Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Palau: Home to Jellyfish Lake, Betlenut and Prehistoric Creatures
Go to our photo website to see Troy's fabulous Palau photos.
Like some of the places we have traveled to, a lot of people have never heard of Palau. But if you have it’s because you are either a diver or you watch the reality TV show, Survivor. Like Chuuk, this group of small islands is located out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a long ways from anything. That’s why internet connection is horrible and Troy can’t get his photos downloaded. So beware, once we get a great connection you will bombarded with about 1000 photos! Ok, maybe not that many, but close to it.
We loved Palau! The people are very friendly, fabulous weather year round, incredibly gorgeous islands and some of the best diving we have done. It is one of the few places we have been that we could move to and work for a year or two. In fact we inquired about being Dive Masters with the shop we dived with but sadly for us they have already hired for the upcoming season. We also found hitchhiking to be very easy here. So easy even an off duty cop picked us up and took us where we wanted to go. When he pulled over we saw his uniform and thought “Uh oh, he will probably take us downtown… right downtown to the police station!” (Another Troy quote of the day). The only thing we didn’t like about Palau is a huge percent of the locals chew betelnut. It is a green nut, a little bigger then a grape but very fibrous so it can be chewed on for an hour without falling apart. It is a narcotic so the locals are addicted to it. They chew it with a lime or a mint leaf (to get rid of the gross taste) and a piece of a cigarette or coral powder to activate the betlenut. The reason we don’t like it is it turns the teeth a revolting brown and red and wears down the teeth almost to nubs. When you talk to someone that has been chewing this for years, it takes every ounce of willpower to not cringe and look away from this disgusting sight. In fact the guy sitting next to me right now at the internet cafe is getting ready to put a huge wad in his mouth. At least it doesn't stink like cigarette smoke, although the spitting is gross.
Palau also has the most ridiculous Capital building. It is like a miniature White House with a tall white dome and huge porch columns. It is also out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but hills, jungle, shacks and dirt roads. Most of Palau’s population is on the island of Koror but the capital is miles and miles and miles north. For a country whose population is only 20,000 it is enormous. Just shows what happens when the US gives a country too much money.
Palau is known locally as Belau and is made up of over 300 islands that stretch out over 400 miles but only eight islands are inhabited, total population of 20,000. Palauian legend has it that a child named Uab was born to a goddess of the sea. As he grew up he had a voracious appetite and all the villagers fed him day and night to satisfy his hunger. He ate so much he grew into an enormous giant. The villagers were threatened with famine so one night while Uab was sleeping, they tied him up and set him ablaze. When he woke up he was so angry that he roared and kicked and the island shook. The struggle was so fierce that he kicked himself to pieces which settled upon the ocean and formed the islands of Belau (Palau). So for the locals it is very easy to give directions to the island where they live: I live on the third island past the kneecap, you know, just before the eyeball but after the spleen!
More WWII fighting happened here as well. Peleliu is a south island of Palau that had an airstrip that was fought over between the US and the Japanese. On the island there are hundreds of limestone caves that the Japanese used to hide from the US reconnaissance. The US knew the Japanese were here but not in great numbers so they thought they could easily take over the small island. When the US invaded Peleliu, they realized the massive number of Japanese hiding among the caves which resulted in one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific War. A tour of the island shows old tanks, Zero Attack planes, large Japanese guns, pill boxes, and artifacts such as shoes, skulls, live grenades, ammunition and canteens. There are also torpedoes on several beaches that I guess missed their targets during the war. They’re just sitting there basking in the sun, rusting and rotting away. Needless to say, I’m a little WWII historied out. I’ve learned more in the last few weeks about the war then I learned in school.
If you are a Survivor fan I’m going to spill the beans and tell you that the next Survivor is in Palau (again) and the one after that is Africa. So much for the employee’s confidentiality agreements! I don’t think it has been announced in the media yet so I just gave you privileged information. Funny, we would come across people and ask them if they are here with Survivor and they would reluctantly say yes. When I would ask them why they are so reluctant to answer, they would say they are not supposed to say they are here with Survivor. I just want to slap them and say “Then why don’t you answer my question with a NO, I’m just here to dive!”? Stupid college girls just want to seem cool. Anyway, there was an island that was off limits to everyone because that is where the Survivors were staying. It is amazing how well the producers make it seem that the Survivors are in the middle of nowhere and that they are thousands of miles from civilization when in reality there are dive boats zipping past their beach all day long.
Like I said before, the diving is unbelievable. There are tons of sharks here. Next to Coco’s Island, Costa Rica, where we saw hundreds and hundreds of sharks, Palau is next in line for the immense number of sharks. It is a Chinese fisherman’s wet dream! Right now it is mating season for the sharks so the males are out in packs and are very aggressive. Normally they are alone and swim slow and gracefully. On one of our first dives, they were in packs of 8-12, swimming very fast, darting about quickly, looking for females to mate with.
You can easily identify the females because they have bite and cut marks all over their bodies from the males trying to grab and hold onto them while they mate. Unfortunately for a female, she will get attacked by several males at once, all of them wanting to mate with her. Many of the females even die because the males get so aggressive. So a few divers amongst all this forceful testosterone is a little freaky. Troy and I have been around a lot of sharks and are not scared of them at all, but these sharks definitely put us on edge.
Palau is home of the famous Jellyfish Lake. The name says it all. It is a small saltwater lake which is fed by water seeping in through the limestone and is filled with millions of non-stinging jellyfish. They are all the same shape and color but range from the size of a quarter up to 8"-9" across. There is no place like this anywhere else in the world. In fact Palau has four of these jellyfish lakes but only one is open to the public. The lake was formed millions of years ago when the islands were underwater. When the islands rose from the sea, a species of jellyfish was trapped. Because no outside predators could get into the lake, the jellyfish lost their ability to sting because they didn’t need to defend themselves. As the jellyfish grew, they reproduced and had no way to leave the lake. Scientists believe the jellyfish have been untouched by the outside world for thousands of years so they live peacefully in their own little universe until it is invaded by hundreds of screaming Chinese tourists that don’t know how to swim.
Palau also has an ancient creature that is only found in a few Pacific Islands. This is the Chambered Nautilus. Of the known seven species in the world, at least two are found in Palau. It is found near the Belau Trench - 27,000’ deep - which is one of the deepest trenches in the world. This animal is part of the octopus family but lives at great depths in the ocean – 1000’ and deeper. A diver will never come across it on a normal dive. If they do, they are really, really stupid and are somewhere they shouldn’t be - oh, and dead. The Chambered Nautilus is prehistoric because it has remained unchanged for millions of years and is considered a living fossil. They are extremely fragile, one bump on the reef and their shell breaks allowing them to the drift to the surface to die. The only way to see these beautiful creatures is on a staged dive. A cage has to be dropped down to about 600’ with something in the cage to attract the Nautlilus’ attention. For some reason they like chicken. The sticker and smellier the more attractive it is. So a smelly chicken is crucified and strung up in the cage and then dropped into the water overnight. The next morning, the cage is brought to the surface and the divers jump in to see how many were caught and to take as many photos as they can. Most marine animals can’t go from a depth of 1000’ to 8’ without exploding but the Nautilus has 38 chambers that allow the animal to regulate the air chambers so it won’t die.
Next, we are off to Yap, just another unknown island where the use of Betlenut is even worse then Palau. Oh, I hope my stomach can handle it!
A friend said they love reading our blogs but we never say how we are doing. So if you're interested, we are fine. Healthy, no broken bones, no lost limbs, no strange tropical diseases, unless you count what the local food does to Troy, no shark bites (although my finger did get nipped by a "Shelly size" Napolean Wrasse because I tried to feed it sushi), Troy cut his hair so he no longer looks like a hippie, we've gained a pound or two from pure laziness and too many beers, we have not spent all our money and have yet to be arrested. And no, we don't know yet what we are going to do when are done with this trip, maybe just keep traveling since we have leftover money!
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This was an amazing travelogue. I didn't realize sharks are non-aggressive-good thing huh? Love the pix; hope Troy is considering doing a photo book when you are done running the world. You will be sooo rich.
By 2:35 PM, at
Troy/Shelly - Great diving with you in Palau. Looking forward to seeing more of your pictures. Hope your are enjoying Yap and seeing more mantas than we saw last week.
Troy and Shelly,
By 8:44 PM, at