The happy people of Peleliu

Today is the day I tend to hate in Palau - the last day of diving.  It always makes me sad, and it generally strengthens our resolve to return here.  This time, the return will be more quickly, I believe.

I had the strangest dream last night.  I got off of a flight, and was down two levels to pick up my baggage, when I realized I’d left my wallet and passport on the plane.  I made my way back to the plane, where I was not allowed to go back on, and was told to call customer service.  The person on the other end of the phone told me that my call was expected, they had the items, and they thought I would have called much sooner.  When I expressed concern since I had just arrived, I was placed on hold.  About five minutes later, the agent came back on the line and asked how he could help me.  When I said that he had been helping me reunite with my items, he replied that he was sorry, he couldn’t help me now, he was planning a party for his house.  And he hung up.  I woke up after this, dumbfounded, and told Wayne about my dream.  Wayne said that he thought the dream made perfect sense.  After all, “You’re in Palau.”

Who’d a thunk that?

The sky was grey this morning, reflecting a somber mood, and we got on the boat headed to Peleliu for two dives.  The trip is somewhat longer than the others, 1:15, and we rode it pelted with rain.  As we arrived at Peleliu, however, sunlight began to stream from behind the clouds.

Our first dive was at Peleliu Wall, where we made our way through the cut to the corner.  It is obvious how much the typhoon devastated Peleliu when you look both at the eastern side of the island (stripped of trees and boulders flung around), and at the reef beneath.  The teeming pelagic life just wasn’t there, and the coral was virtually stripped from the top of the reef.  Still, it was beautiful, and we enjoyed ourselves for a little under an hour as there was no ripping current.  One sad loss on the dive, though.  At the very end of the safety stop, Wayne’s computer band fragmented, and sped down to the top of Peleliu Corner.  The Peleliu gods of the corner had previously acted and flooded my beloved Sony camera back in 2006.  Looks like we’ve now both sacrificed to the gods.  All I can say is thank goodness for insurance.

We had a brief pause between dives where we got to see the wreckage caused on land by Typhoon Bopha.  Boulders were strewn across the eastern side of the island, and houses were gone.  The treeline had also receded from the beach. 

In November 2012, the typhoon started as a tropical storm, and the National Weather Service in Guam issued a tropical storm warning.  The Palau National Emergency Office issued an announcement requesting the public to stock up with emergency supplies (food for 3 days, battery powered radios, first aid kits, flashlights, etc).  The typhoon passed to the south side of Palau, disrupting communications.  Koror had slight damage in the form of uprooted trees.  Coastal villages on the main islands were subjected to strong winds and heavy rain, causing flooding, similar to Peleliu.  Both Peleliu and Babeldaob had homes destroyed, and perhaps half the monkey population of Angaur was lost.  :(

We avoided snorkeling with the crocodiles in the mangroves around the rest area, shared our lunch with a local dog (she seemed pretty hungry, and got good at catching scraps of fish tossed her way) and headed back out for our second dive.  Again, no ripping current, and a pleasant, hour long dive.

After this, we went on a land tour of Peleliu, where we saw the old airfield (the main reason for securing the island), viewed the invasion beaches, saw the cemetery for the US troops, toured the museum, and walked along the jungle trail up to the viewing point where we got to see a panorama of the whole island.  On our way back to the north harbor, we stopped for ice cream, and then to tour the 1000 man cave.    Peleliu itself is one of sixteen states in Palau, and has a total area of five square miles.  It’s population is under 1000, but it is the third most populous state of Palau.  There are four villages, Kloulklubed, Imelchol, Lademisang (where we typically dock between dives), and Onegeudil.  The island was the center of a battle in the Pacific during WWII, and many Marines and Japanese soldiers died on the beaches and in the caves there.  The battle was a brutal one - the Japanese engaged in endurance tactics, deploying in caves and dug-in positions that had to be taken individually. 

I think this has been the favorite day of Matt by far!!  I can see visiting the Peleliu Battlefield fits in with his enjoyment of military history.

Then it was back to Sam’s to pack up dive gear, grab some dinner, and head back to the hotel for the evening.  It is sad to say goodbye to the diving, but Palau will be here when we return.