Monday, April 20, 2009

Alii from Palau

"Alii" is the way people say "hello" in Palau. Get out a world map and see if you can find Palau. It is a group of islands east of the Philippines and west of Hawaii. Palau has over 500 islands most of which are completely covered by trees. There are only 2000 people in Palau and only nine of the islands are inhabited.

Museums are the best place to learn about an area. Years ago the people of Palau used beads and turtle shells for money. That isn’t as strange as it sounds because American money is really just paper. The men had their own special meeting house called a Bai. They would make plans for their community. The decorations on the Bai are like storyboards that tell about their history and legends.

We love to learn about local legends. The taro plant is important to the Palauan people. The root is an important source of food. One of their legends tells about the taro goddess who created taro patches on all the islands. She brought back samples from all the patches and placed them in the area where she got married. We hiked to this special place where the taro from the various island are now stones that stick up in a dry creek. To harvest the taro the women have to wade in deep mud, sometime above their waist.

One day we went kayaking in the mangroves, which grow in salt water. Our guide, Mary explained, "Look at the leaves. Almost all of them are green but every once in a while you will see a yellow one. The salt from the water is collected in a few leaves, which turn yellow and die. They allow the rest of the plant to live. The mangrove trees have many roots that are a great hiding place for baby fish. We would sit real quiet in our kayak and listen to nature. One of the birds sounds more like a monkey than a bird. Another day we went on jungle boat and saw crocodiles.

We love to snorkel. We saw so many incredibly beautiful fish including bright blue starfish and even giant clams, which are nearly three feet across. Our guide, Jefferson, said, "I have seen clams so big a person could lay down in it!" We would like to see that. But the most amazing thing was Jellyfish Lake. We took a boat to one of the Rock Islands. We had to climb a very steep trail up a hill then down to a hidden lake. The trail is covered with sharp coral so we had to be very careful. Luckily, there was a rope to help us pull ourselves up. It was worth it. We went snorkeling with a zillion pale pink jellyfish. It was like watching a jellyfish ballet. A scientist studying the jellyfish told us the lake became landlocked about seven thousand years ago. The jellyfish were trapped in the lake and had no natural enemies so they no longer need their tentacles with stingers. It was an amazing experience.

Today Palau is a nature lover’s paradise but it wasn’t always so peaceful. During World War II it was a battleground. There are ruins of Japanese forts and remains of airplanes that were shot down. In fact, one is called "George Bush Wreck" named after the first President Bush. Today Palau is a beautiful, peaceful country where people can see many of nature’s wonders.