Palau, like Yap, and the Marianas, what first settled by Austronesian speaking navigators from the Philippines and Indonesia perhaps as early as 2000 BC.
Palau was controlled by the British from 1783 to 1885, then by Spain until Germany took over in 1899. Japan occupied it in 1914 and held it until it fell into American hands in WW II. Palau remained a US Trust Territory and refused to join the Federated States of Micronesia. It became nominally independent in 1994 but it still depends heavily on US aid.
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This shows how the main island, Babeldaob, is surrounded by a wide coral reef making it difficult to approach from the sea. The smaller island of Koror, directly to the south, is more readily accessible.
Palau airport is on the main island Babeldoab, a dozen km north of the capital, Koror, on Koror island.
Palau is renowned for its pristine diving sites mostly located around the beautiful Rock Islands just south of Koror.
Koror is not cheap, several luxury resorts start at 200 $US per night. I was lucky to find a plain room at the DW Motel for 35 $US.
Some of these giant clams live to more than 100 years and grow to more than four feet wide. The meat of the big muscle is considered a delicacy in Asia. I tried some cooked in coconut milk and found it delicious although a little rubbery.
They look rather plain here next to the hotel entrance but they are absolutely magnificent in the sea with their large multicolored mantles in their own coral environment (I saw some while snorkeling off Aitutake in the Cook islands.).
Koror grew to almost 30 000 when it was the administrative capital of all the Japanese possessions in the Pacific in the 1920's.
Now it is less than half the size but its inhabitants are almost all Palauan and they are proud to display their cultural identity.
After Guam and Saipan that were completely swamped by the American influence, it was refreshing to see signs of a distinctive heritage in this small modern town. This is the Palau Community College on Main street in the center of Koror.
Across the street was this small park with a couple of thatched roof structures where people could meet and chat in the shade.
There was a modern supermarket but it also made the point of displaying peaked gables reminiscent of "bais", the traditional men's houses.
The Palau National Museum was small but it had some interesting displays inside and a beautiful "bai" outside.
Micronesia was mostly matrilineal (except for Yap and the Gilberts), but art, magic and secret rituals were the domain of men who congregated in these men's houses called "bai".
The paintings on the beams deal with secret myths and tell stories about the clan's origins.
There was no bus service so I took a taxi to the Palau Mariculture Demonstration Center (PMDC), at the southern tip of Malakal Island to see these tanks where giant clams are raised from their minute beginnings. The lucky ones will be planted on Palau's reefs and the remainder, fed to tourists
Shady Icebox Park next to the PMDC would normally be full of picnicking tourists but now it was empty. An excellent place to sit down and meditate on the beauty of nature while looking out towards the Rock Islands and the sea
I walked back to town and stopped here at the Riptide - Hightide bar-restaurant-beach for a cold beer on the way.
A little further I spotted this Japanese bunker overgrown with bushes on the hillside.
Back in Koror, I took another cab to come here at the Palau International Coral Reef Research Center (PICRRC), where scientists from all over the world come share what they know about coral reefs.
The grounds of the PICRRC were so well manicured that I suspect this place is more a hideaway retreat for deserving university professors than a hard labor camp.
They even had their own boat to go snorkeling and scuba diving!
I rather enjoyed Koror, the people here were friendly, they were prosperous and they seemed to have struck a happy balance between traditional and modern values.
This building next to my hotel was the senior citizen's center where a number of activities were organized to keep them occupied and happy.
These seniors were vigorously playing cards with strange cards I had never seen before.
My overall impression of Palau was excellent.
No doubt the friendly hostesses of the visitor center helped me form that positive impression!