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Paradise on Palau

Posted by Keith on June 23, 2007 at 6:35 pm  

I own the early mornings here. The crew sleeps in. Captain Wolf will rise in an hour. It is quiet ashore. Only a rooster crowing somewhere behind Sam’s punctuates the morning stillness.

Nearby I see a few of the limestone cupcake-shaped Rock Islands, their bottoms just above the water, forming a perfectly horizontal lip, beneath which the tides have eaten away some of the stone, creating a pedestal on which each sits and above which a riot of mahogany, teak, and palm trees, and seemingly all things green crowd together to form a dense old-growth jungle canopy under which one could, with effort, climb or hike.

From the fly bridge I also see the entrance to this small harbor, calm, pristine, and I see small boats moored or anchored in nearby coves within the lee of this island or the smaller islands nearby.

Sam’s tour boats are tied, with us, to the small meandering wood docks here, each with a name like Seacat, Reefcat, Sharkcat, White Shark, or White Tip, their bows pointed out toward the mouth of the harbor, as if eager to begin the day’s scuba, snorkeling, and sight-seeing tours. Visitors from many nations will pile in them soon; will spend the day exploring the reefs, the sunken World War II relics, Jelly Fish Lake, and some of the 586 nearby islands that form the Palau archipelago. They’ll return this afternoon, as I did for three days from scuba diving lessons, or as the crew and I did yesterday, after exploring some of the world’s best dive sites, wet, tired and happy.

I love Palau. For one incredible week we’ve enjoyed its laid-back beauty, its small establishments, the buzz of local activity and commerce. There are 20,000 Palauans. Another 9,000 service workers from the Philippines and other Asian nations, and a smattering of Europeans and Americans live here.

Sam is an American whose mother married one of the two chiefs on the island. he started his thriving tour business from a single small boat his father gave him. Dermot Keane manages Sam’s Tours. He was born in Ireland. He worked in the States awhile, then came to Palau and met his future wife, Koud, here who was, ironically, visiting home while a student in the U.S. They have beautiful children who play with their cousins and friends each day among the docks, jumping into the water and swimming like fish.

Like the other Pacific Islands we’ve visited, Palau has a history and an ancient culture. But it isn’t stuck there. There is an energy here we’ve not seen on the other islands. Their ties to the U.S. are many. They revere John McCain who has visited here three times, most recently with his wife, Cindy. And there is the “Compact of Free Association” that pumps money from the U.S. into their democratic government and local economy.

I watched a baseball game at the local stadium, got a haircut, met with a man about offering some spectacularly beautiful Palauan mahogany storyboards on our website Ship’s Store. The crew also went shopping and toured the island. Everyone here speaks English. But they speak to each other in Palauan.

It’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody, it seems. One lady told me that if people see me walking around just once they’ll assume I’m a tourist. But if they see me three times, they will learn my name, check me out, want to know why I’m here, how long I’m staying.

They have a growing tourist trade here. There are some nice hotels including the Royal Palau Resort that caters especially to Taiwanese tour groups; and most especially the peaceful, elegant Palau Pacific Resort, where affluent travelers put their real-world worries on hold.

There may be oil offshore. We were at one of the rock islands having a picnic lunch when I met the President’s Chief Counsel, an American, and two women: A World Bank representative from Italy, and an oil exploration expert from Holland. They are all working on environmentally-acceptable ways to exploit this potential resource.

But Palau’s best resource — besides its people — is its natural beauty, especially its gorgeous dive sites. Tourism is already taking its toll of these reefs and wrecks; but the government and tour industry are tightening environmental controls each year. They are serious about protecting their greatest asset.

It is Sunday morning. Tonight from midnight to 3:00 AM local time (8 AM – 11 AM Phoenix time, Sunday) I’ll broadcast the radio show from a large, rambling tin-roof facility that houses Roll’em Productions, a video production company, and The Oceana Television Network. Both are owned by a young couple, Kassi Berg and Jeff Barabe. They are ably assisted by Mike Fox, a very nice young man whose wife and three children live with him on the island.

All three are Americans, and collectively they have invested many tens of thousands of their own dollars, and countless hours of hard work, toward their enterprise and into the high-tech equipment it requires. They are establishing a TV network that serves all the Pacific Islands with local content, hosted exclusively by local talent. I have visited with them at length. Their concept is sound. They need investors – or a single partner with one-to-two million U.S. dollars. Reach them at www.oceaniatv.net. As with any direct investment into a small business, there are no guarantees. But while there is risk, there is real potential here.

You feel safe here. There was one fellow who stole parts from boats for awhile. He’s in the local jail now. Again, everybody knows everybody. Hard to fence stolen goods that way. Next week we were going to take the ship to Cebu, The Philippines, keep it there for a month while I toured China and while the crew went home. But we can think of no safer place to leave it than right here, and no better people to watch it than the folks at Sam’s. If there’s a storm — and there could be this time of year — I am confident they’ll do whatever is necessary to protect the ship. And Jeff and Mike at Roll’em are going to fine-tune some of our electronics while we’re gone.

The early mornings may be mine alone. But by 8 AM the open-air Bottom Time Bar at Sam’s is serving breakfast. Tour guides are loading scuba tanks aboard their boats as one Palauan fellow loudly sings an old U.S. fifties ballad, Volare. I can smell the bacon from here. Time for breakfast.

–Keith


Comments

1 Comment so far

  1. Jim on July 10, 2007 7:09 pm

    Keith, I have been following your Global Adventure with great interest. I try not to miss your Sunday show. Where will you port in Taiwan? Kaohsiung has a big and secure harbour. Kaohsiung also has very nice western 5 star hotels (Grand Hi Lai), very accomodating to Americans. I like my Nordhavn hat. Happy travels and smooth Seas.

    Jim

    JIM,

    Frankly, knowing where we’ll tie up two countries from now — after leaving Palau and visiting the Phillipines — is way beyond my pay grade; but I really appreciate the input. It usually depends on where we can find a safe and secure dock, reasonably-priced gas, and — if possible — a fun-loving yacht club! We’ll keep you posted. Glad you like the hat!

    –Keith

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