Submission by Bina Joseph
A vacation truly made up of the stuff of dreams must happen in faraway corners of the world with musical, exotic-sounding names. Immediately, Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia spring to mind.
The Micronesian archipelago of Palau has been spotlighted by the popular “Survivor” TV series. Among the youngest nations in the world, Palau gained its independence on October 1, 1994, upon the signing of the Compact of Free Association with the United States. Until then, since the end of WWII, it had been a United Nations Trust Territory under U.S. administration.
However, carbon-dating of artifacts found in the oldest known village sites on the Rock Islands and Babeldaob illustrates the existence of habitation since 1,000 B.C. — a civilization spanning 3,000 years.
This amazing dichotomy is both its essence and its charm.
Palau’s early history is still largely lost in the mists of time. The means and modes of human arrival are uncertain, but studies indicate that Palauans are descended from the Malays of Indonesia, the Melanesians of New Guinea, and Polynesians.
An isolated, idyllic existence continued with little outside contact until 1783, when the ship Antelope, commanded by the English Captain Henry Wilson, ran aground on a reef near Ulong, a Rock Island between Koror and Peleliu. High Chief Ibedul of Koror not only gave sanctuary but also assisted with repairs. The secret was out, and henceforth regular explorers arrived, establishing continued European contact.
The inevitable buffets and whimsies of history followed. The first foreign governance began when Spain asserted sovereignty over the Caroline Islands in 1885. Churches were established, the Roman alphabet was introduced, and internecine warfare ended.
In 1899, the Carolines were sold to Germany, which began a wholesale exploitation of the abundant natural resources.
With Germany’s defeat in WWI, the islands passed to Japan under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Japanese influence transformed Palauan culture from subsistence-level to a market economy and property ownership from communal to individuals. The administrative center established in Koror in 1922 converted it into a stylish metropolis with manufacturing, shops, public amenities, restaurants, and attractions.
Palauans are still strongly aligned with ethnic culture. Traditional ceremonies such as omersurch (birth), ocheraol (first-house), and kemeldiil (funeral services) are widely-observed, revered rituals and practices of their forefathers.
Palauan culture is intrinsically interwoven with the ocean. The sea was their source of sustenance and their livelihood, and the means of transportation. An unbreakable relationship resulted from an intimate knowledge of the pattern of ocean currents, the phases of the moon, and the sea life.
Palauans are extremely sociable. Before the advent of written language in the 1800s, traditional history, lore, and knowledge were passed down through the generations by word of mouth. Palauans still practice that time-honored method, congregating when the day’s work is done, exchanging stories with friends and families.
Palau is the ultimate tropical, diving, and surfing paradise, blessed with dazzling white beaches, pristine reefs, coral gardens beneath clear waters, lush forests, caves, waterfalls, and spectacular marine life. The unspoilt islands are far removed from the ravages of man.
The 1,450 species of fish and 500 species of coral have caused Palau to be described as “The 8th Natural Wonder of the World” and “One of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World.”
A moderate, warm climate year-round (82° F), plentiful sunshine and rainfall, and relative freedom from typhoons make for a worry-free holiday.
Already recognized as a premier destination for water- and land-based activities, Palau now boasts a new dimension for adventure in the sky. A three-course zip line (the only one in Palau) strung above the Taki Waterfall Park is a featured attraction of the recently opened Palau Eco Theme Park in the state of Ngardmau. The rides between the platforms, at a height of 820 feet, range from 984 to 1,115 feet, and are the longest in the world.
Palau boasts a variety of dive sites to suit any level of expertise. Each assures a limitless array of marine life, from the famous Jellyfish Lake to dropoffs, tunnels, channels, and shallow reefs. PADI-certified dive schools, liveaboards, instructors, and equipment all guarantee an unforgettable marine experience.
Palau offers accommodations to suit all pockets: full-service, luxury resorts, moderately-priced bungalows, economical motels, and backpacker accommodations. Choices depend on price, comfort, and lifestyle.
Palau is accessible by air from Guam, the gateway to Micronesia, and is served by several scheduled carriers from Tokyo, the U.S., Manila, and other metropolises. In addition, there are scheduled charter airline services from South Korea, Taiwan, and several Japanese cities. Citizens of the United States are issued a one-year visa upon arrival.