P-MAN VII Update
4 March 2005
Friday, 4 March
Today was a boat day. We had an almost glassy-smooth trip down to Peleliu outside the reef on the east side. There, we picked up Johnny, a Palauan we had interviewed last week who said his brother (who has since passed away) found some quite large aircraft wreckage on the island of Mecherchar (pronounced "Merar."). This is the island in the middle of which is the famous "Jellyfish Lake," a mostly freshwater lake that contains millions of non-stinging jellyfish. There are several other landlocked marine lakes on the island, too, parts of which are surrounded by mangrove swamps. It's in the mangroves adjacent to one of two lakes (Johnny wasn't sure which one) where Johnny believes his brother saw this wreckage.
The only way to get to any of these lakes is to put the boat in at one of several tiny beaches and hike up over the hill to the lake. Sounded so simple when we described it that way to ourselves. But here's the thing: this is also the island that since the 2003 expedition has been called "Flip-Flip Island" by the BentProp team. The reason is that the footing is SO bad, and the terrain SO unforgiving, that when Flip Colmer did a bit of a front flip (Flip-flip - get it?) on one of the jagged coral places (which comprise roughly 99.9% of the island's surface), he wound up with a scar on his butt that looks remarkably like a map of Babelthuap - so they say...I haven't asked to see it.
So anyway, we covered a huge amount of the island, including virtually all of one of the mangrove swamps. But when Johnny tried to find the other lake, we wound up - after a long hike - climbing down into the bowl that contains Jellyfish Lake (which is NOT the one he wanted). Some of us feel that his initial navigation may have been a little off. We're planning to go back, possibly on Monday, but need to study the maps pretty closely before we go. The place is beautiful, but VERY steep and covered with loose coral rocks that look and feel more like broken bottles than anything else. As dangerous as it was, we appear to have come away with no serious injuries. A fair number of bruises and aches and pains, but nothing that required stitches. We'll do a quick check in the morning, but so far it appears that we also managed to avoid any serious poison-tree encounters, thanks to Joe's frequent pointing out of the many poison trees that live there.
Definitely the coolest wildlife encounter of all of my time here in Palau happened mid-morning, when Johnny lobbed a rock at something in the bushes. The creature scurried off and climbed part-way up a large poison tree. No one had previously mentioned to me that there were dinosaurs living on these islands, but by golly, this critter almost qualified. It was a lizard...a little over five feet long! Joe says these monitor lizards are common on many of the islands. Definitely not aggressive toward us, but definitely non-trivial on the lizard scale.
The lizard clinging to the right side of this tree
is over 5 feet long. Photo © Mark Noah 2005
When it became clear that we'd overshot the second marine lake/mangrove combination that Johnny was looking for, we decided to go down to the water and see if we could work our way back to the boat without climbing back over all of the 4 hours or so of dense jungle and jagged coral that we'd already traversed. When we got down to the water, we discovered that it was sort of a dead end. Steep climbs in both directions, and a challenging climb just to get down to the water. Joe decided to head down to the water and work his way south along the eastern shore to get the boat, then bring it back to where the rest of us were. That sounded pretty good to us, so we hung out there. Almost literally. There was no place to really get comfortable (even here, it was like trying to relax on a pile of broken bottles), but we nestled in, hung onto the sharp coral, and waited.
Turned out that we'd traveled farther along the shore than we or Joe realized. It took Joe an hour to get back to the boat and get the boat under way to pick us up. He had to swim much of the way, sometimes swimming well out away from the island so as not to be smashed on the rocks. When he arrived back, we scrambled down the rocks without losing any of our gear, and I'm sure our expressions of thanks to Joe fell miserably short of the kind of gratitude that he deserved. Joe's a boatsman of legendary skill, a master guide, and a hell of a guy.
We took Johnny back to Peleliu and thanked him for his help, then headed back to Koror.
The wind and seas had picked up during our adventure, and the trip back up the west side was brutal. I know I just used the line about taking a long ride in a clothes dryer a day or so ago, but it applied again this afternoon.