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PADDLING PALAU
By Jane Cassie
(For Travel Writers' Tales)

"Keep your eyes peeled," our guide, Jayden Twelbang, warns. "Crocodiles like to hang out along these shallow shorelines."

"He's kidding, right?" I ask my husband who, after hearing this tid-bit of information, quickens up his paddle pace.


[1. Paddling Rock Islands]

We're kayaking the raved Rock Islands, Palau's crowning jewels that scatter over the western corner of Micronesia. Like a strand of emerald gems, they offer us treasures of many kinds: vibrant coral reefs, jellyfish-filled lakes, cascading waterfalls and yes, a few crawling crocks.


[2. Gaping jaws]

On our previous day, we'd seen proof. It was something I'd half expected on the jungle tour, and from inside our cruiser, where there was distance between my photographing fingers and his gaping jaws, I felt quite safe. But here, while kayaking the sliver-thin channel beneath a mossy canopy of mangroves, we'd be pretty much at eye level.

Our enshrouded tunnel eventually (and thankfully) opens into a tranquil lagoon that's so brilliantly blue, it's blinding. But it's not just the water that gets my attention -it's what thrives above and beneath. Breaking the ethereal silence is an ongoing symphony of bird song. Flocks of all types flit in and out of the lush rainforest, skitter over the glistening surface and dive for fishy prey. Noddies, Flycatchers, Fruit Doves -the Hitchcock-loving list includes a hundred and forty-nine species, of which twelve are endemic.


[3.Channel of Mangroves]

Digital cameras get more action than our paddles and from the top of my Precision kayak I enjoy a front row seat. Joining these aerial acts are top-notch performers that swim below. Nerf sharks, water snakes and rabbit fish, unite here with all types of rays: Sting, Moon and Eagle Rays glide beneath my shallow hull and hunt the ocean floor for tasty treats. I just hope I'm not on the menu. "Fear not," Twelbang reassures. "That's just their way of welcoming you.


[4. Kayaks in tow]

Palau hospitality clearly comes in many forms. This past vacationing week we've been embraced by the intriguing culture, enlightened by its war-rich history and treated to five star pleasures. The Palau Pacific Resort has provided us with all the perks: a chic suite, delectable dining, a rainforest spa. Beyond its infinity pool and chalk-white beachfront, is this incredible underwater world just waiting to be explored. And Sam's Tours has offered us lots of ways to do this.


[5.Five Star Palau Pacific Resort]

As well as this Planet Blue Kayak experience, they host, sailing charters, boat excursions, snorkeling trips, and scuba. Whether it's just one plunge or a seven day live-aboard experience, every dive site in Palau's ninety mile-long aquatic playground, is guaranteed to be riveting.

"Because Palau is linked to three major ocean currents, it's one of the richest eco-biospheres," Twelbang says proudly. "We have 1,400 species of fish, 500 types of coral, 30 varieties of whales and dolphins and the planet's finest display of sharks." He knows these incredible stats like the back of his hand. But he doesn't mention the 'C' word?

Our next stop is Long Lake and Einstein's Coral Garden, where vibrant plants live symbiotically with algae and other marine life. Brain, Staghorn and Basket are just a few species that make up the Technicolor carpet. The shallow water, free of wind and waves, is a protected and perfect habitat. And, as we discover, so is the nearby Tunnel of Doom -for a few creeping crawling reptiles. Need I say more?


[6. Secret Lake Limbo]

Although a few in our group want to check out these jaws that lurk in the dark, we're blessed by the tidal gods. "Low tide means no ride," Twelbang informs, while steering us in the opposite direction. "But it's a good time for Secret Lake." A short paddle away is an open archway that's only accessible when the tide is low. And after doing the Palau limbo and gliding beneath the layers of limestone, we find ourselves cocooned in another paradisiacal, Eden-like, and yes, crock-free jewel.

IF YOU GO:

Getting There Continental Airlines makes regular flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Koror (ROR).
www.continental.com

Where to stay:
" Palau Pacific Resort - For 5 star luxury www.palauppr.com/
" Palasia Hotel Palau- Located in the heart of Koror. www.palasia-hotel.com

Things to do:
Sam's Tours offers a diverse line-up of activities www.samstours.com/

For more information Palau Visitor's Authority: www.visit-palau.com

PHOTOS by Brent Cassie - Suggested Photo Captions
1. Paddling Rock Islands, Palau's crowning jewels
2. We witness gaping jaws on the Jungle Tour
3. Kayaking the sliver-thin channel of mangroves
4. Kayaks in tow
5. Five star pleasures at The Palau Pacific Resort
6. Secret Lake Limbo

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

 


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