chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Ultimate SCUBA Paradise - Palau - Day One of Diving

(Leaving Guam. Sarah hard at work to capture some pretty sweet views of the Guam coast)
It's a little bit of a strange thing to leave a place like Guam in search of a short vacation.  It is quite a nice place to start with but when we came here it was partly because the location lends itself to a few nearby gems - gems like Palau.

Palau?  I had never heard of this magical place but after a little bit of research I discovered some bold claims going around such as - "best dive sites in the world" - "a diver's paradise" - "all of your diver's dreams will come true in Palau."  Ok I made the last one up.  Everyone we talked to said you have to go to Palau.

So we planned our trip and made the tough decisions spending money and booking dives with companies we have never heard of before. I'm not a fan of that part and we absolutely are way more comfortable with personal recommendations.  It's always nice to know someone who has been where you are about to spend your hard earned dough.

Fortunately for us someone gave us a nice rec for a hotel which we ended up really enjoying, Palau Central.  The staff always went way out of their way to help us and were quite cordial. 

The diving worked itself out through an outstanding deal we found through MDA (Micronesian Diving Association) who connected us with Sam's Tours (a diving company in Palau). MDA in Guam set us up with a package through Sam's Tours and off we went hoping for the best. 
(Here we are on our boat ready for the first dive meeting our crew and Dive Master)

The first day was exciting as it was our first dive with enriched air.  We took the required course with MDA in Guam before heading up to Palau so we could get the most out of our dives.

Besides us the boat consisted of some Australians, South Americans, two Frenchman, and a pair of Californians.  Our guides and master divers made sure we had everything ready for two dives and we shot off into the picturesque Palau waters.  
(Before we even got around to diving we were seeing sites like this.  It did not look like the boat would make it through the tiny gap in this archway but they zoomed on through with the sort of confidence that comes from doing it a few hundred times)
(It was hard to capture the experience on camera as we were in the back of the boat, but it was pretty amazing)
(Sarah kept saying, "It's all so beautiful!" Just the mixing blues and greens of the waters was enough to make this trip worth coming.  Before diving we were already lost in the magic of Palau. She loves it)

After zipping through the arch twice and taking a few wide arcs so we could all see it a few more times we continued towards our first dive site.  But there were still some more sites to see!
(We kept boating through a maze of beautiful islands, often with just enough room for our boat)
(Elephant island - can you see it?  Yes!  So cool.)

One of our favorite sites along the way when our guide called out, "That is what we call elephant island."  Looking over we could clearly see an island in the shape of a giant elephant making its way through the ocean, perhaps looking for a dive site as well.  Just realized we were out of the habit of posting when we went to Thailand - what?  How did we never do a post on the elephants?  Maybe a retro post sometime in the future.

Well we have not purchased a camera that can go down more than fifty feet yet, so we do not have any pictures underwater while actually diving until our last dive of the week.  We do have some great shots while playing around in between dives though.  Check out Sarah playing in an ocean that simply cannot be real - too unreal looking.
(Sarah taking a dip after one of our dives)
Dive One: Ulong Cliff  

Max depth: 86 feet

What did we see: We have seen sharks before but barely and from afar.  Almost all of the sharks we saw, or maybe all, were Grey Reef sharks.  To me they look like tiny and less harmless great whites but that's only because they are way big enough to do damage, even though everyone swears "we are not on their menu."  

But we did see a few of these guys along with two giant sea turtles!  So amazing. Then tons of coral and other tiny fishes.  Still not sure about sharks but I could not keep from staring at them in awestruck wonder.  And they did not bite me so that's nice. 
(Our boats private beach for lunch.  There are all of these little beach/parks on the small islands.  Our boat pulled in and we all got off to enjoy a pre-packed lunch together.  Then you can lounge or swim or whatnot)
Dive Two: Chad's Corner

Max Depth: 72 feet

What did we see: Lots of sharks (same as last time but at least seven different sharks!) Only one turtle and then the coral and fish.  Pretty nice dive.

The interesting part of this dive is that for the first time we did what is called reef hook diving.  Until getting ready for Palau I had never even heard of this form of diving.  Its a fascinating way to dive that is exactly what it sounds like.  A person simply hooks into the reef and remains stationary while the current keeps the person hooked in at a forced angle.  This allows the diver to save air, keep from fighting the current, and the entire ocean becomes a giant aquarium to swim around the person hooked into the reef. If you click on the link you'll see a pic of a diver reef hooking.  

It was a unique and fun way to see the ocean come to life.  Try it!
(Lunch with the water bottles the dive company gave us)
Dive Three: Chuyo Maru Wreck

Max Depth: 100 feet

What did we see: The inside of a Japanese boat from during WWII.  So we have seen a few wrecks but we have never investigated their inner secrets.  It can be quite dangerous.  This particular wreck is safer than most and our guide took us into two different sections of it.  Rusty, dark, somewhat scary, but totally spectacular.  Really fun.

No pictures but you can close your eyes and picture it. 

We got to see a frog fish which blended in almost entirely with the algae growing on the ship.  I found a pic online of one that looks almost like the one we saw - just click on the last link.  Then as we surfaced we spotted a tiny little squid just chilling near our boat.  Sweet. 
("They come in pints?!")

OK so the dive shop sells Red Rooster beer that is made in Palau.  Of course I had to try it out and see if it was any good.  Not bad.  Then off to the hotel, dinner in Palau, and sleep!  We were wore out from diving!!  Post on the second day of diving but more importantly pictures coming soon.