From Palau 5: Chickens

This summer, Inger is working with the Health Policy and Research Department at the Ministry of Health on the island of Palau. She will blog about her experience here at OHSU StudentSpeak. Learn more about Palau here.

Alii and Greetings from Palau!

There are two ways to get from Portland to Palau: 1)Portland-Tokyo-Palau or 2) Portland-San Fran-Honolulu-Guam-Palau. Quite frankly, Tokyo scares me. I’d much rather get stranded in Honolulu or Guam than Tokyo so I chose the latter option.

When I get off the plane in Honolulu, I was  immediately greeted with the warm air and fragrance of plumeria. “Ahhhh, ‘the Islands’!” After another 6 hour flight to Guam and 2 hour flight to Palau, I was quite tired by the time I reached my destination (which amounted to a full 20 hours of air-time). After being greeted at the airport by Ivan and Martha, I was driven to my new home and was in bed 30 minutes later. That first morning in Palau I received an early-morning greeting from the neighborhood roosters.

To survive in Palaua, you must be able to tolerate roosters. They are everywhere!

Palau doesn’t share the same sweet fragrance-profile as that other “fancy” island. In fact, its rare to smell any flowers in Palau. There are 3 smells in Palau: 1) nothing, 2) animal excrement, and 3) donuts!! Palauans love their fried dough (which is undoubtedly contributing to the high rates of obesity…)—there are bakeries everywhere! Bakeries and massage parlors.

Another thing uniquely Palaun are the sounds: dogs barking, roosters crowing, and babies crying. I kind of like the roosters (at least compared to the other two). The chickens are running all around my neighborhood—sometimes they are even up in the trees.

This is one of my neighbor’s yards (above).  I live in the hamlet/neighborhood known as T-Dock (below).

As I’ve mentioned before, Palau doesn’t have any street addresses or building numbers.  There is a post office in Koror—with a US zip code—and everyone uses PO boxes to get mail. Occasionally, a business will advertise itself at being “Ford building, 2nd floor”. When people ask where I live, I simply say “…T-Dock…behind the blue lumber store.” That’s it!

You can’t tell in the pictures above but T-Dock has been under construction since I arrived 3 weeks ago. In fact, many of the roads around Koror are under construction. These are projects funded by Taiwan–also known as the Republic of China (which took me 3 weeks to realize).

It is only a 10 minute walk from my apartment to Palau Community College (PCC) where I spend most of my time during the week.
PCC is literally at the center of the community.

On Saturday, Ivan and I borrowed some kayaks and spent the day exploring the waterways. We put in at M-dock… “turn at the Supreme Court and follow the road down past dump…”

Kayaking in Palau is an amazing experience. Since the main islands lie within the corral reef, the water is fairly flat (and very easy to get around in).

Beaches are rare around the islands. In fact, finding a place “to beach” your boat is nearly impossible. Most of the islands are shaped like mushrooms –the area around the tidal zone curves inward and the islands sit on top of the stem out of the water.

There was one place we found to stretch our legs, although we had to trod lightly because the ground was very sharp limestone.

We found lots of little caves along the way.

My new desktop photo…

There are also World War 2 relics scattered throughout.

And of course, wildlife.

It’s obviously one of these places where photos don’t do it justice.

So peaceful… J

In addition to my Chinese-American side-kick, Ivan, my other good friend on the island is Nixon–a Pohnpeian-born, Paluan-import. His official job is working with the MOH Division of Environmental Health, but more recently he has become an unofficial tour-guide. Saturday night we went to the Hatohobei State 8th Inauguration and Constitutional Day Celebration.

Hatohobei (or Tobi) State is Palau’s southernmost state (land area 0.88 km2)—about 600 km from the main archipelago of Palau. I’m not sure but I think that’s a pretty long boat ride. So anyways, the Tobians were having their party in Koror. Unfortunately, we missed all the speeches but showed up in time for the food and entertainment.

This is some typical Palauan food: fried fish, pork, taro (purple and yellow), white rice, “pumpkin rice” (…um, delicious!!..), yellowfin sashimi in coconut milk, and there was some pickled cucumbers under all that meat (not to mention the pie that was consumed prior to the camera coming out).

And not a bad view from the venue, either.

Sunday, we went on expedition through Babeldaob (the big island).  There is one main road that loops around the island. This is the “Compact” road—part of the negotiations between the US and Palau during the Compact of Free Association discussions. Dr. Dever says the Palauans are very good negotiators. Approximately 90% of the road is in really good conditions but the other 10% suffers from poor drainage (i.e. roads collapsing down the hillside) and erosion control (mud slides).

We started up the east side of Babeldaob and headed to the capitol building in Melekeok State. The capitol is technically located in the village of Ngerulmud—population 391—which makes it the 4th smallest capital “city” in the world according to population!

The Palau capital building is very smiliar to the US capital building…minus the secret service. Actually, we didn’t see anyone else while we were there (hence the photo of me freely trodding all over the capital’s lawn).

It’s a very…interesting…building.  For one, it’s huge! It can be seen from different vantage points all around Babeldaob. Secondly, it is architecturally similar to the US capital building but also has uniquely Palauan accents.

By the way, those columns are hollow. The Taiwanese also financed this project but apparently cut a few corners.

From the capital, we continued on to a lunch spot in the northern state of Ngaraard. The island here narrows to a few miles in width. As we sat and ate lunch (…they made me eat Spam!!..I was a trooper…) we could see the Pacific Ocean to one side and the Philippine Sea to the other.  Next we headed back down to the coast to Martha’s home-village.

This is the real Palau—very interesting to see life outside of “the city” (Koror- pop. 15,000). We spent a couple hours relaxing at the beach and checking on Martha’s banana trees.

To get to the trees, we had to walk up these old stone pathways—the old roads. This was a beautiful area; I can’t wait to go back and spend more time there. (I’ve already picked out my hammock spot in a giant tree hanging over the ocean)

As we returned to Koror I realized…I missed the chickens! The whole afternoon when I was out in the country I didn’t see or hear one chicken. I had to come back to the city to hear the rooster’s crowing. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

I love Palau. Because it’s not Hawaii. And it’s far from perfect. But it’s beautiful nonetheless.

I’ve already started plotting my return.

Until then,

Also, I love these signs…

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