Our trip to Palau was mainly about diving, but we did spend two days out of the water and exploring the islands.
Palau is made of several tiny islands. We stayed on Koror, but arranged a day visit to Peleliu, one of the southern most islands. Jared enjoys military history, and we couldn’t pass up a chance to tour this island battlefield. Peleliu was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific in World War II. The Japanese had holed up in numerous caves around the island, and an beach invasion and land battle lasted from September to November 1944. The Japanese lost over 10,000 and the US suffered 1,500 casualties. Though it was an intense fight, it sadly gained little for the US. From what I understood, the battle was fought more for egos than strategic worth.
The tour lasted a full day, and I was surprised at how much we saw. We toured a museum, a bombed out Japanese headquarters, a tank, and downed a Japanese Zero plane, the invasion beach, a Japanese cave (including human remains), and the site of the former cemetery. I was surprised at how much from the battle is still left on the island. The beach was covered with bits of scrap metal and the final pieces of tanks that have been rotting in 70 years of salt water. We took a small hike through the woods and had to stay on the path that had been cleared of landmines; our guide talked about how he and his friends would find abandoned grenades when they were children playing in the woods. We walked to the top of a hill and could see the entire circumference of the island, proving just how small it is. Now everything is lush and green, and it was difficult to imagine it on fire and covered with soldiers.
Our final day in Palau we rented a car and drove up to the northern island, Babeldoab. There was a road that hugged the coastline of the entire island, and our plan was to drive around the entire island. The only map we could find seemed to have minimal information. It only showed a few roads and wasn’t very detailed. We soon realized that it included every road on the island- there just aren’t very many! Our car didn’t have four wheel drive, so we couldn’t go down each road we wanted to, but there was still a lot to see. We poked around a bombed out building, hiked to a waterfall, and visited ancient monoliths. The monoliths, date to around 100 AD and have faces carved into them. No one knows what they were meant to represent, and more mysteriously, how they got there. The stone does not match any of the areas on the island. The drive was a relaxing way to end the trip. There weren’t many restaurants, but the road was smooth and the view was always beautiful.
Our final stop was back in Koror. I had read that there were very few places to find authentic Palau souvenirs; however, the local prison raises extra money by having prisoners use local wood to carve various wall art and sculptures. I like to buy souvenirs and support the local economy, so we went! I found a small sculpture of a traditional bai, a community meeting house.
Though I really enjoyed these two days out of the water (they gave my wounds time to heal), I enjoyed diving much more. I wouldn’t recommend coming to Palau if you aren’t a diver. The country has an interesting history and beautiful landscape, but its true treasures are under the water!