Kayaking in the Rock Islands

On Monday morning we signed up for a kayak tour of the rock islands.  As mentioned in my earlier post, these islands are a Palauan treasure with flora and fauna unique to only these islands.  The kayak tour took us on a close up and personal tour of the small marine lakes and bays of the islands.  Unlike our previous boat tour where we visited shoals of large colorful fish, this tour was to R Bay, a breeding ground for different specifies of fish including the black-tipped grey reef shark.  Sure enough, we saw baby sharks swimming around the bay, alone, or in small groups.  Our guide explained that the mother returns to the marine lake where she was born to give birth to her young, and then leaves them there to fend for themselves.  This was a relief as we were a bit worried about bumping into mummy shark who I’m sure is a lot less cute…  We were also looking for baby manta rays, but weren’t lucky enough to spot any.

We paddled around the edges of the small limestone islands, protected from the sun by the overhanging roofs of the eroded island sides.  Erosion is caused not by the waves (there aren’t any), but by mollusks that bury themselves into the limestone rock and slowly wear holes into the rock surface.  Then, aided by the wind and water, the rock slowly crumbles and falls away forming the unique mushroom shape of the islands and many natural arches.  The overhangs also provided great shelter from the rain.  It rained, was cloudy, sunny and rained again as the overhead clouds moved rapidly around.  Palau is said to be the starting point for many of the typhoons that affect SE Asia.  Typhoons don’t affect Palau, but the open sea around acts as a breed ground where they build strength and head westward to the Philippines, China and Japan.

The kayak tour was about seven hours of paddling around, stopping and starting to snorkel and rest.  I thought I was going to be exhausted but the pace was slow and steady and it turns out I’m a competent kayaker.  Who knew?!

Another highlight of the tour was the bird life.  As we slowly paddled around, birds would swirl around our heads, flying unexpectedly from the trees.   Our guide knew their names before we saw them by their cry.  The most common was a red heron that would sit still on a branch or floating log and, when startled, it would spread its unexpectedly large wings and soar off in front of us.  We saw kingfishers, different kinds of swallows and gulls, and plenty of others whose names I can’t remember.  Our guide also knew the names and medicinal qualities of all the trees offering cures for everything from arthritis to toothache.  The Palauans name their trees according to how they use them, and if there is no practical use for the tree, it doesn’t have a name.

A beautiful day, and a wonderful way to really experience the peace and beauty of the islands.

Introducing Koror

We are off on Friday for a four day jaunt to Koror, Palau and getting pretty excited about the trip.  Before I dropped the blogging ball, I took some photos of our last trip, which never made it into a post.  So, I thought I’d do a quick refresher on the trip highlights so there would be some context for the update on our next trip.

Palau is an island republic about 2.5 hrs flight from Manila.  There are only two flights a week which leave Manila at 11pm and drop you in the middle of the Pacific ocean at the unsociable time of 1.30am.  Not quite literally, of course, but after flying 2.5 hrs over only water, it kind of feels that way a bit….   Last time we went it was in the middle of a huge thunder and lightening storm – scary stuff.  The flashes of lightening lit up the sky and dark cabin of the plane every couple of minutes.  The flight didn’t actually arrive until closer to 2.30am.  Perhaps the pilot was enjoying the storm…I don’t know…but an hour behind schedule we touched down in Koror in torrential rain.  No photos of that, of course, as you couldn’t see a damn thing.  However, the next morning, the view from the window was slowly and magically revealed through the morning mist:

Yes, it was a jungle out there!  In fact it rained a lot – off and on – over the four days and you could see why everything was so green and overgrown.

We did two classic Koror highlights during our stay:  We toured the Rock Islands, which are a maze of beautiful small limestone islands just off the coast.  Protected by environmental law, the Palauans are doing their best to preserve their beauty and wild life and doing a pretty good job.  Here’s a great video that Latham shot of our ride on a speed boat through the islands.  The snorkeling was amazing!

Also that day, we visited Jellyfish Lake.  Crammed full of jellyfish – big and small – the lake is safe to swim in because the jellyfish have no sting.  Without any natural predators, over the course of thousands of years, the jellyfish have evolved that way, and it is amazing to swim among them.  Just be careful not to kick them.  I touched the first one gently, not really believing that it wouldn’t cause pain and then got braver and scooped them up in my hands.  Amazing stuff!

Not sure of our itinerary this coming weekend, but it sure to involve lots of fish!  More pics next week!

Confessions of a Failing Blogger

Well…here it is…the icebreaking re-launching post that I have been threatening to put up again. Can it really be late February since I last posted? I hang my head in shame. I really do want to keep this thing up and running, and the blog is almost defunct…just sitting here neglected…. I did have a number of reasonable excuses in March. Our household effects arrived and I was up to my eyeballs and above in boxes – literally – and once I dug out from that, there were some school issues and other work things going on. But really…. mid August?! There’s no excuse.

Since then, we have been on a trip to the South Pacific country of Palau, in May I was in Guam getting my American citizenship, and then we spent a wonderful six weeks in Greece. There might be content for a blog post or two in there…what d’ya think? But the grip of blog apathy had already taken hold and I somehow couldn’t coordinate the apparently complicated coordination of camera, photos, and computer and come up with content in a timely matter. Not that the timing really matters of course.. Just because I did a trip a few months back, doesn’t mean that the story is less interesting, right? And not all posts have to have photos. They make posts more interesting, but as an excuse for not posting they just result in a story unshared.

So, confession over and now comes the action part. Having spent many an hour lecturing my high schooler on the value of commitment and consistency in his responsibilities, its time to swallow my own pill. So here it is:

1. I promise to post at least once a week. I’ve noticed all the best bloggers do it at least that frequently.
2. No picture will not equal no post.
And 3. I’ll work at fixing the technical glitches I’m having that are making things worse with the camera

The start of the blogging diversions!

And to the precious few who read this…PLEASE…. feedback or support comments much appreciated. I think I need a shove!