I’ve semi-recovered from the shock and awe that is ZE Palau Dive Trip. Just enough for me to relive the madness to ToT and the readers who have a pretty good sense that, when it comes to scubadiving alongside travel, I go completely bonkers and stare all googly-eyed into the blue!
I started reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Poland during my Tubbataha Reef trip last year, and I’m still reading it during Palau. One of the best things I’ve read so far, and really want to soak in the words. What struck me was something he wrote (though not related to scuba as it is about the natural history of four meals”) which is a close comparison to the high that scuba diving brings me
He talks about his first time hunting for wild pig in the forest and reiterating the words of Ortega y Gasset, an author who was enamored with hunting and believes it offers a last best chance to escape history and return to a state of nature, albeit momentarily, for what he called a ‘vacation from the human condition’. And then he writes the line which, for me, will best sum up the feeling that diving brings: The crystal stillness of the scene and the moment in time now exploded into a thousand shards of sense.
Anyway, enough contemplation. Let’s begin reliving the moments of Palau!
Obviously, before I could end up in Palau
, I had to fly there via Continental Air. I had to edit my Customs form just to make sure they won’t hassle me because I brought in some Clif Bars + Kettle chips. After all, it’s still food and you gotta declare it.
My biggest fear was the meal that would be served, since I’m still on pesceterian mode. So I picked up some Cibo Pasta
on the way.
I got my usual Linguine Alla Nettuno
, seafood in pesto and garlic. It didn’t look so fresh after 3 hours, but it tasted like perfection even though it was already cold. I was smart to think ahead because they served only a snack, which was Pastrami Sandwich. Everyone in our group attested it was more like a regular Ham Sammy.
I did, however, enjoy these Chamorro Chip Cookies
. Basically chocolate chip cookie niblets with a bit of a caramel-ish taste. I look at the ingredients, and found the culprit: Pineapple Juice. And Chamorro was just the cutest word to make this little package very Guamanian/Pacific Islander. Also because Continental is the airplane of Micronesia, hence the adherence to the culture. At least I was able to eat something off the tray.
We arrived into Koror at past 1am. we were getting drowsy and then got a jolt when we ended up in the Arrivals Section. Everyone was, well… really
dressed down. It reminded me of going to Pampanga and watching everyone in shorts, t-shirts and sandals. And most of them looked Filipino, so that also added to the vibe. the best way to describe the scene is very laid back, dude.
We were then brought to our designated sleeping quarters, Sea Passion Resort,
which is right next to a peninsula. We arrived past 2am and was pleasantly surprised to see the open lobby with great natural ventilation from the evening breeze. And almost all the staff were Filipino. Felt at home immediately.
We knew that the resort was one of the nicer ones in Palau, but we did not expect what happened next. Upon opening our room door, we were greeted with an ultra spacious room, 2 queen beds, and so much extra space we could have had ten pieces of luggage and still find a place for them. And the sheets were nice and soft. The bed felt like my bed back home, but a bit firmer. Like!
Next to check: Bagno situation. Not bad. Complete with amenities, hair dryer, rain shower AND hand held shower, and a lot of shelving space for our toiletry kits.
Then we saw the WC situation. there was a WINDOW! Imagine…. you could hear every pee, fart, burp, flush. I was unaware when I picked my bed by the window that it meant Joepi, my roommate, would suffer the fate of being next to that damned window.
We passed out at about 4am, after packing and unloading our dive gear. We woke up reaaaaaally early for Dive Day#1.
Good thing the breakfast at the lobby was buffet, and I was able to load up before we hit the blue waters, and what would end up being my most memorable lunch in Palau. More on that later. They had BAGELS! Those are hard to come by in Manila, so I definitely enjoyed a piece every breakfast. Tempura also made me happy as I had something that used to live to give me my shot of protein.
But what became the staple in my brekkie plate was a freshly prepared omelet of red+green peppers, olives, and mushrooms. Here goes cholesterol overload.
After breakfast, we were picked up and headed off to Sam’s Tours,
which would be our dive operator for the rest of the trip. Sam’s had been highly recommended by my friend MS, who previously worked as a DM/GM in Palau. It had a nice garage turned dive shack vibe and had security so we felt safe leaving our gear there overnight. 85% of the staff were Filipino. Felt like home again. Sam’s has been lauded as the best dive operator in Palau by countless magazines and awards, and they did not disappoint. Love Adela and Russell at the dive shop!
The weather was really drab but that wouldn’t really affect the dives we were about to do. We hit the Hammerhead
boat first; there’s Shirley our hot Dive Master with the sarong and green jacket.
This was our dive group of 10. We all met each other while diving, and got together because we were all saving up for the big trip
. I’ve got to say, there isn’t a more fun, jolly, and easygoing group out there! We were so loud from laughing, joking, eating, and all the crazy shenanigans we got ourselves into. Thank God everyone was also an advanced diver, which meant we were game to do all the crazy dive things people, especially my entire family, warned me not to get myself into. To those asking me how I got my certification? I’m very resourceful. Lol
Dive #1: Ngedebus Coral Garden
Within minutes of going under water, we spotted a marble ray swimming along! Then I saw a feather tail ray laying down the sand. I immediately swam close, as I do because I’m invasive like that, and stared at it in awe. It was huge! That is me on the left side to show you how ginormous that ray is.
We also spotted a lot of turtles, and sharks, but then MS said that sharks are not a sign of action in Palau, as they are always around. Whatever, I was excited! The first dive was already a winner for us, so we were more than giddy to get to the next one.
When we surfaced, the rain had gotten a bit worse, and the wind became a bit more annoying. Good thing our boat had a supply of rain jackets, because I was freezing!
And then lunch was served. I told AF, the organizer, beforehand that I don’t eat meat, and to please make sure that I would be able to eat something for lunch, because those are usually bento boxes packed in the boat before we left for our dives.
This was the Bento Box for the day: Beef Short Ribs, Breaded Fish, Fish cakes and side veggies from Arirang Korean Resto.
Not to worry, said Shirley, as they prepared a special Vegetarian Meal for me… Wait, I said I eat seafood….. GULP.
Yes, So I ate grass
for lunch. In fairness, I became popular within the group because no one had dessert, and happily picked at my bento. I was not too happy, but sucked it up, especially with the veggies that had no dressing = no taste. Crud.
Look at our hardcore group lunching amidst a storm. LITERALLY A STORM!!! There was an alert on Accuweather for Palau!
Dive #2: Turtle Cove
Yes, this is an actual hole where you go down to.
After 100 feet of descending, we enjoyed the ambient light. There was a memorial plaque for someone who passed away on that spot. I DID NOT read it. No Jinx please.
After a few minutes outside the cove, we were face to face with a nice Manta Ray!!! OMG!!! I die! With happiness of course! We were completely in awe at its sight, I was almost head on with the pretty ray, and thought for a moment it would hug me. Clearly that wasn’t his plan as he evaded hobknobbing with me by going lower. We were also welcomed by a lot of big fishes, but I just wanna dish on the highlights.
Shirley took us to a nearby rock island for the last dive of the day. She explained that we would be entering the rock formation from that point there and blahblahblhah, no light, blahblahblah four caves, blahblahbla, total darkness… Whuwha?
DM Shirley said that the water dripping from the top was sweet water. Of course I had to try it. Not sweet, but Freshwater. AMAZING! These caves were originally underground and were corals until the rock formations rose from the sea a few thousands of years ago, it was quite a sight, and momentarily blinded me from the fact that, should my family have any clue what my type of diving meant, I could cause a heart attack because of my radicalism.
And then we were instructed to turn off our torches as we would exit the hole, and completely understood why: the ambient light as you leave the rock cave and go into open water was breathtaking! I was blissful with blue…
It also left me extremely hungry for some food. Seafood! No Fruit! So after we washed off the salt water in our suits and bodies, we went back to Sam’s and had dinner at the side resto-bar that is Bottom Time Bar and Grill. This is the best way to watch the sunset, and grab some local eats.
I became overwhelmed with craving that I ended up over ordering and, in the process, overeating.
Poke, I thought, was a Hawaiian thing, but now I’m convinced it is more a Pacific Islander thing. Fresh yellow fin tuna mixed with ginger, onions, sesame oil, garlic, hot sauce and lemon. Think Kilawin, but with a thicker, nuttier sauce. The tofu also added nice texture. This dish would be the staple snack/appetizer for the next four days. I loved the flavor of sesame oil and ginger melded together, and the big chunks of fresh tuna were like sashimi cuts!
I ordered a fish burrito, but ended up with the Fish Quesadilla
. Not complaining either. Massive chunks of Tuna, slices of red and green peppers, cheese and onions, were peeping from the tortilla. When you add the sour cream and salsa, unbelievable flavor. I WANT THIS! It was also ginormous, which ended up being passed around after I did my damage to it. What a way to make up for my lunch fail.
We had an early night because our next dive pickup was at 745am. And we were completely exhausted from the stormy ride back on the boat as well as the lack of sleep from the night before. But Day 2&3 proved to be just as fantastic as the first one. Watch out for it