boats going out each day to the Rock Islands. With business like that, a few yachts are just a nuisance, but they tolerate us, so we are content.

We like the Palauan people. They are friendly, smart, and somewhat industrious, which is a relative thing. We're comparing them to Papuans and Solomon Islanders. They speak pretty good colloquial English, so it's easy to communicate.

We've been having a good time. Dave and Sue, cruising friends from Australia, had a going away party Friday night before they departed for the Philippines. They tied their boat up to the dock at the dive shop and put out a lot of food and booze. At first it was mostly other cruisers and local expats that came. About midnight the local Palauan glam crowd showed up. Young, stylish, looking like models. The tempo of the party went up a few notches. The music got louder. Everyone got really drunk. About 2:00 AM the party headed off to a disco, except for Judy and I. We went home. Dave and Sue went to the disco, but they claim they don't remember that, and no, they didn't make it away from Palau on Saturday, they just took their boat around the corner to Hangover Cove, and slept it off. We think they left on Sunday, we're not sure. We drug our butts out of bed on Saturday and went sailing and snorkeling onboard Eclipse and met John's delightful Manchurian wife, Charlie, and some other guests they had along. It was a good day. We're glad we came to Palau.

Click here to see a few photos we did get from Palau

Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, Republic of Palau

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