9.08pm - All That Glitters

Trip Start Jan 07, 2010
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Trip End Dec 13, 2010


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Flag of Palau  ,
Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturday 8 May, 9.08pm, my room

Thought The First: It's just occurred to me that my country has a new Prime Minister, and I have no idea who it is – I’ve not been online since I got here and the TV doesn’t have BBC World, only Fox News, who couldn’t care less about the UK election. I wonder who won. I bet it’s bloody Cameron, isn’t it? Jesus. Oh, shut up Louise – this is my blog, I’m allowed to dislike the Tories on it.

Thought The Second: I mention sheep a lot more than you’d expect in this one.

I am going to write this as quickly as possible because I’m absolutely shattered. After the late night flight thing, I got up bright and early yesterday to snorkel, figuring that would wake me up. Instead, because I was rained off, I instead went and lay on a couch with my eyes closed for a bit (although admittedly, the sensation of having my eyebrow hair ripped out by the roots prevented me from being fully captured by slumber). Afterwards, finding myself drowsy and at a loose end, I booked my Jellyfish Lake tour for today, and then considered a massage but thought that would definitely send me off, so figured I’d just have a quick nap. I only slept for a couple of hours, but I should have known better – I’ve always been a complete insomniac, and if I nap at any time you can pretty much write off sleeping that night altogether.

I had to be at the PPR jetty at 8.30am today to be picked up for the snorkelling tour, so figured I’d try and be in bed for about 10pm or 11pm so as to give me time to get some breakfast first. At 9.40pm, I finished last night’s blog, and got into bed, flicking through the channels for something to zone out in front of.

"Hey, HBO are showing Iron Man at ten. Cool!"

“Jesus, Downey’s fine. I wish he wasn’t such a hippie.”

“Hmm. I know it’s midnight, but I’m not really that tired. I know, I’ll pack my bag for tomorrow. One less thing to do in the morning.”

“Oh my god, is that Halle Berry and Eddie Murphy? I might watch this til I fall asleep, it’s bound to be hilariously bad. (Bonus points if you can name the movie without IMDbing it.)”

“ Hmm. It’s alright, actually. I might watch the rest.”

“God, what happened to Eddie Murphy? How did he go from Coming To America to Meet Dave? Bloody hell, it’s two o’clock. Okay, I definitely need to sleep now. Lie down, close your eyes. Think sheeplike thoughts.”

“Bored.”

“Still bored.”

“Sheep are wank.”

“Shit, is that the time? How did it get to three o’clock already? I’ve got to get up at 6.30 if I want to have a shower before I go! I need to fall asleep, like, NOW.”

“Okay, I’m still not tired, I’m still bored, and now I’m stressing because I can’t sleep.”

“Maybe I’ll turn the TV on again. No. GO TO SLEEP.”

“Oh God. The Fast And The Furious? Seriously?”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when I’m watching Paul Walker gurn his way through $40million of Universal’s money instead of sleeping. (I had to look those facts up; the perfectionist in me demanded it.)

“Fuck, it’s four o’clock.”

“Right. RIGHT. SLEEP. Turn the damn TV off, you don’t even like it, you’re just watching it because it’s there and you’re vaguely enjoying taking the piss out of Vin Diesel’s head.”

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

....zzz

DING DING DING!

“...bzuh??”

“Fuck’s SAKE, Goggins*, I can’t get even picture texts overseas! I’d almost nodded off then and now I’m wide awake again! AND IS THAT ANOTHER FUCKING EARTHQUAKE??** ARGH!!”

“Okay, it might be time to rethink your alarm, because it’s five to five and it’s due to go off in just over ninety minutes. Bugger the shower, your hair might be a state but you’re only going to be in the water all day anyway.”

Breathe.

Breathe.

...zzzzzz

BING BONG BING, BING BONG BING, BING BONG BI-

“Oh, it can’t be 7.15 already. Oh bollocks, it is as well. Fuck breakfast then.”

...zzzzzzzzzzzz

“Shit. It’s ten past eight. Right. Probably best get up now then. I wonder what I look like after all this.”

“Bugger.”

All in all, not the most successful evening ever. I was very sad that the sole reason I came to Palau – to swim in Jellyfish Lake – was going to be pants because I’d be too tired to enjoy it. Fortunately, my fears were entirely unjustified, because whilst I’m severely wilting now, I was full of beans pretty much all day today, and I’m so pleased, because it was utterly excellent. I don’t know if the pics will do it justice, but I’ll try.

So despite the events of the previous eight hours, at 8.25am I was waiting patiently on the dock for the Sam’s Tour boat to pick me up. I thought it was just going to be a Jellyfish Lake tour, but it was actually a few sites around the Rock Islands, which are, oddly enough, islands made of rock near Koror. Specifically, limestone. Our guide today was a lovely Palauan girl called Emerald (I know, right?) who led the intrepid snorkelling team of myself and a Californian woman called Tami through the day’s activities.

First stop was the Milky Way, a little lagoon studded with mangroves which has received its name for the milky-looking mud on the seabed. The mud is formed by a certain species of mollusc gnawing away at the limestone and, well, pooping out the result. Mixed in with rotted leaves and twigs and the dead animals themselves, the silt falls undisturbed to the floor of the still lagoon and slowly becomes the milky mud. Normally, this would be fairly unremarkable, except that this mud has incredible skin-repair qualities, and a Japanese cosmetics company (I’m not sure which one, sorry) actually comes to the Milky Way and scoops up buckets of the mud and uses it as an ingredient in what I’m told is a very expensive anti-ageing cream. Go to the source, like I did, and you can douse yourself in as much as you like for free.

After the Milky Way, we moved on to Turtle Cove. Tami jumped in first, and when she surfaced, she immediately yelled “HOLY MOLY!” (Aw. Americans.) I could see there were some corals down there from the boat, because the water in Palau is as clear as glass and almost as still, but I couldn’t see what she was seeing. I jumped in after her, and followed with a couple of four letter words of my own, because it was something else. We were right over a huge drop off, which Emerald told us leads down to a hole that the divers go into. But that’s not to say that it was just a dive site, because a vision of coral and fish, only a metre or two below the surface, stretched as far as the eye could see away from the drop off. It was so close that when I got water in my snorkel a couple of times, I had to be incredibly careful to keep my legs up underneath me whilst I was on the surface to make sure my fins didn’t scrape the coral. Every kind of tropical fish swam happily along the rocks, with turtles and white- and black-tipped sharks hovering in the background, all of them largely ignoring the two squeaking humans over their heads. I got caught in a huge school of yellow snappers, which seemed to swim close enough to touch, but when I moved my hand towards any of them they immediately darted out of reach. I even saw a couple of tiny pinky-purple squid, which I swam after as fast as I could trying to get a decent picture of them, but after keeping pace with them for ten seconds or so, they both suddenly went supersonic and shot into the distance.

We broke for lunch on a small beach and hung out with a few scuba divers who were doing similar tours of the islands. Tami is thinking of doing her PADI, so she chatted to one guy about NitrOx and neutral buoyancy whilst I made sheep eyes at his rather attractive friend and rocked my Cute British Accent ( Colin Frizzle) in his direction.

After our bento boxes were consumed and water dutifully swigged, we splashed back to the boat and climbed aboard for the afternoon’s festivities. It was time to go to Eil Malk, the island home of Jellyfish Lake.

A brief aside: alternate titles I considered for this blog were “I Don’t Think You’re Ready For This Jelly” and “Golden Showers”.

Tami did the lake yesterday and had not enjoyed the steep hike up there, so declined to join us. Instead, she snorkelled around the dock, where there were yet more corals. Eddie, the skipper, stayed with her, and Emerald and I set off into the woods.

Now, if you’re wondering how jellyfish spontaneously evolved in a lake – well, they didn’t. It was once an inlet, but millennia of shifting plates threw up a few limestone barriers to the inlet entrance and cut both the water and its inhabitants off from the ocean. There are only three species living in there today – a kind of sardine, some brown thing with white stripes that looks like an angelfish that’s the size of a clownfish (Emerald told me the name but I can’t remember it now), and finally, the exalted Golden Jellyfish. There used to be moon jellies in there too, which are cute as a freaking bug and I would loved to have seen (saw some in Melbourne Aquarium and thought they were wicked), but there was a bad drought a couple of years ago and all the moon jellies died from the heat, along with a few million of the goldies. Fortunately, the little suckers have been breeding like translucent bunnies ever since and the total population as of 2008 is back up to ten million (amazingly, still less than 2006, when the estimate was closer to fourteen million). There are other species of golden jellies, but these ones are very special, because due to the lack of predators, not only did they profligate, but they lost the evolutionary incentive for protection. Slowly but surely over the generations, their stinging cells (nematocytes if you’re nasty) lost their bite, until they became so mild that although they do still exist, unshielded human skin is sufficiently tough enough to repel them without blemish or sensation. Essentially, it’s a lake full of jellyfish which don’t sting you. What better name, therefore, than Jellyfish Lake?

The jellies follow the sun, so at different times of day they can be found in different areas of the lake. When we arrived in the afternoon, they weren’t too far from the dock, so we jumped in and began to swim towards them. At first, I couldn’t see anything (not even the bottom of the lake, which was a shock after the crystal clear waters in Turtle Cove). Then I saw one little yellow blob in the distance that looked far too round to be a leaf, and seemed to be moving. I got closer and yes, it was – it was a jellyfish! Wait, there were ten of them! No, a hundred! Then, as I slowly followed Emerald’s lead, trying hard not to kick any of them with my fins (which was becoming more difficult by the second), I found myself surrounded.

Being underwater in Jellyfish Lake is like being lying on your back looking at the starriest night, but instead of black sky, you are enveloped in warm blue-green water, and instead of distant white stars, you are being gently nudged in six places at once by swarms of light brown jellyfish. It’s the oddest thing, because of course they are just blindly swooshing along, but because you keep feeling these little warm soft pushes on your arms and legs, you can’t help but feel like they’re trying to get your attention, and say “play with me!”

Well, needless to say, I fell completely in love with them. I want one. I want a dozen. It actually made me feel bad about eating jellyfish in Manila (I’m still on my “Eating Weird Things” kick). I could have stayed there all day, or all year, but we had to move on to the next site. So reluctantly, after far too short a time gently tormenting the little creatures by creating little currents with my hands to confuse them or stopping their progress by putting my hand over their bell, I began to gradually extricate myself from the midst of a jelly sea.

Whilst anything would have seemed blah after those fantastic little tinkers, Giant Clam City really didn’t really live up to the awesomeness potential of its name. Indeed there were giant clams (about a metre across), and quite a few of them at that, but they were about four or five metres below us, and not particularly exciting colours. They weren’t nearly as lively as their smaller cousins which were hanging around further inland, either. Still, it wasn’t bad, and if I’d just done that, I would have had a great day, but compared to the other sites... well, it didn’t compare.

Our final stop was somewhere Emerald said most people didn’t go, because a lot of people didn’t know about it.

“This is the wreck,” she said casually.

Thinking of the small wrecked boats in Stanley and South Georgia, I presumed this would be something similar. When we got in the water, my jaw would have dropped if I hadn’t had it clamped around my mouthpiece.

It was a whole frigging ship.

According to Emerald, it’s Japanese, although she didn’t know when it sank or why. I’m guessing that judging by the coral growth all along the hull, it’s been down there for a while – a souvenir of World War II, perhaps? Whatever the circumstances of its arrival, it was magnificent. To be honest, I thought to see a proper shipwreck I’d have to start diving, but this again was just two or three metres below us. See? Snorkelling is fun too, you PADI people.

After circling the wreck a few times and snapping the still intact prop, mast, and forward cabin (NB: snap as in photograph, not snap as in snap), Tami and I reluctantly climbed back onto the boat for our trip back to the dive shop. A truly exceptional day all round, I thought, and tomorrow I’ll do it all again off the beach of the hotel. Then a nice massage before I have to haul my ass to the airport! Excellent!

All a lovely idea, I’m sure you agree. Except because I’m a fucking cockend, I forget that overcast does not equal cold, not out here. So after spending most of the day lying face down in the sun? Yep. I’ve done the exact same bastard thing I did in Fiji and burnt my back, putting the kibosh on both snorkelling and massaging.

If I was a sheep this shit just wouldn’t be an issue.

* Melly, this is the reason for my rather curt reply. I apologise wholeheartedly, but as you can see, I was sleep-deprived and your timing was most unfortunate. I’d managed to drop off by the time you texted back, which is probably for the best as I might not have been able to control the entirely undeserved vitriol bubbling up inside me if you’d woken me a second time.

** It was. There was one in Hawaii about the right time.
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Comments

Jane on

Holy Moly that place sounds beautiful!! Love the blue starfish. And the mollusc poop mask sounds/looks great. For free! The green water and the jellies photo was gorgeous!!! What color! Reminds me of when we saw Gentoos for the first time (or was it Adelies - ha) and everyone kept telling us to move along because we'd see plenty more but we just wanted to stay there and play w the Gentoos...

I love footnotes...

Lou on

Maybe you should go back to the mud stuff. if may fix the sunburn?

Lou on

No new PM just yet. It is hung with a tory majority, which upsets me. It is looking like a deal will be struck with Lib Dem, who mainly insist on voting reform. I hope they come to a decxent agreement, but I don't like lib dem proposals.
It was a massively exciting night, though I fell asleep at 3:30 and it looked like we would JUST win a majority, then I woke up at 5 and it looked less likely, then at 6:50 almost certainly hung. It is weird waking up to the same show you went to sleep on.

PS. This i s my comment, I am aloud to like the Tories in it!

suzloua
suzloua on

Jane: The blue starfish amused me so much. It's massive as well, about a foot across. As for the jellies, I was glad to see the other sites too, but I really think I could have hung out all day there and not regretted it.

I footnoted because I know you love it :)

Louby: Thanks for the update. Stupid politicians, they can't get anything right, can they? And I don't need mud, I have aqueous cream!

By the way, you are not ALLOWED to like Tories, because you fail at words.

Shelagh on

Glad you are OK, watch the language, We may want to turn it all into a book. Lonely Planet
Love Grandmaxx

dini123 on

You went swimming in white poo, that is wrong on an awful lot of levels. As my sporadic attempts to contact you end in failure, anguish and upset I have now given up, you will be pleased to hear, and I will talk to you lots and lots in 3 years when you return. Love you loads. love mummy. x

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