Travel Notes

Sat Jun 29 08:17:01 2002 (rr)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: links
a little research since I'm stuck inside and its only a few hours till Yap.
Federated States of Micronesia
Visitor's Guide to Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), with a map showing where exactly FSM is...
shortcut to Yap's page at above site
Yap's official visitor's site

Fri Jun 28 00:47:20 2002 (rr)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: weather
weather forecast links:
Guam and Northern Marianas Islands

Thu Jun 27 05:24:26 2002 (rr)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: rainy
rainy rainy rainy...
reading a lot -- White Teeth, When We Were Orphans, Paul Theroux essays, next either Bill Bryson or Rachel Carson.
Nathan's recently read Down Under (B.B.) and (ack! reading about work!) two Extreme Programming books (Talk of work though is forbidden, as we are ON VACATION.) and is now reading When we were Orphans. Ah yes, we both just read Richard Russo's Empire Falls. The books have all been good and funny and worth the time, but none truly great.
rainy rainy rainy...

Wed Jun 26 04:49:43 2002 (nmcfarl)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: Rock
Our day trip through the Rock Islands included about half a day of kayaking around inlets and islands. Great as usual. We snorkelled in an area called Einstein's Lake or perhaps Einstein's Garden (can't remember), filled with brain corals. Saw a large sea anenome and its symbiotic pal the clownfish. The anenome has poison on its tentacles(?) but the clownfish secretes a mucus that protects it. The clownfish helps drive away predators and also helps feed the anenome. I saw one large clownfish and one tiny one. Practiced diving down into the water in order to get better views of coral.

The next snorkelling spot was along a drop off with Giant Clams (bivalvia tridacnidae). They are huge! Huge means three to six feet long and a couple feet tall. They often weigh half a ton. They are somewhat endangered because of the their popularity as food, especially in Taiwan. Poachers will remove only the abductor muscle and leave the rest of the clam behind. THe clams are colorful -- purple with green pattern, black and white swirl pattern, ruddy orange, etc. In the shallower areas, there was what Paul Theroux calls "the boneyard" -- coral that looks like scattered bones. I'm unsure whether it is alive or dead, and I forgot to ask our guide, Shaft, this question. Swimming over the boneyard were three long narrow and skinny reef needlefish. Silvery, almost see through. In deeper water, I saw this weird caterpillar-like, tube-like animal with black "feet" at one end. I had seen this same creature the day before at the aquarium. What was it? A sea cucumber, it turns out. They come in many shapes and sizes. Also saw a number of the beautiful Moorish Idol fish.

We climbed back into the boat and sped off for the island containing Jellyfish Lake. The Rock Islands formed when coral was uplifted from the ocean, then eroded by rain (now porous limestone), then into islands when the ocean levels rose. Occasionally lakes were formed instead of islands, and after a long long time, this one lake developed some interesting jellyfish, which lost their ability to sting (mostly) from a lack of predators. Now the jellyfish swim in a huge mass, from one side of the lake to the other depending on the time of day. People don lifejackets, masks and snorkels, and swim among them. Wow...the though originally weirded me out a bit, swimming with so many jellyfish. But it was extremely cool, though I wish I had cut my fingernails before hand. (Occasionally, while swimming, my fingernail would go into a jellyfish. I hope they didn't get seriously hurt by this.) There were thousands of jellyfish, ranging from pinky-nail-sized to football-sized. I could see them below and all around me, and on one occasion when I swam down into the water, all around me. They would brush past you as they pulsated this way and that. I watched the jellyfish bump into each other, and like pool balls, they reflected off each other and pulsated in new directions. One little jellyfish got temporarily caught inside a large jellyfishs "dome" (the part that pulsates). It couldn't get out until the large jellyfish rotated around and gravity let the little one fall out. Way way way cool. Nothing like it that I've ever seen before.
PBS link about Palau
PBS page about Jellyfish Lake
Google search for images about jellyfish lake

Wed Jun 26 04:22:23 2002 (nmcfarl)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: Koror
Monday afternoon we drove our rented Mazda SUV through the pouring rain to Sam's Dive Tours to discuss our upcoming camping expedition. We had spent
the day driving around Babeldaob, the large island connected to Koror Island by a very nice bridge (as a sign of friendship between Japan and Palau, both of which have similar flags. Click on their names to see the flags.)

According to our guidebooks (both Moon Guide and Lonely Planet), the compact between the US and Palau included building a nice paved road around Babeldaob, scheduled to be completed in 2001 or so. Our map of Palau indicated in purple the Compact Road, and in black existing road. I took the purple with a thin black line to indicate existing Compact road. This turned out to be a false assumption. We took a left at the road past the Shell Station, which was dirt. Along our drive we saw signs of working on the new road. The new road will be quite wide, and in many parts straightened of those unsightly curves one must brake around. Obviously they didn't hire New Zealanders to design the new road. Check out the link (its in the last paragraph) to see my opinion on why.

The road was still completely made out of dirt though. We had a 4-wheel drive but didn't end up needing it. We didn't make it too far into the interior of Babeldaob, about 13 km or so. Or maybe miles, I don't remember if the map was in miles. It probably was. I was driving a Japanese car, with the steering wheel on the right, and the speed in kilometers per hour, and of course, watching the odometer in kilometers. It took me about five minutes to realize that I wasn't constantly speeding (25 mph is the limit everywhere in Palau) since I was going 40 km/hr not 40 mph.

so we drove around green hilly Babeldaob, an island volcanic in origin. We saw cuts in the road occasionally of dark almost shiny igneous rock. Occasionally we saw great views of bays and far off hills. Sometimes there were meadows with desert-style plants (yucca-like leaves, think pineapple plants). We got lost, found our way again, and finally realized it would take all day to drive to the northern end of the island, which has the basalt monoliths and great beaches.

Wed Jun 26 04:10:31 2002 (nmcfarl)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: Koror
(continued from above)
Unfortunately we didn't have the seven or eight hours to do this, nor did we have provisions beyond two small cans of Spicy Hot V-8. So we turned around, attempted to find the Ngaraard Waterfall. (Directions: take the sharp left at where the power lines cross the road at about 13.1 miles (or km?) Park your car near the summer house and walk on the trail behind the house.) We gave up and drove back to Koror, bumping up and down on the road in our huge vehicle. I drove. I rarely see other women drive here, at least not if a man is also in the car. The women driving are always alone.

So we ate lunch here at the Cafe@Palau and as we got up to leave discovered the rain was dumping out of the sky. We got soaked running to the car. Eventually we decided to drive to the Aquarium. The aquarium is an outdoor exhibit, as it turns out. Fortunately they supply umbrellas. The exhibits include aquariums with mangrove habitat, coral bay and coral reef. The sheer number of fish was amazing. We also saw huge nautilus. And in the outdoor pool, I could make out a shark (the rain on the water surface made it impossible to see anything but dark shapes swimming in the water). The shark has a distinctive shape.

So! Eventually we drove to Sam's to set up our latest camping expedition. Us, the kayaks, the Rock Islands, for four days and three nights. However, the combo of the full moon and the weather did not look good. I expressed an interest in seeing Jellyfish Lake, which made Ron's day, since another couple who were to go camping but saw their plans fall apart with the rain were to go on a kayaking/sightseeing tour the next day that is to include Jellyfish Lake. A perfect fit.

Wed Jun 26 04:01:59 2002 (nmcfarl)
Book: LP Micronesia
Note: I am in Cafe@Palau, my friendly local internet cafe. They give you half off internet time if you eat a dessert or meal. Considering our time on the computer today, we had better order that taco salad or sundae. Cost for internet here is $6 US an hour. Currency from here on out is all in US dollars, by the way. So we don't care if the US dollar weakest this point. Ja Rule can be heard singing in the other room (over the radio of course). Since I've written this, mellow sounding Palauan music has starting playing. TV here is American, lots of Bay Area local news channels, so we know the weather for Oakland, CA every day. US Channels don't bother playing World Cup games.

Wed Jun 26 02:57:18 2002 (nmcfarl)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: Palau
So yesterday we went on a day kayak trip, which was absolutely amazing. We'd kinda wanted to do another camping trip, maybe even something longer, but the weather is not cooperating, it's raining every day and the winds are pretty vicious so we decided to do a day trip, whihc would let us do some kayaking in more sheltered conditions and we'd also have access to a boat for snorkelling at further out locations ( as well being transported to the sheltered bits o' kayaking. As it turned out by luck and planning we missed most of the rain. We kayaked in the morning amongst the amazingly cool rock island, in light cloud cover and occasional sun, and went snorkelling at a particularly cool brain coral site and a downed WWII Japanese Zero that was in very good shape. We also kayaked about another of the really cool seawater lakes connected to a bay by only a tunnel. Very nice.
We lunched at a state park reachable only by sea, and maintained by the Department of Conservation and Law Enforcement. A Nice spot and right accross from our next snorkel -- a drop off littered with giant, 3-6 foot across, clams with cool irridescent flesh and tons o fish.
We finished up the day with a trip to Jellyfish Lake, another seawater lake but this one is totally disconnected from the ocean. It has huge amounts of jellyfish, and they have after a long separation from the sea lost their ability to sting, they now 'farm' algae instead of hunting. Basically you float amongst thousands of jelly fish, in spots they get very very dense and surround you. It is intensely weird. It's also intensely cool. It lookis vaguely like a Star Wars seen with flying cars going every which way, but really it looks weird and cool and amazing. Otherworldly.

Fri Jun 21 02:58:27 2002 (rr)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: palau
We can't forget the oh so lovely tropicbird.

Fri Jun 21 02:31:43 2002 (rr)
Book: Micronesia Moon Guide
Location: Palau
We went on a three day kayaking trip in the green mushroom-shaped Rock Islands. We started off with a guided day trip, and at the end of the day, paddled our heavily-laden kayaks (water, H2O showers, food, Tiki torches, air mattresses, etc) off to Tiebakl beach with its open-air shelter. During the day we paddled around the islands, watched birds overhead, and often jumped overboard to go snorkelling. I have never seen such colorful coral before in my life. Disney Lake, accessible only by a tunnel at low tide or, at high tide, by climbing over some limestone, looked to me both like Smurf Village (colorful little mushroom shaped corals) or to pursue the Disney reference, like the Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland/world.

We ate lunch on land, and got to look at some of the ruins from WWII, such as Japanese pillboxes, water catchment systems, old helmets and beer bottles. Nathan jumped off a cliff (into water).

The shelter at the beach was somewhat disappointing as there were many bags of trash left behind resulting in a malodorous smell in the air. On the bright side, there were no biting insects, often common when camping. Lots of crabs (mostly tiny hermit-crab variety) running around the beach. We left the crabs alone and enjoyed a Burrito Night.

The next day we were off on the water by 8 am to paddle around the point into Risong Bay, which has numerious marine "lakes" and coves that are accessed by narrow channels. It was in one of these coves that I had some bad luck. I was out of the kayak, and reaching for a my mask and snorkel from the pocket behind my seat. At that moment of pulling on the mask, my (lovely prescription) sunglasses shot up into the air and began their slow arc down towards the water. Black plastic, slowly rotating, shiny lenses, splashing down into the azure sea, never to be seen again, except by colorful little fishes and perhaps a coral that decides to grow on them. Nathan shouted "grab them!", and I, swam underwater and grapsed blindly. They quickly sank to the ocean floor far far below. The water was deep, just enough so that one can (with glasses) see them lying on the floor, but too deep to retrieve. Next time I will at least drop them in the Marianas Trench, so at least they are the deepest sunglasses in the world.
Poor poor sunglasses. Nice nice sunglasses. Bright bright Palauan day. If anyone reading this blog is diving in Kingfisher Cove, inside Risong Bay, and feels like retrieving them, it would be much appreciated.

Moving on with life, we continued our slow circumnavigation of the perimeter of the bay with its many coves and lakes. There is a bird in Palau that whistles a mournful slow dirge off-key over and over again. I can imagine it as the soundtrack to a movie about a person who is stranded on a Rock Island and eventually goes crazy from the bird song. I think that the whistling bird, the WWII relics covered with fig trees and vines, and all of those man vs. nature movies and books one has read eventually add up to a feeling of eeriness. But that was the hike up to the German lighthouse past Japanese bunkers and general's swimming pools and rusted cannons. In the kayak, there is also the plonking sound of the paddles in the water and all the other birds, and the water splashing up against limestone and occasionally gurgling sounds from hidden caves in the limestone. This at least drowns out the whistling bird.

After exploring Risong Bay, we headed towards our beach, stopping along the way to snorkel in Blue Devil Gardens. The current was strong, making the snorkelling somewhat difficult, though there were many cool fish amongst the seaweed. This night's shelter was much nicer than the previous nights. We ate Mac'n'Cheese and watched the sunset (as reflected in clouds and the water since we faced south-east) and lit our Tiki Torches.

We slept well and woke early in order to launch the boats by 7 am. After a long crossing that took an hour, mostly over shallow reef as the tide went out, we arrived at an old Japanese pier. From there we hiked up a now-overgrown road built by Korean slave labour during WWII to the German lighthouse (the lighthouse predated the war and the road.) The lighthouse is riddled with bullet holes, including the rusty iron ladder we climbed to reach the top. From the top were wonderful views of the surrounding postcard-lovely Rock Islands.
We ate lunch on a partial set of stairs (consisting of three risers). Nathan didn't get botulism from the iffy looking tin of "Vegi Sandwich Spread". We ate bread, cucumber, and chocolate pudding for lunch.

We spent most of the afternoon paddling around the island, with another colorful snorkel break, then eventually crossing over to Malakal Island where we returned the kayaks. There was a hell of a headwind at times. The paddle was incredibly beautiful, with small green islands, bright sun, and crystal clear water surrounding us in all directions.

After that, we got a hotel room, showered (oh yes, one H2O shower leaked while kayaking, resulting in no shower for Nathan after the first day), and ate dinner at Cap'n Finns, expecting burgers and fries, but getting Chef's Catch of the Day and 16 oz. New York Strip. It was good. Nathan thoroughly enjoyed his steak and his two San Miguels. Then we slept, but not before each of us secretly wished the other was a trained masseuse.

Sat Jun 15 05:02:54 2002 (rr)
Book: LP Taiwan
Location: taipei
This says "damn computer" in some Taiwanese character set.
I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to change it back to normal. (i'm writing this in the correct set in Palau)

Sat Jun 15 05:00:41 2002 (rr)
Book: LP Taiwan
Location: Taiwan
This is our last day in Taiwan (we think). Our flight time was changed, so we are going to go watch some of the Dragon Boat races as today is Dragon Boat Day.
Some highlights of Taiwan:
tea eggs (hardboiled eggs boiled in black tea)
hiking in Alishan hill resort
World Cup games
walking around Taipei
t-shirts that say weird/nonsensical things
huge national museum, one of the best collections of Chinese art anywhere.
motorbikes driving the wrong way down the road, and on the sidewalks.
motorbikes park on the sidewalks by law, so people walk on the roads.

Fri Jun 14 09:44:20 2002 (nmcfarl)
Book: LP Taiwan
Location: Taipei,ROC
So Taiwan has been much fun and tommorrow we are on to koror, balau. It has been more chinese than Hong Kong. Less english, more monumental architecture. We spent most of our time in taipei, saw much cool stuff, including the HUGE National Palace Museum, and ate much good food. But we spent the last couple of days down in alishan, a beautiful, well tended hill resort that was plesantly cool. A great scenic place, with fun hiking tracks. A good place, like all of the R.O.C.

Thu Jun 6 03:49:39 2002 (rr)
Book: Rough Guide Hong Kong
Location: Hong
Tomorrow we hop over to Taiwan on Japan Asia Airways, which is what Japan Airways calls itself when they fly to Taiwan to appease China. RIght now we are having some coffee before heading over to Lamma Island for a hike. Yesterday we finally got around to having a dim sum lunch. We ate at Maxim's Chinese Restaurant in Causeway Bay. The dining room was packed full of people sitting around large round tables. We were seated smack dab in the middle of it all, and soon were flagging down trolley-pushers and peeking inside various baskets and pots of food. Some highlights were the barbecued pork buns, the steamed dumplings which were just fantastic (shrimp and pork, in a salty broth), blanched greens, and the mango pudding. Its a very interactive type of eating experience. Before lunch, we rode around on the double-decker trams which are a cheaper, slower, and more visual way of travelling compared with the MTR (subway). We rattled down the city and back, noting various shop signs like Supreme Cookie. We also ate Cantonese for dinner, at a restaurant in Pacific Place mall called Zen. Most restaurants are in malls. The highlight there was a seafood dish that consisted of chopped-up seafood and pine-nuts all seasoned nicely (with what I don't know) and looking very salad like. You place a few spoonfuls of the mixture into a lettuce cup and dip it in a barbecue-like sauce. Yum. Speaking of good meals, we had our best Mexican on the trip the other day, at a restaurant called Caramba. Its in the mid-levels. The mid-levels are a section of the city reached via a series of escalators. The escalators go for almost a kilometer up the hill.
A few days ago we went up to Victoria Peak and walked down into the city. There were some great views of the water and green mountains as well as of the city and the boats in the harbour.

Mon Jun 3 03:54:44 2002 (nmcfarl)
Book: Rough Guide Hong Kong
Location: Victoria
So we are at the peak of victoria, and we felt the need for a coffee. So we are in one of the 2 malls, with fantastic views , drinking coffee and useing the net (free with the coffee). The view is amazing, the experience rather Hong Kong.

Sat Jun 1 07:08:37 2002 (rr)
Book: Rough Guide Hong Kong
Location: hk
they sell Tillamook cheese at the grocery store!

Sat Jun 1 07:07:25 2002 (rr)
Book: Rough Guide Hong Kong
Location: Hong Kong
shopped till we dropped...

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See the pictures.
Palau Pictures
Yap Pictures
Hawaii Pictures
Taiwan Pictures

View the original itinerary

June 2002
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