by Christine Sur
Class Rank: Junior
After finishing three full days of diving the beautiful reefs of Palau, we spent a day touring different scenic and cultural sites. We were with two very knowledgeable tour guides who showed us around the biggest island of Palau, named Babeldaob. Our very first stop was a waterfall hike that took us through muddy forest and up and down hills accompanied by an experienced younger guide who knew the trail very well. We first reached a set of smaller falls, and of course once here, we eagerly set our walking sticks aside to jump into the water. It was incredibly refreshing, especially compared to the warm ocean we had been swimming in all week. After sliding down rocks and letting the water rush over us, we continued along the path.
At a high point on the trail we were able to see the falls from a distance. They were just a speck amidst the jungle but I knew they would be exciting. Once we got closer, I could hear the thundering sound of the waterfall first, then ran to see. It was incredible. I loved walking under the falls and feeling the water hit my skin. Once I got under the overhanging rock, I sat with the group and watched the water fall in front of me. It was such a beautiful experience and exhilarated my senses. I heard the sound of rushing water, saw the sun shine through the falls, and felt the water hit me. I absolutely loved it and would’ve been happy to spend the entire day there. But we still had much to see and do so we began our hike back to the bus, through a river and through even more mud.
In the afternoon we ate lunch at the site of stone monolith ruins. Many of them had faces, and our guide told us some myths about how they came to be. One involved a red rooster, which is the namesake of a Palauan beer we had been seeing at restaurants. Next on our tour was an old Japanese lighthouse. Positioned on a hill, the lighthouse still had bullet holes and most of its foundation intact. It gave us a beautiful view of the Rock Islands.
The tour continued to the capital, and we were able to see and walk through the congressional buildings. Here, our guide explained the symbolism of Palau’s simple flag: the yellow circle represents the moon in the sky, which is represented by the light blue background. He told us that because the moon coincides with the tide, Palauan fishermen have always known the moon’s cycles very well, because they must in order to be successful. And finally, our last stop on the tour was a traditional men’s house. These buildings are intricately made and painted, and house men when they are choosing a new chief for the village. No women are allowed, but ironically the women must then approve of the chief after the men choose.
Our tour of Babeldaob was filled with the beautiful scenery of Palau as well as its traditional culture. I enjoyed having the guides, because we not only saw but also learned about the many different aspects of Palau. It was an adventurous and fascinating day that made me appreciate our time on the island even more.