Sharks and Jellys
Trip Start Nov 12, 2011
46Trip End Aug 18, 2012
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Look at any list of best dive spots in the world and Palau will always end up in the top ten. Sukhia and I have been talking about making it to Palau for several years and were both very excited to finally visit the Pacific Island chain. The country itself feels a bit like Hawaii in the 1980's. Most of the buildings seem to have been built in the 80’s and look very similar to the apartment blocks you find in beach areas in Hawaii. Cars obey traffic laws (this was a welcome change from the past few months) and drive at or below the posted speed limit of 20 mph. The US dollar, multiple tourists, supermarkets and relatively clean streets make Palau feel much closer to the US than to South East Asia.
The entire country has a population of about 18,000 and is spread out over a very large area. Most of the country is made up of small rock islands that rise steeply out of the ocean and are covered in thick green trees and jungle growth. The boat trips we took out to the dive sites each day were incredibly beautiful. The dive boat would speed through tight passages between the islands and get close enough that you could almost reach out and touch the branches of the trees. One of the other fascinating things you could see throughout the small islands was military bunkers and old canons. Palau saw a lot of action in WWII and there are numerous American and Japanese fortifications that are still in place. Anywhere that has a clear line of sight to an open area of water seemed to have a hidden bunker or fortified canon pointing out to the sea.
After buzzing through the scenic islands we would end up in a slightly open area of the ocean that has a shallow reef system below it. The most famous (and deservedly so) dive site in Palau is called Blue Corner. It is sort of like an underwater peninsula that at the top is about 40 feet below the surface. Over the edge of either side of the peninsula there is a drop-off that falls away to over a 1000 feet in depth. Because of this unique topography, currents are constantly colliding with one of the edges of the 'peninsula’ and sweeping up the wall and over the top. This creates an extremely nutrient rich environment where fish and sharks can just hang out and eat all day. It does, however, make for some very strong currents. In order to combat these currents divers bring with them a reef hook. Divers tether themselves by hook and line to the coral and simply hang in the currents without the need to kick like crazy in order to just stay in place. The payoff is watching 50-100 sharks zoom about within feet of you as they hunt the schools of fish before you. Neither Sukhia nor I had ever seen so many sharks at once and it was awesome!
One of the other wonders of Palau is a place called Jellyfish Lake. It is a natural lake found on one of the small islands. Apparently, most of Palau was underwater in the past. As water levels fell during the last Ice Age, a species of jellyfish became trapped in this inland lake. There are tiny holes that allow for the fresh exchange of new seawater, but they are too small to let the jellyfish out. More importantly, the holes have not let any other creature into the lake. As such, these jellyfish have evolved in an environment with no natural predators and have not developed any stinging cells. Snorkeling in a lake filled with literally tens of thousands of harmless jellyfish was surreal to say the least. Sukhia and I would take turns diving down and trying to take pictures of one another. We quickly realized that we had to be fairly close together as the jellyfish were so thick it was hard to see more than about 10-15 feet through them. We both agreed that this was one of the most memorable parts of our journey thus far.
Next stop: Manila
When a country takes the US dollar as its main currency that is a sure sign that it will be expensive, we made this unfortunate discovery in East Timor and Palau did not disappoint but what comes along with high prices is usually more choices. I enjoyed yoghurt that was organic with no additives, from grass feed and humanely treated California cows – it was delicious! We also tried some great Thai food and of course Indian food.
I don’t have much to add to this entry, Sacha has done a fabulous job of describing our trip to Palau and Jellyfish lake was really incredible.
Along with seeing amazing new wonders we also met some very interesting people and made a few new friends, Michael you are a great dive buddy, thank you for the good talks and laughs. We also buddied up with four other deserted souls in Manila and nothing brings you closer than a broken plane, Peter we hope to run into you in Australia. Fellow Canadians, Deb and Vic, we are in awe of you. These two have sold their house and are travelling around the world for three years, check out there great travel blog at http://www.worldofwowphotography.com/.
Thank you to each of you for sharing your stories and time with us, it was a pleasure, stay in touch.