Despite the fact that Laysan has a number of “repair” issues, we decide that a look around is in order. We book a private twin diesel charter boat, the Shark Cat, with Sam’s Tours, complete with snorkel guide, Loren, and Captain Charlton (yes, I get the irony). Our departure is at 8:30 and we begin our literal high speed race to Turtle Cove. While there are not many tourists in Palau, those that are here are all on the water diving and snorkeling. As a consequence, each tour boat makes a bee line for its designated spot in hopes of being the first one on site. It’s a little like a James Bond chase scene through the most amazing azure water, weaving in and out of thousands of jungle topped mushroom islands. Our furthest point out is Turtle Cove, about a 40 minute ride from our start. Jumping off the boat, we enter an aquarium of tropical fish, fan coral, sponges, and green sea turtles. The coral reef is punctuated with blue holes that disappear out of site in water with at least 70’ of clarity. Loren dives down into the holes, but the rest of us satisfy ourselves with a short dive down to peer into the depths. Despite the fact that this spot is better than anything we have seen in Hawaii, its time to chop chop and head off to our next destination, The Big Drop Off. The Drop Off is a world famous dive location where a coral reef in about twenty feet of water precipitously drops off into the depths of the Pacific thousands of feet deep. The currents from below drive the big pelagic fish to the top and then back down again. As we swim along the edge, we look into the abyss seeing the shapes of large fish swim by. The wall is covered in huge corals with schools of smaller brightly colored fish swimming along the edge.
Next up, German Channel, so named when the Germans blew a deep trench through the reef in the early 1900’s. We jump in deeper water, perhaps 40’, and immediately Loren points out four black tip reef sharks swimming below. Easy to spot their sharky shape against the white sand, eerie to watch them immediately disappear when they swim over the dark coral. Hugely exciting, we swim on looking for other largish denizens of the deep. We were not disappointed, seeing a sleeping lepoard shark, more black tips, and watching a shark at eye level chasing a school of blue tunas. The scariest part was realizing we were right on the other side of the school!
After German Channel, it is off for lunch on a sand beach with overhanging jungle clinging to the near vertical limestone islands. We walk around the back side to an ocean carved cave and just sit and stare out across the crystal clear waters. Loren says we must swim to the buoy and we will see more black tip sharks. Right as always, the light filters down about 50’ to showcase the sharky show below. Our post lunch repast is Jellyfish Lake, known to us from Survivor Pelau. We hike up a steep limestone trail then down to a brackish water lake that contains thousands of non-stinging jellyfish that live on sunlight alone. There location in the lake matches the sun, as they follow its path through the day. Swimming in the lake with the pulsing jellyfish is primordial, we are the proverbial soup, only we can climb out when we are done.
No rest for the weary, we are on to swim with the giant clams, up to one ton in size. Loren reminds us of the obvious, don’t put our fingers into the clams, definitely a Darwinian separator moment. At this dive site, there is a boat load of Japanese tourists. Curiously in the buoyant water they are all wearing lifejackets, bobbing above the giant clams. We dive down repeatedly to wave our hands at the clams to make them pull their bright blue clam lips in, the Japanese float safely above watching our antics with no hope of joining us.
Our final two stops make an interesting bookends. The Shark Cat drives between the green islands and stops in water that is white blue, we are at the Milky Way. Jumping in the shallow water, we can feel the limestone mud squish between our toes. I float below the jungle that clings to the near perpendicular cliffs above me, watching the sky. Loren calls to us that it is time to get back in the boat. He has collected a pail of the mud and tells us that it is the Palauan custom to smear the mud over our entire body – it will make us younger. Can’t argue with that, so we stand in the boat, lathering up with white pumice mud. Loren suggests that we drive to our next site and let the mud dry. John and I ask for our sunglasses since we can’t see without them, the effect puts the crew into hysterics and we draw many looks from the other boats as we pass by. In contrast to our mud silliness, we pull up to a site that has a downed WWII Japanese Zero plane. It is in about 5’ of water. Rinsing off our mud bath, we circle the plane wondering at Loren’s story that an 18 year old Japanese pilot escaped into the jungle and was hidden there until after the war. The propeller is intact and John positions himself in the pilot’s seat with his feet on the rudder pedals and his hands on the yoke.
With the waning afternoon light, Captain Charlton heads back to Sam’s tour. We sit up on the bow of the boat and make one last special request. Could we return via the East Channel? In two or three days, we will exit this channel. As with the West Channel, there is shallow reef on both sides of the passage and the markers consist of sticks in the water. Charlton makes it all look easy, “local knowledge”, and we arrive a happy bunch back at Sam’s.
PS. Look back at some of the older blogs, I have added pictures to go along with the story.
November 3, 2011
07 23.61 N 135 51.45 E