Exploring the Rock Islands: Milky Way and Einstein’s Gardens

The tents were spread out along the sweeping sandy beach that looked out onto calm, turquoise water protected by reef to the left which was home to WWII Japanese Zero airplane. A young 19 year old pilot safely landed it on the reef as opposed to crashing the plane Kamikaze style, as they were taught.

The staff had a nice tin roof shelter supported with Kelly green painted wood for cooking and storing our supplies. A few large picnic tables were scattered about the beach and the bathrooms were built up on large cement bases. The Survivor Island contestants were living right compared to our first camp.

Torrential rains blew in right at departure time so we waited a little while before leaving on our paddle. Once the rain slowed to a drizzle, we loaded our kayaks and paddled in “rougher” seas to a channel called the Milky Way. The bottom of the channel is almost a soft clay like substance that is used in beauty treatments. Jayden dove to the bottom multiple times and filled up a plastic pan with the mud so we could all rub it on our bodies. Not everyone in our group were willing participants, but Bruce now has a wrinkle free shin, Sonja and Karen have smoother faces, and I should have a youthful front-side!

We just beat the tourist boats to the Milky Way. As we paddled out the back side of the channel and across the open water, one boat was on its way in. I’m glad we had the place to ourselves. It was so tranquil. From the Milky Way we continued on to Einstein’s Gardens for a snorkel, but not before we stopped to check out a pitcher plant which eats insects by trapping its prey in a deep cavity filled with liquid. We snorkeled Einstein’s Coral Garden and Newton’s Wall. The tide was high and the water was a bit murky and cold in places where the marine lake water filtered in with the bay through the pores of the limestone. It was not the best for picture taking, though we did see some amazing coral and even a turtle.

After our snorkel, we paddled through the inner lagoons, between some Rock Islands and then rode some breakers into a small beach for lunch where we saw an old megapode nest. It looks like a large pile of leaves. There was also a small lagoon at this resting spot, though we didn’t do much venturing. We sat on our kayaks under the protection of a tree and tried to stay out of the rain which was relentless.

After lunch, we paddled back out across the waves for a brief minute before cutting between the Rock Islands into the protected coves, though we did contend with the wind quite frequently today. We were supposed to snorkel the other side of the reef we were on this morning, Darwin’s Coral Wall, but without the sunlight, the group made an executive decision to keep paddling toward camp; of course, not without detouring through another tunnel into another marine lake. This time we did the kayak limbo into Secret Lake. We paddled around, saw a few jellyfish…bigger than the ones in Disney Lake…dipped our hands in the water and determined it was way too cold to snorkel…and kayak limboed back out.

We had a pretty long paddle against the wind back to camp, and we were all ready to sit in the dining tent just to dry off. Everyone in the group cleaned up except me. I figured the sun shower couldn’t be too warm, since the sun hadn’t been out yet today, and if the sun did come out there was a chance we could go snorkeling again. I knew if I cleaned up like everyone else, I wouldn’t want to go.

Lucky for me, it cleared up, so Bax the boat captain took me and Jayden back to Einstein’s Gardens. This time we snorkeled Darwin’s Coral Wall and later we snorkeled Einstein’s Coral Garden and Newton’s Wall again. It was incredible! I’ve noticed the fish are very shy in certain areas because they are hunted by spear fishermen, rightfully so, as the Palauns live off the ocean. Having said that, other reefs are protected, but it is amazing to see the difference and how fast the fish swim away and hide. With just Jayden and I, it was much easier to see fish and get pictures. We saw all sorts of creatures…sea cucumbers feeding on a sponge, razor coral feeding on each other, sea squirts which are nearly translucent, pincushion starfish, brain coral of all colors. Some of the brain coral was colonizing so it was pushing a piece out. The piece falls off and starts growing a new colony. The juvenile spadefish with a fluorescent orange stripe leading from its mouth to dorsal fin was breathtaking. As an adult these are silver and black. The Clark’s Anemonefish guarded its home with gusto, always turning its head toward me ready to charge the camera if necessary. The lettuce coral was enormous, probably 500 years old. The Pajama Cardinalfish, yellow in the front and red polka a dot in the back with a black vertical stripe down its center were peppered everywhere in the stag horn coral. Measuring a few inches, they seemed to be bigger than the others we had seen too! The Pennant Bannerfish still alluded my camera…it is a challenge to snorkel and shoot. To really keep the blue shade of the water out of the shot, the fish has to be only a few feet from the camera and with only a 3x zoom that is a whipping while contending with current, choppy surface water, and fish darting around. And on sunny days, forget seeing the fish in the viewfinder, just point the camera toward its location and hope. I took underwater photography while diving for granted…it’s so much easier while floating in a BC! I couldn’t count how many pictures I’ve deleted. Thank goodness digital. The highlight of the snorkel may have been the octopus. They don’t usually come out during the daytime. It was crawling along the coral and sucked itself underneath the ledge and changed from purple to white as it tried to camouflage itself like the sandy bottom. Each time we backed away, it would slowly poke its head out. Jayden would dive down for a photo and about half-way there, the octopus would tuck back under the ledge. I was entertained because I wasn’t bothering with diving down thirty feet for picture! It was turning dusk, and Jayden suggested we swim back to the boat via the middle of the lagoon, not the edges because the crocs come out at night…that got my heart beating fast. The saying, “You only have to run faster than one hiker when you see a bear” was not going to work for me. I was definitely the slowest swimmer between Jayden and me, and would be a tasty dinner to the croc!

Obviously, I’m here to report we made it safely back to camp for, of course, another outstanding meal. Each meal includes a seafood, chicken, and a meat along with rice and a vegetable and a dessert. Of course, we try everything. Despite all this exercise, I bet I’m gaining weight. I’ve been eating like a horse! ETB


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Exploring the Rock Islands: Risong Bay Area

It was a warm night of camping, and I think most of us were awake before the sun even rose. Ludy called us to breakfast with a conch shell. It sounded like a fog horn. We feasted on sunny side up eggs, bacon, sausage, bagels, and fruit.

Our first activity of the day was snorkeling Ngel Channel. The tide and wind were high and going in opposite directions, so it ended up being a bit choppy and not our most favorite one, though of course there were many colorful fish and a few more species I had never seen having done most diving In the Caribbean. The large Pacific Blue Starfish that dotted the reef were magnificent.

We took the boat back to the beach and went on an amazing paddling excursion through the choppy exposed waters by our camp until we rounded the corner into a placid, beryl bay. We cut between islands and weaved between mangroves until we reached the sapphire waters of Black Tip Lake which is a nursery for black tip reef sharks in July. We didn’t spot any today, but instead paddled into a cave and later the adventurous squeezed under a limestone tunnel again. This time, the adventurous included only me, as there was a way around the tunnel and the last tunnel had several things dangling about half an inch away from our face which was not appealing. This time there was a little more space!

After our paddle, Karen (one of the guests – a nurse from Florida), Jayden our guide, and I took a snorkel just off the beach from our campsite at Blue Devil Garden. It was a much better swim. We saw two large lionfish, some beautiful giant sea cucumbers, shells, and tons of juveniles.

Upon return to camp, lunch was served and afterward we enjoyed a coconut show. Hamilton climbed a palm tree picked eight coconuts, and husked them on a stake he sharpened with a machete. Ellen and I tried husking one, and it was hard! Hamilton made it look easy. It was not a task to try in the Amazing Race.

The tide goes out until around three in the afternoon. It was time for us to paddle again. We followed the shade of the shoreline in search of sea snakes and other critters as we admired the ferns hanging overhead until we reached Shipwreck Bay. The center of the bay was very brown in color from the tannin from decomposing leaves that gets trapped in the area due to the low current. It was the first bay we’ve seen with brown water. The bay was named for a Japanese Lifter Ship that was sunk during WWII. Another lifter ship, which commonly carries medical supplies, didn’t even make into the bay before it was sunk.

In addition to seeing the ship, we saw upside down jellyfish. This is their actual name. They lie on the floor of the sandy bottom acting like an anemone and await their prey. As we paddled out of the bay, we passed by an oyster rock that was home to a few chiton that create the scallop formations in the limestone. Along with the tides, these prehistoric looking animals help erode the limestone, creating the large undercuts in the islands.

We followed the scalloped rock ledges of the Rock Islands, of which there are 300, into the turquoise waters of Kingfisher Bay and finally ended our paddle in Mandarin Fish Bay to see a “salt-water waterfall”, according to the brochure. It was more like a babbling brook. A marine lake drains into the bay and vice versa depending on which way the tide is flowing.

I expected the “salt-water waterfall” to be the highlight, but the best part about Mandarin Fish Bay was the snorkeling. It was fantastic! The turquoise oasis didn’t have a surface ripple in the water and was home to the endemic Mandarin fish that reminded me of a harlequin clown with its pattern and colors…a dark red body with blue and green swirls. The Mandarin Fish was the size of my pinky and hid in coral. Jayden pointed out the first two to me before I figured out how to spot them. I ended up being the only person in our group to see them. In addition to the Mandarin Fish, we were blessed to see several Pajama Cardinalfish which have now become my favorite. I love that half the fish is polka-dot…I love the black stripe that cuts its body in half…and I love its size and shape! Another pleasant surprise were seeing the yellow gobies on the sandy bottom guarding their hole dug by their blind, companion shrimp that was busy coming in and out of its home. I could go on and on about the fish here, but those were the highlights.

After our snorkel we paddled back to camp, enjoyed dinner, and prepared to move camps for the next two days. Apparently we will be camping where The Survivor Palau tribal council was held. Until tomorrow…ETB


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Exploring the Rock Islands: Nikko Bay

We enjoyed another amazing breakfast buffet at the hotel. It’s amazing how excited we got over seeing what would be offered…vegetable of the day, a soup, beans, hashbrowns, pancakes, a variety of breads, eggs, noodles to order…the list goes on. Today’s breakfast was of Korean influence!

From the hotel we were shuttled by van to our kayaks, where we began our expedition in Nikko Bay. We launched our kayaks into the teal waters and followed the edges of the tree covered islands for as much shade as the emerald beauties offered in the early morning as the sun shined above.

It wasn’t long before a short shower, only a few minutes, sprayed us with welcomed cold drops. Jayden, our guide, suggested we might hide out in the cave where we inspected booger algae, aptly named, but we happily paddled around the small bay, beneath the over hanging trees, and admired the national flower of Palau, the Rur flower from the Rock Islands, before the shower abruptly ended just as quickly as it visited.

We continued following the contours of the Rock Islands in and out of small inlets and bays while we peered into the crystal clear water spotting a carriage and firing pin from a WWII Japanese cannon and seeked out caves, one where the President of Palau hid during the war.

After an hour or two in the kayak, we geared up for our first snorkel. Donned in our mask, fins, and snorkel we scoured Lettuce Coral Wall for all kinds of critters. We were blessed to see beautiful coral, a variety of butterfly fish including the 8 banded, the Pajama Cardinalfish, and of course multiple clams. Ellen, who doesn’t particularly care for snorkeling, wondered what I was diving down to take a picture of so many times. It was the Pajama Cardinalfish. I had never seen one, and it was so cool…yellow head, a black stripe down its middle, and a red polka-dot tail. The way the sun was reflecting in my view finder; however, I never could see what I was taking a picture of once I took a deep breath and dove. Needless, to say the pictures were not spectacular. In the meantime, Ellen noticed something blue and wanted to know what it was. I replied, “it’s a clam…watch…if you move your hand above them they will close up.” That turned out to be her game for the rest of the snorkeling session.

After snorkeling, we kayaked across the bay to our lunch spot at a Japanese Pill Box Island. We used a wooden ladder to get from the water to the land and then climbed a razor-sharp, rocky and slippery trail to a water cistern and bunker. Sonja, who was German and as a small child had to hide in bunkers during WWII, didn’t find the bunker too fascinating. It was, however, shocking to learn how much the Rock Islands of Palau were used in the war. The Japanese fortified the island to protect a nearby ship harbor from the Americans, though the Americans never came through this channel. The men manning the island were also armed with an ammunition bunker, fuel tanks, and beer bottles for Molotov cocktails. The bottles, marked with different lettering, depending on the year it was made, were littered all over the area. Amazingly, from the water, despite knowing the location of the walls and concrete bunker, all I could spot at the top of the island were trees!!

After lunch, we kayaked beneath the shelf ledges to Disney Bay where we performed the kayak limbo through a limestone tunnel into Disney Lake. The edges of the lake were lined in coral while the middle was somewhat murky for Palau standards. This was due to damaged coral that had fallen to the middle of the forty-foot deep lake caused by a typhoon in January. We snorkeled the edges of the marine lagoon while Regal Angel Fish and a variety of other fish flitted between the corals. Ellen opted to sit this snorkel out and her game for the afternoon was to stir the pot for the moon jellyfish, which only deliver a light sting, that floated on the surface near the center of the lake.

Our final stop before returning to camp was Cathedral Cave. What a gorgeous place. Just before the entrance, the water barely covers a reef and then drops to a deep Cobalt blue as the cave opens up with stalactites and bats hanging above. The locals seemed to enjoy this cave too, as they were cooking up their fresh catch on their boat just outside the entrance.

We took a circuitous route back to camp so we could see a B24 wing. At high tide it was submerged underwater, but at low tide it was out for us to see. The tide differential here is quite dramatic. The sites we see, many times are dependent on the tide. We could hardly get into Disney Lake earlier today, but when we left, we had plenty of room to fit in the tunnel…though it still required being able to limbo.


The camp was at Lee Marvin Beach. The kitchen and bathroom structures were permanent, made of wood and palm leaves. The toilet had a cement floor with a wood box and toilet seat mounted on top…primitive, but I’ve camped more primitively in the states for sure! We each had our own tent and the dining tent was large enough to seat ten! Ludy made us a fabulous meal which included fish, beef, chicken, rice, and a bean salad. The crew, Hamilton, Michael, Bax (the boat captain), and Wilter all come around and serve us off platters. For dessert, we had chocolate cake for my birthday and everyone associated with the trip signed a birthday card! It was a great ending to an amazing day exploring portions of the Rock Islands. ETB


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Boating Around Ulong Island, Palau

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.


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.


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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A Relaxing Day at Palau Pacific Resort

We got to enjoy a relaxing day at the Palau Pacific Resort https://www.palauppr.com/en. The resort is lovely, with nicely groomed grounds, a pool, and beautiful beach. It operates, at least partly, on solar. We were ready to eat at 6:30 am when the restaurant opened because we all woke up earlier than that with the time change. The breakfast buffet was outstanding. There was a choice of an American breakfast and a Japanese breakfast. It was so much fun to get garlic fried rice and pot stickers in the morning! I’ve never had an Asian breakfast…probably because I’ve never been to Asia!

Just as we finished up, we waited out a thirty minute rain shower and went to the fish pond for the fish feeding. We got to feed a sea turtle, some stingrays, and a variety of salt water fish along with a few roosters that waited patiently on the foot bridge. From the fish feeding, we took the half-mile nature hike through the jungle, for lack of a better word. The slick, muddy trail climbed 500 feet beneath Ficus trees, tropical Almond trees, coconut trees, and other dense vegetation that blocked any breeze until we reached a gazebo where we could look out on the tranquil waters below. Bullfrogs and lizards shared the trail as we passed by WWII Japanese defense caves.

It was only about 80° and 100% humidity, but we were all melting…even my Texas friends. We found some ice water, browsed in the A/C cooled gift shops and then located a lounge chair under a beach umbrella, and took a dip in the protected cove. Surprisingly the water wasn’t that salty and the temperature was delightful!

At noon we went to lunch. The restaurant is open air and looks out onto the pool and beach. Gary and I tried the Palaun Sampler, which included Mangrove crab, fish, Palau nuts, coconut rice, fruit, taro soup, and taro croquettes. It was a lot of food, but fun to try local cuisine and tasty! The crab was mouth-watering good…cooked in coconut milk.

After lunch, we went for a snorkel. The tide had gone out. The five feet of water we had taken a dip in before was now closer to shin deep. This made it difficult to snorkel over the top of the reef in areas! The snorkeling was a treat for Westerners though. It was only the second time I’ve ever seen giant clams! They were enormous and so colorful…turquoise, salmon, black, green…AMAZING. All the fish were fun to see because they were the same type…trigger, parrot, puffer, jack, butterfly, damsel, spotted drum…but many have different color markings. I also loved seeing the starfish. Ellen, however, who would rather be in water without a fish wondered why I was out there so long! If I didn’t think I was going to be a lobster the first day with 30 SPF, I would have been out there longer. At the same time, I have to give Ellen credit for going at all.

We cleaned up for a BBQ dinner on the beach. Our rooms are nice…a view of the ocean, vaulted ceiling, and cut hibiscus on the bed. I’ve never seen such an intricate toilet/bidet combination. The control on the wall allows for front and rear pulsating or oscillating cleaning with different pressure! And I don’t think I’ve ever been to a hotel that provided two toothbrushes, a shaving kit, and a hairbrush along with the standard sewing kit, shoe mitt, soaps and the like.

At our BBQ dinner, we cooked our own “surf” on coals in the center of our table. We had mussels, fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, and vegetables. We also had clam and coconut sashimi. The clam sashimi was so tender…what a surprise! After our meal, we enjoyed a traditional Palaun war dance. It was so fun, and the people are so nice here. The warriors actually asked us if we wanted to take a picture with them! Dinner was early, so we rounded out the night with cards before heading to bed. Tomorrow we go out on a boat to tour some WWII sites, to hike, and to snorkel…our adventure begins! ETB


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