The stone money (rai) are huge circular stone discs, with a hole in the middle. They were used as currency in the island of Yap from 500 AD (or earlier). The discs were truly impressive in size, some having over 3 meters in diameter. Nowadays the rai stones remain the national symbol of Yap, depicted even on local license plates.
But the rai discs were not made in Yap. The place of their origin is Palau. They were quarried (or rather the limestone they are made of was quarried, and then transformed into the final circular shapes) on Palauan islands and then transported 400 kilometers by canoes to Yap.
In Palau, there used to be the regular trips organized for the tourists to one of the quarries, Metuker ra Bisech. We saw the pictures and offers in the tourist leaflets we were given in our hotel. But unfortunately, it appeared to be the song of the past when we started calling the operators. Only one of them, Ngellil Nature Island Resort (they also deal with the excursions) agreed to take us to the island with their boat.
Metuker ra Bisech is located in a quite remote area. On the boat, there was also another couple, who planned a kayak trip not far from the historic quarry. The surroundings are indeed beautiful, and we regretted not having time to join them.
There are two beautiful caves the couple visited, named White Wall and Blue Cave, plus the wreck of the Zero fighter plane that sunk during WWII (you can snorkel near the wreck if the weather is fine).
We should probably mention that to do both - visit the caves with your kayak and visit the rai quarry you have to pay the Airai state fee (each state charges you separate fees for visiting places located within their borders). But in Palau, nothing's for free, not even the beaches, so be prepared to leave there a small fortune.
W H A T T O S E E N E X T
On the way, we left the couple and a guide with their kayaks, and we continued by boat to Metuker ra Bisech. The skipper left us at the island and told us to follow the path to the top of the hill. It was raining that day (it happens a lot in Palau, so don't be surprised) and the path was very slippery. Plus it was overgrown with some thorny bushes, so it's good to wear long pants and suitable shoes.
The giant stone money disc lies near the path, and you can't miss it, even without the guide - it's not the kind of coin you can easily lose. The disc is a bit damaged or rather chipped on its edge, which might explain why it got abandoned. Nonetheless, it looks very impressive.
The disc is not the final stop. Continue climbing, and you'll reach the actual quarry. Doesn't look too grand now, but remember that in the past even 400 men used to work here at one time.
All the places of interest in Metuker ra Bisech are marked with the information boards. Some are really weathered, but still readable.
In the tourist leaflets, we read that there is a viewpoint somewhere above the quarry. Unfortunately, the path was so overgrown that we gave up climbing. We don't know if that's because there are so few tourists visiting this place nowadays or because the plants grow so quickly in the tropics. We hope it's the climate. It would be a shame if people were not interested in seeing such a unique place. Anyway, soon it will be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list, and it might revive tourism in Metuker ra Bisech. But hopefully not too much!
If you are a history buff on vacation in Palau see our article Ancient Palau.
To learn more about the places in Palau we liked the most, go to What to see and do in Palau.
And if you want to know how to see all these places in eight days, see our detailed itinerary here: How to plan a trip to Palau.