Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Whitney Tressel
DAY THREE | Since you didn’t come all the way to Palau to do the back-to-nature thing halfway, you head to the boat depot after breakfast to be transported to Ngellil Nature Island Resort, a no-frills eco-resort built in the style of a traditional Palauan bai (meetinghouse).
An outpost of the cushier Palau Plantation Resort, it stands alone on a small limestone island, has limited running water and power and is accessible only by boat. Chickens and dogs herald your arrival, and Gary Esplago, the resort’s Filipino factotum, hacks a hole in a coconut and hands it to you with a straw. Along with Gary, the only people you see on the island are a receptionist, a cook and an older Palauan man who goes by the name “Uncle.”
After settling in, you take a boat back to Fish ’n Fins, where you secure an all-terrain vehicle and a guide to show you around Palau’s biggest island, Babeldaob. You spend the afternoon careening through red mud tracks with your heart in your throat, stopping at one point to splash around in a chilly waterfall deep in the humid jungle. Getting to the falls involves negotiating slippery rocks, water crossings and rope. It’s a far cry from the liability-free hikes you’ve been on in the past. The feeling is of wandering lost in a prehistoric forest, but with better lunch.
Back on Ngellil Island, torches have been stuck into the lawn and an array of steaming victuals is sizzling on a tiny grill. Gary is stalking fish for tomorrow’s lunch, crouching with a spear and a net in the gloaming. “How can you find them in this light?” you ask. He dives and emerges with a silver fish flopping on his spear. Shrugging, he then lifts a bag of smaller fish and says, “Should we fry these?”
At dinner, plates lined with coconut leaves appear one after the other at your table by the sea. There is barbecue pork, sweet corn, smoky grilled oysters and crispy grilled rice cakes shaped like hearts. A platter of fried sardines—the same fish Gary pulled from the lagoon—is presented, along with a ramekin of tartar sauce. After dinner, Uncle and the others show up bearing a six-pack of Filipino Red Horse beer. You retire to hammocks to drink, watch fireflies and listen to the waves slipping over the rocks. You know that your email is pinging back home, and there’s undoubtedly someone you should call, but Gary is preparing to show the four of you a card trick. The world you’re on the run from hums along, far away.
Much to her co-workers’ annoyance, senior editor JACQUELINE DETWILER has started to say “mwooogh!” in response to particularly interesting work e-mails.