Paddling the Island on the Day After

Hidden Lagoon
By Barbara Shaw
Page 3 of 4   |  

Our second day of kayaking came a week later. This time, having studied the map, we decided to paddle away from the port at Malakal and explore large Risong Bay, with its islands and many inlets. The goal was one of several small inland lakes. That clear, bright, gorgeous morning we rode out with the tidal current.

Entering the first inlet, the water glowed pale blue above a sandy bottom. But with vertical cliffs rising ten meters around us, we abandoned the notion of reaching the lake shown on the map. The next inlet was similar: a spectacularly steep disappointment. The third try appeared at first to present the same situation—sheer walls all around. But, drawing up to the base of the wall, we glanced left and spotted a narrow opening. Snaking through the passageway, we looked down into a field of pink sea fans. Trees and vines met above us, forming a tunnel that led into a hidden lagoon the size of a ball field. The tranquil quiet of a jungle paradise drew us in. Below, colorful fish darted, and, above, butterflies danced in the hot sunshine.

First we tied our boats to a vine and went snorkeling. The water was still and clear. When we moved very slowly, we could watch the fish skitter around the coral heads without the usual distortions bright light refracted by surface waves causes. A great variety of corals thrived in the cove, and in some areas the sandy bottom sprouted sponges.

There, in this hidden sanctum, I realized just how a place can draw you to a heightened awareness. In this state of grace, away from civilized routine and closer to the place where humankind first came to be, I could sense the mystery of Creation in a new way. In the serenity of an undisturbed natural environment, true wildness can permeate the psyche and hush the unquiet mind.

Feeling weightless and warm, moving slowly over a large knoll of branched brown saghorn coral, we examined its intricate complexity. Letting our eyes focus nearer, then farther, we could see the small brown fish hovering just above the coral's surface. Indeed, the more you look, the more of these fish you see, almost invisible in their natural camouflage. They look like an aura around the coral head, matching it perfectly, thousands upon thousands of fingerlings resting motionless. Look away and they vanish.

Surfacing, we dried off and lay back. Trusting our untied boats to find the way, we closed our eyes and listened into the distance. A rare blend of music swept us into a tropical world, a place far away from the truths you usually count on. Out here, the wild sings every day, as it has for millennia—in pure, joyous celebration.

Our peace was not to last long. As soon as we paddled out of the secret cove and into the big bay, a squall hit, driving buckets of horizontal rain before a ripping wind. Fortunately, we passed an anchored yacht whose crew invited us to tie our kayaks to the transom and climb up to join them. Feeling lucky and safe, we huddled under the canvas canopy and shared barbecued fish, cold beer, and good stories until the weather lightened up a bit.

We learned our hosts had sailed out of Los Angeles, via Samoa and New Guinea, to be there. Undaunted by the distance of their journey, it was clear that they too could not resist the draw of Palau's magnetic beauty.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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