Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Palau: War & Peace

Hello from the land of Palau. I had previously planned to update this blog a little more frequently but since moving from the hotel to our unit we’ve had very limited internet access. Yesterday we requested a land line & homenet (DSL internet service) package. Homenet is a 256k connection @ $1.25 per hour at night or 128k @ $2.50 per hour during the day (+ a $20 a month access fee). I understand that the service is still very slow due to the country relying on satellite comms.
So what has been going on you ask?
all but the bottom few notes are 20's
Well we’ve picked up, paid for and registered our car. The car cost us $3700 and we paid for at least half of it in $20 notes. The local ATM’s refused to give me anything else and some of them would only give me $200 at a time. It was a long and slow process to get all the cash out. We also bought the car through one of the larger hardware stores. This kind of thing happens a bit here. Example B: The place that rents our unit (and others) out is located in a flower shop. The flower shop appears to sell golf balls and moisturiser as well. There is no golf course here. 

Ok, let me tell you how you go about registering a car in Palau. First you have to visit the equivalent of the transport department (hopefully you know where this is as there are no signs). You wait in line, tell them what you are after, then head back outside for someone to inspect your car. (Which mostly seemed to consist of writing down the engine number). Now head back inside, wait again, get the details written up. Then head 3 buildings over to the Treasury department to pay for the rego ($75). You’d think this was about it right? But no, in Palau you then need to drive a few minutes away up to the state office and pay another $25. You then head back to where you started from and wait again, they write a few more things up and give you your number plate (singular, like in the USA you have one plate on the back of your car). Then for $1 you can get someone to provide the bolts and put the plate on for you (which I’m assuming is easier than buying the right bolts and a shifting spanner). You then wait briefly again for your registration card. Congratulations, you now have a registered car in Palau :)
View from the lunch with the ambassador
Thankfully one of the Aussie Navy boys gave us the heads up on this one so it wasn’t as confusing as it could have been. Stay tuned for how to get your local driver’s license.
After spending our morning sorting the car out we were treated to lunch by the Aussie Ambassador to the Micronesia region (one of the perks of being in a small country). We had a good chat with him about various things like issues affecting nutrition in the area and his own various roles and duties. Someone tell me how I get one of these jobs?

The following day we moved into our new unit. It’s a newly renovated 2 bedroom unit about a 5 minute drive from “downtown” (when it’s not peak hour traffic… yes seriously there is peak hour traffic). Compared to the quality of the units we saw when looking last week, this place is a palace. We don’t have any nice views of the water unfortunately but we should be quite happy here. There are another 3 units in the block which are currently empty while the renos are being completed. 

our neighbours to the south
In Palau there are no street names nor addresses, which can make it extremely challenging to find a place. Particularly if you are new to the country like us. While catching a cab last week to view a prospective unit we had to tell the driver to take us to Momo’s house. Luckily he did know where this was. When telling people where we live we have to use landmarks like ‘next to the building xyz’ or ‘turn right where the compact road ends’. It hasn’t been too difficult so far and it just adds to the quirkiness that is Palau. 

What has been quite difficult with moving in to our apartment is the definition of what fully furnished is. Back home you’d expect to find pretty much everything to live off without having to buy anything right..? Well here it’s essentially just the basic furniture; bed, side tables, dresser, fridge, table & chairs, couches, tv unit, coffee table, that sort of stuff. This has had some fair implications on us as we’ve had to spend quite a bit of money already just to be able to do basic living and cooking. We’ve had to buy all sorts of stuff like, linen, towels, toaster, a wok, a pot, cutlery, broom, pegs & line, chopping board, can opener, you get the idea. It’s been a little challenging at times to try and make do without all the stuff we have become so reliant on. I might touch on this further in another post though. 

not cheap but a bit of a status symbol for the locals
Right now we have no tv, microwave, stereo, kettle, phone, internet etc etc. I think we’ll see how long we can go without some of this stuff and hope to pick some off other expats when they leave.  So far it’s been unexpectedly expensive to eat here. Pretty much everything in the grocery stores are similar prices to Australia. (Restaurants are mostly slightly cheaper though, except for the Indian place and one of Japanese ones). After buying the car and having to setup a house we are well behind, and with the cost of groceries I’m already rather concerned about how we will make ends meet on the volunteer wage. But we’ll see what comes once we’ve settled in properly. The locals manage to do it somehow but I think they have a lot of spam on rice.
Oh and no one really seems to have their own laundry here. We are probably lucky to have a shared one between the four units. Of course it costs $1 for each load too.

yep, seems necessary
The first night in the new unit was interesting to say the least. We had planned to cook as it had been around 12 days since our last home cooked meal and the cost was adding up. However the whole island(s) had a power blackout that lasted near 2 hours. We’ve been told this is extremely rare these days but while in the hotel we saw quite a few power fluctuations. We eventually gave up waiting for the power to come back on and had to go out and eat at a local restaurant yet again. 

I don’t think either of us slept well that first night. There was a lot of noise around (which generally hasn’t continued on successive nights thankfully). The bed seems to amplify any movement into a crescendo of tidal wave proportions. And as I expected we were woken very early by all the roosters I’d seen wandering our neighbourhood. The first rooster started around 3:30am but it was on like donkey kong from around 4:30am and it didn’t let up. At some point I started having sleep deprived delirious fantasies about buying one of the air rifles sold in one of the local shops and taking the roosters out one by one. What I find funny about this is while I was joking about shooting the roosters I’ve since found out that one of our fellow Australians here does just that. He bagged three on Sunday morning alone. Maybe I’ll get him come around one morning :)

Generally we’ve been sleeping better since and the roosters don’t seem to be as bad as they did on the first night. However it is very hot & humid at night here, just like Brisbane in summer. We put the aircon on one night but with the high price of electricity here ($200 per month roughly) we’ve been trying to go without. It’s a fine line between trying to open the place up for some air vs closing it up so the roosters aren’t as loud early the next morning.

Another issue we’ve come across is that 3 of our neighbours decided to burn off their various garden waste over the weekend, one neighbour each on Friday, Saturday & Sunday. The smoke has been so bad that we’ve had to almost complete shut the house up for hours while the fires were burning. Two of those neighbours seem to have their fire pit much closer to our place than their own as well. I just hope it’s not a weekly occurrence. 

not a bad arty photo considering it was taken on my phone
One of the perks of living here is that about 1 minute drive away the boat ramp/jetty/BBQ spot/outdoor basketball court for Nikko Bay. I think in our 5-6 days of being here we’ve been swimming every day but one. It’s a huge bay and we’ve only seen a very small portion of it. But that portion is incredible. It has some great corral which is teaming with various aquatic life. My highlight was spotting an Eagle Ray a couple of days ago and swimming around with it for about 30 minutes. Yesterday afternoon Amanda spotted a turtle but I was a little too far away to see it.  
Another perk to living in Palau is the quality of seafood. For last night’s dinner we bought a whole Red Snapper caught that day, 1.4kg for $6.75. We only had half so there is enough for tonight as well.  

Ok I’ll leave it at that before I write a blog article the length of War & Peace. Stay tuned for more Pieces of Eights coming at you soon.

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