OUR PARADISE: The Porter Clan goes to Palau
Editor’s Note: This travel story, along with 11 others from readers like you in U.S. military communities throughout the Pacific, will appear in the annual Stripes Destination Paradise magazine that hits the streets Feb. 22. Enjoy!
Our paradise greeted us with radiant sunshine, balmy breezes, brilliant blue waters, bright island colors – and many cheerful smiles. We were drawn to this amazing collection of emerald Micronesian islands by the promise of immersing ourselves in what friends had told us was a haven for divers and non-divers alike.
Ready to see what all the hype was about, we arrived at Airai airport in Palau after changing planes in Guam, quickly proceeding through Palauan immigration and tossing our luggage in the pre-arranged resort shuttle. Our 30-minute drive through Koror to the secluded acreage and private white beaches of the Palau Pacific Resort featured views of Nikko Bay, bustling seaside villages and dense jungle covering the hilly terrain.
The reception included refreshing citrus drinks for all five of us as our bags were whisked away and we were escorted to our accommodations. Our twin-bed equipped ocean view room was clean, well appointed and well-maintained. A stunning view awaited us on the patio with drying racks at the ready. We had made reservations with “Sam’s Tours,” a local tour company in advance so all that remained between us and our first equatorial sunset was to jump into beachwear and flip flops. And what a sunset it was, viewed from our dinner table at the Coconut Terrace (offers buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner).
We found that grabbing breakfast and dinner at the Coconut Terrace was a good value, with lunch being picked up while out and about. For those who want a Micronesian BBQ or a more refined dining experience will find other in-resort options as well as options out in Koror. As night fell, dinner happily concluded and after island dancers provided the evening’s entertainment, our family was contented and ready to drift off to sleep to soft island sounds.
I awoke early, took care of a few loose ends from work via the strong Wi-Fi available, and prepared for our first day with Sam’s Tours. Some may know of Sam’s as a premier Palauan dive shop, but they are well-experienced in supporting the needs of the non-scuba certified as well. They offer a wide-range of packages, from historical land tours to snorkeling trips and every conceivable combination of watersports.
Reservations were easily made through the website or the concierge desk, and as the US dollar is the local currency and credit cards are accepted widely, we were off and running. We took full advantage of our tour guide’s expertise, joining several other couples who shared our interests and set out in a covered speedboat to explore the archipelago’s many reefs and coral formations.
This is where I recognized that there is no substitute for local knowledge and years of experience – Miss Malani, our amazing guide, juggled tides and the capabilities of the swimmers aboard, finding a way to string together one spectacular snorkeling experience after another. We are all strong swimmers, but I was concerned that my 5-year-old son Michael would be at a disadvantage. I was surprised to find that after some quick lessons from the staff, he was comfortable snorkeling alongside me, pointing out schools of angelfish, rays and even a shark (at a very safe distance)!
At one point, I wasn’t sure who was leading who as we drifted with the current over a staggering array of aquatic creatures. Fortunately, the friendly folks from Sam’s always had our backs, ready to lend a helping hand at a moment’s notice.
Unique to the Palauan islands, and the Rock Islands in particular, is a freshwater lake that contains stingless jellyfish. After a short, but steep hike through the jungle, you can gently slip into this fascinating pre-historic world to glide among thousands of jellyfish of every size.
For those interested in the military history of these islands, a day trip by boat to Peleliu is available. The World War II history tour, expertly brought to you by the local docents of Peleliu Adventures, includes those places immortalized in E. B. “Sledgehammer” Sledge’s remarkable book “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa” – Orange Beach, The Point, Bloody Nose Ridge. The relics of those sweltering, brutal days in the fall of 1944 where 27,000 US Marines and soldiers struggled against 11,000 Japanese defenders dug into the jagged coral ridges are all around you, some partially reclaimed by the jungle, or standing as silent sentinels over hallowed ground.
What is unusual about these sites is how accessible they are – not roped off or locked away in a museum, but resting were they were left after the battle: Artillery pieces dug into sharp coral caves, a downed Zero deep in the jungle, Marine Amtracs and a Japanese tank knocked out during the fighting for the island’s runway. It is hard to imagine such violence amid the now-placid shallows or on the jade green ridges of these islands. From that humbling experience we returned to our resort deeply appreciative of the opportunity to share a sunset together as a family.
Our last full day in our paradise began with a breakfast of favorites – tropical fruit and eggs made to order, then off to the on-resort pier to meet our guides for a final snorkeling excursion. The weather was perfect, and our family once again took to the reefs, underwater caves and beaches of Palau. We enjoyed a sumptuous Japanese-style bento lunch on a pristine beach, lingering to explore a maze of stalactites and stalagmites in caves that once sheltered natives as battles raged in the channel.
Large land crabs provided both excitement as well as comic relief to the break. After taking the opportunity to treat ourselves to a mud bath in the lagoon nick-named “The Milky Way” for the thick white mud from the seabed found there, Sam’s tour guides brought us out to the Big Drop Off and then “The Cemetery” for more spectacular snorkeling. We will never forget the abundance and variety of sea life we saw right before our eyes.
I and my family are glad that we made the trip out to Palau – finding that this amazing archipelago truly merits its reputation as a haven for all. As we bid our paradise farewell, we resolved to come back soon – with scuba certifications in hand! We cannot thank the warm and kindly professionals at Palau Pacific Resort and Sam’s Tours for making our family vacation just the right balance of relaxation, sun, and fun eco-adventure!