Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sampling Palau’s underwater wonders

Palau is a place teeming with abundant fish and marine life that you only have to wade in knee-length water and fish will be crawling all over your feet. Everyday hundreds of tourists flock here to sample the country’s numerous famed dive sites which made Palau one of the seven most beautiful dive spots in the world.
In fact, this is the only in this place that I have eaten various kinds of fish that I only see in aquariums and in menus of flashy seafood restaurants in the Philippines.
Last week, I sent a text message to Fish n’ Fins dive shop owner Tova Bornovsky if we could go with a group on a trip with a group of divers. She immediately agreed and so I found myself onboard a boat with Micmic Villaflor (of the other Palau newspaper) and seven divers from different countries.

An hour later, Malsol, the boat operator tied the anchor to a mooring bouy in the New Drop Off near Ngemelis Island (they are not allowed to drop it to protect the corrals).
“Are they going to dive here? It’s shallow!” I asked Malsol as I peered into the crystal clear water which looks like some four feet deep. Malsol’s answer was just a booming laugh.

I watched with envy as the divers donned on their complete gear flipped over into the water one by one, leaving me and Micmic with Malsol.
“Snorkel time”, Micmic announced. I slipped into a set of protective mask and snorkel and slowly descended through a side ladder, shuddering when I dipped my head and realized that the sea bed was way, way down below, some 15 feet deep. The current was swift and I held on to the ladder and the rope for life, even if I was wearing a life jacket. I know that if I let go, I would be in the Pacific Ocean in a few minutes.
However I forgot my fear as I marveled at the colorful garden of corrals and all kinds of fish imaginable swimming all around us. Micmic kicked me underwater and excitedly pointed to a huge napoleon fish which I estimated to be over 60 lbs. swimming directly below us. A few meters from where we were, the sea bed ended and a gaping, dark green hole of water which dipped down to more than a hundred meters deep.

We went to two more dive sites, the Big Drop Off where we snorkeled with damsel fishes all around us, giving us a feeling of being inside a huge aquarium, and Helmet Wreck where, even by listening to dive guide Ed Fuja during a briefing, would make a diver’s saliva drool. I just imagined the divers going into the deep exploring a sunken warship during the World War 11. Ed said there were still helmets and rifles and even an oil lamp in one of the small rooms.
An hour later the orange balloon popped out of the water, signaling that the divers will be resurfacing. The satisfied looks on their faces actually made me green with envy.
“I’ve been to several dive sites all over the world but it’s my first time to really see a wonderful wreck as this,” a Japanese diver gushed. The snorkeling experience (my second, actually) left me beat and dead-tired but satisfied. I’ve promised myself that I will not leave Palau without a diving experiencing. But first things first, I have yet to learn how to swim.
When in Palau, your stay will never be complete without sampling an underwater adventure.

Trekking to Lake Ngerdok

The road was so slippery and muddy and there was a slight drizzle yet this did not hamper the members of the group attending the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) quarterly meeting to venture deep into the heart of the conservation area in Melekeok State last Friday. The purpose: to plant trees at the area and to sneak a visit to the Ngerdok lake.

After planting three trees, PATA president Jonathan Salas led the group towards the lake. We trekked through the mud trails for some 30 minutes, crawling our way underneath trees and foliage and exerting extra effort to avoid slipping down before reaching the 60-foot deep lake which is the largest natural lake in Micronesia.

The lake is the only body of fresh water in Palau and is home to the endangered crocodile (ius), various flora and fauna and other species.

Edwin Polloi of the Melekeok Nature Reserve Conservation Area said Melekeok State applied for a grant from the United States Forestry a couple of years ago and was able to secure funds for the improvement of the lake and its surrounding areas. He said the boardwalks alone that pave only a small part of the lake’s pathway costs $35,000.

This work has been initiated by the Ngardok Reserve Board and is being jointly implemented by Melekeok State, Palau Forestry Section, Palau Conservation Society, the Bureau of Agriculture, and the United States Forest Service.

Polloi said that part of the plans for the lake are the construction of a nature trail and installation of a floating viewing platform on the lake.

Ngardok Lake area is 3.4 hectares and is situated in the largest water catchment area in Palau 4 kilometers northwest of Melekeok town on the eastern side of Babeldaob Island.

Ngardok Lake and surrounding areas has been proposed to be designated as a protected area and has remained in its pristine condition despite the threat of some hunting in the vicinity of the lake. The lake gets its fair share of visitors like students and other individuals for conservation and educational purposes.

Three days in the land of promise

The smooth flight and the seemingly-distant hum of the Asian Spirit’s engines lulled most of the 61 passengers to sleep at dawn on Friday last week. When the aircraft soared over the millions of multi-colored blinking lights of Davao City which resembled fireflies on a dark night, only a few who remained awake during the entire one-and-a half-hour’s ride were able to see the city in its night splendor.

The aircraft made a smooth touchdown and the group, mostly first timers, stepped on Davao soil. They were met by the glare of spotlights from the local television stations. Special ethnic dance numbers and snacks were also prepared by the Department of Tourism X11. It was a business-mixed-with-pleasure trip for the group. Several trade and business ties were renewed and agreements reached for an exchange of each city’s advantages, all targeted to benefit the residents of both places.

The delegates, led by Senators Allan Seid and Alfonso Diaz with various tour operators, businessmen and key people in the tourism industry had their fill of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of various fruits and vegetables Davao City has to offer. The group went to Eden Nature Park and Resort located some 2,800 feet above sea level, the world-renowned Pearl Farm Island resort, the city’s various night spots, huge shopping malls offering just about everything you need, plush hotels to stay in, superb restaurants to satiate your appetites and other tourist attractions. The three-day stay was really not enough to see Davao City.

Here finally is a chance for Palauans and Palau residents to visit the Philippines minus the hassle of landing in Manila and going through a needle’s eye in the airport. A roundtrip Palau-Davao-Palau ticket via Asian Spirit costs only $260, very affordable at that and you will be spared the pains of waiting and grabbing for taxis where you will be charged exorbitantly if you don’t know how to deal with them and a lot more hassles before you can reach breath and relax at your hotel room. Beginning April 2, Asian Spirit flies to Davao from Koror and vice versa three times a week. Asian Spirit’s Palau-Davao flights leave Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while the Davao-Palau flights leave Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Asian Spirit is the first Filipino carrier to open its international doors to the Palau-Davao-Manila route, using its newest advanced-technology aircraft, the 100-seater BAe 146 jet made by aviation giant, British Aerospace Systems. (Thanks to all the sponsors of the group for the wonderful accommodation and the sumptuous food during the three-day, two-night stay in Davao.)

Taro cultivation: A continuing island tradition

“We’re going taro-patch hopping at 9 a.m. Wear old clothes”. I got this text message from office mate Lizette last Saturday. I was looking forward to a trip to the other States but unluckily the weather did not cooperate. We had to postpone the trip for that afternoon, and with time constraints had to limit the trip into the nearby Airai State.

Despite the changing times where one can see more people, especially women engaged in white-collared jobs and are now working in offices, stores and other establishments, taro cultivation still is one of many traditions that remain strong in Palau today.

Working in the taro patch spells hard work, Lizette says. “It’s like wallowing in the mud all day, you’re muddy and your clothes are muddy. It’s really dirty work and you have to work under the intense heat of the sun,” she adds.
But in the past, the taro patch is the main form of agriculture and was the pride of every Palauan woman. If you don’t have a taro patch, you’re not considered a good wife or a good person to marry. Records show that "It’s hard work, it’s labor intensive, but it’s done with pride. It’s one of the criteria of being an independent woman in Palau. Still today.”

Taro is Palau’s main food and is served in all parties like birthdays, first bath ceremonies, house parties, simple gatherings and any other events. These are served in a variety of attractive presentations which appeals to the eye and appetite of the people. There’s the thinly sliced taro which serves as the main dish (in the absence of rice). Then there’s the mashed taro which is wrapped in plastic resembling a huge hotdog.
Other foods are also cultivated in Palau such as sweet potato, tapioca, bananas and breadfruit being an important part of the diet.

SOJA rocks Palau

The eager crowd did not mind the hours of waiting, standing or sitting on the floor as local artists belted out lively renditions of Palauan songs. I squatted on the floor below the stage with others, unaware (until later) that the entire middle floor has turned into a huge dance floor, with everybody dancing and swaying in anticipation of the appearance of the night’s main performers- the Soldiers Of Jah Army (SOJA) reggae band.

The curtains opened and the shouts rose to a deafening crescendo when lead singers Jacob Hemphill (guitar) and Bob Jefferson (bass) trotted on stage for their opening number, to the accompaniment of Patrick O’Shea on keyboard, percussionist Ken Brownell, and drummer Ryan Berty.

The cheer of the crowd was deafening. Seats were abandoned as everyone stood up to join the jostling crowd and let go of all the cares as they lost themselves to the wonderful world of reggae.

For an island who rarely get the opportunity to see live concerts, the Ngarachamayong Cultural Center was literally jampacked with teenagers, kids and adults who stomped their feet, clapped and swayed to the beat of the drums as the band sent a message to the listeners through their songs.

SOJA’s music includes and embraces all walks of life - it has no prejudice – it is for everyone. The band is embarking on a journey around the world promoting their latest album “Get Wiser” and Palau is fortunate to be included among the stopovers.
From Palau, SOJA has a series of shows scheduled in Guam, Saipan, California and other places. For more information, visit their website at

The two-night live concert was the first alcohol-free event by GenNOW and co-sponsored by the Palau Royal Resort, Oceania Television Network and Koror State Government youth division.

Shooting paintballs

I ducked my head and covered the camera lens with my hand as a paintball (the bullet used for the markers or paintgun) came shooting in my direction. I had on a camouflage vest and a protective face mask but unlike the others, I was armed only with a camera, not a paintgun. Seated on a stool at the referee’s box, adrenalin surged through my being as the two teams who were engaged in a hot combat tried to outdo each other in this latest sport.

Paintball is a fun and exciting sport. It is played in over 40 countries by millions regardless of age, sex, status and profession can join and share in common a love for adventure and a strong competitive spirit. When the adrenaline starts pumping, you can't help but love the thrill of the game! Roland, the referee stands on a corner in the “battlefield” ready to blow his whistle for a time-out when the need arises.

Paintball is a combination of the most popular childhood games "tag" and "hide & seek," but is much more challenging. The number of players on each team can vary from one or two, five or seven or 10, depending on the size of the playing field.

For ten bucks, a player can rent an overall camouflage uniform, a vest, face mask, a marker and 50 rounds of paintballs. Another round of 100 paintballs is available for an additional of ten bucks.
A paintball is a round, thin-skinned gelatin capsule with colored liquid inside it and comes in a rainbow of bright colors except red.
“When a paintball tags a player, the gelatin skin splits open, and the liquid inside leaves a bright "paint" mark but the fill inside paintballs is a water-soluble and biodegradable mix that easily rinses off from the clothes and skin when washed,” Oberg said.

He added that they have set the speed of the markers to minimum speed for extra precaution. The international safety limit on the speed (measured in feet per second, "FPS") at which a paint gun shoots a paintball is 300 fps.
Paintball is a very safe sport as long as safety rules are followed.

Lenny Oberg, manager of the Paintball and Mini-golf course located just beside Ngermelt Club in Medalii said that this sport is not only a pastime but also a tool in character-building.
“Companies are finding it advantageous to hold meetings and gatherings playing paintball. Through this, players get a chance to learn about teamwork and develop leadership abilities while having fun. In addition, the game could teach employees to gain self-confidence,” Oberg said.
When you feel the need to relax and unwind from the everyday routine, or when your company needs a recreational gathering, the Paintball and Mini-golf course is available from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays to Sundays. Additional sports also include a target shooting and mini-golf. Contact 488-8480 for details and inquiries.

Saying it with flowers…

A middle-aged Palauan lady sits at the reception area of one of a plush hotel in Koror one day, busily greeting guests when a delivery boy with a huge bouquet of flowers entered. The lady gazed wistfully at the flowers and went back to her work when she realized the boy was handing her the flowers. “For me???” she gasped, amazed beyond words. Nobody has given her flowers before. A great transformation took over the lady’s face when she realized that the flowers were really for her.

“Nobody can resist flowers”, says Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, owner of Sun’s Flower shop located in the heart of Koror. The first few days of February every year are the busiest season for flower shops, she said. They have their hands full as orders come pouring in through the telephone or from walk-in customers for the celebration of Valentines Day.

Years before, flower shops get the most orders on Mother’s Day but times have changed and people are giving other gifts to their moms now. The orders for flowers boom on Valentines Day. Sandra said that to meet the deliveries, they hire extra people to do the work. Sandra has two florists who do the flower arrangements. She orders the flowers from the Philippines but you can send flowers to almost everywhere in the world to express your feelings because the shop is a member of the Florist Transword Delivery (FTD). Sandra has been in the business for the past 18 years but she the satisfaction she gets when she sees the faces of people light up upon receiving flowers is invaluable.

Roses still retains its post as the top seller for Valentines. You can send a single rose, a dozen or even a truckload of roses to your loved-ones. Sandra says it’s not always the money that counts in sending flowers but it’s the thought that somebody is thinking of you that matters.

Way down in Malakal is another flower shop which also gets tons of customers, the Bngal A Chen Flower Shop owned by Chen Masang. Chen. Chen has two florists who have the knack for coming up with fresh ideas for all occasions.
‘We have our hands full for the Valentines Day orders, it’s the most hectic time of the year because people often express their love and feelings through flowers,” Chen said.

“Flowers always inspire me. When I went to Europe some years back and saw all the wonderful flowers, I thought of putting up a flower shop here,” Chen said. She says she gets her flowers from Europe. To better serve her customers, Chen said the flower arrangements and bouquets are flexibly-priced to fit the pockets of the customers.

Express your love on Valentines Day not only with flowers but also with chocolates, perfume, jewelry, wine, cards, balloons and stuffed toys. Call Sandra at 488-2954 or Chen at 488-2628..