Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Palau 11/26

            OMG--Today was quite the interesting day to say the least.  We got up at our usual time and had our breakfast and then headed across the street to the Drop Off.  Today Teri, Jeff, Eric and I got paired up with a new group of Chinese.  It is important to understand that a lot of Chinese divers buy their scuba certification and often times don’t even know how to swim much less know the first thing about diving. 

            First, we got a late start because we were waiting for them to get to the dive shop.  They are also notorious for being late.  Then, once they got in the dive shop it was like an angry swarm of bees.  They start running all around handling and looking at everything.  It is kind of like herding cats trying to get them to focus on the task at hand.  After they finally got all their paperwork and permits filled out, we were finally on our way, about 30 minutes late. 

            After they got them all down to the boat, they were told to unload their gear onto the boat and get it set up.  They did not seem like they had too much trouble setting their gear up, only a few issues such as putting the regulator on the tank backwards, etc., but that was just the beginning of what was to come.  So once they got their gear set up and we got enough weight for everyone, we set off to pick up Teri and Jeff at PPR. 

            After picking up Jeff and Teri we made way for the first dive site.  Luckily Edwin would be the guide for just Eric, Jeff, and Teri (I did not dive again today because I have a head cold—so just rode along).  The rest of the group of Chinese was being guided by Aki, the Japanese guide who works at the shop.  We dropped Eric, Jeff, and Teri off at Blue Corner for the first dive and then headed to Dexter’s wall as the first dive for the rest of the group as there is less current there and it is an easier dive. 

            This is where it started to get interesting.  It should only take a few minutes to get your gear on and get in the water, but for this group it took nearly 30 minutes or more.  It was quite the circus show watching them attempting to get their gear on properly and get ready to backroll into the water.  Half had to be reminded to put their weight belts on, one girl who was probably 100 pounds in body weight had on 20 pounds of weight, some of them tried to backroll in without masks or regulators.  Then, Logan saw one of them trying to work his pressure gauge to let the air out to drop down. 

            Logan, our boat driver, then took the boat over to shallower water to let the four non-divers snorkel around.  It quickly became obvious that these people had never snorkeled either.  They had all new equipment and had no idea how to even put the snorkel on their mask.  One girl asked me to help her put her snorkel and her mask strap on her head.  Then they proceeded to get their life jackets on and get in the water.  In addition, they had no fins and would not let go of the rope on the boat.  As soon as they got in the water all we heard was “no fish, no fish.”   

Shortly after they got in to snorkel, Logan noticed one of the Chinese divers that we had just dropped off popped to the surface coughing and hacking—obviously he took in water somehow.  Lord only knows what depth he was at before he shot to the surface.  So Logan told the snorkelers to get back on the boat so we could go collect this diver.  One of the four snorkelers in the group who spoke very good English (most, if not all, spoke very little English) informed us that this was that diver’s first dive.  So we gathered up the distressed diver and loaded him onto the boat—following which he proceeded to vomit over the edge of the boat—one of many episodes to come.  Needless to say he did not do any more dives today and looked like death for most of the rest of the day. 

By the time all of this commotion was over it was time to pick up Edwin’s group.  So we made our way back to their dive site to pick them up.  After getting them on the boat, then we headed back to pick up the remaining Chinese divers and their guide.  Needless to say they were not down long—the Chinese also tend to go through air fast.   

After getting them all back on the boat (after some instruction on what to take off first), we slowly made our way to the second dive site, New Drop off for Edwin’s group, and Coral Paradise for the Chinese group.  During the surface interval Logan offered to let the ladder down so that the snorkelers could snorkel, but it took them a little while to get motivated enough to get into the water and hang off the boat (not what I would consider snorkeling).  Then it was time to dive again, so they got back on the boat and we made our way to the dive site for Edwin’s group.

Of course it only took a couple minutes, if even that long, for Eric, Jeff, and Teri to get in with Edwin.  Then we made our way back to the shallower area at Coral Paradise to drop off the Chinese divers.  This time it did not take them quite as long to get in, except for a couple of them that seemed to take forever.  Finally they were all in the water and dropped down.   Prior to them getting in on this dive, Aki, their guide, gave them the briefing for the dive site and reminded them again to stay at the same depth as him and to stay together.  So I can only imagine what it was like underwater on the first dive—probably similar to the circus show above water. 

We sat and waited for Edwin’s group to surface after their dive and the Chinese group was not far behind, even though they gone in much later.  Amazingly everyone from the Chinese group surfaced alive.  After everyone was back on the boat we headed to a beach for a nice relaxing lunch.  Then we headed back to PPR to drop off Jeff and Teri and then Neco to drop everyone else off.  Today was our last diving day and we had beautiful sunny weather all day.

After we got back to the dive shop we talked with Fabio.  Today was his dry day as he had plans to fly to Tokyo to visit his girlfriend early morning tomorrow.  He was nice enough to invite us to his apartment for dinner.  He made us an amazing dinner of bruschetta, vegetarian pasta, and salad.  He is Italian, so he definitely knows how to make a good Italian meal.  After enjoying a good meal and some good conversation together, he dropped us back off at our apartment. 

Tomorrow is our dry day (also Thanksgiving Day) before we fly back home on the 28th.  We leave at 5 a.m. Palau time on the 28th.            

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Palau 11/24-25

            Today was another typical day in paradise.  We got up at the usual time and wandered over to the Drop Off where we found Fabio.  We split the groups up today so we just had the two Koreans, the couple from Hawaii, Eric and me, and a new lady, Bentley.  So we had plenty of space on the boat to spread out. 

            Our first dive site was Blue Corner.  We did not have the current we had the other day, but it was good enough to bring in some sharks and several Napoleon wrasse.  After we hooked in on the corner and watched the sharks for a while, we  then drift along the wall and ran into a shark that had been mating.  Shark mating is a very violent act and the females are very ripped up and sometimes have chunks of flesh missing.  Further on down the wall we came across some large schools of fish spawning and some other schools of fish swarming in to eat the eggs.  Then as we ended the dive out in the blue we saw a large school of barracuda. 

            After that dive we slowly made our way to the second dive site, Virgin Blue Hole.  After our surface interval, we jumped in and floated on the surface over to the hole.  It is only possible to do this dive when it is high tide, as the entry hole is on the top of the reef in very shallow water.  Once over the hole, we dropped down into the shaft to the bottom at around 100 feet.  Then we swam toward the light at the exit hole and swam out onto the wall.  This site offers some very pretty coral and some neat swim-throughs, which you don’t see many of in Palau. 

            We then headed to the beach for lunch and after a relaxing lunch we headed back to Palau Pacific Resort (PPR) to drop off Jeff and Teri.  We had kind of a cold, wet ride to PPR, the rest of the way to the next dive site, and eventually back to the dive shop.  On the way to the dive shop we stopped at a dive site called the Helmet.  It is a shipwreck from World War II.  No one was sure what the actual name of the ship was so they call it the Helmet wreck because it contains Japanese helmets.  We dropped the Korean couple and Bentley off here in a driving rain and then headed back to the dive shop. 

            In the rain we hurried across the street to our apartment.  I was hoping and praying we had hot water today.  It has been kind of hit or miss as to whether we get any hot water.  At first I thought I had it figured out—I thought that because the water heater was far away from the bathroom it just took a while to get to the shower, but apparently I was wrong.  I think the water heater is shared by several units and whomever gets the hot water first hits the jackpot.  For a couple days in a row we did without hot water.  Today we got lucky and had plenty of hot water. 

            After we got cleaned up we crossed back over to the Drop Off and met with Fabio for a while and then came back to the apartment to rest for a while.  We had plans to meet Fabio and Tua at the Drop Off around 7 p.m. to go out to dinner at The Taj.  Tua will be leaving tomorrow afternoon and she had never been to Taj, so we had a nice dinner sharing a bunch of vegetarian dishes. 

            After dinner Fabio dropped us off in front of our apartment and we said goodbye to Tua just in case we did not see her tomorrow.  Then we were off to bed. 


            Today I woke up and unfortunately I had come down with Fabio’s cold.  He has been sick for about the past week and I thought I was going to manage not to catch it, but I wasn’t so lucky.  So I decided today I would go out on the boat, but not dive.  We only have today and tomorrow left of diving and then our dry day before we fly.  Unfortunately, today was cloudy and rainy all day.  The water was a bit on the choppy side too, but I could not complain that it was hot on the boat. 

            The first dive site we went to was Sandy Paradise.  Today we had a small group on the boat.  It was just Fabio guiding Eric, Jeff, Teri, and Bentley.  They saw all the usual suspects on the dive, nothing out of the ordinary. 

            The second dive we went to Saies Corner.  On the way to this dive site we came across a huge pod of dolphins, so we circled around in the boat and played with them, watching them jump and spin.  After the surface interval, Eric, Jeff, and Teri along with Fabio dove in.  Bentley was not doing the second dive as she was flying out the next day.  So our boat driver, Logan, took the boat over to the edge of the wall so that Bentley could snorkel.  She spent a good 45 minutes or so snorkeling.  When the rest of the boat surfaced they said it was a rather uneventful dive with really no current to speak of. 

            As it was kind of a rough, rainy day, Logan took the boat into a quiet inlet in the Rock Island area for us to have lunch.  After enjoying our lunch we all bundled up for the rainy ride back to PPR and Neco Marine.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Palau 11/23

            Today was another casual day.  We got up at our usual time and had our breakfast and made our way across the street to wait for the other divers to arrive.  Today we left the dock a little earlier as we had to pick up the Chinese guys at their hotel’s dock.  Today we had the four Chinese guys, two Koreans, Tua, Eric, me, and another couple from Hawaii (Jeff and Terri). 

            Our first dive of the day was at Blue Holes.  It was a very easy dive.  As we had done this dive before we just poked around and Eric did some silhouette shots before we made our way out and down the wall toward Blue Corner.  There really was not much current today, so it was a somewhat easy dive. 

            Most of the rest of the people on the boat wanted to do three dives, so Eric and Tua and I decided to sit out the second dive which was at Dexter’s wall and instead do the third dive which was planned for German Channel.  This meant we had a 3+ hour down-time on the boat that included our surface interval after the first dive, the dive time for the second dive, and the surface interval/lunch after the second dive.  However, this time went by fairly quickly as Eric and I talked with Tua. 

            We actually went to the very shallow sandy area just to the other side of German Channel for lunch.  It was low tide and so the water was only a couple feet deep.  It was not quite a beach, but almost.  Luckily we only had a little bit of a shower on the way to our lunch spot today and that was it for rain. 

            We waited until about 2:00 p.m. to get in for the dive at German Channel.  We were trying to wait as late as possible so that the current would pick up and the mantas would be feeding.  When we got in there was very little current so we headed toward the cleaning station.  There was not anything going on, so we headed out into the blue to see if we could see anything.  Not too long after that we saw a manta heading straight for us.  It glided by us headed for the cleaning station.  So we all turned around and headed back to the cleaning station. 

            I got some good video of the manta slowly gliding and circling over the cleaning station.  She glided around for quite a few passes and then off into the blue she went.  So we all swam out into the blue to see if we could find more mantas.  As we were swimming out we spotted at least three.  They were not feeding yet as the current still had not picked up, but they were gliding back and forth. 

            It turned out to be a good dive.  Everyone was happy they got to see some mantas.  After the dive we started the journey back to the dive shop.  I think we ended up getting back around 4:15 p.m.  So as soon as we got back we headed across the street to our apartment to get cleaned up and come back over to the Drop Off before it got really busy.  Today they were having their 2nd annual Wahoo Classic fishing tournament and activities all day long. 

            We got back to the dive shop/Drop Off just before 5 p.m. and Fabrizio and Barbara were there picking up their dive gear.  So they joined us and Tua at the Drop Off for one last drink together before they left early tomorrow morning to head back to Italy.  After their car arrived to take them back to their hotel for the evening, Tua joined us for dinner and we watched the Palauan dancers perform for the evening’s festivities. 

            Tua won’t be joining us for diving tomorrow as it will be her no-dive day before she flies on to her next destination, Manila.  She has approximately two more months before she completes her year off traveling all over to many interesting dive destinations.  After Manila she is heading on to Sipidan/Malaysia.  She has been to many of the dive destinations we still have on our list to go to, so we enjoyed talking with her about the various places she has been.    

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Palau 11/22

            We got up at 6:20 again this morning, had our breakfast in the apartment, and I typed up my blog before we crossed the street to the Drop Off so that Eric could publish the blog while we waited for the rest of the divers to arrive.  However, we did end up going into the dive shop and doing some shopping before we left for the day.  We had noticed that they had some really nice lightweight waterproof bags and once we found out for sure they were waterproof, we could not resist. 

            We left the dock again around 8:30 with four new guys from Hong Kong plus Tua, Fabrizio, Barbara, Eric, me, and of course Fabio, our dive guide.  Our first dive site of the day was Sandy Paradise, which is always a nice dive.  There is lots of pretty coral here with a sandy sloping bottom.  This site also has a coral pinnacle with 3 scorpion leaf fish and another pinnacle with a cleaner wrasse that will come out and clean your hand if you take off your glove.  Fabrizio stuck out his hand this time and the wrasse came out and checked it out and then headed straight for his head—he has a shaved head.

            We had a nice relaxing dive for the first dive and wandered all around the reef checking things out.  There was really no current so speak off, so it was definitely a lazy dive. 

            After getting out, we slowly motored our way to the second dive site, Ulong Wall.  After waiting an appropriate amount of time for our surface interval, we jumped in.  Since the current was not right to do Ulong Channe,l we just did the wall, which is  also very pretty.  There is always a huge school of fish here, but this time it was interesting because there were three or four sharks that were circling and swimming through the huge ball.  We were trying to figure out what the sharks were doing.  They did not seem to be hunting, but when they would come out of the ball of fish there would be about six fish following along with the shark.  We were not sure if they were using the shark to rub on, chasing him, cleaning parasites off, or exactly what they were doing.  Eric managed to get some really good shots of the huge ball of fish with the sharks swimming through.

            After this dive we tethered the boat in shallow water and had our lunch.  It was low tide at that time, so it was too shallow to get to the beach.  However, this time we did not have to rush to eat our lunch before the rain storm hit.  After a relaxing lunch, we started back for the dive shop.  Our boat diver today, Ricky, took us for a tour through the beautiful Rock Islands on the way back, which is always a treat.

            We got back to the dock and they unloaded everyone’s gear except for the guys from Hong Kong who were going back out to do a third dive.  We made our usual stop at the Drop Off to check emails, etc. and then headed back across the street to our apartment.  After getting cleaned up and Eric going through today’s pictures to see what he got, we headed down the street to the market to get some supplies since we were not sure they would be open on Sunday. 

            Later, around 6:45 p.m., we started the walk down the road to Kramer’s restaurant where we were meeting Fabio, Fabrizio, Barbara, and Tua for dinner at 7 p.m.  We had a very nice, if not very warm, dinner on the balcony at Kramer’s.  Although we were outside on the water’s edge, there is very little breeze in Palau and they had no fans, so it was rather hot and steamy, but the food and service was excellent. 

            At about 8:30 or so we called it a night and headed back to our apartment.  Fabrizio and Barbara are not diving tomorrow as they will be leaving the next day, so they plan on returning to the dive shop around 3 p.m. tomorrow to pick up their gear and say goodbye to everyone.            

Friday, November 21, 2014

Palau 11/21

            Today was another exciting day.  We got up at our usual time to join the group at around 8 a.m.  We had the two Chinese guys and a girlfriend, the Japanese lady, a Japanese man, and two new guys from a University in Hawaii who were here working with the community college in Palau, plus our usual group of Fabio, Fabricio, Barbara, Tua, Eric, and me.  It has been an interesting mix of countries this trip. 

            We set off around 8:30 and headed for Blue Corner.  Because tomorrow is the new moon the currents should be picking up to their fullest potential today and tomorrow.  We got to Blue Corner and the current looked pretty good so we dropped in.  When we got down to the reef there was a good current so we all hooked in to watch the show. 

There were quite a few sharks riding the current and gliding by within a foot or so of our faces—very neat to see them that close up.  Unfortunately, when I went to use my video camera all the settings were good, but when I went to hit record the button had gotten messed up when we put the camera in the housing and I could not hit record.  So for this dive I had to record everything in my head.  It was still a really neat dive getting to watch the sharks come in so close.

After watching the sharks for a while we unhooked and drifted down the top of the reef.  As we ascended to do our safety stop everyone was ahead of us and I noticed them pointing back behind me, so I turned my head to see a big turtle gliding down through the water with a batfish swimming alongside.  It had obviously just gone up to the surface to get air and was making its way back down to the reef again.  Eric was just in front of me and did not see it, so I grabbed my noisemaker to get his attention.  He had just started shutting down his camera and so quickly turned everything back on and got a few shots of it.    

After we surfaced we slowly motored our way to the second dive site, New Drop Off.  This site can also get some pretty good current, but usually does not have the sharks like Blue Corner.  However, it does have much prettier coral on top of the reef.  So after our surface interval was over, we dove in and dropped down and hooked in.  There were a lot of other fish to watch here, but not many sharks.  After a few minutes we unhooked and drifted along the top of the reef. 

There were a few schools of striped snapper and some other fish hanging on top of the reef.  There was also a very pretty purple anemone with a couple fairly cooperative clownfish living in it. 

After we surfaced we decided to have our lunch on the boat again as off in the distance we could see it was raining pretty heavily on the island where we often go to have lunch on the beach.  So we all got out our bento boxes and began to eat.  The more we ate, the closer the rain got.  Everyone hurried to finish their lunch and got their rain gear on just in time for the rain to hit.  Unfortunately, we had to head into the rain to get to our next destination.  It was raining so hard it was almost white-out conditions and boy was it a cold rain. 

We finally made it through the rain and headed to another island to drop off the Japanese man and the Japanese guide to do a third dive as the rest of us headed over to Jellyfish Lake.  Eric and I waited on the boat as Mandy was going to swing by and pick us up to go out to German Channel again to see if we could see some more mantas. 

By the time we got to German Channel I think I counted about 12 boats.  Most of the divers were already in the water or getting out, so Mandy got in to snorkel over and see if anything was happening.  She said there was not much current, but there were already mantas feeding, so we decided to go ahead and get in. 

There was not quite as much current today and there were quite a few more people around, but we still got to see six mantas dancing and feeding.  I got some really good video and Eric got some really good photos this time in spite of the huge amount of planktonic “snow” in the water.  Watching the beautiful, graceful mantas was the perfect way to end another good dive day. 

As Mandy had picked us up in a much smaller boat, it took a little longer to get all the way back to the shop and part of the way we had to go through another rainstorm, but it was a very good day.    

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Palau 11/20

            Today was an amazing day.  We woke up about 4:20 a.m. and had some breakfast and got the cameras and our stuff together and headed across the street around 5:25.  Mandy had just arrived at the shop and we located our dive gear in the gear room and loaded it onto the cart and wheeled it down to the boat.  About that time our boat driver, Logan, arrived. 

            After getting our equipment set up on our tanks, we waited a bit before taking off from the dock.  Mandy told us the story behind the discovery of the aggregation and spawning of the bumpheads.  Apparently some of the Japanese operators take customers out to do dawn and dusk dives and at some point they came across this aggregation.  Fortunately or unfortunately they posted the exact location and time of day information on their website.  It was posted in Japanese of course so Mandy got one of the Japanese guides to translate and she found out it gave very detailed information.  Now pretty much everyone in Palau knows about it. 

By the time we got to the dive site there were about five boats, most packed with Japanese and Chinese.  Luck for us they generally run out of air faster.  The Japanese usually have a couple people in the water snorkeling to see when the activity starts and when to get in the water, so we watched their lead.  We got in the water around 6:34 a.m. and once we swam down the reef a ways we encountered masses of bumpheads.

For those of you who have never seen a bumphead parrotfish, they are interesting looking fish.  They are large (2-3 ft.) long blue fish with a large bump on their head (looks like they ran into something and have a really big knot on their head) and they have big buck teeth to bite off chunks of coral in order to feed on the algae.  They actually look kind of nerdy—but we can thank them for our beautiful white sandy beaches—which is what they produce.  So the next time you are laying on the beach, you can thank a parrotfish for pooping it out for you. 
This is quite an event to see as it only happens once a month with a few hundred fish, but in November/December can reach into the thousands of fish—and believe me there were thousands.  Normally they school in masses and then head out into the blue and drop down to about 70 feet.  The males heads will become bright white and when the females are ready they shoot toward the surface along with several males to spawn.  There must have been too many people for them or the current was not right or something, as we swam around watching them for quite some time, but they never finished the job so to speak.  It was still cool to see such huge masses of these fish together as the most we have ever seen together is probably two or three. 

            After this dive we headed back to the dive shop and we got cleaned up and had a little nap after check out our footage from the first dive and getting the cameras ready to go for the afternoon.  We were to meet Mandy back at the shop around 2:00 p.m. to go out to German Channel to try and see some mantas.

            We met at the shop at 2 p.m. and made way for German Channel.  On our way out of the lagoon area, Mandy spotted something’s fin on the surface of the water and she could not quite identify what it was.  So our boat driver, Logan, headed over there to see what it was.  Mandy thought it might have been a hammerhead shark as some people have apparently been spotting them.  We waited for a minute or two and then we saw it resurface again.  We headed over to it and it was three Dugongs, which are extremely rare to see by boat.  Mandy has been heavily involved in Dugong preservation efforts over the last few years and she said it is next to impossible to see them by boat.  Once the three of them surfaced for air, they disappeared.  Unfortunately, we did not get any photos or video, but it was still really neat to see—something we had never seen before and most in Palau will never see. 
            After that we continued on our way to German Channel.  When we got there there were about five other boats, but many of the divers were already surfacing from their dive.  The current looked pretty good, so we got in the water around 3 p.m.  Just after we got in, the mantas started to appear.  Luckily there was only one other group in the water that we had to deal with for a little while.  Then the action really started.  There were about 9 mantas, but it seemed like many more.  They were everywhere dancing, gliding, playing, feeding, doing loop-de-loops, and it looked like they were having fun.  By this time we had them all to ourselves—which is extremely rare.  We spent about 75 minutes in the water with them.  Mandy said it has been a long time since she has seen them like that so comfortable in the water and unphased by the diver’s presence.  It was truly amazing just watching them. 

            After this dive we again headed back to the shop.  We got back a little after 5 p.m. and had some dinner at the Drop Off before going back to our apartment for the night.  We are planning on going out with the regular dive group tomorrow for two dives and then Mandy is going to try and pick us up after our second dive and we will attempt to do another dive with the mantas at German Channel again.