October 14, 2004

Palau


an island beach in palau
Greetings from Tennessee!

I've been quite busy with plenty of travel since my last update. Below are some excerpts from emails I wrote while I was in Palau at the beginning of last month. Palau is a world class SCUBA diving destination and since I was so close to Palau in Guam I decided to schedule some diving before returning to the US mainland. The underwater scenery was absolutely phenomenal while the boat rides on the surface took us winding through thousands of jungle covered rock islands while skimming over the stunningly bright aqua blue waters. Pictures never do a place like Palau justice but hopefully they can give you some idea of what it's like there.

I'll go ahead and post this Palau update now and then write more later about my trip from Palau to Tennessee with stops in Guam, Hawaii, California, and Colorado.

Until next time,

Andrew


speedboat heading out to the dive sites
Day One

This morning I went to the Koror SDA School for staff worship and then came back to the house and got picked up by the fish n fins driver to go diving. The boat I went out on today only had 5 customers; 1 discover scuba person with her own dive master, and then 3 Japanese tourists and me with a Japanese dive master. We first went to Ngedbus Coral Garden which is near Carp Island where I had two major distractions during the dive. The first and most annoying was that I didn't spit in my mask enough before diving so had to keep letting in water to defog my mask. The second was that I didn't get quite enough weights but I fixed that by filling my pockets with rocks...I also started carrying around a larger rock for the second half of the dive. In spite of the distractions I still had a good dive and saw plenty of coral and fish. For our surface interval we stopped at an excellent snorkeling spot where we saw some napoleon wrasse and other fish along a steep underwater wall. Our next dive started at Blue
snorkeling with the fish
Holes which was fun because the surface was kind of rough, but under the water it was very calm and peaceful. We first explored some huge underwater caverns and then we swam along a steep wall. Towards the end of the dive we reached Blue Corner which is the most famous dive site in Palau. They said there weren't many sharks today because the current wasn't strong but I still counted 6 whitetip sharks in one group plus a few grey reef sharks. We also saw at least one blacktip shark, a couple of turtles (one up close) and 10 napoleon wrasse in one grouping plus others along the way. I also enjoyed seeing lots of the fan type corals which I hadn't really seen before in person and at the very end of the dive we spotted a manta ray. Our next stop was at an island with picnic tables where we had lunch and relaxed a little bit before heading back to Koror.

Tonight I went to prayer meeting where we sang some songs and I met a few of the volunteer teachers who work at the Koror SDA School. After prayer meeting I headed to bed for a good night's sleep.


WW2 airplane
Day Two

On our way out to go diving we stopped by a WW2 plane that was in fairly shallow water. A couple of people snorkeled a bit but I didn't get in since you could see it very well from the boat.

For our first dive today we went to Big Dropoff which as the name implies is a wall dive. Along the wall we saw a few sharks, a turtle, more napoleon wrasse and lots of beautiful coral. Today there were 11 divers and two dive leaders although we only had four in the English speaking group. My buddy for the day was a guy from Denmark who works on big oil tanker ships. I think his contract is 4 months at sea, then 3 months home with full pay the whole time so he can travel and dive in the "home" time. The other two divers were from Italy.

During our surface interval we stopped near blue corner and snorkeled a bit. Just snorkeling I saw several sharks and a turtle. One of the guys on our boat was fishing a little using raw fish so that attracted 3 sharks that were circling around. For our second dive we went to Blue Corner again but it was quite different this time. We spent most of the time right at the edge of a steep drop
see, they really don't sting
off watching sharks, napoleon wrasse, and schools of fish with thousands of members swimming in sync. Towards the end we saw another turtle.

For lunch we stopped at another island and then visited Jellyfish Lake. The lake is saltwater but is only connected to the ocean by small underground cracks in the rock. This means that predators can't get to the lake and as a result the jellyfish have lost their ability to sting. It was fun to swim with the jellyfish without getting stung but my dive buddy and I also snorkeled around the edge of the lake and saw quite a few colorful soft corals. Some of them were growing on the mangrove roots which made for an interesting contrast.


fan coral
Day Three

Well, today was another great day. I guess the weather was bad a few weeks ago due to the typhoons in the region and they weren't able to dive some of the best spots like Blue Corner during that time. Luckily for me the weather has been fabulous for my visit though. Today and yesterday the water has been pretty much flat with just a slight swell outside the lagoon. This morning we got started a little late but that wasn't a problem really. We were supposed to go to German Channel where the manta rays are often seen but when we got there the tide had switched so we changed plans and went to Turtle Cove instead. I had some issues with a leaking hose on my rented scuba gear, but it ended up working alright in the end. To start this dive we swam over the reef for a bit and then dropped down through a relatively small hole which opened up below into a cavern. The cavern then opened out into the open channel and the rest of the dive was along a steep wall. We had 3 Russians on our boat instead of the
picnic lunch on an island
Japanese this time and it was their first day so they were really excited when we spotted some sharks (blacktip, white tip, grey reef). We also saw another turtle at the end of the dive and enjoyed watching some big schools of fish along the way.

After a lunch stop we went to New Dropoff which was also mostly a wall dive. We stopped for a little while at a couple of corners to watch the millions of fish and saw a moray eel and another turtle near the end of the dive. There were plenty of Napoleon Wrasse and sharks around as well. When we got back to Fish n Fins my dive buddy and I decided to do another short dive right there at the dock to see if we could spot any sea horses or mandarin fish. Unfortunately we didn't see either one although we did see a crocodile fish. The tide and visibility weren't that great but it was still interesting to see how much sea life there is even right at the dive shop docks.

Well, I guess that's the end of my diving in Palau for this trip. It really was amazing and I had tons of fun seeing all the marine life.


napoleon wrasse
Day Four

At 9:00 am I went over to the SDA church where the attendance was relatively sparse due to the teachers being gone. They had an acapella song service and then a short sermon. After the sermon we had almost 2 hours to study the lesson which was about loving your enemies. The English group was pretty small but it was a reasonably good discussion.

After church I went to potluck where there was some pretty good food. I think there were 6 different taro/sweet potato dishes and I tried most of them. After potluck I decided to take a walk. I just walked out of town and up the hill on the main road until I passed the top of the hill and could see part of the new Japanese-built bridge which connects two of the main islands in Palau. After my walk I started a nap at around 5 pm. I set an alarm for 10 pm "just in case" and it's a good thing I did because that's when I woke up, packed and went to the airport just in time to catch my overnight flight to Guam.

(as usual, more pictures in the gallery)