There are destinations on this planet that one must put on their “to do” list.
It doesn’t matter if the journey is long, what matters, is once you arrive, you’re excited, and happy you made the decision to go there.
The Republic of Palau is one such destination.
Located 500 miles east of the Philippines, 800 miles southwest of Guam and six degrees north of the equator, this island archipelago, has crystal clear waters, unique island formations and biodiversity only found in these islands.
A Mecca for scuba divers, the islands also offers a relaxing tropical paradise for those vacationers that prefer more traditional forms of relaxation. Palau Pacific Resort in Koror the perfect tranquil place to be land based.
An American territory until 1994, Palau is now an independent country; they still use the American dollar as their main currency. With a population of only 21,000 she is the world’s youngest country having joined the United Nations on December 15, 1994.
Being a scuba instructor and underwater photographer, Palau was on my list of destinations. The Aggressor live a-boards offer the opportunity to do non-stop diving. The final day is snorkeling in Jelly Fish Lake, an experience one never forgets.
Palau was occupied by the Japanese in World War Two. She was the target of American forces as we were closing in on the Philippines and ultimately the Japanese mainland.
For scuba divers, there are plenty of downed Japanese wrecks. Our first day was a check out dive on the Helmet Wreck, a cargo vessel, one of over 50 warships sunk by American forces in 1944.
I dove to the through a huge cargo hold down to 130 feet, and there on the bottom floor were cases of bottled Sake. On the upper decks, were corroded ammunition, artillery shells, helmets, gun turrets, depth charges and the ship’s superstructure.
The positive aspect of sunken warships is that they provide a habitat for marine life to attach them selves to the vessel and create an artificial reef. Clams, soft and hard corals, sponges abound, plus schools of fish seeking the protection of interior compartments are within the ship.
On our second day of diving, our live aboard went to the southernmost main island of Peleliu. Diving there is excellent with schools of manta rays, magnificent walls and 200 foot visibility. More significant however, is the historical importance of Peleliu.
On September 15, 1944 Marines landed on this remote Pacific island to take the Japanese airfield. What our forces encountered would be repeated on Iwo Jima, Okinawa and in the Philippines.
An island of only five square miles, it took over a month of fighting to conquer. Two thousand marines lost their lives in the first days plus 13,000 Japanese soldiers died.
What made the island difficult was the maze of tunnels and fortifications. Months after the fighting stopped, a small group of Japanese survivors would do night time “raids” stealing supplies from American forces. It wasn’t until months after the war was over they finally “surrendered”.
We sacrificed an afternoon dive to tour the island, the battle sites, the museum and tunnels. Our guide was very emotional, and grateful that Americans liberated his people from the torment of Japanese occupation.
We toured Orange Beach where Marines made their amphibious landings. Rusted out remnants of armored personnel carriers, tanks and aircraft litter the jungle.
After the tour, we dove on the reef of Orange Beach. What I noticed was the abundance of hard corals, and very few soft corals. I couldn’t help thinking of the carnage in these waters six and a half decades earlier. The reef still, has not fully recovered. There was somberness, a feeling that the spirits of the fallen were still in these waters.
Our final day, we visited Jelly Fish Lake, one of several land locked saltwater lakes that has millions of harmless jellyfish. The waters were warm, 86 degrees and swimming in schools of these critters is memorable experience. That lake was one of the highlights of the trip.
So, for the avid and experienced scuba diver, Palau is well worth the investment and long voyage.