TRAVEL: Experience Palau’s underwater wonders
I’m not a huge fan of Survivor but, as I prepare to jump into the swarm of jiggling jellyfish, I wish I was.
A few tips from its Palau escapades might come in handy right about now.
“Just take that leap of faith,” Loreen Sugiyama said with a cheeky grin.
It’s easy for her to say; she’s not wearing the snorkel.
But, reflecting back over this day there are a couple of things I knew about my Palauan guide.
She’s true to her word — and she’s all about the adventure.
Sugiyama does, after all, work for Fish n’ Fins, a tour company that offers some of the best ways to check out Palau’s treasures.
As well as land excursions that loop over the hilly terrain, its aquatic lineup caters to any water-baby — from veteran divers to senior snorkelers.
Either way, it’s like dipping into an aquarium — rain or shine.
“No worries,” Sugiyama reassured when we headed out earlier under a dome of cloud.
“It never rains for long.”
I gave her a questioning glance when monster-size droplets spill from the swollen skies.
But, instead of seeking refuge beneath the cruiser’s sheltering pop-top, I remained riveted to the bow — spellbound by Mother Nature’s surrounding beauty.
Palau’s famous Rock Islands have that alluring effect.
The 500 or so jungle-draped landforms, in the western corner of Micronesia vary in size from mushroom-shaped mounds to undulating masses and, over millions of years, pounding wave action has eroded their undersides, giving each a cute bowl-style haircut.
Thirty minutes after leaving the main hub of Koror, we glided into a tranquil bay where a colourful coral garden is home to giant Tridacnas clams.
“Some are 100 years old,” Sugiyama said, “and weigh 250 pounds.”
My heart quickened when thinking about these yawning creatures that thrive beneath.
But after checking them out, it’s easy to see they’re totally satiated by their in-house bounty of coral and tropical fish.
Although the display superseded my visual expectations, after coming up for air, Sugiyama assured there was more to come.
“You’ll be blown away by the Cemetery,” she said as we trolled into the next snorkeling site.
Layers of more fragile organisms enshroud slabs of concrete that were dropped here many years ago.
And after planting my facemask water-side down, I discovered this ocean graveyard is anything but lifeless.
Schools of tiger and parrotfish gave me the eye as they breezeed on by.
Goat, lion and cowfish soon followed.
And, feeding this frenzied safari are flourishing sponges and eco-rich coral.
Some looked like mushrooms, others like clumps of cauliflower.
Our lunch came a little later.
After a quick skim over the turquoise surface, we reached an island that could dubbed Eden.
And, living up to her promise, Sugiyama’s weather prediction panned out.
While soaking up the rays on this Gilligan Island look-alike, we dined on delicious teriyaki chicken, sticky rice and tiny bananas.
Palau’s cuisine is a reflection of its history — a combo of home-grown, Japanese and all-American rolled into one.
Past dictators rotated through this country more frequently than London’s changing of the guard.
Spain, Germany, Japan and the United States all enjoyed a piece of the Palau pie.
But, I was fixated on the present.
It was a day of visual overload and this final plunge was likely going to put me into overdrive.
Jellyfish Lake was formed by the rising seas more than 12,000 years ago and was named in honour of its inhabitants.
Millions of these swimmers that have a symbiotic relationship with the sun and algae flapped their way through the crystal clear water like wavering golden bells.
And, because they’re not threatened by any predators — and have lost their sting — they weren’t a threat to us.
“Fear not,” Sugiyama said.
“It’s an experience you’ll never forget.”
And, after submerging into this bath-like ethereal lake and feeling totally connected with nature, I realized my tour guide wass, once again, true to her word.
Like the rest of this day in “Rainbow’s End,” it was quite the adventure.
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IF YOU GO:
Where to stay:
Palasia Hotel Palau
Things to do:
Fish ‘n Fins
For more information contact Palau Visitor’s Authority: http://www.visit-palau.com