First Impressions Palau; Conveniently Inconvenient. 

Within the first week of arriving in Palau a friend asked me how life was closer to land. I blurted out the phrase “Conveniently Inconvenient” and then wondered if I was making a snap judgement about the place.

I try and reserve my first impressions for at least a week when we arrive at a new destination. A week gives me time to kinda get to know the place, to work out what are it’s short comings and what are my own. And so we been here for close to close to 3 weeks now I haven’t said much about Palau other than “We are here.”

Truth is I wasn’t that impressed in the beginning.

Palau is a heavily trafficked island by tourists, and although that is fairly different from our usual scene it was not what I found disappointing. The tourist mostly come for the diving-the visibility here is supposed to be AMAZING. So imagine my surprise when I couldn’t see the bottom in 15M in the anchorage in town. In fact most days the water is so milky you can’t see the bottom at the end of the dinghy dock. Right, you say, well that’s town. It is, so maybe it is better out island where the dive boats go, I will have to wait and see.

It has been a real treat to shop at a real grocery store.

One with isles and shopping trolleys and familiar products on the shelf. With ties to the United States there a good selection of everything you could want and then some, and almost nothing is expired!!

I was SUPER excited to find environmentally conscience products on the shelf, things I strive to keep on board but haven’t been able to find since we left Fiji. When your used water discharge is as close to the ocean as ours you are quickly reminded how much of an impact you can have on the immediate environment. Making the choice to buy low impact dishing washing liquid, clothes detergent and body soaps is a no brainer.

But the down side has been we seem to be producing much more garbage than usual. All the plastic used for unnecessary over-packaging, all the drink bottles, all the can rings- even when beer is sold in a box of 24 they still put each six pack in plastic rings. And all the plastic bags; ones to put your veggies in and then one to put that bag in when you pay!

And those ties to the USA mean everything is flown in.

Not from the closest neighbour a mere 500NM to the west, the Philippines, or from Australia, New Zealand or Singapore, but from mainland USA…thousands of miles away. Everything from can goods to flour to meat and veg. Yep, veggies and fresh eggs are flown in from the States. There is no local market. Which means nothing lasts unless it is kept refrigerated, things are expensive ($4.65 for one mangy avocado!) and when the plane or the ship doesn’t arrive one week there are no veggies to be had.

Although it has been a treat to be able to find broccoli, pears, carrots and lettuce I miss my market mornings- the super fresh fruit, eggs without stamps and the occasional feather stuck to them, the weird local veggies and the smiling ladies who sell them. Thankfully we’ve recently discovered a few small and dingy convenience stores that have a stock of local bananas, limes, squash and some sort of spinichy looking green, so all is not lost.

I kinda expected that being a busy “civilized” place internet would be fast, cheap and easy.

But it’s not. Cell service in town is fastish but mobile data is expensive. Coverage to the outer islands is very limited. There are WIFI Hotspots around that are cheapish but they are only kinda fast if everyone in the bar/anchorage is not online when you want to get some work done. I can’t decide if I am disappointed or not by this one…it is kinda nice to be forced offline or at least to limited in connectivity. I don’t want to become a cell phone zombie.

The other reason we needed good internet is because our parts list has become fairly long over the last year or so and Palau has a USA Zipcode, which should mean that shipping would be easy and relatively cheap. However after sourcing many of our needed and wanted items on Amazon we discovered that despite the association with the USA and the US postal address many sellers don’t ship here, or at least not economically. I can’t say thanks enough to our friend Kim who lives in Florida and has once again generously opened her mailbox to us.

The main island of Palau (well islandS as it is several linked together with a few small bridges and roads) isn’t really that big yet no one seems to walk here. A walk into “town” from the anchorage takes about 15-20 minutes at a leisurely pace. Opting to take a taxi, the only form of public transportation as there are none of the usual minivan, flag-em-down-go-wherever island buses around, costs $5-7. That’s not to say there are very few cars on the island. There are heaps of them, Friday afternoon traffic can actually come to a halt, but 80% are driven around with only one person inside and the aircon on full blast. Just like other “civilized” places.

So, I haven’t really made up my mind about Palau yet, after all we haven’t seen too much outside of town and the main island. But I am sticking with my first impression. For now at least.


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