“The taro plant is very important to the Palauan people,” explained Ann Singeo, the owner of Sense of Wonder eco tours, to my husband, John, and me. “The legend of Palau is based on food. A simple version of the taro legend is that a giant named Uab was consuming all the food so the rest of the people were starving. The villagers placed him on a fire; he exploded, and created the islands of Palau.”
Palau is an amazing group of 700 islands, most uninhabited, 500 miles east of the Philippines. It’s also one of the most “eco” of all locations we have visited.
Before John and I set out on our kayak tour of the mangrove, Spis, our guide picked a sprouting coconut off the ground and split it. The white part had become spongy and Ann suggested we slather it on our exposed body parts.
“It will keep away the mosquitoes and prevent sunburn,” she told us.
Deep in the mangrove, we pulled our kayaks up on land and a short hike took us to a where Ann explained another Palauan legend. The taro goddess brought back samples from the taro patches she had created on the various islands. Pointing to upright stones, Ann said, “These are the taro plants planted by the goddess. Over the years they turned to stone.”
Before coming to Palau, we were totally unfamiliar with taro, a root that is an important source of food for Palauns. In Palau, taro patches are the exclusive domain of women — probably because to harvest the plants they have to wade in deep mud, sometime above their waist, and they often work nude.
At the end of our tour Ann prepared a lunch that included taro soup and taro salad, both delicious dishes that gave us a taste of Palauan heritage.
The Rock Islands of Palau are also a paradise for divers and snorkelers. John and I were dazzled by the brilliant blue starfish and the giant clams. However, our most amazing experience was swimming with thousands of jellyfish, which are virtually stingless.
On our return from a snorkeling tour with Fish ‘n Fins, talk turned to food. Tova Harel, the owner of Fish n’ Fins, said if we returned for dinner she and her chef Cesar would show us how to prepare fish and some taro recipes. Tova Harel is also the author of the cookbook, Taste of Rainbow’s End. We knew this was an offer we could not refuse.
Ed note: Sandra and John Scott traveled in Palau in March 2009. At the time, the the half-day tour and lunch with Sense of Wonder was a bargain at $75 firstname.lastname@example.org. Their cooking experience ($25) was an impromptu favor extended by Tova Harel. She offers both cooking and diving experiences for visitors.
– Photos and Text by Sandra Scott, RFT Contributor