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April 13, 2013

We started our day with another amazing breakfast buffet. The Asian food was a more Korean flare….noodles in sauce and dim sai. Of course, I also had to try the Sausab Fruit. It was the consistency of a banana and a pine-apple with a sour taste.

Our guide, Jayden,with Bax the boat captain and Hamilton took us on a cruise through Tarzan Bay. We saw so many interesting sites. Our first stop was a WWII canon. Who knew the Rock Islands of Palau were a strategic battling ground in the war? I didn’t…but then again I’m not much of a history buff. The Japanese, after they gained control of them from Germany as a result of WWI in 1914, were given a League of Nations Class C mandate. As such, Koror became a mini Tokyo to the Japanese as they pushed economic development and built schools and hospitals. Japanese immigrated to the islands, outnumbering the locals two to one in the 1920’s. In the 1930’s, Japan began fortifying the islands with bunkers, intricate cave systems, and airstrips, viewing them as unsinkable aircraft carriers.

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During the Pacific War and WWII, Palau (in particular the island of Peleliu) became a battle ground between the USA and Japan. As part General MacArthur’s strategy to take over the Philippines, invade Okinawa, and ultimately the mainland of Japan, it was determined the USA needed to control Peleliu and its airstrip. It was thought it would only take four days to takeover Peleliu; however, due to a change in defense tactics by the Japanese the battle took two months in the fall of 1944 for the USA to win. It was the deadliest battle in the Pacific…the USA suffered 9,800 casualties while the Japanese lost 13,000. The battle was also highly controversial after the island wasn’t ultimately needed to support later attacks on Japan.

Not far from the canon, was a banded sea snake rookery. Technically, it is not a sea snake, and is sometimes called a krait, because it leaves the water to nest. We only found one small male resting on the rocks, all the rest were out fishing as we were approaching a new moon. Normally, the nesting area is so populated with snakes, that we couldn’t have disembarked the boat like we did. I would have been bummed not to see one, so I’m glad we did, but as Jayden pointed out we will get a chance to see them in the water! The snakes are extremely poisonous (deadly), and there is no anti-venom, so hopefully I won’t swim into one, though they seem shy.

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From the rookery we glided across the aqua waters past some WWII bunkers to our first snorkeling spot at Fish Bowl Reef. Here we saw countless butterfly fish, moorish idol, clown fish, wrasse and a swimming sea snake! The krait was on the surface, and then it dove down to the sandy bottom…so cool.

After our snorkel, we weaved throughout the shallow bays of the Rock Islands looking for salt water crocs, admiring the White Tail Tropic Bird, Collared Kingfisher, and sea turtles before swinging by Ulong Arch and finally landing on Activity Beach on Ulong Island for lunch. We enjoyed a traditional Palaun lunch basket loaded with food…crab, chicken, spinach patties, sliced taro, sliced sweet potato, almond nuts, coconut candies and more while we learned about the first settlers of Palau.

It is thought Palau was settled by the Austronesian (western Malayo-Polynesian) speaking groups from the Philippines. The winds and currents near the equator in the Pacific pushed their boats to the Rock Islands of Palau by chance. They then migrated to larger of island of Babeldaob. After our brief history lesson, we took a short walk to the lower part of a terraced ancient village and looked at old pottery and shell remnants used for water and spears respectively.

We were surprised by a few unexpected rats….gross…but we also saw the endemic Megapode, a chicken-like bird. The megapode builds its nest, a large mound of sand and compost on the ground and buries its eggs in the mound. It regulates the heat of the mound by removing or adding debris in order to incubate its eggs, as it does not use its own body heat like other birds. They are shy creatures, and scatter as soon as anyone comes nearby (thus no picture).

Before leaving the island, another short walk along the beach took us past the wing of a Japanese Jake plane to a monument built for Wilson, an English sailor who shipwrecked on Ulong in 1783. He was the first to make friendly contact with the natives, and eventually took the King of Palau’s son, Prince Lee Boo, to England. He is credited with naming the archipelago, the Pelew Islands.

After lunch we trolled past some rock pictographs and the famous Natural Arch of Palau. We also visited a small Rock Island where a piece of the limestone had recently calved. Yes, it happens to rock too, not just ice. Limestone is porous and tree roots grow through the rock in search for water. Eventually the rock breaks off into the water.

Our final stop before returning back to the resort for the day was Soft Coral Arch. We swam with the current back and forth beneath the arch to admire all the colorful soft corals.

We ended the day with a nice dinner, including native dancing entertainment and cheese ice cream, at the resort with our group. We are looking forward to our camping and kayaking expedition tomorrow! ETB

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