‘I love diving but I don’t think I ever look as happy as I see you when I look at your eyes underwater!’ Deco Joe, to me.
I looked down, and there it was; through the hundreds of spawning red snapper – my first Bull Shark. Unmistakable with its square snout and thick, sturdy body, it felt like my heart stopped and exploded at the same time.
That silhouette, that moment, forever etched in my mind, pops up at random moments – the emotions still so vividly raw.
Though I’ve often described every dive in Palau as my favourite dive, and a hundred plus moments as my favourite moments – this, perhaps was the single most awesome (in the truest sense of the word) experience that week.
Note: NONE of the underwater pics are mine! They are all watermarked, but taken by either Simon Lorenz (of Insider Divers) and Matt Stryker Nethaway.
The year before, sat on a junk in Hong Kong, heading home after a days scuba diving I was told that if I loved sharks (I DO I DO) I needed to go to Palau. It sounded far away, and expensive. Still – I noted it in the back of my dive log. Six months later an email popped into my inbox about a trip to Palau with Insider Divers. Despite feeling very out of my very limited budget I sent a couple of emails… and it was done – everything about the trip sounded perfect – and the communication was so friendly, professional and Simon understanding of my concerns, I’d paid my deposit and would somehow make it work!
Unless you are a diver (and even then….) you are probably wondering ‘where is Palau?’ Well, Palau is a country, made up of 200+ islands in the Western Pacific Ocean. If you are in Hong Kong I place it as ‘heading towards the Philippines – and go a little further…’
After landing in Palau via Taipei I was excited, but very nervous. The last few months of trying to work out what to do with my life in the upcoming year left me feeling underlying anxious – and though I was sure being under the water would rid me of this, I couldn’t guarantee it. I was the most novice diver in the group, and Palau is not really a place for a beginners. Most dives are 20m+ and the currents often strong. I kept reminding myself I was there because I LOVE diving, I love sharks, I love the ocean and hoped that it would bring me a little peace, as it usually did.
Gearing up for the first dive I told my dive buddy I was feeling a little anxious, but that I was sure I’d be fine once I was under the water. Reassuring words helped a lot, and we jumped in at Blue Corner, to go see some sharks. First dives after a while out the water always involve a lot of mental chatter in my head – but I was feeling pretty good… until, about 25 minutes in, in a split second I was not. So, I finned over to my buddy Kate, and she asked if I was okay – I did the shaky ‘so-so’ hand signal, and she realized I was just a little antsy. Eyes locked she told me to breath calmly and slowly, and that was that. I was fine and she’s got me. From that moment on, I did not stop smiling, the whole trip. I went to sleep smiling. I woke up smiling. After one dive I said to Kate I wish there was an underwater sign for ‘I’m so f’in happy right now.’ Her response? ‘You don’t need a sign, I see it wherever I look at you!’
The diving was spectacular. And though I am sure whoever you dive with, you would experience that, I know that being with Insider Divers and having Matt & Co from Sam’s Tours made it even more exceptional. (I am not paid to endorse either org!)
Blue Corner is one of Palau’s most famous dives, and with great reason We dived there three times, and aside from always being visited by Sausage, the Giant Napoleon no experience was the same. Face on current bobbing around on reef hooks, watching sharks and a huge variety of other marine life swimming by, was a vision that stuck in my mind. For weeks after when I shut my eyes, without thinking, this would be the ‘screen saver’ in my head. If only I could have made that last forever.
The dives were so diverse – Current corners, WWII wrecks, channels, caverns – no dive was the same but they were all so incredible. <I feel I may be running out of worthwhile adjectives here!!>
The one thing almost all of them had in common? Sharks. 18/21 dives I saw sharks.
Wow wow wow Palau, my little mantra.
There was one exception to not feeling nervous the rest of the trip, and that was before Cavern. During the first night briefing I had (quite wrong) envisioned it in my mind to be a small, dark, deep cavern… and I was worried I might feel claustrophobic. Thanks to my roomie Pauline telling me it was her favourite-favourite of all the dives (which were also all her favourite) I knew I just had to jump in. And oh wow – this felt like entering heaven. How do I even begin to describe that in words? The blueness, the light beams through the water, the peace? Utterly magical.
And then when you think you can’t possibly have another such breathtaking experience that day, you explore a WW2 wreck. Thanks to Matt we were given in-depth histories of the wrecks and the circumstances around them, and for me, alongside the beauty of seeing nature take over man-made objects, I feel very reflective, saying a little prayer for those lives lost whilst finning around what I feel is an underwater memorial.
Or – perhaps that day we would dive Ulong Channel, and see 50+ baby white tip sharks. Yes, read that again. 50+. Wow. The first time this happened, because it happened more than once, I had to remind myself to breathe! Riding the channel currents watching the sharks, whilst keeping a sharp eye on the nesting trigger fish, navigating around them, felt somewhat like being in a virtual reality computer game!
The snapper spawning, I’d been told was THE most incredible experience, but like most things underwater in Palau, I couldn’t comprehend how incredible! Finning around following schools of fish, going with the currents, against the currents, and ending by seeing a huge display of colour.. and then sperm clouding the water…
And the second time we did this? I saw an Oceanic Black Tip. I remember thinking ‘What is my life? How can life be this good!?!’
We also visited Jellyfish lake, which I thought would be ‘quite nice,’ but surprise, surprise – it was magnificent. So serene, with a little Jurassic vibe. The jellyfish were mesmerising, and very squishy.
I saw an Eagle Ray. If you haven’t seen one, they are heart exploding cute with their little snout noses. I’ve always wanted to see one, but the thought or expectation didn’t even cross my mind this trip. But Palau – what did you do? Challenged me again to think things couldn’t be better and on my last dive, there it was, swimming up a wall near me. Even writing this I feel awestruck.
Thanks to Shirtless DecoJoe needing a little more time for his safety stop, I got an extra 20 minutes at 5m on the last dive. After coming up, I’d been told that one of the group told the others, ‘Weeze might be down a while longer – she’s doing somersaults & stuff.’ So, my friends, this is why, even when I feel a little nervous about getting back in the water, I always do, because it’s just better down there.
I couldn’t have had a more awesome group of divers to share it with. So, so much laughter, and with half of them being damn good photographers I came home with such incredible shots of what I’d seen, and me – without any effort. Ha! It was indeed a dream holiday. The above water scenery was almost a par with that below. All the greens, all the blues – I’d heard that day diving could be tiring, with most sites 30-45mins away, but I loved these boat rides, early morning, waking up watching the sunrise, a morning meditation of sorts – or returning to the dock, giving me time and space to just sit and truly appreciate the day I’d had (or sometimes, just talk total shit with everyone on the boat!!) Oh, and how could I forget – there was an Italian Gelato place, complete with a CHOICE of vegan ice cream!
Thank you to everyone involved, especially my scuba parents, and roomie. And.. (I realized I actually wanted to list everyone on the trip now, but you can just look at their gorgeous faces instead..)
I wrote more in depth about the trip, the dives sites and Palau itself for Insider Divers. (Click click click to read!)
A little side note – for some reason I took FIVE BOOKS. I read 3 pages. Ha.