Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Rock Islands, Palau

We’ve spent the last 10 days finally exploring the Rock Islands here in Palau.  There are over 300 islands, some originated from volcanoes, others are limestone.   While the islands themselves are stunning, the real draw here is underwater.  Palau has some of the most beautiful dive sites in the world, and fortunately for us, we had a rare moment where Andy and I were able to enjoy them together. 

Our first few days were spent buddy boating (yes, Monica and Andy actually had a "buddy boat," totally against our way of life) with our friend Captain Ron and my new running partner, Nadeen.  Because we had other people with us, we were able to dive the famous Ulong Channel (more than once!).  It is by far the most beautiful dive we’ve ever done.  It’s a drift dive (pretty swift the first time or two) that takes you across this amazing false channel (i.e. it doesn’t go anywhere) full of soft corals, hard corals, sea fans, sharks, turtles, trigger fish, grouper, you name it…  Later in the week, Captain Ron came back with the owners of his boat and we were able to do it again, along with another dive site.  We were truly lucky this week as not only did we have great company, but Andy and I haven’t gotten to dive that much together since the Marshall Islands with Naomi and John.

I have some of my best hair days underwater.

Notice the huge grouper under the coral.

The prettiest soft corals I've ever seen.

The dive shops here have come up with an eco friendly "dive hook."
You can just clip into the coral (to avoid fighting the huge currents), put
a little air into your BC and just hang out.

Yes mom, that's me in the background :)

Capt. Ron and Nadeen on Shalamar II
The rest of the week that wasn’t spent hanging out with our friends, was spent snorkeling, playing on the beaches (they filmed Survivor here years ago) searching for caves and exploring the vast area by dinghy.  We just scratched the surface of the islands but are eager to go back again. 

On the surface, it’s kind of a pricey gig…they charge $50/person for a 10 day permit, $100 if you want to do jellyfish lake (more on that later…we’re saving that), and $40/month for the boat permit.  If you compare it to the price of a day’s admission to Sea World, it’s actually a bargain.  But if you want to go back over and over, as we do, then it starts to add up.  The good thing is, you don’t spend a dime while you’re down there so even with our super provisioning exercise (you know we didn’t go unprepared), we still came out even.  After we’re here three months, we can apply for temporary residency (being American’s) and then it’s all free from there.  Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

It's amazing that the islands and coral are still in such good shape as there are thousands of tourists here.  It is clearly their main industry.  There are no less than 8 dive boats at any sight, any time.  We passed by a snorkeling reef called Cemetery Reef and I kid you not, there were 8 boats with no less than 10 people per boat there - and it was raining!  Going on your own yacht is by far the way to go... I'm just saying.

We have tons of small stories from the week, but they just don’t seem to do it all justice.  I’m going to just leave it with some pictures from your favorite travel photographer (no, not me silly).

This was actually in a cave.  Jake has a new obsession.  He's
absolutely fearless when it comes to crawling around in these things.

Jake and I on the "Natural Arch"

We look really tiny....

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