Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chilling on Peleliu Island

The fast boat to Peleliu Island, in the southern part of Palau, costs upwards of $50 each and takes just under an hour, but we took the slow (cheap) boat at $17.25 for the two of us and our bags, arriving at the dock in Peleliu about 2 ½ hours after we left Koror. The boat took us, about 40 Palauans (several of whom were chewing betel nut), 5 Europeans, 1 car, and dozens of boxes (including lots of instant noodles) and bags on the slow cruise past the Rock Islands, where we had snorkeled and kayaked—why would we want to go fast?

On the boat to Peleliu
Pulling up to the Peleliu dock, we knew we had arrived at another special place. About 700 people live on the island, which is 6 miles long and 2 miles wide at its widest point. There’s one main road with a few offshoots—no street signs, no stop signs, maybe 100 cars in various states of repair. Ninety percent of them are unregistered, and 90 percent of the drivers are unlicensed, according to a local guy we talked to. Downtown consists of one small store, an elementary school, the state legislature building (Peleliu is a separate state in the Palau Republic), and a couple of tiny resorts. Our lodgings, the quiet little Dolphin Bay Resort, is about a mile down the road, set on the edge of a lagoon that is protected by the reef, where waves break about 400 yards from shore.

Free kayaks at Dolphin Bay
Dolphin Bay Resort is owned and operated by a Japanese/Palauan couple, and we were greeted with many bows as we hopped out of the van that had met us at the dock. The resort is associated with Peleliu Divers, a nice little dive/snorkel operation. The 7 cottages are lined up next to each other with small decks looking out to the sea and the entrances facing a lovely tropical garden that is immaculately kept. There’s a small restaurant that serves delicious home-style breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and kayaks are free for guests’ use. Really simple, really nice, $195 a night with all meals included. We couldn’t ask for a nicer place. There’s no choice at meals—though the owner asked us if there was anything we couldn’t/didn’t want to eat (no)—but the food has been wonderful (rice, chicken or pork stir-frys, interesting vegetables, spring rolls, fried bananas, a grilled whole red snapper); lunches are packed for us in bento boxes, which always makes them taste even better.

This little note in the guests’ booklet is indicative of the vibe: “Peleliu is a tropical island with beautiful tropical insects and marine life. When you are greeted by one of them, you can enjoy their natural beauty.” 

The view from the hammock
So what did we do during our 3 days in this little piece of paradise? Well, we kayaked in the lagoon every afternoon, timing our trips according to the afternoon tide. THE SUNSETS HERE ARE AMAZING! As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, we’ve seen a lot of cool sunsets, but the one we experienced the first night we were here takes home the top prize.

U.S. Sherman tank, left where it was hit
One day we did a land tour with a local guide to see the World War II remnants that are scattered all over the island. Peleliu was the sight of one of the bloodiest battles of the war (and perhaps the most needless, in retrospect). It was fought as a prelude to the United States’ successful attempt to take the Philippines from Japan. There were many thousands of casualties in what the Americans erroneously assumed would be a 3- or 4-day battled; it raged for 2 months in September-November 1944 before the U.S. eliminated the Japanese resistance. There are lots of abandoned tanks, parts from downed aircraft, guns, and other remnants to look at, as well as a small museum that does its best to document the battle (could be improved greatly with some money and curating assistance—especially needed is a scanner to digitize the photos that are quickly deteriorating). We climbed up to Bloody Nose Ridge, site of one of the most deadly parts of the fight, where we got a good view of the scope of the island. Very interesting.

Ruins of the Japanese Headquarters, commemorated by origami cranes
On our last day we did our final snorkel outing in Palau—just the two of us, with a boat driver (Godwin) and our snorkel guide (BJ). We snorkeled at 5 different spots, including the eponymous Big Dropoff, a fantastic place to snorkel and dive, with blue, blue water and shockingly beautiful fish. Our favorite fish of the day was the clown triggerfish, but we also saw a horde of yellow goat fish moving along the coral like they were in a Miyazaki movie, several turtles up close and personal, black-tipped sharks, a big Napoleon wrasse—plus quite an array of coral and of other fish, big and small. Some of the divers we’ve met along the way grouse that the diving in Palau isn’t as good as they were led to believe (wow—they must have seen some really great places elsewhere in the world), but this is the best snorkeling we’ve ever done--or at least it more than holds its own against the Great Barrier Reef.

View from Bloody Nose Ridge

I did experience one little incident while snorkeling earlier in the week—everything was going swimmingly but suddenly I was being covered with what felt like a dozen invisible stinging strings. I couldn’t see them, and I couldn’t get away from them! I quickly returned to the boat and put ice on the stinging parts of my body—my back, arms, and ankles—and fortunately soon felt better. Our guide said that sometimes during the rising tide coral shoots off tiny pneumatocysts—stinging cells—that can get to you if you get close to the coral. I wasn’t particularly close, but I guess they got me! Made me kind of nervous the next couple of times I got in the water, but fortunately that was the only time anything like that happened.

Spend about 15 minutes in Palau and you're tan
Yesterday morning we made our way back to Koror by slow boat and checked into a fancy nearby hotel for the day/evening. We flew from there to Guam at the ridiculous hour of 2:30 a.m., and then on to Chuuk (aka Truk), finally reaching Pohnpei at 2:30 p.m., where we'll stay for the next 5 days. Christmas in the islands! The only bad part of it is that Tyler, Kelly, Owen, and Roque aren't here to enjoy it with us and reprise our great days at Casa Ensueno in Nicaragua. We miss you!


  1. That is an amazing sunset ... reminds me in some ways of the spectacular one we enjoyed overlooking the Zambezi in Zambia. You found a lovely place to relax a few days.

  2. Oh what beautiful sunsets, and what a coincidence about the baby news! If you had to be anywhere to hear such great news this sounds the best. Scarlett has some terrific grandparents. xx