So, I wrote this kind of spontaneously in a Vienna cafe after I’d already posted photos of kayaking in Palau a few days ago. I’d be really interested to hear thoughts on which you enjoy more, the verbal or photographic description of the trip. This is just a rough first-draft type thing, so keep that in mind as you read.
As the rats chewed through the fabric of the tent and into my stores of food, I lay just inches away dreaming of hundreds of limestone islands and thousands of stingless jellyfish. Hours earlier, in the front seat of a dive boat running headfirst into a driving rain, I’d started to reconsider spending 6 days camping on a beach in the heart of the Rock Islands of Palau. Now the boat is gone, the camp is pitched, and the island’s resident vermin are making themselves known.
For a day or two at a time I meet no other people, though like Crusoe with his footprint I see evidence of day-trippers near my campsite in the smoldering cook fires and discarded chopsticks of their midday meals. While they feast, though, I paddle through rock arches and over calm lagoons cut off from the jostling waves of the open water.
In one quiet corner of these Rock Islands, the contours of a World War II fighter are slowly obscured by coral growth that becomes a home for tiny but colorful fish. I see no signs of the Japanese pilot, but if the nearby fortifications are indication he didn’t far to swim for his succor. In another, a reef shark cuts under the wake of my paddles and into the open sea. Judging by the speed of his flight, he may be nearly as startled by my presence as I am his. Further out, a sardine sanctuary guarded by a high-walled cave makes the perfect lunch stop.
I could easily fish for my food, but in one of the healthiest marine ecosystems I’ve ever seen I feel a bit guilty for even considering the idea. I subsist on basic foodstuffs brought from Koror, with the occasional gift of BBQ from chance-encountered snorkel-tripping Taiwanese tour groups who seem happy to oblige.
In the beginning, the wet salty destruction of the stops any considerations of photography with my ziploc-ensconced Canon, but with the slack tide at the dusk of this kayaking adventure my confidence grows. Still dry-bagged and double-ziplocked, I paddle my techno-passenger so gently that I barely ripple the calm surface of the Philippine Sea. As the sun’s fire plunges towards the deep-water horizon, seabirds leave their clifftop nests to fly in a low circle that seems to trace the movement of my slowly spinning sea kayak.
Back at camp, the light breeze blowing in from over the waves strengthens as it rises until it gains enough speed to spur the sparsely scattered clouds through the star-speckled sky. As full-dark falls and I finish dinner, I make ready once more for battle with the local rat community. I am the invader in this scenario, but armed with a double-blad(ed kayak paddle) and an uncontrollable army of local hermit crabs I will prevail! An hour or two later, my speciesist dominance temporarily established, I more prudently pack the rest of my food into the kayak’s dry hatch.
So ends each of my days of kayaking in Palau’s Rock Islands, but I will be up with the sun tomorrow morning to live the experience again.
I published a short piece about this in Vagabundo Magazine. To read it, hop over to my personal portfolio.