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 December 20, 2004
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The small island nation of Palau is a feast for the eyes. Palau is perhaps the brightest jewel in all the Pacific; a place to be cherished and protected by those who live here.

Palau is about as far across the Pacific as we can travel from San Francisco. We fly first to Hawaii, then due west seven more hours to Guam. And, finally, a few more hours south and west to Palau, near the equator.

Palau is a cluster of mostly little islands, hundreds of them, ringed by coral reefs. Palau is home only to about 15,000 people. Two-thirds of them live in the city of Koror. Until recently, Palau was an American protectorate. Now, it's one of the newest nations on earth.

In Palau, the bright sun splashes light on rocky islands and alabaster beaches. I've always wanted to go diving in Palau, and now here's my chance. The equatorial sun even percolates underwater, illuminating clouds of stingless jellyfish. And in the warm shallow sea, sunlight brightens a greater diversity of colorful corals than anywhere else in the Pacific.

The reefs here also teem with fish. There are 1,400 species; that's three times the number that can be found around the Hawaiian Islands. Palau is widely considered by divers to be one of the seven underwater wonders of the world. But, about a half a century ago, it was wounded by war.

During World War II, this was the site of some incredible battles between the Japanese and Americans. Some of the remnants of those battles remain on the ocean floor. This haunting reminder of the war is of a Japanese oil tanker torpedoed by American forces in 1944. Coral is claiming its decaying shell and drops of oil, like forgotten tears, still seep to the surface.

Today, the sounds of the war are gone. But the sights remain here and there, slowly being swallowed by the elements. Close to a thousand Americans died on the island of Peleliu. This is Orange Beach, but it ran red with blood in the fall of 1944.

Nearly 11,000 Japanese were incinerated, or entombed forever, in these caves they carved deep in Limestone Hill.

At the end of November 1944, the Japanese garrison on Peleliu was virtually wiped out. But 34 Japanese soldiers went behind this thicket here and hid in caves. For two and half years they heard the sound of American airplanes and American soldiers. They thought the war was still on. They didn't surrender until April 1947.

Palau was once overrun by war. Now, as a brand new nation being discovered for its unique, precious qualities, it runs the risk of being overrun by tourism and development. Too much, too fast could destroy the pristine environment that defines and sustains Palau.

Local people are working to protect what has nurtured Palau for thousands of years, and they always will says the president of the country, Kuniwo Nakamura. "Palauans are very environmentally conscious," he says. "We will make sure to balance our development with our environment. So, in short, I think you will see Palau, twenty years from now, what you see today."

I actually dreamed about coming to Palau for a very long time. So being here is really exciting. In fact, the place exceeded my expectations. And I found one more thing that surprised me and might interest you as well. Here we are in a tiny island nation halfway around the world from home, and guess what one of the most popular television stations is here? That's right, KRON-TV Channel 4.

Turns out we've got lots of Bay Area Backroads fans out here. So for all of you watching in Palau, thanks for the hospitality and come visit us sometime. The Bay Area is also a pretty beautiful spot.

The small island nation of Palau, one of the seven underwater wonders of the world, is actually a cluster of hundreds of little islands ringed by coral reefs.
For more information, call the Continental Micronesia Tour Desk at (800) 945-9955, extension 201 or contact:
Palau Visitors Authority for Information
PO Box 256
Koror, Palau, 96940
Their phone number is (680) 488-1930 or 488-1930
Fax number is (680) 488-1930

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