I am in a minor fashion rather glad of the fact that I did not retrieve my camera from the police. I would otherwise not have had the use of the Olympus camera I borrowed as a result. Though in most respects inferior to my own, with some annoying properties when trying to compose a decent shot, it had one great advantage apart from its compact size. That was its ability to function underwater. The highlight of my trip was without any doubt the few hours spent under the water at the Rock Islands in Palau. To have been able to record a little of the flavour of the delight of those precious minutes was, though I hate to admit it, more than compensation for all the frustration I had experienced.
Late Sunday afternoon Taxi to Nausori and a 25 minute flight to Nadi. There we had a few hours to kill so we took a taxi to the Bounty Restaurant. Had to tell the taxi driver three times to start the meter, and finally he did when I threatened not to pay otherwise. The fare was $4.60. I pointed out he might have got more had he started the meter sooner. He did not argue.
At the restaurant I had Kokoda:. Raw fish in lime and coconut with onion, cucumber and tomato. And a tomato juice.
On the way back the second taxi refused to put on the meter and just ignored us. I considered refusing to pay at all, which is my legal right here in Fiji, but I am not that heartless. I gave him four dollars, and again pointed out that he might have got more had he listened to us and turned on the meter. He did try to argue, but he knew he was licked. I am not new here any more.
What can I say about a long boring flight, even to an interesting place like Hawai’i? It was a long boring flight. I read, dozed and watched, but did not listen to, some movie. Already forgotten. Continental charge for headphones.
Early Sunday morning we were in HAWAI’I. I insisted we ride a bus from the Airport to Waikiki, as I fell one sees more. First problem: you pay exact amounts or get no change. I had only $100 notes. Luckily Kika had bought coffee and had smaller notes, but not the right coins. We still had to pay $5 for two $1.25 rides. Cheaper than a taxi though. Be advised if planning to catch a bus in Honolulu, carry change. As it happens the bus took a back route and we did not see much except the industrial areas.
Spent the day at a Mall somewhere while Kika shopped. We had to wait for a while until the shops opened as it was early and a Sunday. Found a place that sells a reasonable coffee and Danish. I confused the shop lady by asking for a short black. Got a funny look. I explained I meant an espresso.
Finally the shops opened and the frenzy began. Following Kika round the Mall made me homesick for my daughters, who are not much younger than she.
Bought some postcards and stamps. I still have them.
Back to the airport, flew out, changed planes in Guam and on to Palau. Have now crossed the dateline twice, my sense of time and date is scrambled. We are now four hours behind Fiji, same day, instead of 12 hours ahead, day before. Or something. I said I was confused.
It is late on Monday night, about 11 PM local time. A friendly young filipino driver met us and took us ti the Yuhi Hotel, a smallish Three story establishment with pleasant rooms with cooking facilities, TV, Aircon, comfortable beds and economical rates. Recommended.
Next morning at 9am an entry meeting with the Palau Drinking Water Safety Planning National Steering Committee where Kika and I did our thing.
Kika is there to assist in a cost-benefit analysis of the Drinking Water Safety Plan, to verify its usefulness and worth. I am there to help make the DWSP happen. We met several new people, most with difficult names, from various departments but mainly Public Works and the Environmental QualityProtection Board. I was impressed with the EQPB. Here is an organisation with Balls and determination, and it shows everywhere one goes in Palau. There is very little litter and almost NO pollution in the sea. Where else can you go in the Pacific and swim in pristine limpid water right beside a major urban settlement, with highways and hotels abounding? The EQPB has even prosecuted its own Government for failing to follow the rules in developing those same roads and causeways through the magroves or over the beaches. I am guessing this is one place in the pacific with no corruption problem. The American influence is strong, but not as overpowering as, say, Guam, The main signs of it are the accents, the use of the US currency, and the famous yellow schoolbuses.
So we worked. In my case that involved sitting down with people, asking questions and making note of the things that needed to happen, and thinking of ways to bring them about.
We went on a field trip to visit the two sources for the Koror-Airai water treatment plant, and the plant itself. I was impressed with what they were achieving with what they had, from a very turbid river source and a crocodile infested dam. I had no idea there were crocs in Palau, but it should not have been surprising considering its relative proximity to PNG. Apparently the crocs come up river to nest in the dam. I wonder if croc shit has any microbial hazards of potential concern?
On the way back to town, David, the plant manager took us to a pleasant bathing spot under the bridge between the islands. There I had my first swim, plunging in in my clothes, after unzipping the legs from my trousers. Tried out the camera in the water and to my relief it worked. Took my first underwater self portrait in 25 years and a rather nice shot under the inter-island bridge. Back to the hotel to shower and change. Wandered down the main road and came to a childrens Christmas party in a meeting hall. The camera is not really up to night work. For dinner I bought a can of Chilli, and titivated it inmy room with some onion and cheese, and ate it with bread and frozen peas (heated). Cooking for ourselves is cheaper and Kika is a vegetarian, so dining out on fruit bat soup and crab was easy enough to forgo.
Thursday was more of the same, busier for Kika than me, as she was still trying to make comtact with a lot of people, and I had now only one to catch up with, the director of the Palau Community College, so we could make arrangements for a venue and facilities for training. Looks like I am going to have an opportunity to return, as I want to arrange for the same chap whom we used for training in Fiji. He is really good with treatment processes and procedures, but I need to be there to give the DWSP perspective. Yay.
We went for a walk in the evening and were caught in a heavy downpour just as a taxi pulled up. Meet Norman, the driver who took us to the end of the road we had been exploring, by the sewage plant as it happens, It stopped raining and norman waited patiently for us with his meter off until we captured the sunset on CCD. In the meantime some workers from the plant, who were relaxing in the adjacent park plied us with Asahi beer, which we paid for by photographing them.. Then Norman took us home and we arranged for his services the following evening.
Next day was Friday, and the main thing on the agenda was the exit meeting with the committee, and a little follow up work. Now the REAL work begins for both of us, back in Fiji. We had been invited to the PIIC Christmas party that evening, and were also now advised that we first had an afternoon trip to the Rock Islands. Kimie, one of the EQPB staff and her husband took us out there in their boat, after we had paid the $25 fee that all foreigners must pay to dive in Palau. The fee is good for ten days diving, and we had barely 2 hours, but I do not begrudge a cent of it because it is plain to see the money is being well put to use. It has not disappeared the way it does in certain other countries I might mention. I have already written that this trip to the Rock islands was for me, the utter highlight of my visit to Palau and the photos I am still trying to upload will tell you better than I can write of the exhilaration and delight I felt to be back in the water with a mask and schnorkel.
From the very little I have seen, I believe the
locals may be absolutely right when they claim that Palau has the very
best diving in the Pacific, and therefore in the world. May it stay
that way forever.
What impressed me most of all here is the Palau
people’s attitude to their environment. Buildings may be run down and
the paintwork drab in places, but it is clean. There is no litter, The
water is sparkling and clear, populated with fish even adjacent to
urban and industrial land. Kimie is proud of the fact that the EQPB
successfully prosecutes its own Government when some department crosses
the line. That is great. I cannot think of another Pacific country
where that could happen.
Shower, change and at 7 pm down to the Christmas party courtesy of Norman the taxi driver
Raw fish sashimi style, Mangove crab, fish, chicken, pork, salads, and no rice to be seen!
Great music, mainly local songs with a modern beat from a locally famous female singer with a strong smoky coffee voice that was simply stunning. I wanted to look for her CDs at the airport, but I did not find them. Also an older chap sang some obvious local favourites, judging by the clapping and cheering, including a pretty good rendition of this classic…
Norman arrived bang on time to take us back to the hotel, where we headed off to the airport just before midnight in the hotel courtesy van.
You can read one result of our press release here…
The usual boring flight to Guam, and one could not complain, it is
after all the shortest of the three legs of the journey home. I dozed a bit, not having slept much lately, and we
arrived in Guam in the early morning to a scene of utter chaos. A million billion
Asians had arrived at the same time as us and were set on marching past a single point into the security hall, where the process was clogged. We had 40
minutes to make our connection and we did not. Continental said they had
been paging us, and maybe they had, but we did not hear it in all the
bedlam. We missed our flight and there was no flight out to Hawaii until the following morning. We had 24
hours in Guam. My young companion was spitting blood. She had set her
heart on spending that 24 hours and another 8 or so doing things in Hawaii involving boutique shops, beaches bars
and bistros. Neither of us were in a very good mood, made worse when
we saw our hotel, and worse still when we set out to find some food.
Guam appears to be a four lane highway, where no one walks. When someone tells you there is a restaurant just a few minutes up the road, they mean a few minutes in a vehicle travelling at 60 miles per hour. We did
find a beach, and it was a rather pleasant one, but the only food we
could find in walking distance was a Subway. Better than nothing, or
McDonalds, I suppose. We had a good walk in the evening along the
beach near our hotel, and took some photos, but all in all I would sum
Guam up as a place to pass by. Maojor hassles getting a cab to pick us up at 4AM, despite having booked it and double checked. Still, we got to the airport in time to happily leave Guam behind. On to Hawaii, where we had only an
overnight stay and an early departure. Kika tried to get as much
shopping in as she could, I looked out a few things and some food and
drink and sat down to relax. We did go for a walk later on Waikiki Beach
around midnight, and discovered there were still shops open until one
am, so Kika shopped some more. Sleep was not really an issue. Plenty
of time for that on the plane.