Paradise in Palau

Trip Start Oct 11, 2010
Trip End Apr 18, 2011

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It is a great mystery to me as to why I can never make it through airport security without something being searched; whether it's my bag or my body, apparently I look suspicious and dangerous. I only mention this because it happened to me leaving Las Angeles back in October, our flight out of Cairns, in the Saipan airport, and again when leaving Guam. Amazing.

The three of us arrived in Palau late Tuesday evening, and after a brief drive from one island to the next (over bridge of course) we arrived at our magnificent hotel. Because the weather in Palau is so temperate year round much of the hotel was built to be as open and airy as possible. From the lobby one could look through to the other side, out to the pristine beach and calm ocean in the hotel’s backyard. It was evening though, and we didn’t get quite the full effect as during the day; not to worry, I think Ross took pictures of every single sunset from that evening on because they were so wonderful and if you ask he’d be happy to share them.

When Ross and I got to our room we found that the hotel catered to the Japanese style of sleeping. There were two single beds in the room. There were also two headboards to indicate where the beds should have been, but perhaps the hotel knew we were American; for some reason our beds were removed from the headboards and pushed together. Of course we separated them for the remainder of the trip.

Our first day in Palau we woke up nice and early to start our scuba diving. We were picked up via boat from the hotel dock and taken to Sam’s Dive Shop. They must have seen well over 100 tourists a day but they were pretty efficient in getting us set up with the right equipment and onto our dive boat.

Our first dive of the day was new for us in that we saw our first ever manta ray. This dive spot "The German Channel" was well known for having them, and it didn’t disappoint. The location was a cleaning station for them so little fish would swim in their mouths to make sure everything was nice and clean. We saw three different fully grown mantas and a baby! There was another group diving in the same spot, and all the while they had photos taken of themselves while the manta ray conveniently swam in the background instead of looking at the huge creature sore over their heads. The second dive of the day might be Ross’s favorite of them all “Blue Holes.” We started by descending down through a hole of coral that surrounded us on all sides; when we’d descended 80 feet, the coral opened up and we followed the reef on one side. We were shown a rare electric flame scallop hidden in a dark corner that produced little lightning bolts on its mantle. There were many sharks that kept circling us, and due to an unusually early spawning we also were surrounded by a school of Moorish Idols. I thought Ross was going to reach out and touch a shark on several instances because they were so close. Unfortunately I was improperly weighted and had a tendency to float up towards the surface, which cut my dive time shorter than the others. Our third dive of the day was perhaps my favorite of them- it was a cave dive. Chandelier cave is suppose to be one of the best in the world. Our group was small for this one, since it was just Ross, Marcia and myself with our dive leader. We went into the dive well prepared with our flashlights because the light from the sun could only penetrate the entrance of the cave a brief distance. There were four chambers in this cave that we were able to swim up into and explore the pockets they created. We had to watch our heads though, because often times people ascend into a stalactite because they can’t see them!

Ross was a little panicked on our first dive of the second day (our first ever nitrox dive) because his dive computer kept beeping at him to warn him he’d descended too far for safety. We promise he’s alright, but the margin for safety is extremely high on the equipment we use and it’s perhaps a little overcautious. He redeemed himself on the second dive by doing something amazing; he dove for over an hour. To some this might not be so impressive, so I’ll give something to compare it to. Our first few dives in Cairns, when we were just learning, our dives were typically 25-30 minutes long because Ross used his air so quickly. It gradually got better of course, but until that second day in Palau our average was about 45 minutes. After 50 minutes our second day diving in Palau I was spent and returned to the surface. It was over ten minutes later when a beaming Ross appeared. As a side note, there was a very strange coincidence on our dive boat that day. With our group there were two new men from the previous day, and Marcia knew one of them! They had travelled all the way from California to go diving in Palau the very same week we were there.

The next day we decided to take a break from scuba diving and explore some of the other opportunities Palau had to offer, like swimming with dolphins! Palau has a dolphin sanctuary which daily gives tours of the facilities. Two of the females had recently had babies, so we saw mother and baby swim side by side as the baby precisely mimicked its mothers actions. Everyone in our group got to kneel down and get a kiss from the dolphin, as well as give the command for the dolphin to jump out of the water. An added bonus for some of us was that we got to swim with the dolphins. We suited up with snorkel, mask and fins and jumped in the pool with three of the females. Next thing we know the dolphins were racing in between us and jumping over our heads; we were quickly pulled out of the pool because the dolphins were getting too hyper for us to safely be there. We were relocated to a tank with one dolphin, which meant we took turns diving down to the bottom of the pool and swimming up with J(the dolphin). He was supposed to be the old cranky one, so we didn’t get too worried about him getting too rowdy.

The next day we resumed our diving, but this time we were on a different dive boat with a new group. Oddly enough, one of the men was wearing an Okoboji shirt. Our first dive of the day was mostly the lazy version of diving, drift diving at Ulong Channel. We drifted with the current, and when we surfaced the boat drove over to pick us up. Ross extended his arms soaring over the copious amounts of beautiful coral like superman. I must say I did quite well for myself on that dive because it was the first dive of mine that reached 60 minutes. I think most of it had to do with the lack of energy I had to expend in drift diving. We then dove “Blue Corner” which is heralded as the best dive in the world by Forbes. At one point in our dive we swam to the top of a reef about 60 feet down and tried to hook ourselves into the coral so that we could essentially float there like a balloon and watch everything around us. Ross and I hooked in a little too close because every time an exceptionally strong current came in, we would bump into each other. As the dive ended we saw two huge Spotted Eagle Rays that had enormously long tails- they must have been at least ten feet long gracefully swimming through the current. The spotting of the rays capped off the end of our diving in Palau in perfect fashion.

On our final day we decided to explore some of the rock islands via kayak. Around Palau the water is filled with limestone islands, most uninhabited but some used for relaxing day trips if they possess sandy beaches. I believe at one point I heard that there were well over 300 of these islands surrounding Palau. The water eats away at the base of these rock islands, leaving on some a ten foot gap between the surface of the water and the bottom of the island. This literally allows one to kayak under the island. Our guide led us to an island that we could climb up the side of, and once we were about 40 feet up there was a place to jump off. Ross was the brave leader to start things off, and I must say even though I did the jump also I sounded a bit like a weenie on the way down. Ross and I shared a double kayak since neither of us had too much experience. I was put in the front of the kayak for Ross to do all of the work, but I felt a little cheated out of that deal. Every once in a while Ross would stop paddling so I could contribute to our forward motion. Perhaps the most surprising thing about our days out in the burning sun of Palau is this; not a single one of us got sunburn.

On the kayak tour we stopped in several different places to snorkel, each of which provided us a unique experience. The first location we saw the rare and beautiful Mandarin fish. This was a very small and shy fish full of an abundance of color, and unfortunately it was one of the few things Ross wasn’t able to take a picture of snorkeling. The second stop was at Jellyfish lake. This was at one time part of the ocean, but then closed off to form a lake. The lake was filled with thousands of Jellyfish that have evolved to lose their stinger, so it was safe to swim with them. It was an out of this world experience, especially since we were taught to fear the lethality of a jellyfish in Australia! We started off by keeping our distance, but soon immersed ourselves in them and even started playing with them! The final snorkel spot was at Coral Gardens. The fish were as bountiful as ever here and it was a great way to end our days in Palau.

The Republic of Palau is relatively untainted by mobs of tourists at this point in time, although to be sure it has become somewhat of a Japanese tourist destination relative to our Hawaii. Unless you happen to be an avid diver you would never know a place like Palau existed. For the island’s sake I hope it does not see an upsurge in tourism which it cannot support, because there is no place in the world like Palau.

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