Island hopping

Even before the Continental Airlines flight we boarded from Manila landed in Palau last October. I resolved to go around the islands I saw from the plane window on a boat trip.

After almost a year’s stay, I finally got the chance to visit some of the islands, braving a few hours boat ride and leaning on my daring, adventurous spirit for luck because until this time, I still don’t know how to swim. (I have started some lessons though- progressing only as far as staying for 10 seconds and blowing bubbles from under water).

Kayangel, the island number one in my wish list is at the northernmost tip of Palau. I always had this feeling that if I went to the place, I’m just a few day’s hours trip away Davao (or maybe a few days). I grabbed the chance to cover a ground breaking ceremony there last week, not minding the back and forth four-hour trip by speed boat.
Before we left the dock, I asked the operator for a life jacket and for the thousandth time, I received that too familiar “I-can’t-believe-you’re-serious-don’t- you-know-it’s-a-crime-not-to-swim-in-Palau” look I’ve been getting when I told him I want to feel safe and I don’t know how to swim.

Just before boarding the boat, a Palauan friend told me, “I hope you don’t vomit because the waves are real big out there and you have to cross three outer reefs,”
Some encouragement, huh.

The program pushed without hitches but while having lunch, the president, vice president and top officials of the island who were there, (and each being a fisherman at some time in their life) started to cast anxious glances at the darkening skies.

“Looks like we may have to spend the night here,” a congressman (they call it Delegate in Palau) commented, which worried me because I just parked my car under the shade of a tree near the dock and it’s not safe.
We declined the invitation to ride with the president in his boat, remembering how our spirits flew up and down and in and out of our bodies on our way to Peleliu State a few months back. (He drives his boat real fast and to think he said he slowed down because we were there!)

After lunch we hurried left before the torrent fell, but it caught us just the same when we were at mid-sea.
Rain was falling like a thousand needles pricking on my face and arms, and every time the boat creaked and groaned as it rides on an especially big wave, it took agonizing seconds before it goes down and for my heart to beat normally again.

I kept my head bowed, not in prayer or resignation but to protect my face with my baseball cap from the painful raindrops that threatened to erase my face.

By the time our boat reached the T-dock in Koror, my face and hands were already too numb to feel anything. I was wet from the head down to my toes and was longing for a hot drink to calm the shivering of my pale lips.

Jumping into my car, I turned on the heater and drove home as if the police were chasing me. I couldn’t stop the chills that rocked my body. I crawled into bed as soon as I peeled off my wet clothes and wrapped myself in a woolen blanket. With a normal body temperature and with Palau’s humidity, one could not sleep comfortably in a closed room without an aircon unit or an electric fan but I did.

I woke up an hour later, drenched in sweat and very thirsty. I went to the refrigerator and popped three ice cubes into my mouth, gasped at the cold impact and spat the cubes out at the sink. I made hot chocolate instead.
So much for island hopping, but you think I’m giving up? You’re wrong. I have another schedule sometime this month. This time to Angaur, the other end of Palau.

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