2 AM in Palau

It’s midnight in Palau and I’ve just had a can of Pokka Milk Coffee, in anticipation of my 2:30 – 5 am flight to Guam. Big mistake. My flight, the Continental Check-in woman informs me, was last night. Dammit Helen. Dammit. Apparently I was not clear in my communication with the travel agent, and didn’t double-check the time on my itinerary. After a brief flurry of profanities directed at no-one in particular, I managed to book a flight for Pohnpei leaving tomorrow night, so I will get to repeat the coffee and check – in process. Only this time I might actually get on a plane.

I waited 45 minutes for a taxi, and discussed the complexities of beer and human relationships with my driver (who drove 15 km an hour all the way back to my hotel). And here I am, in bed, wired on my Pokka. There is nothing good on television.

A bit about Palau then! Stunning is the first word that comes to mind. This is only my personal opinion of course, but they seem to have struck a balance between natural beauty, cultural preservation and development. The nation is home to stone monoliths, the rock islands, lush jungles, and the best Indian restaurant in this part of the Pacific (The Taj).

I spent a day with some local researchers out in the Rock Islands, often referred to as the “Eighth wonder of the world”. This archipelago of limestone has been slowly eroding around the edges for years, leaving behind funny, mushroom-like island tops covered in vegetation. And let’s not forget the perfectly clear, turquoise water all around – it really is what you picture when you think of “paradise”. The local conservation groups (and government) here have done an incredible job preserving the area. Despite grudging local politics and differing ideas on conservation, the area remains one of the most pristine in the Micronesia Challenge.

Eroded Island

After a bit of snorkeling, we headed to Ulong Island, the “set “ of Survivor Micronesia. There are a few benches left behind, but those are the only signs of modern civilization. Take ten steps off the beach, and you find yourself in thick, pungent jungle, waiting to swallow you up. A wade through the water, past some limestone caves, and you can look up, way up, to some ancient red petroglyphs. No one seemed to know much about them, aside from the story they told – a man and a woman were married, the woman fell in love with another man, and shit went down. Seems like people were having the same romantic problems thousands of years ago.

Boy meets Girl. Boy marries Girl. Girl falls in love with another Boy. Trouble ensues.

Boy meets Girl. Boy marries Girl. Girl falls in love with another Boy. Trouble ensues.

Another little gem of the rock islands is the Soft Coral Arch, a little part of one island that eroded right through to the other side, leaving a perfect underwater channel for soft coral growth. At one time, soft coral was abundant in the area, but El Nino in 1998 bleached and destroyed much of the coral life. The soft coral looks like it would be cushy to the touch, but is actually prickly and solid if you brush against it. And the colors. Well, just look at the picture.

A rainbow of soft coral

A rainbow of soft coral

Needless to say, I got horribly sun burned. (Yes, I put on SPF 30 repeatedly. I wore a hat. And a t-shirt. I still got burned). But it was 100% worth it. It was wonderful to see some more of Micronesia before heading home to Vancouver, especially such a beautiful part of the region. This is what the Micronesia Challenge is all about – preserving a unique biodiversity and culture that could never be reproduced. Thank you to PICRC for taking me out on the boat and letting me use their waterproof camera. And thank you to Surech, the new intern coordinator, who was the ultimate tour guide.

And now the photo upload function seems to have stopped working, so if you’d like to see more photos of natural beauty and wonderful people, go to

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