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Palau: The Rainbows End

 

by Matt Bell

 

Juggling chainsaws. Running with the bulls. Skydiving. President Cheney. Some things just sound scary, and when we found out we would be snorkeling with some Jellyfish, tremors of terror are exactly what slipped up our spine.

 

But as we were to soon discover, when you’re in the tiny island nation of Palau, such ostensible (and understandable) fears can easily give way to innocuous wonderment. Set about 500 miles east of the Philippines in the tropics of Micronesia, Palau, with its expansive coral reefs and pristine waters is among the top, off the beaten path, diving locales in the world. It was one of Jacques Cousteau’s favorite places and is often referred to as the place where “The Rainbow Ends."

 

From the sound of it, this rainbow ends somewhere south of the mainland of Babeldoab, on a small satellite island in a lake full of non-stinging jellyfish. Cut off from the ocean and thus from any natural predators millennia ago, we are told that the Jellyfish here lost their ability to sting and are among only a handful of similar evolutionary anomalies. Swimming in their midst is supposed to be life altering. Comforting to the ears, but still nerve rattling to the brain.

 

Our boat set off from the lush dock of Fish ‘n’ Fins, a tour operating group, run by an American-Israeli ex-pat couple, known as much for their island expertise as they are for their hospitality and home cooking. Stocked with snorkeling gear, lunches of fresh fish and some Betel Nut (a local custom comprised of chewing Betel Nuts with lime powder in a fruit leaf that gives a caffeine-like buzz), we set out south, navigating through the labyrinthine channels that set small mushroom-like islands apart, heading deeper and deeper into the untamed wild land of the South Pacific.

 

The shirtless Palauan boy in charge of our tour described the islands we passed with ease. The local language is English and just about everyone on the island seems to have a strong sense of the nation’s history. Palauans wore grass skirts up until the 1980’s and despite having been American territory until 1994, no movie theater or Starbucks exists in the entire country. Our guide pointed out pillboxes and underwater airplane wrecks left from when Japan and the US battled for the island in WWII. I looked for Kate and Jack from Lost.

 

As the boat took us towards our “final destination” (I was convinced that I would die in a far off lake filled with man eating jellyfish), I longed for the comfort of our resort hotel, The Palau Pacific.

 

 

Just a day earlier, I downed rum drinks out of coconuts and snorkeled with the tropical fish just off the beach. That evening, I reveled in a traditional Thai massage set in a 3-walled hut facing a gushing river as real live birds sang. Why would I test myself with a lake full of something I normally try to avoid when such luxury abounded elsewhere?

 

A good hour away from the main island, almost as far as one can be from any of the comforts of home, the boat entered a wooden, but sturdy, man-made dock. From the dock, an easily traversed trail lead our group up a few hills, past some flowering fauna and after about a half hour, directly to the lake. By this point, the fear was palpable, with the more adventurous set pining to submerge themselves while the rest of us procrastinated. Looking at the time,—12 noon Tuesday, I reminded myself that in LA it was 7AM, Monday morning. Maybe I would rather be diving into a lake full of jellyfish.

 

At first, the view from our snorkeling goggles didn’t reveal much. The lake was a touch murky, but void of anything but small fish. About 75 yards in I began to notice what appeared to be tiny orange luminescent spheres enticing me to come closer. Pretty soon, those pulsating lights were the size of footballs and baseballs completely surrounded me in a nebulous psychedelic cloud that seemingly stretched as far as the eye could see.

Pink Floyd would have been jealous.

I peaked above the surface, whose quiescence reveals nothing of the absolute wonderment taking place centimeters below. Now, I'm not the sort of person who enjoys touching any sort of wildlife but these jellyfish were halcyon and childlike in their innocence, to the point where I found myself petting one and turning somersaults among the herd.

 

The next morning, as I fell from my bed into the hammock on the beach outside, it took a minute or so to realize that my experience with the Jellyfish wasn’t a dream. Looking down the beach as the aroma of the morning’s gourmet breakfast swam past, I got a yearning for more. With a full menu of Island adventure at my fingertips, I didn’t leave hungry.

 

For more information on Palau, check out: www.destmic.com/palau.html.

 

Tours:
Fishnfins.com
Palaunet.com
Necomarine.com

 

Hotels:
Panpacific.com
Cliffsidehotelpalau.com
Palau-royal-resort.com

 

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