Updated: Apr 6, 2022
by Greg Barnes
Dong and I once again went to Palau for drone LiDAR work!! Our first time there (which ironically had been our last time there 🤔), we had plenty of time to prepare. This time, not only were we incredibly rushed — we were also on a shoestring budget. This is the full account of our second trip to Palau, including the challenges and risks we faced (don’t worry mom, not life-threatening risks), and the solutions we found/created for those issues.
It all started months ago when our friends at Bella Wings Aviation (BWA) were in Palau and met some German archaeoligsosts (dear readership, don’t EVER try to type that word too fast) who were looking for some LiDAR solutions to supplement their work. Our friends referred them to us, but we did not have any direct line of communication to them. Finally, about 6-8 weeks later, a Zoom call was scheduled with us, Bella Wings, and the archaeologists.
Quick jump-to sections:
The day of the call arrived — Friday, January 28, and we all got on Zoom. We met the archaeologists, Christian and Annette — such nice people doing such exciting work. (They had found many artifacts, including a wall in the Rock Islands that is at least hundreds, if not thousands of meters long!) On the call, we showed them a couple examples of our past LiDAR work; they said yeah, it looked like something that might produce results like what they wanted and what they were used to. That’s right; they had used drone LiDAR in archaeology before. In fact, in Germany, they have their own DJI Matrice 300 RTK drone, the same as ours. Their LiDAR system — the DJI Zenmuse L1 — is different from our Rock Robotics R2A, but both systems share the same Livox Avia LiDAR sensor and therefore get similar results.
Christian and Annette proceeded to tell us the crazy reason they can’t use their own LiDAR system in Palau, and it’s that they aren’t able to get it out of Germany / out of the EU. Why not? Because allegedly the spec sheet of the M300 drone uses the words “dual use,” which supposedly means that the drone could theoretically be used to launch projectiles. In other words, the M300, in the eyes of the European Union, is a weapon / part of a weapon system, and therefore they are not allowed to transport it out of the EU. And even though this drone is clearly being used for archaeology, and despite Christian’s and Annette’s status as well-known scholars and researchers, no exemption is able to be made at this time. Wow. That is why they were asking us to come out to Palau to scan a couple areas of interest to them.
Then Christian and Annette revealed a real shocker: Christian would be leaving Palau on February 6, and the LiDAR scans would need to be completed before then! (Keep in mind: we were having this Zoom call on January 28!)
We very quickly realized that not only were we working under a tight money crunch — we were under a severe time crunch as well!
Flights from Guam to Palau only happen twice a week: Late Sunday nights and late Thursday nights. So here is the schedule we were looking at:
January 28: Today’s date.
January 30: The next Guam-Palau flight.
February 3: The following Guam-Palau flight (the last before Christian’s departure)
February 6: Christian’s flight out of Palau
When the archaeologists left the call, we and Bella Wings kept talking for a bit to talk logistics, timeframe, mission safety, etc...
When we hung up, the VERY FIRST thing I asked Dong was: Given the time/budget constraints, is this trip something you would even consider? If yes, let’s go for it. But if the answer is no — meaning if you have already decided not to go through with this — then let’s stop wasting our time and everyone else’s time, starting right now. Dong said he’d like to try to make it work if he can, and that he’d be down to leave this Sunday night. “Would you?” he asked me. It was already Friday around 6:30pm. I said “Yeah, I’d be down to leave this Sunday.”
It was settled: We were going to go for it. To be honest, hearing Dong say aloud (and then me also saying aloud) that we would be down to leave on such short notice — that was exciting to me. Wow. Just two days to plan such a trip?? I told Dong that the ONLY reason we were even able to consider doing this is because we were so detailed and meticulous with our preparation and checklists last time we went to Palau (see our last Palau blog post to read about that). Just think about it: Had we not gone above and beyond in our planning last time, there is no way we’d be able to go this time. This time, sooooo much of that pre-planning (equipment checklists [with weight and serial numbers], operational checklists, etc.) was already done.
Saturday came along, and I waited and waited for Dong to give any kind of update regarding news from the archaeologists. I texted a few times, but he said there were no updates. The time drew nearer to 4:00, and finally at about 3:30 or 3:45, I had a conversation or two with him. Still, no updates. That’s when we realized: There was no way we’d be able to get on the Sunday night flight. I said to Dong over the phone something along the lines of, “well, I guess that’s that,” meaning “there goes this Palau operation.” But then Dong said “well, we could still go on Thursday.” Ohhhh yeeeeeeah, lol. How could I have forgotten about that? Suddenly we had a new goal toward which we were working — a still urgent, yet much more reasonable goal.
I believe it was Monday afternoon when we got a call back from Annette. Yes, she told us, there were a few potential land-based launch/landing sites per scan area. Very good!! We, of course, did our due diligence and measured the potential launch/landing zones on Google Earth. This was the last operational obstacle that we needed to clarify before leaving, so now we felt free and ready to go.
So we decided officially that yes, we would go to Palau. We’d leave Guam late Thursday night and arrive in Palau early Friday morning. Christian, one of the archaeologists, would be leaving late night on Sunday, February 6 (technically, around 1 or 1:30am early Monday morning). And since that was our deadline to have everything finished anyway, that was the day we set for ourselves to depart Palau and come back to Palau.
I want to stress again: We still had the checklists from our previous (first) trip to Palau that we had gone over thoroughly, multiple times. They were tested, tried, and true. Because of that, our week leading up to our flight was very easy. We continued to do work as usual.
Finally, the day of our flight arrived. We and our intern Josh went over our equipment checklist a few more times, and we realized that we only had to prepare one specially-packed box of equipment, as opposed to the four we had to pack last time! (Before we went to Palau the first time, we brought them to PostNet and used heavy-duty plastic wrap to pack them. But when we were leaving Palau, we realized we could pack them ourselves with just saran wrap, cheap large garbage bags, and packing tape.) So we already wrapped the 2 rolls of ground control points (GCP), and we weren’t bringing the beast of a computer we brought last time, so that meant the one box we had to specially pack was for our Leica GS16 GNSS system, our Rock Robotics R2A system, Mavic 2 Pro drone, and some surge protectors and charging plugs and cables. We took that equipment in and had it all packed inside a box that fit it all snug, with a little extra room left over that we put plastic bubbles in, for around $15. (On our way back, we could use that extra space to fit gifts we bought for others. We also fit gifts and other small items into the unused pockets inside the M300 case.)
Other than packing that one box, it was work as usual that day. Since our flight was much later, like around 11:30pm, we left and went home after work. Around 7:15, Dong and his girlfriend Danielle picked me up from my house. We went to the office to check our equipment one last time before heading out to dinner. (We were all hungry, but despite our multiple equipment checks all week, we wanted to do another one so we could enjoy our dinner and not have this thought of “what if we did something wrong?” looking over us. It really is important to us to work first, play later. We ate at Thunder Chicken, which is a Guam staple Korean chicken place.
After dinner, went to the office and moved all of our equipment and luggage to the car — everything we’d need in Palau — and drove to our friend John’s house to hang out a little. Actually, John is the friend who introduced Dong and me years ago. John now does some chiropractic work, and I really needed his sweet, loving hands to do a bit of magic on me. (I now realize that sentence could be read in a couple different ways. Anyway, I needed John’s magic touch.) Thank you, John! But we realized: we were actually running a bit late for our check-in!! So we RUSHED out of John’s house over to the airport, where we were the last people to check in to our flight!! But after that, it was smooth sailing.
Pearla, a good friend of ours, is the President of Women in Aviation International Guam, but she has also been a flight attendant on United for over 20 years. And as it so happened, she was one of the attendants on our flight! For the time I’ve known Pearla, I’ve seen her in many roles — as President of WAIG, as one of the heads of Bella Wings Aviation, and as a friend; now I got to see her in her element in a job she’s been in for decades. It was so exciting to be able to chat with her whenever she wasn’t losing her brains trying to calm down those usual smelly, unruly peasants back in steerage. Pearla was also nice enough to give us some sheets and blankets to take to the apartment!
After not too long a flight, we arrived in Palau once again. How awesome it was to be back!
No issues whatsoever at the airport. One difference, though: We were not welcomed with the traditional Palauan greeting we received last time, which was a self-nasal swab station, so that was nice! And due to that ONE change, we were out of the airport MUCH faster than we were the last time! But we were still slapped with a blue plastic bracelet that we were not allowed to remove, which indicated that we had just arrived in the country within the past 5 days and shows that we are under a Restriction of Movement (RoM). If you want to know what Restriction of Movement means, search the text of our previous Palau blog post where I explain it in more detail.
Christian, one of the archaeologists, was waiting outside for us. We had seen pictures of the archaeologists’ rental car, which was a VERY small sedan that would barely be able to fit even half of our luggage. So imagine our delight when Christian showed us that he had gotten another, much larger car, in which to pick us up! This car was more of a station wagon type, which fit all of our equipment along with ourselves, and we even had some room to spare! We had such a nice conversation with Christian as he drove us to Charlie’s apartment, which had been left unlocked for us by the apartment complex management. When we arrived, Christian and the security guy helped us carry our stuff upstairs. Many hands really did make light work. Christian even got us a bag of groceries, which was so nice of him, and which we were so thankful for! The apartment itself was relatively unfurnished and only some rooms’ electricity was working, so I slept on the couch in the living room while Dong took the one room with working A/C. (I prefer little to no A/C.) There was also no internet yet in the apartment, and for some reason the telecom stall at the airport — where we would normally have gotten our SIM cards — was gone.
We planned with Christian that he and Annette would pick us up at 10:30am, but I woke up at 6:45 (my usual daily alarm on my phone that I’d forgotten to turn off). Annoyed, it turned it off. But in succession, I was startled awake by my other daily morning alarms!! Dong was also awake; he’d just come out into the hall to go into the bathroom. It was still early, so I rested more and more, thinking that Dong would wake me up when it was necessary. But when I awoke again and looked at the clock — it was 9:00 — I was annoyed that we still weren’t at least getting up and moving around. Dong is usually much more on the ball than this.
So I walked to his room and said, “Ummm… shouldn’t we be getting ready?”
“No, we still have plenty of time.”
“No,” I said,” it’s 9:00.
“Did you forget to change your clock?” he asked.
I thought, “it’s supposed to do that automatically” before I realized: “I’ve had no internet — this IS Guam time!!”
I shuffled back to the couch in shame and changed the time zone on my phone manually.
Since neither of us was that tired, Dong suggested we go out for a walk (since we had no rental car or other means of transport until being picked up at 10:30) to grab a coffee; he said surely we’d find some place to get our java without having to walk all the way downtown. Finally, it was HIS turn to be wrong!
The closest cafés were downtown, lol. But really, we didn’t mind the walk, other than the heat. The temperature on Palau is similar to Guam’s, but you notice it a lot less because there’s less humidity in Palau than there is in Guam. We got our coffee, recorded a little teaser video for social media, and walked back to the apartment with still plenty of time to spare.
Around the scheduled time, Christian and Annette came and picked us up in the same station-wagon type sedan Christian used just 8-9 hours earlier when he’d picked us up from the airport. Once again, many hands made light work as we moved all our equipment to the car, and once again, we all fit inside the car easily, even with Annette who was not with us before.
We hadn’t had time or the means to visit the hardware store, so we asked them if we could stop there first, since we needed metal stakes (more on that later). But they told us they had some, so we went to the area where they lived (they were neighbors), and we picked up a whole box of more than enough short (12-inch or so) rebar stakes, along with a large hammer.
After that, we drove to PNCC (the telecom company) to get SIM cards and a MiFi device. But we weren’t allowed in because we were under Restriction of Movement (RoM)! So instead, the sales person had to come out to us to help us outside. But it’s ok, we got our stuff and then we were on our way!
We’ve decided since then will be removing MiFi devices from our workflow because internet connectivity is not needed in the operation. What IS needed is a simple wifi connection between the computer and drone controller, and that connection can be established with a simple phone hotspot. So no more paying $150 or whatever ridiculous fee for the MiFi rental!
We drove to the pier where the chartered boat and captain were waiting for us. By this time, it was already midday — close to noon. (The telecom stuff took some time, and even before that we were a little delayed at the apartment.) We loaded all our stuff onto the boat and got going!
This boat ride, for me, was the most memorable part of the trip. Before going to Palau the first time, I kept hearing the phrase “Rock Islands” and seeing it on all the websites that talk about Palau. Well, “Rock Islands” doesn’t sound appealing, I’m sorry. What are these — ugly, barren islands?? Or did Dwayne Johnson buy a bunch of Palauan atolls?? What are these “Rock Islands?!” As it was, I really didn’t care the first time, simply because I judged the name. But when I went on a boat tour of Rock Islands, I thought……… this is the most breathtakingly gorgeous place I have ever seen. This place is actually here on earth?? I kept looking at the beauty of the Rock Islands around me and thinking, this is straight out of a ‘70s fantasy novel; it looks like a completely different planet. So, to be completely honest, the boat ride TO and FROM our mission was the single part of the trip I looked forward to more than anything else. Yes, I wanted to get the job done, and well. Yes, I love aviation and flight, and getting into an airplane still makes my heart flutter in excitement. Yes, I wanted to see our wonderful friends and make new ones. But this boat ride was what I looked forward to the most. And even now, when I think back to that trip, 90% of the time, the image in my mind is from that boat ride. If you, reader, ever get the chance to go to Palau, do at least a boat ride in the Rock Islands, if not snorkel or scuba there (which are even more incredible).
We were told that depending on weather conditions, we may be able to go the short route, or we might have to take the long route around. As it turns out, we had to take the long way around. Aww, darn it (🥳).
Scan Area 1
After a glorious 40 minutes (at least) in the boat, we approached the first scan area and landed at a place that we were considering for our launch and landing site. It was a recreation area (which, today, was completely empty other than us) with picnic tables, a large covered pavilion, and a restroom. The beach was mostly sand, but trees surrounded most of the land. The exception was one part of the recreation area where the ground was solid rock. We evaluated the site and determined that the area without trees was wide enough that we would be able to launch and land without hitting any of the trees surrounding us in literally every direction. (Launch / landing site #1.) So we removed all of our equipment from the boat and set it all up on a few of the many picnic tables in the vicinity.
As usual, one of the first things we did was set up our Leica GS16 GNSS base station. We try to make this one of the first things we set up and one of the last things we tear down, since the longer it collects data, the better.
(In December, when we were in Palau for the first time, due to the complexity of the final product of what was going to be built, the engineers needed absolute accuracy. Because of that, not only did we set up our Leica base station, but we also placed multiple GCPs around the property, being sure to place them at good distances away from one another, and at various elevations around the entire property. Before the operation, we went around to each GCP, and the surveyors who were with us would place their rover on each GCP to capture its coordinates. Later, on the computer, we tied in those coordinates with the GCPs.)
This time, the archaeologists did not need absolute accuracy; they were happy with relative accuracy. That meant that our workflow was much simpler. As stated, we still set up our Leica system, but this time, we did not need to lay any GCPs down.
While Dong was setting up the laptop and making sure UgCS Desktop and UgCS Mobile (on the M300 controller) were connected via the MiFi device, I set up the M300 and attached the R2A LiDAR system. I don’t know whose it was, but we had a broom with us (it may have been property of the captain, for use on the boat). I was able to borrow it and sweep the large solid rock launch / landing area to clear it of any sand and pebbles (of which there were many). Obviously, with any drone — but especially a large drone such as our M300 — when the propellers start up, any loose debris under the drone will be stirred up. When that happens, any sand, pebbles, broken glass, or other hard, rough, course debris could nick the sensitive areas of our R2A system, namely the Livox Avia LiDAR sensor and the 24MP Sony RGB camera lens. So a simple sweeping of the area really helps.
The only hiccup we had with the first operation was an oversight that was my fault. Before the operation, after we had turned on the drone and Rock Robotics R2A LiDAR system, I connected to the R2A’s internal wifi network to format the attached USB stick. Then Dong said he wanted the drone to be restarted, so I proceeded to do that. The problem was, I didn’t wait for the R2A to finish formatting the USB stick. This was a simple, avoidable error. Thankfully, when the drone restarted and I reconnected to the R2A wifi, I again toggled the reformat of the USB stick, and everything worked like a charm.
After going through the pre-flight checklist, including checking the parameters on UgCS Desktop, the time came for us to start the mission. Even Christian and Annette, who were used to seeing drones perform LiDAR scans in archaeology, whipped out their phone and DSLR as if it was their first time seeing a drone take off. Other than my one error regarding the formatting of the USB stick, the entire rest of the operation went smoothly and perfectly. The terrain following and other functionality in UgCS worked exactly as designed. The flight
itself was a single-battery operation that took less than 20 minutes, and the only reason it took that long is because we were flying at a very slow 4 meters per second (m/s). The reason we elected for such a slow speed is because we wanted to capture as much data as possible, to give the LiDAR enough chances to see underneath the tree canopy, preferably all the way to the ground. (This would obviously be of the most help to any archaeologist.) And finally, without issue, the drone auto-landed right in the dead center of the launch area without getting to close to any tree or other obstruction.
We tore down and said goodbye to this beautiful area that I loved, got back into the boat, and headed toward the second scan area. But on the way, we stopped to see (and smell) something very disgusting. Christian and Annette said they knew where we could find many sharks. Yeah, Dong and I were down to see that! But why were so many sharks there? Well, they told us, it’s because a dead sperm whale washed up, so the sharks were having a
feast. After a little searching, we found the beached whale. Oh. My. Word. You’ve heard of a sight for sore eyes? This whale was a sight that made my eyes sore. I couldn’t look at it anymore. The archaeologists pointed out such details as “I think that’s the eye,” and other barf-beckoning phrases. This, of course, was on top of the most foul stench that plagued that area. Actually, Christian and Annette told us that the odor wasn’t nearly as bad today as it was last time they were there, since the wind now was blowing in the other direction. But once in a while, the winds would shift and we’d get a noseful. But were there any sharks?? Yes — a single young one. That’s it. So it wasn’t like a sharkfest or Sharknado or anything like that, but still we appreciated the sight of that one. NOW LET’S GET THE FREAKIN’ HECK OUT OF HERE!!
Scan Area 2
For this second scan area, we were taken to two potential launch/landing sites — two neighboring beaches. The first potential launch / landing site for area #2 was a lovely beach, just perfect for an ideal day getaway. The small size of the beach and overhanging trees are excellent for any mission that involves sleeping lazily on a hammock underneath. However, if your mission is to fly a large drone, this would not be a good starting end ending point for that! As it would so happen, the second potential launch / landing site for area #2 ended up being almost as bad a place to take off and land.
Then Christian and Annette literally pointed to a third option: an island about 1.3km away, with a very sizable open strip of beach with no obstructions whatsoever. Like the first launch / landing site, we were told that this island also had picnic tables and some covered structures good for shade. (In our case, due to our trip being so last-minute, we’d forgotten completely about a table and canopy being a part of our operation — we really should add THAT to our checklist! — so we really appreciated the fact that these areas had tables and structures.) But the problem with this particular area was its distance; as I said, it was about 1.3km away from the start of the scan area. However, I saw that the first two beaches were not suitable; not just because of the small beach clearance, but also because of this: even though we’d be closer to the drone, the signal might be weaker due to all the trees blocking the way (and perhaps also stone; it appeared on the first beach that there was a small cliff which would have blocked direct line of sight to the drone, which also could have impeded the connection). In contrast, launching from the other island and going across the water, and with the drone flying above the trees, we would have a good, direct line of sight for the entire mission. I was convinced after seeing that island from afar, that it was the correct choice. Dong, after thinking about it longer (after all, he is the Remote Pilot In Command and needs to think about every aspect of this mission deeper than anyone else), agreed. (Final launch / landing site for area #2.)
So we went across the way and landed next to the island, The water was waist-high, so we had to be careful to carry all our heavy equipment above the water line. Once again, we set all up all our gear on the picnic tables.
Unlike the first launch area, this area’s suitable launch / landing zone was a large sandy
beach (as opposed to the hard ground rock of the first site). At that first site, we swept the area clear of any loose debris that could damage our LiDAR sensor and RGB camera. On a sandy beach, an ideal way to protect your valuable equipment during launch and landing is to set down your GCPs and launch from there. Each GCP has a loop in the corner meant for staking. So I took 3 GCPs, laid them down on the beach in a way where they overlapped (sort of in a triangle shape), and I staked them into the ground. We would launch from and land on these GCPs, so that minimal sand would be stirred up by the wind created by the propellers.
I placed the M300 on the dead center of the GCPs and turned it on, and went back to Dong one last time to go over our preflight checklist. After that, we launched. Since I’d really stretched out the GCPs and staked them tightly, there was minimal flapping. As I watched the drone ascend, I had a surreal feeling: I am on a beautiful tropical island in a nation (Palau) which is widely considered to be one of the last pure, unspoiled placed on earth, doing a drone mission in this beautiful paradise, to help archaeologists know more about things left behind by people hundreds or even thousands of years ago who also lived in this beautiful paradise. There was SO MUCH about that thought which I absolutely loved.
The drone ascended and performed its figure 8s (to calibrate the LiDAR sensor). After that, it began to fly the 1.3 km over the ocean toward the scan site. Keep in mind that for the actual scan, we wanted to capture a lot of data for the archaeologists, so we set the flight speed of the drone to 4 m/s. Well, sadly, the drone flew at 4 m/s even as it was on its way to the scan site! (We would have loved for the drone to have flown faster to/from there). 1.3 km is 1,300 meters. If moving at 4 meters per second, a drone takes about 5 minutes and 20 seconds to fly that distance. That’s each way! So in addition to the actual scan zone (which took 15 minutes), the drone took over 10 minutes before the actual scan, just to fly to and from the scan site! In any other environment, yeah, I would have minded. But 10 extra minutes in paradise? Yes, please! (I was hoping that, like earlier, the water would be so choppy that we had to take the long way around so that I could enjoy a longer boat ride. Every inefficiency beyond our control that would cause us to HAVE to spend more time in paradise, was totally welcomed by me!)
Thankfully, everything went well with this second flight as well. I watched the drone carefully as it landed, because I had placed the drone right in the dead center of the GCPs before it took off, and I wanted to see how close it would land this time. Again, I didn’t want sand spraying up and scratching the glass surfaces of the expensive stuff.) Amazingly, it landed precisely where I remembered placing it before the flight — wow!!
When the mission was over, we celebrated a quick completion of the job we had set out to do. Today, we were in paradise. The weather could not have been more perfect. The people around us were fun, and we were unified in purpose. It wasn’t just Dong and I who were glad; we were all so pleased.
We had the LiDAR data on a flash drive, and Dong backed up on our secondary flash drive as well, so all our data was good and safe. Everyone helped tear down our equipment and carry it to the boat. Once again, many hands made light work. After that, we stayed near the boat. Dong and I flew our personal drones for fun, while Christian and Annette went for a dip in the warm waters.
When we left, we heard that the water in the direct route was not calm. Because of that, once again, to my great pleasure, we had to go the long way around. This was at least a 40-minute boat ride. During that boat ride, I noticed Malakal Island to the east (I knew we would be passing it, so I had my eye open for it the whole time). I pointed it out to Dong, since that cliff will always be near and dear to our hearts; it is the area we had to scan the first time we were in Palau. We will never, ever forget it. Within moments, the sight of that cliff was gone as we passed Malakal Island and curved north and east of it, finally docking near Elilai restaurant around 5:00pm.
We unloaded our things and packed them in the car. Christian and Annette, as they dropped us off, told us they’d pick us up again for dinner. We showered and rested for a bit, and then we went with the archaeologists to Drop Off Bar & Grill for dinner. We got to meet Mike — Annette’s husband — and a few others. Annette was telling us how great their poke bowl is, so she, Dong, and I ordered it for our dinners, even though it’s just an appetizer on the menu. We accompanied our dinners with Red Rooster Beer — Palau’s national beer. Every time we’re in Palau, Red Rooster is something we must have. It is not only a Palau staple; it is also really, really good. After a bit of time, we were greeted by some friendly faces who we didn’t know, but all of our company did; they were friends. Florian from Austria, and his girlfriend Pamela from Guatemala. That night was unforgettable for me, due to the wealth of great (and controversial) topics, and the number of differing opinions at the table, who at the end of the day had no problem treating one another with respect.
Dong and I went home, and and not only was day 1 (Friday) of 3 over, but ALL of our work was over too!! And it is SUCH a good thing, too, because the weather the remaining two days was not ideal for flying or for LiDAR work. LOTS of wind, and rain every so often. It is really, really good that we got to work and finished on the first day, because we may not have had the chance to do it otherwise.
Mission complete, adventure begins!
The mission that beckoned us to Palau was finished — at least the Palau side of things. (Back on Guam, we would have to actually process the LiDAR on the beast PC, but as far as our work in Palau, we were done.) We still had things to do, but none of those things felt like work. They were enjoyable. (Actually, our work was enjoyable as well, but you all know what we mean. There’s a difference between work fun and fun fun.) I won’t get into everything we did or didn’t do, but I will highlight a few things we did (in order of when they happened / did not happen)
Saturday afternoon: Drive around Babeldaob and visit the Stone Monoliths in the far north (absolutely incredible for a history buff like me who loves old / ancient things).
Saturday early evening: Dinner with Loli. It was so good to see her again and catch up! She introduced us to a restaurant that was so inexpensive and good, that we wanted to go again but didn’t have the chance. (Warning: Do not buy sashimi at any diners in Palau, because they will take forever before handing it to you, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find out it’s because they’re thawing it out due to the sashimi being frozen 🤮 When you find that out, cancel immediately! Only order sashimi when it’s FRESH!) Loli also told us about a brand new Digital Residency program in Palau that the government is rolling out. It’s for people who are interested in starting businesses or investing in Palau. You can look that up more about that Digital Residency online.
Saturday evening: After dinner with Loli, we went to Krämer’s Bar, where Christian, Annette, Mike, Florian, Pamela, and some others would be. Great company, great conversation, great Red Rooster beer. One man was sitting there who we didn’t know, but then someone introduced us. Jordan Fleetwood. This man with a rock star
name is actually quite the rock star in the Palau expat community — he is the brewmaster at Red Rooster Brewery!!!! It was soooo interesting to hear him talk about the beers we loved so much. For Dong, it’s the IPA. For me, it’s definitely the cider. To each, it’s his own. And at Red Rooster, there are 6 flavors, so there’s at least one that most people will enjoy. (No, I’m not receiving anything from Red Rooster for saying this!) It was fascinating to listen to Jordan talk about the cider and how it’s made with real [REDACTED], and how much [REDACTED] is put into the mix at the [REDACTED] stage of the brewing. Knowing we only had one day left on Palau, I thought, well, maybe he might let us visit the brewery the next time we’re back, so I asked for his contact information. But then Dong just asked if we could visit the next morning. Sure, why not? said Jordan. So we made plans to do that!
Sunday morning: We had to go to the Palau National Hospital for another antigen test, just to be able to show the test results at the check-in counter at United. That’s the ONLY reason we had to go there. Ugh. We hate it, but we do what we have to do.
Saturday late morning: Tour of Red Rooster Brewery!! We met Jordan, who gave us directions to the brewery on [REDACTED] Island in the back of the [REDACTED] Building. Jordan escorted us in and showed us all kinds of [REDACTED]. He let us check out his binder filled with recipes, checklists, workflows, and tons of other proprietary information, including [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and, unbelievably, even [REDACTED]!! We had such a [REDACTED] time. Really, it was a great [REDACTED]. Jordan, thank you so much!! You are an absolute [REDACTED]. Everyone [REDACTED]s you!
Saturday early afternoon: We thought of going again to Jellyfish Lake but elected not to because we didn’t again want to pay $200+ per person. Instead, we decided to go snorkeling at Long Island Park sort of across the street from Elilai. So we bought cheap gear and went. What an absolute waste. Our masks SUCKED. (Actually, no, the problem is the exact opposite — the masks were not sucked onto our faces. We had a miserable time snorkeling there with the cheap junk equipment that we bought. If you want to enjoy your time, invest in something better!)
Sunday late morning: Visited L’Amarena Gelato Shop for our morning coffee. Dong got the affogato (espresso on italian gelato), and I ordered the iced coffee. I asked “what flavors do you have for the iced coffee?” He looked at me with a somewhat offended look and said “coffee.” He said “we don’t do those flavors here. We have coffee.” So I said with a pep, “Oh Kay, I’ll take one of those!” And it was actually quite good. But the real star of the morning was Dong’s affogato. He ordered it with the coconut gelato, which the restaurant proprietor said was probably the worst flavor you could order for the affogato, but Dong ordered it anyway. And WOW, was that good!! We really wanted to go back before they closed at 7pm but had no time. We’ll definitely go back next time we’re in Palau!
Sunday later morning / lunch: Gift shopping for family and friends on the 2nd floor of WCTC Shopping Mall. Then we drove around looking for a place to eat lunch, but couldn’t find any inexpensive places open on Sunday (our budget was really, really tight). So I had the idea to go right back to the mall and see if we could buy something at the grocery store. We found their deli and were able to buy lunch for 2 for less than $12 total and eat it standing right there at the one and only table in the vicinity. If you’re on a tight budget, definitely consider this as an option.
Sunday evening: Dinner with Bella Wings Palauan business partner George and his friend and colleague K.B.
Sunday night: Pre-airport goodbye party / hangout at Florian’s house. Florian had invited us because at that first dinner at Drop Off, one of our dinner topics had been cooking. He and I love cooking. He said he makes a mean lasagna that everyone loves. I said I’d love to try it. He said he’d make it for me. So we planned on meeting up for dinner on the last night. Dong was having a separate conversation with some others at the time, so he didn’t hear our plans. The next day, he made plans for us to meet George and K.B. for dinner our last night. But that’s ok — meeting them was something we really felt we should do, and it was the right thing to do. Florian and his friends (including the archaeologists) were there for a long time, so even though we stayed out at dinner for a long time with George and K.B., they were all still at Florian’s when we got there. Sadly, his lasagna was not! (The regular lasagna was out; only the veggie lasagna was left. But let me, as a meat lover, say this: Florian’s veggie lasagna was SO good, that I can only imagine how absolutely incredible his meat lasagna must be. We decided this meant that we’d just have to go back some time!
From there, we went straight to the airport and left together with Christian on our flight out. Back in Guam, we processed the LiDAR data locally on our humungoid monster beast PC (for this project, no need to upload it to the Rock cloud for any processing, since the archaeologists have their own software they run it through), and we sent it to them. They told us a few days later that the LiDAR looked good!
And that is the story of our second Palau business trip. Despite the short duration, we did everything we needed to do, and still had time to enjoy ourselves. And, despite our limited budget, we found great ways to save money (like eating in the grocery store, avoiding many high-priced restaurants). We learned a lot of things that we can either implement or do differently next time. It was quite the journey, and we loved it. Thanks for reading and going on that journey with us.
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