Palau? More like Pa-wow! Palau is the land of (almost) stingless jellyfish, electric blue green water, numerous islands, blazing tropical sun, sunken military ships/planes, and an unusual mix of cultures. It feels like a more rustic Hawaii, and Palauans seem to appreciate American tourists.
Palau is hundreds of miles east of the Philippines in Oceania and is not the easiest or cheapest place to visit. Unfortunately, we were ill prepared to visit this country because we preoccupied with cancelations and rebookings while in Singapore. We hadn’t researched the culture, currency, or customs ahead of time. All we had pre-arranged was our hotel and a tour to Jellyfish Lake, which was our main reason for visiting Palau. Upon landing, we were very tired and didn’t even know that the local currency was USD. Luckily, English was widely spoken. However, since we had to change flights about a week ago, our hotel hadn’t updated our arrival information and nobody was at the airport to pick us up at 3:30am. We ended up paying to ride back with one of the airport employees whose husband was a taxi driver–our hotel was on their way home.
After a day of getting situated, we went on a tour to Jellyfish Lake with IMPAC tours. On the way out to Jellyfish Lake, we stopped to the “Milky Way” to covered ourselves in white mud, visited a snorkeling site, and ate lunch on a deserted island.
Next, it was time for the main event. We got back in the boat with our cool life preservers and headed to the island that’s home to Jellyfish Lake. We were allowed to bring only an underwater camera and our snorkel gear. To clean us before entering the island, they poured fresh water over us. Then, we provided our $100 permits and hiked over a hill to get to Jellyfish Lake, which is about the size of a football field. When you get in the water from the dock, you might see a a jellyfish or two, but the large masses of jellyfish follow the sun so you have to swim out to find them. We heard one of the other guides giving advice to their group: “If you see a jellyfish, keep going. If you see ten jellyfish, keep going. When you see a million jellyfish, stop.”
For our entire lives, we have been told to avoid jellyfish. At the beaches in Florida, I have been stung a few times and that’s enough. In this particular lake in Palau, the jellyfish still appear menacing, but their sting has evolved to be so mild that we can’t even feel it. The jellyfish live on algae, hence they follow the sun in the lake.
We swam out and passed groups of tens of jellyfish. They were impressive. That was already great, but when we got to the area with thousands of jellyfish, it was unnerving at first. We were surrounded. The water was dense with fleshy pulsating blobs. We were safe, but we could not move without brushing up against them. When we looked around for a way out, we saw only jellyfish in every direction. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Since you are surrounded, when you focus on one area, the jellyfish may have filled in the space outside your peripheral vision, and when you turn back you may have jellyfish all up in your face. As you move to avoid the ones in your face you will feel a few other squishy domes roll down your arms and legs. At one point, Jyn climbed onto my back to escape all of the jelly blobs. We were satisfied and didn’t need any more time in the lake. It was amazing and creepy. I highly recommend it.
After Jellyfish Lake, our day was not over. We went to another snorkel site. It was impressive. It was a coral mountain that was around five feet deep from the ocean’s surface at the top and 50 feet around the sides. Fishes (yes, fishes is grammatically correct) of all sizes and colors filled the reef. The visibility was pretty good, but not much over 50 feet.
After returning to our hotel and doing a few minutes of research, we learned that Palau is a world renowned site for WWII wrecks. The US fought a battle with Japan on the island of Peleliu. Many tanks, planes, and other artifacts are scattered across the island, both on land and underwater. Even with six days in Palau, we were not able to fit in a trip to see Peleliu. The infrastructure is not set up like a New York subway. Ferries do not even run every other day. Plus, it was a few hours away from Koror, where we stayed. Next time. We did see one relic though…
Palau has a mix of Palauan, Japanese, and American cultures. One of the first unique things that we noticed was that they drive on the right side of the road AND on the right side of the car (but about 10% of the cars had steering wheels on the left). Then, when we went out to eat, we noticed a mix of American, Japanese, and Palauan cuisine on most menus (including bat soup! No, we didn’t try it). We enjoyed eating at the Red Rooster and Katey’s Healing Garden.
Palau wasn’t a particularly convenient place to travel around. First, there was no cell service. You need a SIM card. Then, even when you have a SIM card, many places are not listed on Google maps. You have to call or email them to get information. Public transportation was sparse. When we wanted to go somewhere, we had to have a place call a taxi. In spite of that, we still had a great time. Palau is a unique place in the world.
After our time on that special island was over, we took a 2am flight further out into the middle of nowhere to go to Guam. Going… Going… Guam!