Edit Blog Post
Published: July 21st 2008
So I arranged a trip to palau. I was telling everyone I met. "I'm going to Palau". And they'd say "Cool... um... where's Palau?" and I'd say "Micronesia" and they'd say "Cool....um.... where's Micronesia?" - insert embarrassed tone and bashful expression here - And I'd say "Um....north". I didn't really, exactly know where it was either. Even now, after I've been there I have a little difficulty locating it on a world map. There. I admit it - insert embarrassed tone and bashful expression here. Worldly traveller indeed. But at least I don't think Micronesia is a fictional place made up on the movie Zoolander, like some people I've met.
So why was I going to this place if I didn't even really know where it was? Well, I'd heard great things about it from a friend who can be, shall we say, a bit hard to impress (not mentioning any names Glen) so on his recommendation I thought it was a safe bet. The point of the trip was to dive and I had fairly high expectations. I was a little concerned; high expectations can be a dangerous thing to have but I am happy to report I
was not dissapointed. At all. Ever. Not for a second. If you are a diver then you have no choice in the matter. You HAVE to go. End of story. You may not know me but please trust me on this. And if you are not a diver then you need to learn and you have to go. And if you think you can't afford it then you have to sell some stuff - a kidney maybe - and you have to go there. Trust me, it's a fact.
Oh, unless you don't like the nicest, friendliest people on earth, a tropical paradise, warm weather, crystal clear water and seeing amazing marine life such as schooling barracuda, sharks, turtles and some of the best and most varied dive locations in one spot: wrecks, walls, amazing drop offs, caves, canyons, coral, big stuff, small stuff, colourful stuff. Yeah, if you don't think you'll like that then maybe you shouldn't go. In this case perhaps you should consider a mental health check up, because you may have gone crazy.
Flying from Australia you go from Cairns in far north queensland via Guam
Like the most beautiful delicate flowers...
(yeah... it's in Micronesia too...you know...north) then onto Palau. You'll likely travel Continental Air who have the worst plane food in the history of plane food. Spam sandwich anyone? Seriously. Take your own snacks. And they charge you for booze. On an international flight...disgraceful. On the upside the plane is usually half empty (has word of the spam sandwich gotten out already?) so you can nab 3 seats in a row and lie down. Sweet!
BACK TO PALAU
So we arrive in the evening and are taken to Cliffside. It's a resort built of the edge of a cliff - hence the name. I recommend Cliffside and would stay there again. Good pool and pool area, excellent service and stunning views from your balcony of sunrise over the bay. Andrea from reception deserves a special mention, she was fantastic. And comfy beds and pillows - this is very important to me. I saw more sunrises in 7 days than I have in years. And I was surprisingly happy about it. If I had to come up with a negative thing to say about Palau it would have to be that there are no beaches,
or very few. Laying by the pool reading a book makes a nice alternative though.
Breakfast was a daily ritual of delicious food and bottomless cups of coffee consumed quickly before being collected and taken to Neco Marine for our day of diving. Anyone planning a dive trip to Palau should consider using Neco Marine's services. They are friendly and professional and have an excellent set up. They have one of the best pools I've seen anywhere for diver training onsite, a large shop with a good selection of everything thing you might need and the boat is well kitted out and just so easy to dive off. I'm used to diving in Australia where, by and large, you lug your own gear but these guys do everything for you which was a bit of a luxury that I enjoyed. And you'll definitely want to request Bert to be your dive guide. He's from texas, but don't hold it against him ;o) With around 13 years experience diving in Palau he can give you the best experience imaginable and his tall tales will entertain you while you're doing your surface intervals. He gave us excellent recommendations on where
to eat and things to do on our non diving days as well and we all had a great experience everytime... so based on this we all agreed he has great taste. Oh yeah and for lunch on the boat choose the bento box. That's my recommendation.
So there's a shameless plug for Neco Marine.
Okay more shameless plugs but just remember I have no vested interest in giving them. It's genuine. The only problem is I can't remember most of the names of the places but still they'll be easy to find. In Koror - to my knowledge- there is only one Indian restuarant in town - who's name escapes me - and it was truly excellent. Great food, outstanding service, fantastic ambience and reasonable prices. The Thai place had food as good as you get in Thailand, without the thai prices but still cheap. If you like seafood try ordering the whole fish it was Amazing (capital 'A' not a typo). Yet another restuarant who's name escapes me: an asian restuarant right near Cliffside resort. Really, really nice inside, you'd expect to find this kind of establishment in
Sydney or Melbourne or some other metropolitan city, very trendy decor, bit more on the pricey side compared to other options but well worth it. We ordered the set 3 course meal, a round of cocktails and wine and i think for 5 of us it still came in under $200, plus a great view of the bay if you're dining on the balcony. My last recommendation is Kramers. This bar is popular with locals and expats, it's near Neco Marine and has a very pleasant atmosphere. It's casual and has a nice feel to it, friendly service (I don't think unfriendly service exists in this country actually) it's right on the water and the food is great. We headed there on friday night and had a great time. Try the blackened sashimi. I loved it...looks like my love affair with vegetarianism has taken a bit of a blow.
Side note on tipping:
Palau has a tipping culture, it is not religiously expected that you tip but it is very appreciated. When you go out for a meal, when you leave your accommodation if you had a good time then tip and tip as well as
Intricate tapestry of organisms
you can. Palau is an independent nation but used to be a U.S territory and still operates on U.S dollars. Bear in mind that minimum wage here is in the vicinity of $3 (according to locals i spoke to) though i hear some work for substantially less. Many locals work incredibly long hours and make your stay enjoyable so I think its fair to be as generous as you can and their appreciation makes it well worth it.
I was breaking my neck to do the first dive, since my last dive had been October 2007 in Vanuatu. We were in Palau in April, widely considered to be the best time of the season (peak season runs December to May). I was a little worried since I had picked up a flu on the plane. Typical, first day of a dive trip and I'm fully congested. So of course I did what any self respecting diver would do (but of course what nobody should do) I swallowed decongestants like they were candy and got a hold of this nasal spray that worked way too well to be legal in Australia. The
Gorganian against the blue
Close up it looked like sections of a brain
decongestants carried the warning not to exceed 4 in 24hrs but I took 5 in 4 hrs. I'm not advocating that you do this of course (consider this a legal disclaimer)...but it worked for me. We backward rolled into the ocean and I waited for the shock of cold water rushing into my wetsuit but it never came. The water is a lovely 29 degrees. We drop down to about 30mts and the first thing I see is a 2mt reef shark and I think: Shit! This is going to be sooo awesome!
And it was. You know you are getting spoilt when you surface and say that was so great, but I only saw about a dozen sharks. Blue Corner was a truly awesome dive. We also did a fantastic dive called Temple of Doom. Here you dive along the wall until you come to an area where a natural arch has been carved. Swim under the arch and you come into a cavern that opens to the surface and there at around 30mts you'll see the entrance to the cave. Swim inside and you are engulfed in pitch black darkness, torches on and you find you
are inside a massive dome, swim to the back and there you will find the perfect skelton of a turtle laying on a ledge. Very Indian Jone style. Eerie and cool. We made our way out through another exit, back under the arch and out along the wall. We ascended to the top of the wall to find a canyon full of alleys and swimthroughs. I could spend entire dives just exploring this area.
Another good dive was at Virgin Hole. For this one the boat took us over the wall and motored gently to the hole. It looks like someone has taken a giant oval shaped cookie cutter and sliced out a cylinder of rock and reef. I'm rubbish at estimating size and distance but I guess-timate the hole is about 15mts in diameter and from memory it is around 35mt deep. You decend down the shaft and there lies an opening into a tunnel - so it's roughly an 'L' shape from the surface down and into the tunnel. We saw the rubbish that's been sucked in there during rough weather and we swam out the exit point, where 3 more reef sharks were waiting.
This is one of my most favourite types of fish
Another highlight for me was Jelly Fish Lake. It's basically a lake with guess what in it? You got it: jelly fish. Approximately 10 million of them - give or take a million or so. Their sting is so minor that unless you stayed there all day long, rubbing them all over you, you don't feel a thing. Snorkelling through wall to wall jelly fish was a lot of fun, quite an amazing phenomenon and a little bit surreal. Its a bit of a hike uphill to get there but it is well worth it. Don't wear a wetsuit, you'll cook yourself before you get to the lake (yes bert, you were right) and the water is warm, the jellies harmless, so just go in your swimmers. I don't mean to sound bossy but when you go snorkelling in the lake remember to try and keep your feet up on the surface as you swim and simply roll onto your back to float and rest, if you suspend yourself vertically in the water you'll unwittingly kick your fins, treading water and probably cause mass genocide in the process. Just because there are millions of them does not mean we
need to kick the shit out of them. We are in their home and they are living animals so isn't it nice to tread lightly?
Every dive was amazing. We completed 13 dives in 5 days so I'm not going to regail you with indepth descriptions of each and every one, you'll just need to go experience it for yourself. Some of my dive discriptions might varying a bit from reality because I didn't log them as I went so I am writing this from memory numerous months later. So the canyon might have been on the Virgin Hole dive, not the Temple of Doom etc but it all happened somewhere in that blissful week in paradise.
THE FINAL DAY DIVING PELELIU
Something that definitely stands out in my memory and that of my 4 friends is the final day diving at Peleliu. Peleliu is an island on the outer edge of the island group, exposed to open ocean. The day was overcast and rainy for the first time on our trip. Each day had afforded us sunshine all day long with only a short tropical shower on most afternoons. Still, it
was beautiful in a monochromatic way and the slate ocean was flat as a board. We'd gotten pretty lucky but we were to learn that while it was flat it was definitely not still and that this area gets some cranking currents. We dived Yellow Wall first which was exquisitely beautiful. You might be learning that Palauan names for things are not too imaginative, so you will remain unsurprised to discover that this dive is along a wall which is yellow. I've never seen anything like it, a vertical wall covered in golden soft coral. It was a relaxing, pretty dive with massive schools of fish among countless other things.
Next on the agenda was The Cut.
I'm not always the best at description but let me give it a try. This spot is where the wall travels along for some distance before scooping around to the right and then kicking back to the left at which point the wall continues. This dive did not really go according to plan. First of all we drop in on the wall and are drifting along at a gentle pace, letting the current guide us
along. We see massive giant trevally - GT's- and some sharks we hadn't seen before, this time Dusky Whalers ranging in size up to about 3mts. It was hard to gauge their size because the visibility was so good that they were quite a distance away from us most of the time, cruising clear as day in the blue water out from the wall. The general consensus from the group is 'they were big'. As we approach the actual cut, Cam - my dive buddy - and I spy a large Dusky Whaler close to us on the left, carving smoothly down the wall at an angle, scattering the schooling fish. We turn our attention to him and our backs to everyone else at just the exact point in geography and time where two opposing currents collide. The current pushes us with great force back the way we'd come, towards Mr Dusky. We grab the wall with both hands and let current stretch us out superman style. It had come out of nowhere.
Suddenly I remember Bert mentioning - quite clearly before the dive - the currents at The Cut, their unpredictability, their strength and how you can
yep thats me. I killed my dive computer when I didn't set it to nitrox then dived a nitrox type profile. .. Thaks to Bert for fixing it.
be sucked up and thrown around like you're in a washing machine. And I remember him telling us to watch him as we are entering The Cut, stay close together and watch for his signal. I remember this, too late. And now we look around and realise we can't see anyone. Battling the current we hand-over-hand-it along the vertical wall of the cut, trying to avoid grabbing coral fragile creatures. We reach the corner of the Cut, the point where the wall kicks left again, and we begin creeping up the wall. We find, when we are almost to the top of the wall, the rest of our group holding on for sweet life along the edge of the plateau. At this corner you have the current splitting and dividing; there's the stuff pushing us back along the wall edge but you have also the current hitting the wall and sweeping over the plateau perpendicular to the wall. The crew were clinging to rocks a couple of metres back from the edge. It was unfortunate that the area we had worked our way along was seperated from the main plateau by a split in the rock wider than my arm
span. I tried to calculate a strategy and ended up employing the Reach-Out-Let-Go-Kick-Like-Crazy-and-Hope-Like-Hell-Technique. This was pretty unsuccessful. Though I kicked as hard as I could I was swept at a rate of knots backwards over the top of the wall and away from my general goal. I grabbed a rock but was travelling so quickly backwards I missed my grip, I stretched out my other hand to Ryan as I shot by and he was quick enough to reach back a hand and grab mine. The force of grabbing me peeled his other hand from the rock and now we are both scooting backwards hand in hand together. I grab a rock and it holds. I am now stretched full length. If you turned the image around and picture the plateau as a cliff with me holding onto the cliff with one hand and gripping my comrade with the other, him dangling, about to plummet to his death that is what it was like, only we were horizontal and under water. This is all happening in the blink of an eye. Ryan manages to grab another rock and now we are sort of in control for a minute. We fight
Temple of Doom . Thanks to Burgo for this pic, my had camera died.
our way back, hand over hand to the others, face on to the current and gaze out into the blue
Now I get to relax and watch the sharks doing fly bys graceful and effortless in the ocean, a stark contrast to my ungamely displays...I feel quietly inadequate. I must say too that the word 'relax' is used rather loosely here; it is a relative term. I'm buzzing! I swear I can feel the current gently squeezing in the purge on my regulator, causing a slight freeflow of air. I turn my head ever so slightly to the left to try to see the others beside me but the current begins to peel my mask from my face, threatening to rip it from my head or at least flood it with water. It occurs to me that - usually - to die diving takes effort, stupidity or at least a severe lack of essential knowledge or skill coupled with a major over estimation of your own capabilities. Add just the wrong conditions and just the right dose of blind panic and you have a recipe for disaster. But all in all, there are very few dives around the
Taken fromt he entrance to the cave
world, really, where you could easily die. I don't think I exaggerate too much when I say: I think this spot is definitely one of them. And it is the best not-dived-to-plan dive I've ever done.
A guy in our group - the ring-in from the UK - lets go of the reef and we all follow suit, all sticking together as we drift along at a snazzy pace. Yes sir Bert you have all our attention now. We make it up to the surface together a mile from where we started and are retrieved by the boat. This dive has taken a grand total of 15 minutes.
THE LAST DIVE
After the dive at The Cut we've worked up an appetite so we eat our lunch onboard and Bert asks us where we want to go next. The group says they don't mind. Bert says its our final dive for the trip so what do we want? It's basically up to us. He throws out a couple of suggestions. Then everyone looks at me. Why are they looking at me? Why am I the default setting for decision making here? A
Ryan and Cam
With a giant clam shell, snorkelling during our sureface time
smile curls the edges of my mouth.
I want to do that again.
Employ a different strategy.
The crowd pauses slightly, smile and agree.
So we do it again and we employ a different strategy. In my mind part of the strategy involves me paying attention this time and not screwing up. As we approach the cut we are prepared and instead of hugging the wall we swim out and away from the wall towards the blue, sticking together. We miss the washing machine ride and by the time we hit the current switch we are out of the cut and are being swept back at a right angle to the wall, in proud formation. Ascending as we drift we fly over the edge, onto the plateau and we are all face first which is so much more orderly and manageable than backwards, like I did last time. We all grab hold and hook in successfully, the current spins us 180 degrees and we are now in position staring out from the reef at the biggest GT I've ever seen. We form a procession and all hand over hand it along the plateau until
we find a nook that seems to afford us marginally less current. We watch life in the ocean go along its daily business with the rush of moving water buffering our faces and roaring in our ears.The dive lasts 45 minutes this time and we maintained a good semblance of control. And I would say that this is one of the best dives I have ever had the good fortune to enjoy.
We get back to Neco Marine mid afternoon and this time all our gear is taken up and washed ready to be packed and taken away. We pay our bill for the week, get a few t-shirts and I buy a log book that of course I don't end up using. We loiter about for a while reluctant to leave, trying to deny that this chapter is now closed. We go back to the resort, hang out for a bit and grab dinner. In the morning I wake for dawn then go back to sleep. There's no rush and as usual I'm the last to breakfast but there are no smiling faces to greet me. Ryan, Burgo, Cam and Beth are sitting stoney faced and pouting,
eye's down cast, looking at the table, not a word being spoken. ''What's up guys?'', they look at me and nobody answers. After several seconds of silence Cam looks up at me - sad as you like - and says "Its over".
PALAU AFTER DIVING
We took our time with breakfast for a change and watched the clock as 8am came and went without our usual dive store pick up to take us to Neco. It was down right depressing. We were at a bit of a loss. We bummed about a bit, frisbee in the pool, movies, food and conversation. Nothing wrong with all that of course. Still...it was a perfect day, brilliant blue sky and a light breeze, conditions would be perfect in the ocean today. We went to the Museum which was great as Palau has an interesting culture and history. We wandered around town a bit and I bought a photo album that was confiscated at customs in Australia. Of course. Be aware that anything made from banana leaf at all will not be allowed into Australia. Wood is generally ok; they look it over, squint, say hmmmm a couple
of times, pause just long enough to make you feel uncomfortable then let it through. But I have to say they are pretty anal retentive about any other plant material. Something about parasites and diseases which could destroy our fragile ecosystems, decimate and endanger our endemic species and already threatened flora and fauna here at home and blah..blah...blah. All I could think about was the 30 bucks I blew. I'm kidding, don't judge me. Well...I'm kinda kidding...don't judge me. I had a feeling it might play out this way but had hoped that they could treat it and I could have it sent to me after a month quarrantine or something like that. Then I found out they 'treat' it by burning it to dust. So if you are coming to Oz after Palau maybe keep it in mind.
On our last day in Palau the guys were planning to have a bludgy day around the resort. Poor Beth had an ear infection develop and was bedridden and the boys were thinking movies. I just couldn't bare to sit around and watch movies on my last day in paradise and so I berated them gently and suggested for
the second time that we hire a car and look around the island, particularly a waterfall that was recommended to me by a local. There are objections: it'll be too expensive, it's probably too short notice to get a car, we don't have international drivers licences, we won't have enough time before we fly out.... I employed all my sales skills and applied ruthless strategy to turn them. One by one they fell. Except for poor Beth who had to stay in bed, and I felt a bit guilty leaving her. By 11am guilt was wearing off, we were in the car and on our way to...getting lost. Actually we weren't lost, we knew where WE were all the time, we just didn't know where the waterfall was. The map was vague. I suppose it was a bit much to expect that the map that came with the vehicle would be to scale... or geographically accurate. I saw a hand written sign for a waterfall but the guys didn't think it was 'the one'. I suggested asking directions. A ludicrous idea when travelling with 3 males. So that didn't happen. We decided to go see the monoliths instead since we'd
This area had been a small cascade to the left and rocky slope on the right however the rain had turned it into a waterfall as well
obviously gone too far for the waterfall and they were supposed to be around there somewhere. We found no signs. We found no Monoliths. The boys STILL refused to stop and ask for directions. For the first time I doubted the validity of the whole idea to rent a car, but then decided, hey, it's still ok, at least we are seeing the countryside and not sat inside watching dvd's that we can watch when we get home. We double back and follow the sign I'd initially seen for the waterfall. And joy of joy... it was the right place!
It had been raining on and off during our journey but now the sun was shining as if to herald our arrival. Of course this isn't true, the whole world or even palau's weather patterns don't revolve around us...still, it felt that way. It's a great hike to the waterfall, mostly down hill (which conversly means the hike back is mostly uphill and a bit tiring), over rocks and through muddy sludge and giant tree roots (attached to wonderful giant trees). I really enjoyed it but the boys whined like little girls (Sorry guys, but I say
this with love and respect of course). I think it's because I chose to wear dive boots and they all wore thongs. They took the booties with them but then didn't want to put them on, I think because that would mean that I'd been kind of right and that wouldn't do at all. But all this carry on was good natured enough and they eventually put their boots on and everyone was having a great time. The waterfall was so gorgeous. We were the only ones there, we splashed about, stood under it, got pummelled, took a million snapshots and then it started raining. It was still warm though and we were already wet so it didn't matter in the slightest. We made our way back not by the track but by following our nose down the river. It was never deeper than our waist but as the rain poured down harder it crossed my mind whether there was ever any chance of flash flooding. We climbed out of the river when we recognised our way back up the mountain. What had been a rocky slope with a trickle of water was now just about a waterfall itself. We
made our way up through the water and back to the path, the dirt steps cut into the mountainside now a flowing red cascade. We drove back to the hotel elated and a bit soggy. Sadly, we found Beth more worse for wear so Cam took her to the hospital again where they received good treatment and found that somehow since the day before she had perforated her eardrum. Really not good news at all, but Beth is such a trooper she put on a brave face and gritted her teeth to make the plane ride home to Oz that night. But not before she joined us in the bar. Bert met us at the cliffside bar and we had a couple of cocktails and chatted. The bus came early to collect us for the airport transfer which meant I missed out on squeezing that last half an hour of joy from my time in Palau and replaced it instead with an extra half hour feeling slightly depressed in the airport.
An overnight flight back to Guam via Yap and an onward flight the following afternoon to Cairns in Australia saw us back at home. Well home-ish. The
others had some time to kick about in Cairns, before traveling back to south east queensland, but I'd done that prior to Palau. It was straight on to Perth and home for me. So Cairns to Sydney and Sydney to Perth I went. A power outage in Sydney meant delays and resulted in 8 hours at the airport but I couldn't be bothered going anywhere. After leaving Cairns at 10am I arrived in Perth about midnight (2am Queensland time) - 14hrs plus the rest equaling 2 nights and 2 days in transit. The unglamourous side of travel, but it was worth it. To be honest, I'd travel at least twice that to go back to Palau.
Me and the guys joked while in the Guam airport - even Beth, bless her, while in so much pain. Beth said "You know, we all lost something in Palau: Burgo lost his mask, Ryan lost his watch, Cam lost his shirt and I... lost half my eardrum." I replied that I'd lost nothing in Palau, but it wasn't strictly true. At the risk of sounding hokey, I think I lost a little piece of my soul in Palau. Left it swimming on
Obviously enjoy the shisha
a reef somewhere off the coast. I kind of fell in love with the place. And as I sit here freezing, tapping away on my laptop in a house with no heating, wearing a scarf, on a rainy day in the middle of a dreary Perth winter, I wonder how life is faring off the fairer shores of Palau and think I'm going to have to go back there sometime.
Tot: 0.453s; Tpl: 0.028s; cc: 15; qc: 102; dbt: 0.0264s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.6mb