We are really starting to get settled in here! I must say, my opinion of this little cluster of islands is improving exponentially by the day. I always give new cultures the benefit of the doubt, they’re different, I’m the one who doesn’t understand. I usually find wonder and excitement in trying to figure out new ways of life. Our first couple of days here though just were not promising. Between the Chinese overwhelming the tourist industry and making it impossible for us to do anything, Bianca standing us up, Ashley’s landlord trying to charge us a fortune for the place, everything being run down, seeing some really scary apartments, and internet being about as advanced as it was in the US fifteen years ago, our outlook on our potential future in Palau was not looking too promising. As we begin to relax into the Palau way of things and get ourselves settled, my impressions of this place have much improved. Not that five days is much time figure out a culture and settle in, I wouldn't pretend to know anything after five days, but you get the picture.

Day 3

Sunday morning we made ourselves a nice gourmet breakfast of cereal and pears and kiwis and avocados, very satisfied by having been able to buy groceries from a real grocery store the night before. After Fletch got some work done, it was lunch time and we headed to an indian restaurant called The Taj. The food was scrumptious but overpriced at $20 a dish, not including rice. So far eating out here is really expensive.

After lunch we headed over to Ashley’s place. She had given us a list of all of her belongings to see if we wanted any of them, things such as small household items (and a kiddy pool!), which we happily bought from her, figuring it was all stuff we would have to buy new otherwise. She had moved out the night before, and had given us her keys, so we headed over to make sure her mystery landlady hadn’t cleared out the things she had left us.

We found the place left in a much cleaner state then we had originally seen it, though it still needed a lot of work. So we made a list of cleaning supplies we would need and went shopping.

Koror has two main shopping centers, Surangels (pronounced like like sarong with an almost silent ls at the end) and the WCTC (which stands for Western Caroline Trading Company). Both of these shopping centers have a big grocery store on the ground level, a nice department store on the second floor that sells everything, and an overpriced furniture store on the third floor. It’s nice to be able to find mostly everything you could ever need in one spot. The department stores even sell cute surf brand clothing like Roxy and Rip Curl.

We bought some cleaning supplies and then headed back to the pink house and started scrubbing. I felt much better about the place after dousing the kitchen in Lysol. There was something incredibly satisfying about it.

The rest of the day was spent hopping back and forth between Surangels and WCTC pricing out different things we would have to buy. Surangels seemed to have slightly better prices whereas WCTC seemed to have the bigger selection. The grocery store at WCTC is actually really impressive. It looks small at first glance, but then you’ll see a whole other section around a corner, and once you reach the end of that section, there’s another one. They even sell Thai curry paste so once we get moved in I foresee a lot of curry dinners.

Day 4

On Monday we made ourselves gourmet cereal breakfast in the room again and then headed over to the Remax office. Since we still had heard no word from the landlady of the pink house, we were hesitant to assume it was a ours just yet (we’ve been learning that Palauans can really only be dealt with in person as internet is too slow to bother with and phone calls are expensive). She could still show up on our doorstep with a Chinese family in tow who was willing to pay her outrageous price for all we knew. We had decided to tell her, when we finally did see her, that we had already agreed on $1200 and would not go any higher.

The two ladies working behind the desks at the Remax office set us up with a new realtor who we were able to meet in person. We arranged with her to come back in the afternoon to look at available rentals.

We made a game plan to spend the time until our afternoon appointment getting our driver’s licenses. Go to the Community College bookstore and get the booklet to study, go to a coffee shop and read said booklet over a cup of coffee, and finally take the exam. That should all take roughly the amount of time we had until our appointment with our new realtor, Risong. The Community College was sold out of the study booklets until Wednesday, so we decided to just try our best at the exam after a cup of coffee. We got stuck at the coffee shop though when we discovered that they had free wifi that was faster than our prepaid cards. Free wifi is almost unheard of here.

Here’s the deal with wifi. There are two internet providers that you can access hotspots for throughout the country. The one we have been using is Palau Wifi, and you can buy a card with a pass code for $20 that gives you 10 hours of access over the course of 10 days. It is fast enough to browse Facebook if you’re willing to give each individual post on your newsfeed a minimum of 30 seconds to load, but not much beyond that. Forget trying to download anything. Then get this, Palau just introduced 3G to the country the week before we arrived here. 3G costs 15 cents per megabyte! In Thailand I was buying 3 gb of data for $15. If I used that same 3 gb here it would cost $450. It’s insane. As you can imagine, I went through my phone and turned off data before getting a SIM card to make sure I didn’t accidentally allow an app to update in the background and use up all of my credit.

It got to be 1:30 when we were supposed to pick up our Social Security cards. I now have a Palau Social Security card! How cool is that!

For lunch we headed to a little Japanese cafe on the main road that looked inviting. We walked in to find a small area with white leather chairs and nicely set tables. I was afraid we were in for another outrageously priced meal, but surprisingly, everything on the menu was $10 including a drink and dessert. I ordered a bowl of soba, which incase you’re unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine, is a spaghetti-sized buckwheat noodle that us usually served in broth, either hot or chilled. It was just as good as I hoped it would be, being one of those Japanese dishes that hasn’t quite caught on in the US yet that I’ve missed.

We met with Risong at the Remax office and she brought us to a house in Koror that was fully furnished. The family was still living there though, and we asked her when they might be out. She said she’d find out for us but they didn’t look like they were going anywhere anytime soon.

We headed over to an apartment complex with nice units but they didn’t have any vacancies. I guess Risong just showed them to us to try and gauge if that was the sort of place we were looking for.

We drove over to Airai, which is the first area you hit on Babeldaob after crossing the bridge that connects Koror on the south side to Babeldaob on the north side. There we visited a gentleman who had his house up for rent. The second we stepped out of our rental car our noses were greeted by the most magnificent aroma, somewhere between vanilla and coconut, coming from one of the trees. The house was pretty run down, not exactly what we were looking for, but he also had a boat for sale which we expressed interest in. I don’t know the first thing about boats but apparently it was exactly what Fletch had in mind for a boat. The gentleman said he would have to ask his wife first about selling it. Palau is pretty cool in that it is a matriarchal society.

Our realtor, Risong, had been super friendly and helpful all afternoon and since we had inquired about the Rock Islands, on our way back to Koror she brought us into a little bay area which accessed the islands. We drove out onto a dock and hopped out of the car to take in the beauty of the jungle covered rocks jutting out of the bay. I was amazed by how clean the water was. Every place I have ever been, the water around a dock such as that has been dirty with all sorts of trash washed up. You have to go out a ways before you gain any sort of visibility. This water was crystal clear, no washed up trash in sight. If Koror was run down because the resources were going towards keeping the marine environment clean, that would be the most amazing thing possible.

We asked Risong about the state of Koror and why it was so run down and unkept and she was happy to enlighten us. Apparently the people are separated into several clans, and traditionally, the land is divided out amongst the clans. Lately though, Koror has been claiming land as government land and the clans have been disputing it. The clans have actually been winning their lands back against the government and so no one has bothered to keep any of the buildings up, because they might get evicted. We had heard about evictions being common because Chinese people come along who are willing to pay more, but the real reason is because the clans are claiming their lands back. Things are slowly starting to add up and make sense.

That night we had dinner at the little restaurant next to our hotel. We sat out on the deck on the water's edge and watched as batfish swam beneath us. Apparently they are called spadefish here in Palau. We both ordered pasta dishes, both of which came in family sized portions. The food here is expensive, but it also comes in portions big enough to have leftovers. As we left the restaurant, we found a kitty sitting in the shadows of the parking lot, the first one we had seen here. There are lots of feral dogs here but hardly any cats. We miss cats. Excitedly, we sat down on the steps and tried to lure the kitty over. He wouldn’t move. I pulled out a leftover shrimp from dinner and broke off a piece and threw it towards the kitty. He hesitantly went towards it and grabbed it, then ran off like lightning to the opposite end of the parking lot. He ate the shrimp, then darted back to his starting spot as quickly as he had left. We continued this game of throwing shrimp to the cat, watching him dash across the parking lot to eat it, and then dash back as fast as his little legs would carry him. We couldn’t stop laughing.

Day 5

We spent the morning car shopping. Even though Koror is fairly small, everyone drives everywhere. The main road always has traffic because so many cars are trying to drive back and forth along the same small stretch. They drive on the right hand side of the road here, though they sell cars that have both right side and left side steering wheels. It’s very disorienting. More fun facts, they really like boxy cars here. You will see lots of Nissan Cubes, Pajero Minis, Nissan X-Trails, Mazda Demios, and even more Nissan Cubes. Lots of Cubes. Our rental was a Kia Soul. I don’t normally pay much attentions to cars but thanks to Fletch I know all the cars now. Or at least those five.

We had a late breakfast / early lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Umi. I ordered ramen. Real Japanese ramen is the best thing ever. Though I must say that the udon Fletch ordered was even better. It was covered in what was almost a barbecue sauce, and had lots of seafood. I’m loving all the Japanese food here. Once again the portions were big enough to bring half of it home as leftovers.

In the afternoon we went and took the tests for our driver’s licenses. Since we’re American, we only had to take the written portion. We sat down with two different test versions. Since the community college had been out of study booklets we would just have to guess.

Question 1. Which side of the road do you drive on in Palau?

Oh good this was going to be easy.

Question 2. The president may suspend your license for a period of up to how long?

Wtf?

Question 3. True or False. When operating a bike or a motorcycle, you may wear a helmet.

"May" wear a helmet? Really? You "may" wear a helmet for any activity if you really want to.

And so I did my best to guess at 50 multiple choice questions. There were a lot of questions about the president. To pass we couldn’t miss more than 7 questions. Fletch missed 10. I missed 5. We started comparing questions, wondering how in the world I had passed and Fletch hadn’t, then discovered that Fletch’s version of the exam had been all fill-in-the-blank while mine had been all multiple choice. If you’re ever in Palau taking the driver’s exam, take the yellow version.

One of the things they put on your driver’s license here is your blood type, which I didn’t know mine. Every time I go to donate blood I don’t meet the required minimum weight to donate, so I’ve never known my blood type. I suppose it’s a smart idea to put that on a license though incase you’re ever in an accident.

We headed over to the hospital to do a blood type test. I’m glad I got that hospital visit out of the way; I should be good to go without another visit for the rest of our time here now. That’s the way it works, right? For the record I’m O+.

We did some more car shopping and ultimately ended up at the car lot that Surangels owns (they have their name on everything). A nice guy named Sam helped us out as we test drove a few cars and as we drove back to the lot in a red SUV, a nicely dressed heavy set lady started telling the whole car lot how great we looked in that vehicle. We should buy it; that was the vehicle for us. She was the real sales lady. Sam introduced her as his aunt. She didn’t actually work there.

Another older lady took our favorite car in the lot for a test drive. When she came back she joined our little group and Sam jokingly started trying to bid her and Fletch against each other. She was a really sweet grandmotherly type character who wanted a car for herself because all of her kids had cars. She wasn’t in any real hurry to get one though, so Fletch made a deal with her that since we were only staying a few months, before we left he would sell the car to her for $500 less than he bought it for. She was thrilled. Ecstatic really. They exchanged contact info and everyone walked away happy. And Fletch and I have a beautiful new (though used) burnt orange Mazda Tribute. The steering wheel is on the right hand side and both of us still die laughing every time we run to the wrong sides of the car.

With the car transaction complete, we left it there for a hitch to be put on and headed over to the pink house. As we drove up we saw a lady standing on our upstairs doorstep and waved. She came back down and invited us into the downstairs unit where she, her mother, and her daughter all lived. The grandmother was the landlady, but the granddaughter did business on her behalf since the grandmother was deaf. And so we met the family we would be renting from. We were worried that after hiking the price up one of them was going to be a total bitch and awful to deal with, but everyone was super nice and really friendly and hospitable. We are finding more and more that Palauans are amazing and very helpful people, they just aren’t business minded. Without us even having to bring up the fact that we were only willing to pay $1200, the granddaughter let us know that her grandma had agreed on $1200. She also kept saying how badly she wanted us to live there instead of the Chinese family. No one likes the Chinese here. In fact the grandma came out of her room after a little while; she had gone in there to hide because she was afraid we were the Chinese family. We informed the granddaughter that we were very interested in the place, we just had a few more places to look at the following day and then we would have an answer for her. We left, relieved that everyone was finally on the same page.

When we got back to the hotel Fletch’s phone rang almost immediately. Sam’s aunt from that afternoon, Heidi, had found us a boat. We have found that once you get to know a couple people here, life is so much easier. Everyone is family with everyone so if you are looking for something, a car, a boat, all you have to do is ask someone and they are guaranteed to have a cousin who is selling one. It’s like real life Facebook. They may not have internet but their personal social networks are much more valuable.

We went and met with Heidi’s son who had a 16-foot runabout for sale. Fletch and the son talked boat talk and Heidi came over to me and wove a huge, bright orange hibiscus flower into my hair, telling me that now I was a Palauan girl. So far everyone we have met here as been amazingly welcoming and genuine. It has made all the difference and Fletch and I have both in a very short time period gone from thinking we would have our fun here and leave after a month, to thinking that we could really settle in here for longer than just that.

We went back to our hotel excited by all we had accomplished in just five days. We had a car, a place to live (if we wanted it, we were still going to look at a few more places the following day), and a boat if we wanted it. Things were falling into place beautifully.

Side note: I uploaded a picture of the capital on my previous blog post! It took 12 minutes to upload so you should definitely go check it out.