Photography by Yuri Krasov
The islands of Palau, all five hundred of them, big and small, oblong and round, belong to the largest archipelago in Micronesia and mostly look like Chia pets. Their bottoms are neatly undercut with a double razor of steady lapping waves and gluttonous snails that live underneath and eat algae while boring deeper and deeper into the limestone. Most of the islands are tiny and unpopulated, and seem to float atop the opalescent waters.
Any way you look, everything is so incredibly beautiful here that the scenic views seem unreal. With about 20,000 permanent residents and only 30,000 visitors a year, Palau is a dream come true – for divers and eco-adventure seekers as well as for honeymooners and spa junkies. Tourist accommodations in the Republic of Palau usually provide vacation packages that include room and board, water activities, and sheer relaxation.
Palau Pacific Resort in the capital city of Koror on Arkabesang Island has neat two-story cottages surrounded by tropical gardens, a secluded sandy beach, an open-air restaurant with freshly prepared island fare, a spa, and Splash Dive Center on premises. On our diving tour with the Splash, we visited a couple of the many famous diving sites of Palau – Big Drop Off and Blue Corner.
The underwater world of Palau with 1,400 species of fish and more than 700 species of coral is nothing short of a miracle. Snorkeling by the Big Drop-Off, I found myself surrounded by myriads of sparkly fish gliding over the multi-layers and multi-colored coral floor. Giant clams were waiting, agape, for their prey among the fuzzy seaweed-covered rocks. They were doing a great job camouflaging with dazzling colors – midnight blue, deep purple, and even spotty green-and-brown, looking much like army camo.
Palau is also home to a unique underwater wonder – Jellyfish Lake, the only place in the world where people safely swim and snorkel among the Golden jellies, harmless and beautiful to behold. Mastigias papua etpisoni lives in glorious isolation here, in the secluded marine lake surrounded by jungle-covered rocks – far removed from predators and, therefore, stingless. Slow moving jellies, whose size measure from the size of a golf ball to that of a basketball, ascend and descend around enchanted snorkelers, graceful and enviably serene. There is also some muddy business going on in the ecologically clean and otherwise pure-water Palau. What locals call Milky Way is a pristine cove with silky white clay bottom. This clay is made of organic deposits of the local snails that consume and digest limestone while feeding on algae.
Applied as a facial mask, this clay is said to smooth out wrinkles, clean and reduce pores, and lend its silkiness to the skin. In a big hotel spa it’ll definitely cost you, but here, at the cove, boat operators just bring up a bucket of white cosmetic gold and let their passengers slather it all over their pasty touristy bodies. On a tour with Carp Island Resort & Palau Diving Center, we had plenty of time to indulge in Mother Nature’s own spa offerings – white mud and warm milky water of the cove to wash it off. And then there was time for dry land and red mud adventures. Fish ‘N Fins Dive Shop is one of the most famous local tour operators, offering diving, snorkeling, boating, and fishing tours. We embarked on their most exciting land activity – ATV (all-terrain vehicle) Off-Road Tour across the Martian-red hillsides of Koror.
Don’t know why, but I was somehow persuaded that an ATV cannot overturn in any circumstances, so I boldly drove over the ditches as deep as a vehicle’s wheel and narrow slippery ridges between them. Puddles, turns, steep downhill inclines – bring it all in, I thought. Even when tropical rain started to pour into the open vehicle, inexplicably enhanced by still shining sunlight, I didn’t lose my determination. Later I learned that things happen, but nothing had happened to us!
We could even see the rainbow at the end of our trip.