Our first few days here in Palau have been spent desperately trying to find a place to sleep, both short term and for the month or however long we decide to stay after that. Our search started about a month ago. We already had one-way tickets booked and I got online to look for a hotel to stay in for our first week, thinking that would buy us enough time to look for a house or apartment for rent once we arrived. I got on TripAdvisor, typed in some search parameters, and waited for the results. Several hotels came up but they all said to call for availability. Odd. I started going to each hotel’s individual website. Everything was coming up as booked for the time we needed. Confused, I started emailing a few of the smaller hotels, only to receive a very disheartening email from a nice hotel manager:
You’re right about places already being booked. Palau is seeing a large influx of tourists from mainland China, who are overwhelming the entire visitor industry here. The Chinese agencies have been booking up entire hotels for six months in advance, which makes it pretty difficult for individual travelers to find accommodations.

Every single day, Fletch and I checked every high-end resort, midrange hotel, and budget motel looking for any availability. At last Fletch managed to find us a place for our first two nights at a little budget hotel. We would have two nights after arriving to find another hotel or some more permanent accommodation.

I posted on a Palau Facebook page that we were looking for a place to stay and a girl named Ashley got in touch to let us know that she was leaving shortly after our arrival and her place would be available. We tried to get in touch with her landlady but to no avail. Ashley continued to make arrangements with us instead, but the lack of her landlady left us hesitant so we continued looking.

Several more phone calls about several other leads dead ended with Palauan ladies answering the phone and saying no vacancy.

The night before boarding our flight we called Remax and made an appointment with a lady named Bianca to show us some available places for rent.

Meanwhile Ashley kept informing us that the rent for her place was going up because another Chinese couple was willing to pay more. The rent went from $850 to $1000 to $1200 and then finally we heard from the landlady herself who asked if we would be willing to pay $1500. That just wasn’t right.

Still every day we kept checking for a hotel to stay in past the first two nights and kept coming up empty handed.

We boarded our flight to Palau with no arrangements past the little hotel for our first two nights. People seemed to have a hard time communicating over email or phone. Hopefully things would be easier once we were there in person.

Day 1

Our little hotel room was really nice considering it was about the cheapest and only place available. I was expecting some dingy hole in the wall with roaches and flowery bed spreads. Instead, we ended up in a clean room with tiled floors and clean white sheets.

We woke up early and headed down to the second floor where the restaurant was and ordered breakfast. I had a Japanese breakfast which ended up being a wonderfully well-rounded meal with eggs and fish and tofu, and sides of miso soup and rice. Nothing like a good dose of protein to start the day out right.

After breakfast we hopped into our rental car and headed down the street to the Remax office. We didn’t know our way around yet but pretty much everything is located on Koror, which is a little tiny island that only has one main road. It takes about five minutes to drive from one end of the road to the other, even though the speed limit is only 25 mph. We found the Remax office without too much trouble and walked in. Two Palauan ladies were sitting behind desks, but neither one of them was Bianca who we had made our appointment with. Confused over why she wasn’t there, we sat and waited while one of the other ladies called her. She said she would meet with us to show us places at 4:00.

Dejected over her failure to make our original appointment, we left the Remax office and called Ashley to see if she was available to show us her place. She met with us a few moments later and led us up the street to a horrid looking pink house. I say horrid, but relatively speaking this place was actually fairly nice. All the places we’ve seen so far are horrid looking. Nothing here is kept up and driving down the street, it looks as though all these buildings are sitting there rotting and no one has done anything to take care of them. No new coats of paint since they were originally built, nothing. Even the nicer hotels look pretty sad from the outside.

Ashley led us up a staircase and opened the door to a wide open space with an incredible breeze blowing through. It reminded me a little of the intern house we lived in in Honduras: pretty beat up and run down, rust dominating the fridge, but there was a certain charm to it once you got past the rough edges. The back door led to the roof of the rest of the building, metal poles stuck up a meter out of the cement every few feet from when the house was built. The view was fantastic. Ashley told us this was the nicest place she had been able to find. That scared us. We thanked her for showing us around and told her we would contact her later regarding whether or not we were interested.

We ran some errands, things we were aware we would have to do to set up a life here. We applied for social security cards, applied for a PO Box since there are no street addresses. All the PO Boxes were taken though so we got put on a wait list. We went to get SIM cards put in our phones, only to be told that they wouldn’t be up and running until 1PM. We went and looked around the WCTC Shopping Center to familiarize ourselves with what we would be able to find here. One of the things we missed the most on Koh Tao was a real grocery store, so we were excited to find that they do have those here.

When we started getting hungry we stopped at a place called Burger Sea. Like I said before, everything looks pretty horrid from the outside and Burger Sea looked fairly clean. We walked inside to find the equivalent of a Burger King. Go figure. We ordered a couple of fish burgers which were $8 each, and no, they weren’t any better than Burger King.

1:00 rolled around and our phones still weren’t working so we went back to the phone office to see what the deal was. She tinkered with Fletch’s phone for a while, then told me that something had been wrong with the number she had given me so now I had a different number. It should be working in an hour.

We headed back to the Remax office at 3:43, only for the lady at the front desk to tell us that Bianca had already left when we weren’t there at 3:30. Then followed a frustrating conversation in which we said we had agreed to meet Bianca at 4:00, and even if it was 3:30 then we were only 13 minutes late. She kept telling us that Bianca was in a meeting and couldn’t be reached, but she would show us houses at 10:00 the next morning.

Feeling even more dejected then we had been previously, we headed back to our hotel room to enjoy our last night in a bed and caught up on twelve hours of much needed sleep.

Day 2

Since we had passed out so early the night before, we woke up at the crack of dawn to see the sky exploding bright orange outside our little window. We waited until the restaurant opened, then went downstairs and ordered the exact same meals as the day before. It was every bit as satisfying.

We headed back to our room and packed up our belongings, having to check out at noon. While Fletch put the finishing touches on his bags, I went downstairs to ask one more time if there had been any last minute cancelations (we had been asking every day). The lady disappeared into her office to talk to her colleague, then came back and told me she would have an answer for me at noon when we checked out. Having noticed that the hotel wasn’t nearly as bustling with people as it should have been for being a full house, I suspected she was trying to figure out how to sneak us into a room that had been bought out by Chinese agencies but was sitting empty.

I headed back up to the room and several minutes later the phone rang. The lady downstairs let me know that she had found us an available room at one of the hotel’s other locations. I thanked her and asked if it was nearby. She said no, not really. I said that was fine and thanked her again. We had a place to stay for three more nights, thanks to a Chinese family who canceled their reservation. That was fantastic news.

With all of our belongings inside our rental car, we drove the minute drive over to the Remax office at 9:30 at sat outside the closed office to wait for Bianca. We weren’t going to risk being late this time around. 10:00 rolled around and she was still no where to be seen. We tried calling her but no one picked up. Over the next half hour we called her four more times but still no answer. At 10:30 we finally left. Bianca had stood us up three times now.

We decided to try the Palau Visitor’s Authority to see if they had any housing suggestions but they were closed as it was Saturday. Saturday seems to be Palau’s Sunday when everything is closed.

What else could we try? Big dive shops with interns coming in would have to have a place to put their interns. Maybe they would have a suggestion. We drove the five minute drive to the next island over, Malakal, where Sam’s Tours was. Coincidentally, our new hotel which the lady had said wasn’t very close by, was right across the street. People have a weird sense of distance here. Anything more than five minutes away seems to be a long ways for them.

The ladies working the desk at Sam’s Tours were really friendly, but discouraged us slightly when they said they were still staying in a hostel and had been looking for housing for the past four months. They confirmed what we were beginning to figure out though, that the only way to deal with Palauans is in person. One of the girls pulled out a phone book and started calling apartments for us, writing down names as she went. Most of them said no vacancies, but she handed us the names of two places to check out.

The first was a nice-looking, white, five-story building on a hillside. The lady said she had a wait list but then after a moment of consideration, told us she did have one option to show us. She led us into a basement apartment with a shared kitchen and common area, and five bedrooms, all with individual locks. Each bedroom would be leased out separately. We thanked her and told her we were glad for the option as a backup, but were looking for our own space.

Next we headed back to Koror and met up with another lady who did happen to have a room available above a little convenience store. She ran up to our car as soon as we drove up and started yelling something about sleeping to us with such a heavy accent we couldn’t understand a word she said except sleep. Yes, we were looking for a place to sleep, what else, hide bodies? I guess that wasn’t too far from the truth because the room she showed us should have been hiding a few dead bodies. She led us up a side staircase, surrounded on all sides by chain link, and opened a barred door. We walked into a dark, dirty, windowless room with two bare mattresses on the floor. Heaps of belongings were thrown everywhere from the Chinese family who was moving out. Not wanting to offend her, we said we were looking for a two bedroom place. She nodded, understanding, and waved us back down the staircase, up another side staircase, again surrounded in chain link. We followed her into another dark, dingy hell hole, this one even worse than the first and this time with a kitchen and two bedrooms, every inch covered in dirt and grime. My mind has already blocked it out it was so horrid. We probably did see a dead body in there and that’s why I’m drawing a blank.

We ran out of there as fast as we could and drove straight to Ashley’s place to beg for her place. She was there packing and happily let us in. Her open, airy space suddenly seemed like a palace. Funny what a little bit of perspective will do. She told us that since we were having trouble contacting the land lady she would just leave us her keys and send her a message that we were moving in.

So we left with Ashley’s keys. We had a place to stay, well, sort of. Having not had any contact with the landlady except for the email she had sent asking us to pay twice the original rent, we were still concerned that she might come knocking on the door with a Chinese family in tow who was willing to pay more.

Since we hadn’t handed over any money yet, we decided to keep looking for more options, and drove north to Babeldoab to see if we passed by any apartment buildings. We did as we left Koror, but every number we called answered with no vacancies. Babeldoab turned out to be a really big island full or nothing but dense jungle and one nice new road running all the way around at 25 mph. After about half an hour of driving we had only made it about a third of the way up the east coast of the big island. Here we found the capital building, a brand new, grand spectacle of a palace built in the style of the US capital, out in the middle of no where. Koror was packed with buildings falling to pieces and here sat this beautiful monstrosity with nothing else in the immediate area. Why?

We drove back to Koror and checked into our new hotel, then drove down the main road looking for a place to have lunch. A Thai food sign lured us into one of the many unkept buildings but inside, we found ourselves surrounded by a local crafts and jewelry gift shop with a couple booths along the wall. The lady waved us over to a booth and immediately started demanding to know what we wanted. We asked her if she had menus and she came back and handed us each a menu. Fletch tried whispering into my ear to ask if we wanted to eat here but neither one of us wanted to be rude and walk out with the lady hovering right there. We opened the menus and began to look. Everything was written in Chinese. We looked up at the looming server politely and told her we couldn’t read any of it. Impatiently, she began jabbing her finger at one picture after another and telling us what it was in a frustrated tone. We told her we’d take two fried noodles with egg and watched her hurry off. What returned to our table was a lot better than it looked. It looked like a greasy pile of noodles and eggs, not much color. The flavor was surprisingly good though. When we left the restaurant we realized that the Thai food sign had actually been pointing upstairs.

Leavinng Koror earlier we had written down the number of another realty agency’s number that was advertised on a roadside sign. We made an appointment with him to go look at the only rental that he had available and then spent the time until our appointment browsing a used car lot.

When our appointment rolled around, we met the realtor and followed him back up to Babeldoab, down a cute little quiet street we had come to a dead end on during our explorations earlier. This street was lined with single story pink houses surrounded by nice lawns. We pulled up to one of the houses and met the owner who’s teeth were rotting from chewing betel nut. The locals here all chew betel nut. In mild cases, it stains their teeth blood red. In more extreme cases, their teeth look rotten and ready to fall out. This guy’s teeth were practically exploding out of his mouth. He was very hospitable though and showed us around his place, telling us we could keep the place furnished if we wanted to. There were two bedrooms, only one of which had an a/c unit. That combined with the length of the drive to get from the house to anywhere else made us decide against it.

On our way home we stopped at Payless Market, one of the three grocery stores on Koror, and bought some breakfast and snack foods. Then we went back to the hotel room and called it an early night, still jet lagged.