For the traveler on a shoestring budget Palau’s accommodation is scarce and expensive, if your lucky you can find a “room” for 50 dollars a night in L.E.H.M.S. hotel or a bunk in the dorm room at Ms Pinetree’s for $35, other options are to find a spare room for rent around Koror. But if you want a more adventurous trip including your own private secluded spot to spend a few nights it can work out very cheap indeed.
When we left Finland for Palau we had an idea that we would struggle with accommodation and so we had our 10 Euro contingency plan, the most basic tent money could buy. After all, the cost of camping on the main “big” island is pretty much free, though you may have to pay for water and shower facilities you find. So if the brown stuff hit the fan we would never be 100% homeless as long as we didn’t mind “squatting” with our tent for accommodation.
Also the idea of going “Robinson Crusoe” was quite appealing, for the price of the Rock Island entrance ($50 each) you can have your pick of private islands which are rarely occupied by travelers and have cooking and toilet areas built by the national park. More so for myself it was a chance to hone my “man skills”, which after several years of resort life in Indonesia, were sadly in need of a refresh. Building fires cooking food and of course making the shelter were all my department. Hunting our food would be out for three reasons (1) I had no weapon to hunt with. (2) I have no fucking idea how to hunt vegetables, or animals. (3) We were on the Islands for 24 hours, not 24 years! After mulling over these points I packed myself some remade meals. My wife Heini would be spending her time in the hammock reading her book, this was non negotiable.
Transport to the Rock Islands can be difficult and expensive to arrange, you pretty much have to charter a boat to take you and your supplies there and picking you up after your trip. We were lucky in the fact that Palau Dive Adventures offered to drop us off after the dives on their way home for no extra charge. While you’r left grinning on the beach and the boat pulls away you’r pretty much gonna be on your own, so planning is essential making sure you have copius amounts of food, water and beer, also sun cream and sundries. So as well as our dive equipment we loaded up a nights provisions and set off for either the greatest night in Palau… or a sleepless night of horror as everything went wrong.
We arrived at around 15:00 to the sight of a very busy island, around 4 boats and 40 people loitering on the beach and tables of the camping area. My heart started to sink as for a moment it seemed that they all had picked the same day to come camping as us. People were spread along the beach playing beach tennis, eating, drinking and enjoying the island. Heini and I exchanged looks but Jason, the owner, seeing this assured us that we’d soon be alone as the groups were just there for the day and nobody stayed overnight there. We spotted and got chatting to a lad we met the previous day in Neco Marine’s “drop off” bar. The lad, lets call him Kyle, was also planning to spend the night camping and had brought his tent and supplies. After hearing our plans too he opted to check the other side of the island for a beach to pitch his tent in private. Our boat waved us off and the Captain Dustin gunned the engine as the sped off into the distance… with our camera on board!
As promised by Jason the crowds started to pack up and by 17:00 we were alone, aside from Kyle who was crashing around in the jungle behind the campsite. Heini stretched herself out on the beach reached into her bag to take some pictures of our paradise and then realised the camera was on the boat, surprisingly it wasn’t my fault. I remained a hero for charging my phone that morning, thus providing us a camera, also we had Heini’s phone and iPad, so no big drama. I set myself the immediate task of “making fire” and started collecting drift wood and anything that looked like it would “burn good”.
Normally I’d take a deep breath to calm, but breathing was out of the question!
I went into the jungle to find that there was no route to the other side and on collecting wood I came across Kyle’s dinner… or the one he ate the day before at the bar complete with toilet paper! I resisted the urge of finding him and rubbing his nose in it, angrily pointing to the compost toilets installed by the rangers (normally I’d take a deep breath to calm, but breathing was out of the question!). Gathering some more wood I made my way back to our camp ground to find Kyle had given up trying to reach the other side of the island and pitched his tent a healthy 200m away from our site, we were gonna get along just fine.
After 2 hours of building a fire pit, moving it, building another, moving it again, I finally decided where my campfire would be thus not burning every tree on the island to the ground (Palau has just suffered its worst droughts in recent years and had not received rain for months). I pitched the tent praying silently that all the pegs and poles were there in the bag that I had never checked, and thankfully all went well with minimum amounts of sand inside.
You can always look back on favourite moments of your life with a smile, and this has got to be in my top 10.
Now all was done I could jump into the sea for a well deserved cool down and wash the sweat and dirt from me, this is when I really enjoyed the silence with only the sound of the chickens (yeah, more wild chickens) and the ocean. You can always look back on favourite moments of your life with a smile, and this has got to be in my top 10. The combination of all the beauty of the location, the happiness and respect and appreciation we had for being there all came together. I lit the fire as the sun began to go down, cracked open a warm beer, and appreciated how lucky we were to have this available. Kyle joined us and had a beer as we small talked about our trip and future plans blah blah blah. Through the relaxing effect of the beer I began to notice additional sounds and shapes that were defiantly not wild chickens, and through the twilight I could make out the shapes of our island residents.
The tourists had been coming to this island for a long time, they came with food and drinks and left without, leaving plenty of supplies for the islands indigenous population – Rattus norvegicus, or jungle rat to you and I. These guys had balls too, they were not shy to come within meters of the camp fire looking for food after the picnic tables had been picked clean. Kyle spotted one and started to tell Heini of its proximity and size, I gave Kyle the universal look that said “Dude, shut the fuck up you plank!” before his outburst caused Heini to shriek and run into the tent. Heini did notice the movement and asked if they were rats and if they were close, I assured her they were tiny and more scared of us. It was a little white lie, kind of like when you say “no I didn’t fart, it was the dog” and it served its purpose. We enjoyed the night chatting by the fire until late, I enjoyed some local grown “produce” until late, and with the tide high we returned to our tent for the most uncomfortable nights sleep in a long time! FYI yoga matts do not make good mattresses, and cheap inflatable ones are available in Koror.
Apart from the occasional scratching at the tent sides (and Heini convulsing in panic and shock rats tried to scratch through the tent onto her head every 20 minutes), we never had any issues with the rats. In the morning we had breakfast and Kyle joined. He looked envious at our tub of homemade hummus so I offered him some, obviously not knowing hummus etiquette he proceeded to dig deep into our limited supplies with vigour. I closed the lid shortly after! He soon left us alone as he caught his boat back to Koror and finally Heini and I could enjoy a few hours without rats, Kyle, or noise of visiting tour groups.
Our morning on the Island was spent snorkelling around the neighbouring small island, unfortunately not such a great reef and not so many fish in the area but an enjoyable outing never the less. We spent the day being lazy and laying around the beach, carefully not to venture too close to the jungle and its occupants, and around 12 midday the tour groups started to arrive again with selfie sticks and the sounds of laughter. I felt a little like a kid who didn’t want to share his island, it had been a great idea to get away from the main town and relax with our own piece of nature, but now it was time to share!
The only sad part of our 24 hours on the island was that it was only 24 hours. If you ever have the chance of visiting Palau, take a few days and a tent and visit those islands. I promise you will not be disappointed.
Also read our other Palau blogs :