Discovering the jungle wows of Palau
By Jane Cassie
Special to KTW
A harmless garter snake crossed my path when I was seven years old and put me into panic mode.
Now, half a century later, I still get the heebie-jeebies whenever I think of one.
So, after hearing a one-eyed eel (close enough to a snake) may be lurking about in the nearby riverbed, I froze in my tracks.
My husband and I ere visiting Palau, an archipelago of 500-or-so lush islands that sprawl over the North Pacific.
And, as well as checking out the amazing treasures that thrive beneath the waves, we explored a few above the pristine surface — the Ngardmau Waterfall being one of them.
As legend has it, the curtain of water that plummets 30 metres was created by this slimy-like creature.
After falling into an endless sleep, he magically transformed into the river and his head became the waterfall.
Whether fact or fiction, snake or eel, after listening to this mythical tid-bit, my skin began to crawl.
“Fear not,” Jayvan reassured with a cheeky smile.
“The only slithery thing you’ll cross today is the path.”
We had been prepped on what to bring on this hour-long trek that bisects Babeldaob’s jungle: Bug repellent, comfy shoes, bathing suit.
How tricky could it be?
The walking sticks that our Palauan guide doled out should have been my first clue.
Thank heavens for this trusty crutch.
Like a third leg, it guided me down 375 stairs that cleave through the tangled flora.
It served as my staff while navigating streams, protruding roots and mucky mud holes.
It also acted as my supporter when I took a breather — which happened regularly.
Towering mahoganies, leafy papayas and feathery palms mesh with 1,200 plant species in this undisturbed Micronesian rainforest.
The flourishing array canopied my route and cloaked the forever-rolling terrain.
In the distance, spilling out of Mother Nature’s plush overcoat, was our eventual destination point, Palau’s largest waterfall.
And, from these peek-a-boo views, it looked more serene than serpent-like.
While dining on the sumptuous Palauan buffet, we shared our picnic table with a curious wide-eyed monkey.
And, when plying the lush mangrove-flanked tributary, we were greeted by a jaw-gaping crocodile.
Yes, he was hungry — but, fortunately, not for our photographing fingers.
“No worries,” Jayvan said.
“Aside from a few harmless snakes, Palau is people-friendly.”
While accompanied en route by a cacophony of bird song, we crossed tracks that took us to both the past and future.
Railway ties, now choked by overgrowing flora, were used by the Japanese during the Second World War, when they mined the area for aluminum.
Paralleling these rusty relics was a new monorail that whisks non-hikers from the trailhead to the falls.
And, by 2012 a zip line will provide adventure seekers with a thrilling way down.
After reaching a sign that read ‘waterfall this way,’ I realized my arms (and bathing suit) were going to get in on the action, too.
Waiting before us was a thigh-deep riverbed and, strung up to the adjacent shoreline was a flimsy guide wire.
“It’s a snap,” Jayvan sadi.
“Just hang onto the twine and go hand over hand.”
Within minutes, we were safely across and beneath the fabulous falls.
The raging froth funnels through a narrow gorge and, from its steep precipice, plummets to where we stood in the white-water pool.
Mesmerized by its magnificence, we silently watched this spectacle of nature — unblemished, untarnished, unspoiled and, thankfully, uninhabited by any one-eyed eels.
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