Peleliu, the Hard Way

26 SEP CO891 from Yap back to Palau

Peleliu Island, the site of one of World War II’s bloodiest battles, is generally experienced by tourists one of two ways: either on a lunchtime tour organized by a dive operator based in Koror, as part of a two dive day, or by taking the cheap (USD 4) state boat, which travels a few times a week between Peleliu and Koror. Unfortunately, for the days on which we were interested in traveling, the dive shop we were using, Sam’s Tours, didn’t have any Peleliu trips, nor did the limited schedule of the state boat quite fit ours.

Our hosts at Waterfront Villa, Arnold and Jamie, informed us of an alternate route–first, travel from Koror to Carp Island, a hotel and dive shop operated in the Rock Islands near Peleliu, then arrange for transportation for the short hop from Carp Island to Peleliu. We learned through discussion with Carp that they would provide free transportation if we stayed or dived with them (the lodging was somewhat expensive in the USD 130s but the diving was roughly the same as Sam’s). If we did not stay with them, they would charge us USD 25 for the trip from Koror to Carp Island. Carp also told us that Storyboard, one of the better lodging options on Peleliu, would pick us up from Carp for no additional cost if we stayed at Storyboard.

We figured we would do a dive day with Carp, which is located close to the best dive sites anyway, for the free transportation to Carp and then on to Peleliu. We picked a day that was before the Peleliu state boat’s return to Koror so that we could experience the public boat (and also take advantage of its cheap, relatively leisurely ride).

Our great plan started collapsing once we reached Carp Island. The weather in Palau was quite poor for our whole trip, and so the dive shops were not making trips to some of the best dive sites (e.g., Blue Corner). We had contented ourselves with a great day diving wrecks and a day of somewhat unexciting diving, but Carp’s proposal was to go to the same mediocre site we had visited the day before (Ngerchong Inside). We let them know that we were, frankly, not interested in diving at all of this was the only possible site. To our disappointment, they were unable or unwilling to take us anywhere else. Since we couldn’t dive, we contacted Storyboard right away for our pick-up from Carp, which ended up being a 10-15 minute ride on a single engine boat.

The real trouble began when we arrived.

First some background: All of the guidebooks I had consulted for Micronesia (LP’s South Pacific and Micronesia, Moon’s Micronesia and Papa Mike’s Palau Islands Handbook) recommended a fellow named Tangie Hesus for his Peleliu tours. One of our first actions in Palau was to track him down to ensure that we could have his guide services, which were according to the guidebooks supposed to cost about USD 80 for the day for a small group for a tour including transportation. However, when we got Tangie on the phone, it was clear that something wasn’t right. Instead of recommending the cost efficient state boat from Koror to Peleliu, for example, he assumed that we would arrange a charter boat for USD 600 (compared to the USD 12 return that the state boat would cost for the two of us). In addition to his guide fees, he also wanted to add a transportation surcharge of USD 45 (mentioned in all the guidebooks as included) and wanted to make all of our lodging and meal reservations in advance, at what seemed like not-so-great prices. Our BS alert was triggered right away, and we ended the phone conversation.

When we got off the boat on Peleliu, we didn’t find anyone from Storyboard waiting for us at the dock. Peleliu being such a small island, we weren’t so worried, and started exploring, including the pillboxes and the extensive “thousand man cave” between the village and the dock. Walking down the street, we ran into a guy in a van who was clearly looking for us, and wanted to take us back to our hotel–it was Tangie. By this time, we were quite set in not wanting anything to do with him, and so refused to get into his vehicle. He kept asking about land tours, which of course we did not want from him either. When we checked into Storyboard later that day, we found Tangie loitering about and asking again about land tours. We knew for certain that he was crooked by this time because our room rate was USD 60, for which he had quoted us USD 100 (presumably to pocket the USD 40 difference). After learning that the state boat the next day would leave much earlier than anticipated, due to delays earlier in the week owing to weather, we decided we better sightsee in a hurry. We didn’t have the time to find another tour guide and were unable to rent a car.

Starting about 1 PM, after skipping lunch, we set out on the coral top road in the hot sun for our self-guided Peleliu tour (in terms of history, we were aided by much previous internet research, although our maps were incomplete). After some hitchhiking and mostly thanks to the help of a Palaun-American woman who happened to be near the key sites and gave us excellent directions, we managed to see all the key sites, including the old Japanese communications facility and the headquarters, leftover American and Japanese tanks and guns, and the caves and memorials on the top of Bloody Nose Ridge. We ended our tour at Camp Beck Dock around sunset, where we fortunately caught another ride back to town.

But Tangie wasn’t finished. The next morning, we received our bill from Storyboard, to learn that Storyboard was charging USD 50 for our ride from Carp to Peleliu. We had never been quoted a price for the ride, and understood from everyone else that it was provided as a courtesy to customers, and so we could not understand why we were being billed this somewhat outrageous rate for such a short ride. We refused to pay the full amount, but offered USD 22, which we thought more fare (Carp had earlier offered us this ride for USD 30). After paying, we learned that Tangie was behind the boat transfer and the USD 50 fee. To make a long story short, Tangie showed up at the dock with police right before the state boat’s departure to attempt to coerce additional money out of us. Throug a protracted discussion between us, Tangie, the policeman, the captain of the ship and the governor of Peleliu state, as well as helpful bystanders, we convinced all that Tangie was the guilty party, and we returned to Koror.

We raised our concerns to all the people we ran into in Koror and learned from Sam’s Tours that they used to use Tangie for their Peleliu tours, but stopped because Tangie was ripping of their customers with false add-on charges. Instead was recommended Des Matsutaro (email, phone (680) 345-1154).

Peleliu was great–it’s simply amazing to walk around such a small, peaceful island and imagine the hell that so many Japanese and American soldiers lived and died through sixty years ago. It’s also a beautiful little island and would be nice for a longer visit, either to spend more time exploring old Japanese caves or as a base for diving Peleliu’s famous dive sites. Consider the various transportation options that may be available to you, though, and avoid Tangie Hesus like the plague!

Babeldaob Road Trip

20 SEP CO901 from Bali to Guam, long layover in Guam, 21 SEP CO893 from Guam to Palau

Our funny itinerary had us layover in Palau for about 32 hours on our way to Yap, and we decided to spend it on a road trip around Palau’s “big island,” Babeldaob. It turned out our timing was excellent, as the new “Compact Road” circling Babeldaob had finally opened a few months previous, after years of construction. The Compact Road is named after the Compact of Free Association, the agreement between the U.S. and certain Micronesian states under which the island states receive money and certain U.S. services (U.S. mail, FDIC, FEMA, etc.) in exchange for certain rights granted to the United States, primarily military.

The jeep rental ran USD 65 with insurance. Starting in Koror, we went in a clockwise direction. Our first stop was to see the ruins of a village and terraces in Aimeliik state. We skipped the two waterfalls, though we caught Ngardamu waterfall before our trip was over, which was a beautiful though muddy hike. Our second stop was in Ngarchelong state to see the monoliths of Badrulchau. Apparently, these stones were to serve as a foundation for a large bai, which was never completed. Nearby are some stones with very rudimentary carvings of faces. Even more interesting than these monoliths, we walked through some of the extensive stone pathways of Ngarard state.

The last stop was Melekeok, where we saw some ancient carved stones and the newly built capital of the Republic of Palau, built with the assitance of money from Taiwan (Palau is one of the few states that recognize the Republic of China).