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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Scuba Diving Trip 2013: Palau

After eighteen days of traveling and living in heaven, I am now sitting at my desk in my office in 
NYC wishing I was still in Palau. Instead, I am staring at the very beautiful photos of Palau on 
my very un-beautiful computer screen. As much as it feels great to get back in the swing of things, 
hug all of my friends, shovel quinoa and kale into my ever demanding tummy, indulge in the salted 
almond Toblerone my boss brought me back from Geneva, and wrap myself up in sweaters and 
scarves while drinking hot tea because of the cool fall weather, I have to admit, I miss the tropical 
islands including the humidity and mosquitoes that comes with it. As funny as it sounds, the bites 
do not itch as bad as they do in the US. 

Trip of a lifetime is really an understatement when it comes to Palau. I have no words to 
describe this amazing experience other than it was an amazing experience. I am still completely 
speechless. There is nothing I can say or show you that will express Palau's extreme beauty. 
I have told multiple people that there is no place more beautiful than Palau. Maybe, equivalently 
beautiful, but it is impossible for any place to be more beautiful. It does not exist. It would be a 
miracle if I could count all of the different blue and green colors seen in Palau's oceans. I really 
could not do anything except stare at the magnitude of the beauty which surrounded me. 

As unbelievable as the diving was, the boat rides around Palau's hundreds of islands had me just as 
awed. I had a jaw dropping experience every single day we were there. I am surprised my regulator 
did not pop out of my mouth during our second dive on the first day when three mantas glided over 
my head. Talk about lucky girl! I found myself extremely happy while I was there.  So happy, my 
cheeks still hurt from smiling. 

I could go on forever explaining the details of the trip but as I am still in "Island Mode" or as others 
might call it "Vacation Mode," I am not quite in the mood. I am going to enjoy my calm demeanor for 
as long as I can. It really is a good feeling. 

We arrived in Palau Sunday night. Unfortunately, as it was nighttime, we did not get to see the aerial 
view of the islands. However, it was also pretty amazing when we woke up the next morning and 
realized we were surrounded by this... (jaw dropping moment #1)...

As we were slightly jetlagged, and by slightly I mean up at 3:00am, we enjoyed the quiet lobby while
FaceTiming with our furry children. Oh, and my parents. The wifi was very out dated and only worked
or somewhat worked when no one else was on it. This means 3:00am was the perfect time to get any-
thing wifi required done.

Every morning at 6:00am, the breakfast buffet was opened. We were usually there right on time for 
at least the first few days. Once we got a little more used to the time change, we started to wander 
down at a latertime. Thankfully for us, we were not the only ones having a little issue with the thirteen 
hour time change at the beginning of the trip. On our early morning wifi sessions we usually had some company. 

After breakfast, at 8:30am on the dot, the boats picked us up from the hotel dock and delivered us 
to Sam's Dive Shop which was around the lagoon, also known as a five minute walk. Our group 
was divided up into two different boats. Boat #1: "               " and Boat #2: "Hamm r Head 
(Yes, the e was just missing on the sign on one of the sides but it makes for a better story!)." 
For the entire trip we thought our boat was unnamed. However, after stalking the dry erase board 
at Sam's on one of our last days I found out our boat did in fact have a name, "Silkyshark." No 
one actually confirmed this was true, so do not quote me on that one. 

Our first day of diving was incredible! Our first dive of the day was unbelievable and that was probably
because that was my first ever open water ocean dive and I was in Palau! Once we surfaced from our 
dive, a smile plastered over my face, still in a daze, I'm surprised I heard all of the commotion at the front
 of the boat. After I realized something was going on, I hurried up to find about ten dolphins swimming 
and jumping with our boat. It was insanely incredible. Not only had I just done my first dive in Palau, 
I was now flying with dolphins.  

We headed to a little island and had lunch on Two Dog Beach. Apparently, there used to be two 
dogs that lived on this island and would greet the visitors. Sadly, the two dogs have since passed away. 
The beach was breathtaking. Along with the water. I could not stop looking out into the ocean.

After our bento boxes, we headed back out on into the colorful sea for our second dive of the day,
German Channel. Of course, as the newbie, I just followed everyone else around, talked to anyone
who would talk to me (I am a talker), and did what everyone else did. I had no idea where we were 
going but I do know, I enjoyed every minute of it. 

We were warned that if we were to see any mantas, the German Channel would be where we would 
see them. This got the newbie excited. The dive masters did make note that the mantas have not been
 seen much this year so do not get our hopes up. I was just excited for another dive. As I did not yet 
quite understand what we were doing, I had no idea when and where we might see the mantas and 
just followed the dive masters.

We descended and arrived at the first "cleaning station" and waited for what seemed like years. 
No mantas, so we moved on. We enjoyed the dive for another 15 minutes and all of the sudden
metal banging on a tank, and more metal banging, heads turning, people started pointing
and finally, all of the sudden, three huge mantas glided our way. They got closer and closer until
I realized they were not stopping and I started to get a little nervous until one of them flew right
over my head. It. Was. Truly. Magnificent.

One of the three decided to make a second appearance below us. There was more metal banging on 
tanks and more pointing and I finally realized it was happening again. 

When we surfaced from the dive, we were all in such high spirits. Nothing could bring us down. We were
ecstatic. Everyone was sharing photos of the beautiful mantas we had just seen and discussing their 
amazing experience.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the boat riding around the islands and finally parked at a special spot
to Ocean Horizons Scuba, the Arch. We tied the two boats together, the beer started flowing and I spent
the majority of the time floating around in the water enjoying the amazing scenery still trying to understand
where I was and what was going on. 

That night on the way home, we captured one of the most beautiful sunsets we had ever seen. 

 When we arrived back to the hotel, we were all exhausted. It was such a spectacular first day, one which
I will remember forever. Everyday, for seven days we did two to three tank dives with lunches on a new
beautiful beach. Every night we went to Sam's dive shop and ate dinner and racked up the tab we started
on day one. Each day was just as amazing as the day before. 

One morning, before our first dive, we stopped by the "Milky Way" for a little spa treatment. Apparently,
the area is referred to as the "Milky Way" because the sand under the water is not exactly sand but a 
muddy clay which you can spread all over your body for a spa treatment! We had a blast and a little
war with the "Hammer Heads!"

Another morning before our first dive, we set out on another adventure. This one did not include a spa 
treatment but exactly the opposite, a little sweating along with a little workout. After our climb up and 
back down a couple hundred steps, we arrived at Jelly Fish Lake. About 12,000 years ago, the end of
the last ice age, the water level stopped rising enough to fill the marine lake, and thus became a full 
blow lake. Millions upon millions of jelly fish inhabit this lake and due to their lack of predators, 
lost their stinging ability. This makes it fun for people to snorkel! 

Sara and I took the eighth day off while everyone else added in an extra day of diving. We decided we 
would like to have a day to get some things done including washing and drying all of our scuba gear and
visiting the little town where we wanted to get some souvenirs, specifically story boards. We spent the 
morning after breakfast washing and then laying out all of our gear throughout our huge room. It pretty
much looked like a huge yard sale. Then we hopped a cab, for $6, and headed to the only jail in Palau.

Yes, you read that properly. We visited the jail, but for good reason. The prisoners carve wooden 
mythical storyboards and sell them in the gift shop at the jail. These mahogany carved story boards 
tell a Palauan mythical story. They sell their storyboards and send the money back home to their 
families. We knew from the moment we asked where to get some nice souvenirs, this is where we
would be going. The storyboards are caved all throughout Palau, but we liked the story we could
tell about visiting the jail.

The jail, the only jail in Palau, is very small and very different from what we are used to. The gift shop
is located in a small room just past the front desk. The walls were lined top to bottom with hundreds 
of storyboards in different shapes and sizes. The shapes mostly reference the sea animals most
popular to the ocean surrounding the Palau Rock Islands. Sara and I spent much longer in that little
room than we had anticipated. Fortunately, our cab driver waited for us. I was a little bummed the
storyboard I wanted was out of my price range but I did get a photo of it. The prices have increased 
slightly from what we had heard so we did not have enough cash with us. 

Sara and I finally selected our storyboards and waited while our artists oiled them and signed them.
My prisoner ended up bringing mine back to me which was crazy to see who had carved this beautiful
piece of art. Sara and I did learn why our inmates were in jail. It was a very interesting experience.
The top manta ray is the storyboard I purchased. The bottom whale is the one I fell in love with and
could not afford. They even gave us a print out version of the story our boards depicted. 

That evening, we met back up with our group at Sam's for a movie night and goodbye dinner. Everyone
 was there, drinking and having a great time celebrating our wonderful trip.

On our final day, September 11th, one of the locals who was good friends with some of the people on
our trip, rented a van and drove six of us all around the islands with our first stop being the magical 
Ngardmau Waterfall. It was a thirty minute hike down to the waterfall and along the river. 

It was all worth it in the end when we got to play in the waterfall. You can tell I'm 
pretty excited. 

After our little hike we headed further North on the island to this amazing view. 

Followed by a visit to the Stone monoliths which rise from a field in Badrulchau 
on Palau's Babeldoab Island. Archeologists date these structures to around A.D. 161 
and believe some may have been supports for a massive structure.

It was a long, eventful, adventurous day so we should not have to give any excuses
for all of us falling asleep in the van on the way back to the hotel. Thanks again
Doug for putting up with us and showing us a great time!

After a quick shower and nap, we met in the lobby of the hotel for the bus to pick us
up and take all of us to the Palau Community College for the 9/11 Memorial ceremony.
When the town found out that five fireman who were on duty during 9/11 were here
in Palau, they quickly invited us to the event. It was wonderful. After the heartfelt
speeches and multiple student chorus, there was a lovely reception and photo taking.

Sara and I went and had a later dinner at another restaurant close to the hotel after the memorial. As 
cheesy as this sounds, I spent most of the evening looking up into the sky trying to remember how
 beautiful and bright the starts are. Living In NYC, you forget how beautiful the sky is. I took a little 
goodbye walk on the beach of the hotel before heading upstairs to finish packing my suitcase before 
we had to meet in the hotel lobby to catch the bus back to the airport. Our flight to Guam was at 
1:45am.  We were a tired and somber group by the time we arrived to the airport not looking forward 
to the trek back home. 

Thank you to Paul and Ocean Horizons Scuba for the trip of a lifetime. It really was a magical and
 amazing experience. One which I will never forget for the rest of my life!

1 comment:

  1. WOW!!!! What an amazing place!! Beautiful pictures! I am so glad you got to experience your trip of a lifetime! Can't wait for your next adventure!