These trip notes are continued from:
- United Island Hopper Trip Notes Part 1: Honolulu
- United Island Hopper Trip Notes Part 2: It’s Time To Hop!
- United Island Hopper Trip Notes Part 3: Koror, Palau
- United Island Hopper Trip Notes Part 4: Tokyo, Japan And Back Home In ANA First Class
- Please read those installments first for background information!
AJK chilling with the Jellyfish:
“The opportunity to Kayak and Snorkel in Palau, you will see things that you won’t see anywhere else in the world:”
Not an opportunity that should be passed up…
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After a doggy misconnection caused AJK and I to have a 25 hour delay in Guam it was finally time to board the plane for Koror (pronounced core-roar), Palau. The misconnect caused us to have to change our entire itinerary around and spend Shabbos in Asia, but Mimi had insisted point-blank that I continue onto Palau and not just turn around and fly home. Aishes Chayil indeed.
Finally taking off for ROR on our island hopping advanture:
Despite both of us having PR-1 top priority upgrade status, first class checked in full, so it was off to the back of the bus for us. Well, at least back to the bulkhead.
The overhead screens displayed a vestige of a great airline:
It was now 7:30pm on Wednesday. My last full night’s sleep was on Friday. And yet, the adrenaline of the adventure kept me going.
After watching United’s safety video for the 9th time in 4 days I was able to say all of the words before they said them. Ma-bu-hay! became a common word that AJK and I used throughout the trip despite the fact that we were never closer than 1,000 miles away from Manila. [AJK: Indeed, after being a captive audience nine or so times, I began greeting random people on the street with a hearty “Mabuhai!” and couldn’t shake the habit for a week or so after getting back to USA. Let’s just say I can’t replicate the look I got from our receptionist the following week when, after she wished me a good morning, I responded with a passionate “Mabuhai!” I thought it explained everything wonderfully. Apparently it did not.]
As we had just decided in the morning that we would continue onto Palau, there wasn’t enough time to order kosher meals for the flight. Not that it mattered as the flight attendant was more than happy to warm up Pomegranate meals for us.
Clearing customs in Palau made us nervous. The agents were right next to baggage claim and were opening everyone’s baggage. Were they going to take away our food? Precious little information is available online about bringing food into Palau.
But I’d rather starve than sit in prison, so I declared the food and held my breath. [AJK: If I’m being completely honest, if not humble, it was only after I presented Dan with the possibility of him sitting in an unconditioned cell for the next number of months that he saw reason and decided to just play it safe and declare.] Several agents gathered around and they were perplexed as to why we were traveling with a bag of frozen food. However upon explaining Orthodox Judaism, they were just amazed as to how we had heard of Palau and what brought us there. Explaining Orthodox Judaism was easier than explaining how I discovered Palau thanks to several decades worth of United vouchers that were obtained due to Wendy’s cups that gave Airtran credits, so I went with their main attraction, Jellyfish Lake. And they smiled and said to tell our friends and enjoy our meals!
Hotels in Palau are quite primitive, but it seemed safe enough to go with TripAdvisor’s #1 recommended hotel, the Palau Paradise hotel.
Our mouths dropped to the ground though when we saw the place. Above a burger joint. Suffice it to say that we should have splurged for the more luxurious option in Palau, even if it didn’t receive stellar reviews.
There’s no elevator at the Paradise hotel, but there were 2 bellmen who brought our bags upstairs. We asked if there might be any kind of oven we could use to heat up our meals. Most tourists to Palau are Japanese and the front desk agent was Japanese.
Now I spent a couple of weeks working for Chabad in Japan in 2005, so I was used to the extreme apologizing that comes with Japanese culture. But I was still taken aback when the front desk agent started mock weeping and apologizing about the lack of toaster ovens. But she told us that they would send up a microwave.
We asked if there was any way to get late checkout due to not using our first night and again we literally got a sob story that they were fully booked. Oh well. [AJK: After hearing this mock cry denial so many times, I got so adept at mimicking it that people confused me for being Japanese. Seriously.]
The room was hot and the AC unit struggled to keep up with the heat and humidity.
The room was indeed clean, but the beds were Asian style, hard as a board:
In the end they wound up delivering a toaster over. I’m not sure if they knew the difference between a microwave or a toaster oven, but it allowed us to warm up amazing beer glazed short ribs, popcorn cauliflower, and garlic mashed potatoes.
Here we were as isolated as possible from the nearest kosher restaurant, and yet we were eating an awesome restaurant quality meal. Incredible.
Palau was passed over by the information superhighway and the only internet is via satellite, making it expensive and ridiculously slow. Early in the morning the internet was like using a dial-up modem. During the daytime it was completely unusable.
Originally we were booked with Sam’s Tours for a Jellyfish Lake tour. However with the misconnect we missed that tour and they only run tours when they have 5 passenger, which they didn’t have for the following day.
They referred us to Impac Tours, which targets the Japanese market, the main tourists in Palau. Chrome translated the itinerary of the Jellyfish Lake tour well enough to be excited about it. And I loved the fact that in the URL it says Jerryish, pretty much exactly how someone who speaks Japanese would pronounce it do to the lack of the letter L in Japanese.
The best part was that Impac included Kayaking in their Jellyfish Lake tour, something that Sam’s did not.
We really wanted to take a helicopter tour of the Rock Islands, but it just wasn’t in our budget if we couldn’t find someone to split it with. But they put us on a waitlist in case others wanted to join. There was also a less expensive small airplane tour, but there wouldn’t be time to do that with the Jellyfish Lake tour without having an extra day in Palau.
Despite the rock hard beds I fell asleep instantly and had my first good night’s sleep on the trip.
On Thursday we woke up early to daven and pack up. Impac would be picking us up at 8:45am and we had to have all of our stuff packed to leave at the front desk.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that, we paid for 2 nights at the hotel. But the United fiasco meant that we would not have use of our room that night.
We warmed up Eggplant Rollatini. This is the the best dairy dish that Pomegranate makes, it’s just outstanding.
With Sam’s being unable to come up with 5 people for a tour, I was expecting that the people in the van that shuttled us to Impac would consist of the entire tour. But there were hundreds of people lined up there (shoes left outside the building, barefoot inside as per Japanese custom), this was a massive operation. But they were a well-oiled operation and processed everyone’s payments quickly.
They even tried calling the helicopter place to see if anyone had wanted to share a tour that evening. They promised to stay in touch with them and let us know when we returned.
After getting fitted with snorkeling gear and a life-vest it was onto the boat for a day full of outdoor activities.
When looking at the weather.com forecast in the prior days it seemed like there was constant rain in Palau.
But the skies were clear and the weather was just perfect. It was such an idyllic day for a boat ride. The water was just breathtaking, it felt like heaven on Earth.
Clear blue seas ahead:
The shades of the water were just gorgeous:
After about a 15 minute boat ride we got to the kayaks.
I snapped my waterproof GoPro Hero4 Silver onto my baseball cap with the quick clip that’s included in this headstrap package. (For snorkeling I used this floating hand grip and used Rain-X water-repelling wipes)
AJK was braver and brought along his Sony A6000 mirrorless camera.
I’ve kayaked several times in Hawaii, but this was just a completely different level. The calm clear water made this an experience I won’t soon forget. It just felt magical:
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Kayaking into “caves” of Jellyfish:
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It wasn’t Jellyfish Lake, but they were all over here as well:
AJK takes in the scenery:
After kayaking for an hour the next stop was the Milky Way.
The Milky Way is a part of the Rock Islands that is made of a white clay floor. They bring a big bucket of a clay up to the boat for everyone to rub over themselves before jumping into the water to wash it off. I passed on the rub, but AJK went to town with the stuff. [AJK: Seriously, how can you go to the Milky Way and not partake of the Milk? Dan, you’re gonna have to use this as an excuse to go back to Palau. Me? Well, I’m telling Mrs. AJK that she simply *must* travel 25 hours on a plane to experience the Milky Way. I’ll let you know how it goes.]
The floor of the water is made of the slimy clay and is like nothing I’ve ever walked on before. Holding it also provides a very neat sensation. [AJK: It’s actually white, finely ground limestone that feels like super soft marshmallow fluff. Definitely worth a stop.]
After the Milky Way it was time for lunch. Pretty much the prettiest drive to lunch ever:
We stopped on a small island to have lunch and snorkel amongst small reef sharks. For lunch we split another Eggplant Rollatini. Even served cold it’s just an awesome dish, especially when you’re truly in middle of nowhere.
View from the island:
Finally it was off to what we were all waiting for, Jellyfish Lake.
Once you start boating to the lake they won’t let you put on more sunscreen. Luckily I had applied some more beforehand.
There are steep stairs that you need to climb and descend to reach isolated Jellyfish Lake. Incredibly some people were carrying infants and toddlers and our guide had a few choice words for them.
AJK had left his footwear in the boat, thinking we would be jumping right in. Realizing that it would actually be quite a hike to get to the lake he asked the guide to go back to the boat to get his flip flops. The guide insisted on giving AJK his own flip flops, and proceeded to hike to the lake barefoot. Incredible.
The pictures do this place no justice, the Jellyfish Lake experience is incredible. You’re completely surrounded by millions of creatures that in other parts of the world would kill you. And here they just majestically float all around you.
It’s something I’ll never forget and something worthy of being on everyone’s bucket list.
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Afterward we made another snorkeling stop where there were an abundance of fish and coral:
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And it was finally time to boat back, but not before seeing more of the picturesque Rock Islands:
One of the other passengers on our trip worked on this cruise-ship, plying around the world. Not a bad gig.
After an absolutely exhilarating day on the seas it was time to go back to the hotel. Unfortunately there were no other takers for a helicopter ride and there was no time for a less expensive airplane tour, but spending the day on the waters was definitely the right move.
IMPAC shuttled us back to the hotel. Which is a good thing as driving in Palau looks downright scary with cars driving on the left side of the road but using cars that are designed to be driven on the right.
We got back to the hotel at 5:30pm. There were still 8 hours to go until our flight.
We were supposed to have a hotel room now, but that was forfeited due to the United mess. But we were hot and sweaty and couldn’t bear the thought of flying to Tokyo without a shower.
So we asked the front desk agent about getting a room for just half an hour in order to shower and once again she started sobbing about how they had no rooms for that night. Of course I wasn’t asking for a room for the night and surely people were arriving on United’s late night arrival from Guam, no?
It took asking for her supervisor, but we did each get a much needed shower. [AJK: Again, Dan was simply too nice, it took a swift verbal Japanese kick to get what we needed.]
And they were happy to warm up dinner from Pomegranate which we ate in the lobby. We let them heat those up in their oven for an hour (they need at least that long when frozen solid) and walked to a nearby grocery store.
The selection of OU certified kosher products there was excellent, most foods seemed to be sourced from the US mainland.
I noticed I had left behind my Hydro Flask on the boat. The front desk agent called IMPAC and they found it and offered to shuttle it over. When I tried to tip the person who brought it over to the hotel he point-blank refused the tip and said that it was his pleasure. All in all we were truly blown away by IMPAC and their staff.
What a phenomenal meal. The spicy peppercorn encrusted fried chicken is pure awesomeness.
AJK had the boneless spare ribs with roasted potatoes and grilled portabello mushrooms, which is one of the best meals that Pomegranate makes.
After dinner we explored the town of Koror. I wanted to find a souvenir beer opener, something I try to collect from each trip. Alas, it remained elusive.
We did love the Belau Art Gallery, though the owner didn’t allow me to take any pictures. The owner has a really neat 3D painting technique, though it requires wearing those dorky 3D glasses to take in the full effect. But AJK and I did make sure to buy some jewelry there for our far better halves.
Da and Nordy wanted a pic at the Post Office to prove they made it to this corner of the Earth:
There are tons of places to get an inexpensive massage, and we killed 2 hours getting a $10/hour massage. Then we had another beer at the main bar downtown before it was finally time to head to the airport in the hotel shuttle.
The city of Koror itself is nothing to see, but how we wished we had more time to explore the Rock Islands and the Ocean around Palau for a couple more days.
I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced several truly magical islands. Tasmania. Florianopolis. Kauai. The Maldives. Australia’s Whitsunday Islands. But I daresay that none were quite as captivating and thrilling as Palau.
Not many flights into Koror:
Vivian, the United checkin agent in Koror, was amused that we wanted duplicate boarding passes, and even more amused when we started telling her about our island hopper adventures. Turns out she was the gate agent as well and we talked about everything from missing the flight to Palau to the reduction in flights from Guam (since that time more Guam flights have been cut). She said she just prays that Smisek doesn’t cut Palau off from the network. With Delta making a play for the Japanase market with twice weekly nonstop service from Tokyo to Koror, the locals were worried what that would mean for United. But Vivian promised to get us out on time and have us make our connection to Tokyo.
There is a $50 departure tax that would have been nice if it was just built into the cost of the airplane ticket. They said that their internet was down (no surprise there) and that it would be cash only. But I asked if they would try and it took 5 minutes, but sure enough the credit machine worked. Don’t judge me, 75 miles is 75 miles!
For this flight we were in first class, but it’s a domestically configured 737, so that just bought us a few extra inches of width and recline. Still, we both collapsed before takeoff and slept for the 2 hour flight to Guam.
By now it was Friday morning and our only concern was getting to Japan so that we wouldn’t be spending Shabbos in Guam.
To be continued…
Special thanks to DDF legend “Something Fishy” for his editing help and tips.