Fly Me to Paradise
There is no doubt about it, it’s a long journey to Palau, to paradise…but, isn’t that the point? The true departure to Palau, located in the middle of the South Pacific and just above the equator, is like a pause in time. There is no other place like it…
…and the only way to get there from North America is via Continental Airlines. Our recent journey to Palau incorporated layovers in Los Angeles, Honolulu and Guam, before arriving at our destination. The flights were seamless and the on-board hospitality unsurpassed. We were actually greeted by a flight crew that took personal attention to each passenger’s needs as well as real meals that satisfied both our palate and tummy.
Although most of us were pressed for time (reserving all of it for Palau), some of our colleagues made alternate stops, maximizing their time in Micronesia. One could also choose to disembark for a few days anywhere along the way, including any of the layover options.
Diary of a Press FAM
As a PR person representing the best destination in the world (bias? nah!), the perks in my job as the North America representative for the Palau Visitors Authority are not only the opportunity to work with the gracious people of this land, but to also make my pilgrimage to the North Pacific once a year with a group of travel journalists. Tough sell? Not at all…as a matter of fact, when we sent out the announcement about our new visit-palau blog, over 250 journalists responded within 24 hours expressing great enthusiasm for joining me in 2009. It’s no wonder, if you check out the posts from two of our media guests, you’ll see that this was an experience to forever remember.
So, with that, I’d like to take you on our little journey so that you might be inspired to plan your own trek and experience the wonders of Palau if not in person than at least virtually…
Travel, travel, travel…it all started at LAX, trying to find one another…most of us strangers who would come to know each other intimately in only one short week. The flights through Honolulu and Guam were seamless aboard our Continental Airlines carriers
We arrive at the first hotel of our stay, the Palau Royal Resort, tired and a bit hungry…but eager to get to bed so we can all awake refreshed for our first day on land.
Day 3 :
We’re all on time for our morning excursion and city tour, some of us having met up for the sumptuous breakfast buffet in the hotel’s Wave Restaurant ahead of time.
Our first stop is the Belau National Museum, which recently opened so that visitors and locals alike can trace the multi-culturally inspired history of Palau. (Side note: You’ll want to ask for the “guide in training” as she is a crackerjack five year old sales person who is motivated to get visitors into the gift shop!)
Next up, is the ever-talented Tebang Woodcarvers, who truly inspire and capture the local culture and artistic heritage. It is here that you find the best quality of the craft, but not necessarily the most variety…visit jail with us later in the day for more on that.
The highly anticipated Etpison Museum was our subsequent stop, which is a private collection culled from the collections of Mandy T. Etpison and her husband, Shallum Etpison, as well as friends and family. This is where one comes to glean the pristine artifacts of Palau. In addition to the amazing displays, the gift shop is my personal favorite shopping destination in Palau.
A break for lunch led us to the Palm Bay Restaurant before our unanimously favorite activity of the day…the Dolphins Pacific tour. We suited up and headed out to the small bay that houses seven friendly dolphins and their trainer Billy. It was here that we learned valuable lessons in preserving the species and rewarding our newfound friends with fish for kisses.
Although destined for the Desomel Restaurant at Palasia Hotel, we had a little bypass at the local jail. Why?! We were led to believe that the prisoners were some of the most prolific story board crafters on the island, what with all that free time on their hands. Indeed, there was a huge inventory of story boards, and landing in jail was quite the experience (albeit very safe as the laws are very strict against deadly weapons). Anyway, as we examined the story boards, we discovered that the recurring favorite story amongst the prisoners must be that of what we later nicknamed “Long Dong”…the verile man of Peleliu whose claim to fame is that he could “spread his wealth” as far south as Koror. This is where your imagination can take over.
Waking up to “Waves” again for breakfast was a welcome start to the day, where we early birds had already figured out each other’s peculiarities and rituals. Before our journey out of Koror, we headed to the Palau International Coral Reef Center, which is linked to the Common Agenda for the Cooperation in Global Perspective between Japan and the United States. In 1995, the Common Agenda created the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) that developed regional strategies to support the establishment of a coral reef conservation and research center in the Asia-Pacific region. Palau was selected among several other candidate countries to be the location of the center due to its rich marine biodiversity and accessible reefs. Armed and educated, we’d have much greater awareness for our snorkeling day.
Next, we crossed the bridge to Babeldaob for a tour of Ngchesar Jungle River Boat Cruise, time out for our introduction to “Betel Nut”(see sidebar), viewing of the traditional Malekeok Bai, drive by of the Melekeok Capital buildings, trek down to the Ngarchelong Stone Monoliths (where some of our group felt genuinely moved by the spiritual undertones and finally the unexpected viewing of the Stone Coffin for the “mud-slinging” (please see championship mud wrestling team reference in Monica’s notes in the sidebar to the right).
With more than a full day behind, several of us missed our treatments at the Mandara Spa at Palau Royal Resort, which was beautifully enticing. However, the spa had their beautiful Bali therapists greeting us in the lobby each morning, when many of us did partake in the free, five-minute demo massages.
With little time to clean up and remove the mud from our beings, we hustled into the hotel, showered and met back for our journey to one of Palau’s best restaurants for dinner at Elilai. With our charming host (and restaurant owner) Takuya Tetsuzo, we enjoyed a bounty of locally caught fish and seafood, along with organic vegetables…all prepared “Asian grill” style by an amazing chef from Bangkok. Mmmmmm…yummy!
Our first day divided…divers go off with Fish n’ Fins or Sams Tours while five of us ladies head off to Peleliu for a day of World War II history lessons with our beguiling guide and historical genius Des.
It’s now that we check into the beachfront Palau Pacific Resort (or “PPR” as the locals call it...) before heading off to an amazing private dinner at Sam’s Bottom Time Bar & Grill, where the culinary treasures ranged from such local favorites as fresh yellowfin tuna Pokè sashimi; local grown steamed tapioca; boiled purple taro; fresh mangrove crab chowder, Palauan style with lots of local herbs and spices; fresh lobster steamed and served with garlic, butter and lemon sauce; and to top it off, of course, Red Rooster Beer, Palau’s only micro-brewed beer.
Waking up in a new venue, we were once again running into each other at breakfast, this time at PPR’s Coconut Terrace, featuring a bountiful buffet as well as panoramic ocean views.
Although every day was an incredible treat, this by far would be my favorite…we started out gearing up for snorkeling at Fish ‘n Fins, before departing to the “Cemetary Reef” a reef filled with so many fish and coral, you couldn’t even begin to count. The funny iridescent “marble-like” creatures caught my eye…one of our colleagues indicating it was a type of algae, but nothing like the algae I’ve ever seen before…this was remarkably beautiful, as everything in Palau seems to be.
Off to our next snorkel site, Big Drop-off we were treated to yet another shark encounter…but this time, we got to witness a giant moray eel be consumed by a hungry shark. The encounter unfolded right below us, nature taking its course…amazing! Although I found this experience intoxicating, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps this is why I am indeed a vegetarian.
After lunch (seems we were always eating), we swam with sharks in the tides next to our picnic grounds. I know, I know…mom always said don’t swim right after eating…but, did she know there were sharks in the water? Anyway, it was fabulously exciting hovering above the school of teeth that circled beneath us. We were mesmerized, no fear. They are beautiful creatures that attract “suckers,” and people alike.
Next stop, Clam City (not one of my favorites) before heading to the very best place on earth…Jellyfish Lake . To say this is my “temple,” is an understatement…with the spiritual setting of a lake that nurtures natures most therapeutic creatures, I found my “God” in these very special spineless jellyfish. As I lay back and feel the hundreds of tentacles pass under me, through me, over me, I am transfixed by their beauty, their simplicity and their slightly erotic touch. We were all there together, yet all somehow in our own little worlds…revived and inspired.
How can anything possibly come next?! We’ve hit the crescendo! I’ve been to Palau once before, but there is no experience in the world that can compare to my encounter with life’s most curious creatures, the jellyfish. Well, I have to get over that experience because in nature’s playground there is yet another truly unique encounter for the day…the Milky Way. Trying to convince our tiring media guests that one more stop would be worth relinquishing more time relaxing at the resort was a tough call…but they had learned to trust that there is always, always another incredible experience just around another Rock Island. As we wended our way through the signature islands that make up the PVA’s signature photo, we find ourselves at the base of several mushroom shaped morsels of land. Immediately, our guides dive off the boat and start collecting the white “beauty cream” for which millionaires around the globe pay hundreds of dollars. Instead, our bodies are being lathered with this smelly substance and the result is a group of American media adorned in body masks. Mode of removal…diving into the ocean and cleansing our pores of the very substance that immediately subdued our sunburns and plumped our skin.
And now, we head home…on our commuter train, once again…the sefaring boat. We remind ourselves that this is our “job.” Ha…this is the pay off for all the tireless hours we spend hovering over the keyboard and enduring those “bad” press trips. Palau could never be host to anything bad.
So they say, all good things must come to an end…not yet!
Although thoroughly exhausted…from a tough day “at the office,” we are headed to yet another feast of local fare, prepared by none other than our Fish ‘n Fins hostess Tova Har-El. Her menu consisted of such delicacies as the Palauan spinach “kangkum” sauté, fish cakes, tuna Carpaccio, and her company was truly gracious.Totally satiated, we all resigned to the comforts of our room…looking forward to our last day on “Heaven on Earth.”
Blinded by the light…let this be a warning to all…as beautiful as these Palauan islands are, being on the water all day needs preparation and precaution. This blissful day was a bit wasted on me as I was ill-prepared for being out on the kayaks with the sun’s bright rays reverberating into my delicate blue eyes. So, you’ve been forewarned…powerful U/V eyewear protection and a hat are both very necessary at this equator destination…I spent most of the day “sunblind” and was unable to enjoy all the virtues of islands and waters so intimate that kayak is the only means of transportation. No matter, I spent our lunch hour resting my eyes while one of our colleagues slept beside me, recovering from a hangover. If you’re going to suffer, there is absolutely no better place to do so!
With only the first half of the day out at sea, we had the rest of the afternoon to relax and pamper…some of us choosing spa treatments at PPR’s Mandara Spa, nestled in little three walled cottages with lagoon views, while others simply enjoyed the expansive white sand beach at PPR. For those who hadn’t quite had enough of the water and sea life observation, the snorkeling right off the PPR beach sported another rush of fish and coral species! I chose to pack and chill…taking in my expansive view of the ocean with what seemed like a photo-shopped island rounding out the vista.
And, so, as they say…all good things must come to an end. But, in Palau, not until one is properly and most graciously tended to…and there is nowhere else I’d enjoy being more than the PPR, with our gracious hosts Sho and Lucy hosting us to our final meal. It happened to be Italian night at the buffet…and since most of us were aching for food reminiscent of home, we dove in. Although Palau is not known for any worldly cuisine, there is the fruit bat soup that is indigenous to this destination. As our “appetizer” for the evening, Sho’s culinary team, head by Executive Chef, presented the first course…fangs, fur, ears and all. Most of our “gang” braved the smelly soup concoction…and of course responded with, “It kind of tastes like chicken.” As a vegetarian, you could never pay me any kind of money to even sample this local delicacy…but the journalists sincerely seemed to take to it. That’s taste for ya!
In addition to an incredible banquet of food, PPR treated us to a show of local entertainment. I find that typically, in almost any culture, we are generally greeted by the persuasion of female performers. However, with our group of mostly women, we were very pleased to see that the entertainment was of the male persuasion and what an adorable send off…
Until next time, my friends… Mesulang for sharing the journey…may you find yourself on an equally wonderful journey some time soon.