An anemone eating one of the famous residents of Jellyfish Lake.
I had only a couple of weeks left before I would be leaving Palau at the end of my Peace Corps Volunteer service, with no idea when I would be back again. The only thing I knew I had to do, that I hadn't done enough of yet, was another overnight kayaking trip. So I got a good crew of guys together who were willing to take off the time, put in the effort of several days paddling, and still be compatible at the end of the trip. Most of us were either current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) or Returned PCVs, though we had a stray Canadian thrown in for good measure. Julian "Spuns" Dendy was our sole RPCV who had finished his service, but stayed in Palau to work for the Coral Reef Research Foundation. Jullian "Ngirkungiil" Lee, who worked through the Ministry of Health and the Hospital with a day-group of Bipolar and Multiple Personality Disorder patients.
A jellyfish being eaten by an anemone.
Jason "Kemesong" Kramberg, who lived on Kayangel, an atoll in the far north of Palau, was a Youth and Community Development Volunteer with the Kayangel Elementary School. Sean "Ingais" Murray, served as a teacher at Palau High School. Angus "Anus" Wong was a Vancouver, BC resident who came to Palau to work with Helen Reef Resource Management Program. Of course, yours truly, Kenneth "Elkang" Coonrod, Natural Resource Conservation and Development Volunteer with Palau Conservation Society, rounded out the group. We were a solid six. Everyone had at least a little paddling experience, and we had all lived in Palau for at least several months to 3 years. Spuns and I both had quite a bit of experience paddling so we decided to co-lead the group.
Jullian says, "why can't we eat them?"
I was the organizer, and Map Man. Navigating the Rock Islands is no joke. For our little 4 day/3 night excursion, I had to carry a minimum 3 laminated maps, rolled up and stowed in a capped-off water-tight PVC container.
Once again we organized our kayak trip through Ron Leidich's Planet Blue Kayak Tours. Ron and I decided that due to the weather/prevailing winds we would have his boat take us and our kayaks to the furthest point of our trip, and we would spend 4 days paddling back into Koror
. The breeze was blowing a steady 15-25 knots out of the South-Southeast. This meant that anything other than paddling with our backs to the wind would have been futile.
Snorkeler silhouette at Jellyfish Lake.
What this also meant is that sit-on-top kayaking conditions were not too good, and that the waves outside the reef were an easy 4-6 feet, also very hazardous conditions for kayaking. We had planned to make two passes outside the reef in order to get from one part of the lagoon to another without excessive paddling. This would prove to greatly influence the outcome of our expedition.
Ron and Planet Blue dropped us off and the first thing to do was head straight for Palau's famous Jellyfish Lake. I think I'll have to write a review for Jellyfish Lake in order to best promote and describe this true wonder of Mother Nature. Through a process known as Geographic Isolation, several million Mastigias
I am the master of underwater paddycake.
jellyfish have been trapped in this "marine lake" for over 10,000 years. Due to this long period of time with virtually no predators, and no prey requiring the jellyfish to either defend themselves or hunt, the use of their stinging cells was virtually lost. Thus, a lake full of "stingless" jellyfish that migrate daily with the cycle of the sun, where tourists come to swim among them and marvel at the masses of floating, pulsing globs of jellies.
Next stop, an old Stone Money quarry. Palau is part of a greater chain of islands known as Micronesia, found in the Western Pacific (no, not the South Pacific as it is north of the equator). Palau's nearest Micronesian neighbor is Yap. Yap is famous for its Stone Money. Where did the giant money come from? Palau.
Jellyfish Lake is full of around 15 million jellyfish that have been there for 10,000 years.
These things range from 18" tall and several inches thick to over 5 feet and more than a foot in thickness. How the heck did these things get all the way, 350 miles across some seriously deep, rough Pacific Ocean? They paddled over in their dugout canoes, put the rock on a big pole through the hole in its center, brought it to the boat and paddled it back, 350 miles to their island. The larger the stones and the more treacherous the journey, the greater worth applied to each piece of money. Go to Yap and see for yourself. We stopped and found one of the "hidden" quarries with a piece that never made the journey.
Our scheduled camp site for the night was Ngermeaus, the island associated with the snorkel site "Clam City". There is a nice summerhouse there, as well as picnic tables and a grill.
Isolated from the open ocean by rock island, they have lost the necessity of stinging cells in their tentacles. Nutrition comes from symbiotic algae cells that use the sun for photosynthesis and share the energy with their host.
We set ourselves up, snorkeled out to look at the cluster of Giant Clams, did a little spear fishing (Jullian lost one of the spears), and set up to make dinner. Good thing we got things going early too, because the weather got seriously funky that night. We got some sideways rain that drenched almost all of us. Good thing we had a bottle of 151 and a half day of paddling and snorkeling to help us sleep through the storm. A good first day on the water. We were looking forward to a great weekend.