Yap & Palau

May 29, 2005

We were in Yap less than a week, but saw a good bit of it. The folks aboard Sunshine, Cary and Sara, rented a car with us. Together we spent a day getting a wee bit lost around the island. One of the tourist attractions we wanted to see was the Japanese Zeroes that were shot up by the Allies during the end of WWII. The remains were supposed to be close to the “old airport". Finding them was a bit tricky as the only map available is very poor and the locals have a difficult time giving directions. At one point we thought we were close and asked a lady at a drive-through convenience store about the site. Yes, it really was a drive-through near an abandoned airport runway in the middle of nowhere- bizarre! She looked confused and finally started waving her arms in the direction of the abandoned runway telling us it was on the right hand side “You will see it!" Perseverance paid off. It turned out to be within a block of the drive-through and the opposite direction of where we were sent. The Zeroes were riddled with bullet holes but are still in relatively good shape. See the photos of the zeroes later at the website.

Another tourist draw from Yap is the ancient stone money. Flat discs of limestone about 1' thick with a hole cut in the middle were the sign of wealth in Old Yap - the bigger the stone, the higher the value. These discs actually came from Palau and were brought the 250 miles to Yap aboard rafts made of balsa wood. The holes in the center of the stone money were for the purpose of “stringing the stones" on hefty branches of wood. This way they could be secured to the rafts and then (probably) rolled along the ground to their final resting place outside the homes and along the pathways of a village. A photo on the website shows the size of one of these pieces in a village called Kaday on the west side of the island. The line of stones along the pathway is appropriately called a “stone bank". Strange that pieces of rock were held in high esteem by these people--and the Native Americans had their beads, mmmm?

Before we left for Palau, Sara and Cary took Jane with them for a night dive to see the mandarin fish. These are tiny (the size of half your little finger) extremely colorful fish that strangely resemble a tadpole in the face and have relatively large tails. They hide in the coral and come out only just before dusk to feed. What a thrill to see these fish! Now, if only we can see a live seahorse somewhere! Sara has given us one of her photos from that night’s dive - See Photo #1. Saying good-bye to Cary and Sara, we departed for Palau on April 11th and arrived on the 14th- very slow trip with light winds and current (up to 2 knots) against us most of the way. You may find the name “Belau" (about 7 deg N and 134 deg E) in your atlas. In 1992 this country got their complete independence from the USA and changed their name to Palau. One of the promises made by the US government to the Palauns was to build a road around their largest island of Babeldaub. They are still working on that road-more on that later. Palau still uses US currency and the US postal system.

The first few days here in Palau were taken up with check-in procedures and purchasing all the permits needed to cruise the outer islands of the archipelago. The cost to check-in was $100 and the permits for one month another $100. Not cheap, but a lot less than it cost the divers who come from all over the world -they pay the park fees and the diving costs which run about $120/day. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it; however, the diving is purported to be worth it!

We ventured out into the islands slowly and carefully with memories still fresh of our day on the reef in Fiji. We now have electronic charting on our computer with a connection to the GPS allowing the display of a small sailboat at our current position. The little sailboat moves across the chart as we move, indicating our position at all times. Technology is so marvelous. It’s strange to think of Captain Cook popping into the current world to see these changes in navigation. It would be an ideal situation if the available charts were all correct. In Palau they are about ½ mile off in most places. It looks very strange and disconcerting to watch that little sailboat moving across the land in many places.

The islands of Palau are similar to those of Tonga-humps of limestone rock that rise out of the 100' depths, covered with scrubby trees. Their bases have been eroded by wave action over time allowing the islands to take the shape of huge mushrooms. Snorkeling around the base of the island affords hours of entertainment. See Photo #2.

The special thing about cruising in Palau is that there are very few other cruisers here. We take our pick of anchorages and enjoy evenings totally to ourselves. The dive boats come roaring in during the daylight hours carrying divers and snorkelers and then go roaring back to the city in the afternoon. The sites are ours to enjoy 24/7!

One of the favorite sites of Palau is Jellyfish Lake. In an inland salt lake there are jellyfish with no other natural enemies; therefore, over time, they have lost their ability to sting. One must climb a steep path over the jagged limestone to reach the lake. A swim out into the lake about 50 yards brings one to thousands of parachute-shaped jellyfish from fingernail size to 8" in diameter. They pulse through the water between 2'and 12' in depth always congregating in the light as the sun moves across the sky. During the night hours another type of larger flat jellyfish surfaces and replaces the daytime species. It gave the impression of swimming through outer space with thousands of planets and stars revolving around you- quite surreal. See Photo #3 We were lucky to meet our Hong Kong friends on Shady Lady once more here in Palau. We had hiked to the German Lighthouse in Pulawat with them and discovered that there was another German Lighthouse hike here to share. You can probably imagine that any hike in these islands would be a steep one quite different from the first. There were Japanese guns to see and eerie stone settlements that must have provided living quarters for the Japanese troops during WWII. You can see the site in a short movie clip at the website later.

Daniel and Lucy have continued on from Palau to the Philippines. Before we said good bye to them, we helped with a job that requires most boats to haul out in a marina. Since Shady Lady is a trimaran they can find a shallow bit of water to anchor and wait for the tides to go out, clean the growth off the bottom and slap some new anti-fouling on before the tide comes back in. It really works like a charm! As the tide continued to recede, Noah and Ellie had a giant swimming pool to play in. See the photo later on the website.

While Cary made a quick trip back to the USA, we traveled with Sara and a local guide, Malahi (pronounced Ma-LAH-hee) in a 4 wheel drive vehicle north through the large island of Babeldaub (pronounced Babble-dob). As mentioned earlier the US committed to building a road around this island. The Army Corps of Engineers put out the job bids and settled on a company from Korea. The job has been going forward (lots of times backward as well) for the past five years. For some reason, which we cannot fathom, the people of Palau decided that the main city on the island of Koror is too crowded; therefore, they should build a new capitol building on the NE side of Babeldaub in the middle of nowhere. They borrowed the money to build the capitol from Taiwan and it is nearly complete. Now the tiny island of Palau (population 18,000) has a brand new capitol building sitting empty with no road to facilitate travel to the site. It has no facility for central air conditioning so the insides are being taken over by mold. Please see the photo. It took us over an hour of bumping and splashing through mud to arrive at the site of the capital.

From new to old, we next visited a traditional Mens' Meeting House, typical of all the islands that we have visited in Micronesia. The photo will show the lovely decorations both inside and out. In the center are two areas for fires and a raised board down the center used as a pillow. Throughout the floor are small holes for spitting betel nut juice and for urinating.

The final stop was at the very north end of Babeldaub to see the harvest of the trochus shell. Normally protected the trochus is open for harvest every five years. Since the Japanese pay $1.25/pound for these shells, there is a flurry by the locals to find as many as possible. Each of the shells weighs about pound and we watched the shells being shoveled into bags weighing about 80 pounds each. A pickup truck was loaded with 100-150 bags. The flesh of the animal had an interesting taste -quite tender when eaten raw. Jane tried some and then had some later in a restaurant after they had been cooked. They were much better eaten raw.

The open season on the trochus is rotated around the islands and each village has designated reefs on which to harvest. It seemed amazing to us that the trochus population is not decimated in the process, but the whole system seems to work quite well and is heavily patrolled during off-season.

Our departure plans for Indonesia have been postponed for a week or so awaiting the receipt of a transmission part from the States. Cary has returned from his trip back home and “Sunshine" will travel out to the anchorages for more diving before we leave.

We are all very excited to be moving forward into a new area of the world- Asia. We have big plans for lots of land travel over the next year or so- China in one trip; Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in a second trip; and perhaps we will get back to Australia, as well, by air.

We are sending more photos to our friends at the Anchorage Yacht Club in IL and hope that you will view those photos at www.anchorageyachtclub.net if you have the desire and the time.

Until next time Jane and Sander