We don’t eat out at restaurants very often, but we do love eating ashore.
We’ve cooked breakfast in a volcanic steam vent, found secret grottos for picnic lunches and dragged our BBQ up a river to cook sausages beside a fresh water swimming hole. If there is a beach around we’re planning dinner over an open fire or cooking bread on hot coals. We’ve even popped popcorn over a bonfire just so we had snacks to enjoy with our sunset drinks.
Palau is short on beaches due to the typography; steep limestone islands. The few that are around are in National Park areas so open fires are not permitted. This, of course, put a serious cramp in our beach bbq plans. Which was rather disappointing because it had been a really long time since we’d felt comfortable cooking ashore.
In the Solomon’s, and Papua New Guinea it was hard to find a beach that was unpopulated, or at least far enough from a village that there was no chance of someone walking out of the forest or paddling up in a dugout. People in these places were subsistence fishers and farmers, even our modest meal would have been much more than they could have afforded. We didn’t want to bring beer ashore, both because many locals are very religious and because those who aren’t might not think twice about demanding we give them some, while firmly gripping a machete, the ubiquitous island tool.
In Palau those same steep limestone islands that don’t lend themselves to sandy white beaches are pocked with all sorts of interesting crevasses and caves; some big enough to climb into, others large enough to drive the dinghy into. So while sailing the Rock Islands instead of a hot meal on the sand we often packed a picnic lunch and went out exploring in the dinghy. The problem with a lot of the caves we found is that the approach, and the space inside, was very dependent on the tides.
Stuck in an anchorage while the wind howled we found a huge cave, protected and dry just around the corner from Kate. On a low tide the sea lapped quietly at the rocks and the space inside was pleasant. On a high tide the waves surged into the hollow and noise was overwhelming. On a falling tide we could drive the dinghy right into it and pull it up on the rocks which had been worn smooth by the waves. On a rising tide the dinghy got pushed against the sharp limestone edges. The week that we found the cave the low tides were in the mornings, which is why the first meal cooked in a cave was breakfast.
Early one morning Steve packed me, the BBQ, all the ingredients and accoutrements needed to make and serve breakfast into the dinghy and drove 2 minutes around the corner. He then unpacked me, the BBQ and all the ingredients and accoutrements and set up his mobile kitchen. My job was to sit, enjoy my morning coffee and the amazing breakfast he prepared. A little dish that he dubbed “Huevos Cavernos”, or cave eggs, a concoction of scrambled eggs, black beans, veggies, salsa and a toasted tortilla. It was a twist on the classic huevos rancheros we enjoyed back in Mexico and it was DELICOUS!
And so the idea grew, and around every anchorage we went looking for another cave, another chance to cook ashore. Steve found a wee little nook we dubbed “Tea for Two” where we enjoyed Turkey Burgers on Boatmade Seedy Bread for lunch one sunny afternoon. On Australia Day, even though we were back in town, we found a cave and had the traditional snags in bread to celebrate (ok it was hot dogs in buns as that was all we could find but the beer was cold). Of course, wanting to perfect his recipe, he insisted on a couple more early morning dinghy trips so we could enjoy breakfast cooked in yet a cavern.
Using our rail mounted boat BBQ was a great solution to building an open fire, but finding a level spot for it was sometime difficult. Often the best place was low down so Steve was bent jack-knifed in half over the hot burner. Hardly comfortable.
Why, we thought, don’t they make a set of legs for the BBQ? It turns out the new models do come with legs, but they are short and designed for putting your grill on a picnic table. We needed adjustable legs that could conform to the uneven terrain of a cave, which were light weight, portable and easy to mount the BBQ to. We needed a tripod. And I happened to have one that was up for the task.
With a few alterations but no irreversible damage done to the tripod, (still usable for my old TLR camera!), Steve made the ultimate BBQ stand. And now it was time to test it.
We had already scouted the perfect location; a wide, easy access cave close to one of our favourite anchorages. We checked our tide tables and discovered that we had falling tides in the late afternoon all week, perfect for dinghy landings. We checked the weather and saw clear skies for days, no getting wet going to for fro. We bought all the fixings for a nice steak dinner and I finally found somewhere that sold candles. Everything for the Ultimate Cave Dinner for Two was in order, except one thing; we had no table.
We’ve got some small folding camping stools that we’d been using to save us from sitting on the rather sharp and uncomfortable floor of the caves but up until now we’d just been eating on our laps. This of course would not do. Neither would buying a folding table; besides the expense and the fact that we really didn’t need one we had nowhere to store it. What we did have was a small piece of left over ply wood, an esky, a couple buckets, a roll of non-skid and a sarong. Voila! We had a table that was the perfect height for our wee folding stools.
So, late one beautiful afternoon, when the three other boats in the anchorage were getting ready for supper onboard, we loaded up the dinghy and snuck off for our private dinner rendezvous. It was lovely.
In fact it was amazing, and romantic and completely unique.
I am sure to many people it sounds ridiculous to even drag all the essentially cooking items into a cave just to make dinner, let alone spending the extra energy to make the space look pretty. I am sure most people would rather just slap on a clean shirt and head ashore for table service. But that’s just not us.
So, if you’re looking for a restaurant recommendation for the nearest port we can’t help ya. But, if you want the low down on a nice place to have dinner ashore, let us know.