For writer Jeff Greenwald, swimming with thousands of stingless jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake was the highlight of his trip to Palau. “It’s like a hallucination,” he says. “They’re all around you, going down your snorkel and up your bathing suit.”
Based in Oakland, California, Greenwald has contributed to Outside, Discover, Wired, National Geographic Adventure, and Sierra magazines during his 25-year career. He has won Lowell Thomas awards for his books Shopping for Buddhas and The Size of the World. His latest title, Scratching the Surface, is a collection of travel essays.
Photographer Art Brewer was equally impressed by swimming in Jellyfish Lake. “It’s like being in the bathtub with a bunch of aliens,” he says, adding that the diving in Palau was magnificent, even though he did notice a difference in the reef from his visit six years ago, before the coral-bleaching effects of El Ni-o. He recommends taking time to visit the island of Peleliu: “The World War II tanks and airplanes littered around make it an outdoor war museum; it’s a great history lesson.”
During his visit, a crew followed Brewer around, shooting footage for a television series about travel photographers. Brewer has traveled the world for 30 years as a senior photographer for Surfer Magazine, and has received acclaim for his latest book, Masters of Surf Photography: Volume Two, published by The Surfer’s Journal. His work is showing in Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing at Honolulu’s Comtemporary Museum from January 31 to March 30, 2003.
Dive In Palau is regularly called the best dive desti- nation in the world, and Jacques Cousteau named the 1,000-foot-deep Ngemelis Wall as the world’s top wall dive. Divers can spot nearly 1,400 species of fish and 400 species of corals and anemones at more than 50 sites in these waters, which can have 200-foot visibility.
Go to Blue Corner to see gray reef sharks hanging in the tidal currents, and Ulong Channel for intricate coral formations. Ngedbus Wall is home to large cuttlefish, and Short Drop-Off wall features the beautiful indigenous chambered nautilus. Explore Chandelier Cave, where stalactites decorate the interior chambers; and even investigate the 50-plus World War II shipwrecks and planes scattered in the lagoon. For Jellyfish Lake, Greenwald recommends Sam’s Dive Tours; tel. 011-680-488-1062, E-mail [email protected], Web site www.samstours.com
Paddle Power Kayaking the Rock Islands, you can explore mangroves, look for dugongs, hike to World War II bunkers, and snorkel over pristine reefs; contact Planet Blue Sea Kayak Tours (part of Sam’s Dive Tours); E-mail [email protected] Or paddle a 24-foot replica of a traditional outrigger war canoe, with Fish ‘n Fins; tel. 011-680-488-2637, E-mail fishn [email protected], Web site www.fishnfins.com
Beach Time The Rock Islands’ empty beaches have exotic appeal. “In some places the sand is so light you sink up to your thighs,” Brewer says. He suggests visiting Long Beach in the Omekang group; at low tide it’s a half-mile-long sandbar. Greenwald liked walking the isolated beaches on Angaur. There is only one resort beach on Koror.
Don’t Miss See the mysterious stone monoliths of Badrulchau on Babeldaob, the blowholes on Angaur, and the Belau National Museum, which displays carved storyboards, Palauan money necklaces, and grass skirts. To identify what you’ve seen underwater, visit the Palau International Coral Reef Center in Koror, which has live exhibits of local ecosystems.
Room Key Greenwald recommends The Carolines Resort on Koror, where wooden cottages overlook the bay and have gorgeous sunset views (about $170 per night; tel. 011-680-488-3754, E-mail [email protected]). Brewer enjoyed the huts on stilts at Carp Island Resort, a remote dive resort ($85 to $140 per night; tel. 011-680-488-2978, E-mail [email protected]). On Angaur, the basic bungalows at Leon’s Island Villas are one choice ($20 to $30 per night; reserve through Belau Air, tel. 011-680-488-8090).
What’s to Eat Brewer raved about the coconut crab, a Palauan specialty consisting of crabmeat steamed in its shell along with coconut meat and coconut cream. And at Kramer’s Cafe, he liked the ginger fish wrapped in banana leaves, and the unlikely strudel for dessert. Greenwald’s favorite restaurant was Dragon Tei, where patrons sit at low tables to eat island-influenced Japanese food. He also enjoyed sitting on the veranda at the Rip Tide Bar & Grill, watching the lights of night scuba divers in the water.
On the Road If your focus is diving you won’t need a car because taxis are reasonably priced. Rent a four-wheel-drive if you want to explore Babeldaob’s roads (about $75 per day); a bike is all you’ll need on Angaur. Peleliu is a 20-minute flight from Koror, and a 10-minute flight from Angaur (Belau Air, tel. 011-680-488-8090). There are also ferries.
Read It and Leap For travel advice, see Lonely Planet’s Micronesia, by Kate Galbraith et al; for dive details, try Lonely Planet’s Diving & Snorkeling Palau, by Tim Rock and Francis Toribiong. World War II history is covered in The Devil’s Anvil: The Assault on Peleliu, by James H. Hallas.
Special Screening Two videos — “Palau: Paradise of the Pacific,” from the PBS series Living Edens, and Oceans: Palau Islands — present these islands. The jellyfish lake has been captured in an IMAX movie titled The Living Sea.
Cash FlowATMs and banks are easy to find on Koror; you’ll need to carry cash on the other islands.