Last week, Rainer Jenss shared how he prepared his children for their first diving trip to Palau. Read the first post here.
When I told friends our family was traveling to Palau
this past Thanksgiving, I usually had to include a brief geography lesson as part of the conversation. The truth is, it’s not enough simply to say it is part of Micronesia, because few people really know exactly where that is either. So to clarify, the Republic of Palau is a small island nation in the Pacific positioned north of Papua New Guinea and just east of the Philippines. But the most likely reason why anyone would have even heard of Palau is because the 10th season of Survivor was filmed there in 2005. That, or if they’re into scuba, since anyone serious about the sport knows that Palau has some of the best diving in the world. For that reason, our family had no problem forgoing a turkey dinner for the opportunity to visit.
After we finally figured out were Palau was on the map, the real fun began when we had to make plans to get there. From New York, it would require about 21 hours of flying time. We ended up hopscotching from New York to Los Angeles to Honolulu to Guam to Yap to Palau. Phew! I could write an entire post just on this journey, but suffice it to say that with or without kids, this trip is a bear. There’s not too much I can recommend for trips like this other than suggesting you give into the fact that you’ll be tired when you finally arrive and lighter in the wallet from paying for in-flight meals and entertainment along the way. Just remember to pack some good books and by all means, you might want to suspend any rules you have about how much time the kids can spend playing video games or watching TV.
The good news is that the hassle of getting there is more than worth it. Since we were traveling with Kids Sea Camp, the long flights and three layovers allowed us to get acquainted with some of the other families in our group. Since KSC has been in operation for 10 years now, most of the dozen or so families represented had been on one of their trips before. It didn’t take me long to realize why they returned. The kids, regardless of age, seemed to bond immediately, while the adults shared a quick camaraderie. This really was the best of both worlds for Carol and me: fun with the kids combined with the freedom to pursue our passion for diving.
One of the beauties of Palau is that its premiere dive sites are not particularly challenging, in other words, you don’t need advanced open water training or Nitrox tanks to enjoy them. The water temperature was a balmy 84 degrees while the visibility on most dives was easily 100 feet. Even when it rained, which could happen quite suddenly in this tropical region, it didn’t bother us too much since we spent most of our time underwater.
We signed up to explore the islands with Sam’s Tours, and our first stop as a group was to Jellyfish Lake. The marine lake is the bizarre consequence of thousands of years of evolution–over time millions of golden jellyfish were isolated in its waters and they migrate horizontally across the lake each day following the sun’s rays to capture their nutrients. What makes these jellyfish so unique, however, is the fact that you can swim freely among them, since they lost their stingers from never having to fight off any predators.
But perhaps Palau’s most famous dive, and thus most visited site, is the Blue Corner. It’s not for the faint of heart, as this location often gets very strong and unpredictable currents which create ideal conditions for the many sharks that come to this ridge. But our dive masters were careful not to put us in the water if the circumstances were less than ideal. On our 4th consecutive day of diving, we arrived before the crowds and got the thumbs up to drop in. Before swimming out to the corner itself, we descended to about 90 feet (the kids were limited to 45 feet) to see some magnificent gorgonian fans, anemones, giant clams and soft corals along the sea wall, which stretches thousands of feet down.
We were immediately greeted by a cruising gray reef shark, a precursor of things to come. As we approached the corner, the current got stronger and we saw more and more sharks. Since these upwelling currents could easily swing you right over the wall, we were given hooks to anchor ourselves onto the reef. You do this because the strong current carries small organisms towards the surface, which attract thousands of fish, who attract even bigger fish, who attract sharks, eagle rays, and large Napolean Wrasse! Get the picture? Once hooked in, we floated with the current like a bunch of kites in a strong wind. The concentration of marine life, including large schools of jacks, trevallies, and barracuda swimming all around you was just incredible.
Perhaps the only downside to our first family dive trip was that it set the bar incredibly high for the kids. On the marathon flight back home, we had plenty of time to savor the wonderful week we shared together and remind them not to expect marine life like that every time we go diving, which we all hope will become a regular family activity for us from now on.