YAP & PALAU - MARCH, 2004

(Click here for pictures from the trip.)

(PLEASE NOTE: Shortly after this was written, the island of Yap was devastated by an extremely powerful typhoon that hit on Easter Sunday 2004. Since this report reflects what we saw there, we decided not to change it. But bear in mind that, although the island is rebuilding, if you're going anytime soon, some of the things we describe may not be in the same state as they were when we were there.)
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YAP/PALAU 04 TRIP REPORT

Third time痴 the charm. That was the unofficial theme for our March, 2004, trip to Yap & Palau since it was the third time in the last 18 months we壇 visited the region. The first time (July/August 02) we had great weather in Yap but crappy weather in Palau. The second time (May 03) we had crappy weather in Yap and semi-crappy-to-great weather in Palau.

But March, I was assured, is the PERFECT time to visit these two diving meccas. And when you look at any climatological data, that certainly seems to be the case: minimal rainfall, gentle trade winds blowing out of the northeast, generally sunny days, and comfortably warm air & water temps. Yup, on paper this was the PERFECT time to go.

Unfortunately . . . no one told that to the unusually strong low pressure system that developed over the region the week before we left. This system didn稚 understand that it was forming at least three months too early, WAAAAY out of season, and had no business being there, let alone affecting our trip. Of course, none of that matters since no matter how much you try to talk to a storm system, they just never seem to listen.

There痴 a talk I gave one time (covering for Ken Knesick) that was called, 滴ow to Disaster-Proof Your Dive Vacation. And I started it off by saying, 添ou can稚!!! So get over it and learn to cope with the hand you池e dealt.

The short version of the weather picture is that while it was far from ideal, it was manageable. We had some rain on and off in Yap but we had sunshine, too. The biggest problem is Yap was that the trade winds were unusually strong which prevented us from getting to some outer reefs but not from experiencing (as you値l read in a moment) some incredible diving. In Palau, we didn稚 see the sun until Friday and although we couldn稚 get to Peleliu, the weather didn稚 significantly put a dent in our diving plans and (as you値l read further down) we had some experiences that were simply amazing.

The main group consisted of Mike Spencer, Marty Oatman, Julie Baker, Bruce Graham, and me. (Susan Beveridge had gone in four days ahead of us and Sherwin Isenberg was flying in through Tokyo.) We left on Monday, March 8, flew Continental from LA to Honolulu and then on to Guam where we overnighted (the Marriott where we stayed has a complimentary airport shuttle but you have to request it ahead of time or you may get charged), and continued on to Yap the next morning.

The trip got off to an amazing start as we cruised at 35,000 towards Hawaii. I glanced out the window and noticed a strange looking, extremely straight, thin, long cloud. I asked one of the flight attendants if it was the contrail of a jet ahead of us. She called the cockpit and said that it was, and that we壇 be passing the plane (an American Airlines jumbo jet) in about half an hour. And a little later on, there it was, perhaps a quarter mile off of our right side and about 1000 feet above us. (The pictures I took with my digital Minolta DiMage Z1 are posted with the trip pictures.) In fact, when I showed the pictures to our flight attendant, she alerted the captain, who radioed the American flight, who radioed back with their e-mail addresses and asked for copies of the pix. They said it痴 unusual to see other planes at that altitude on that flight pattern.

With the Guam overnight and losing a day by crossing the dateline, we arrived in Yap Wednesday morning to begin our dives with our friends at Bill Acker痴 Manta Ray Bay Hotel & Yap Divers. This was our third time staying there and we致e always enjoyed ourselves immensely. One nice touch is that their staff meets you at the airport and as soon as you exit customs, you池e done handling your bags as they make sure that everything ends up in your room. And speaking of the rooms . . .

Normally in a report like this, we tend to rave about the diving. But we really need to take a minute to rave about the news rooms at MRB. They have to be the nicest dive resort rooms I致e ever seen. In fact, they were SO nice you almost felt bad leaving them to go diving. (And the other rooms are nice as well, but these were simply off the charts, IMHO.)

The newly refurbished rooms (which as of this writing go at the same rate as the non-refurbished ones) are 306, 307, 308, and 309. 308 and 307 are the largest. The rooms all have two queen-sized four-poster double beds (306 only has one bed), a desk, a sitting area with settee and a coffee table (perfect for camera assemblage), ample drawer space, a free-standing wardrobe with more drawer space, a TV and VCR, refrigerator, mirror/sink, and bathroom/shower. The rooms are very large and have new air-conditioners, which do an excellent job of keeping the room comfortable. If you池e going to MRB, these are the ones to request.

The only real complaint we had (and we致e passed this on to Bill) is that breakfast service in the restaurant/bar/lounge was painfully slow. One morning, it took us over an hour to get served, which meant feeling a bit rushed trying to make a 7:30 or 8AM departure from the dock. Hopefully this is something they can get remedied.

Yap diving became world-known primarily because of the resident Manta rays but, impressive as they are, that痴 not the only thing to see here. Some of the outer reefs, especially down around Yap Caverns, are simply spectacular, there痴 great muck/macro diving to be had at 1-to-2 & Macro, you can see Mandarinfish mating on a nightly basis at O銭eefe Island, and they致e now added an outer reef shark feed (at Vertigo) that痴 awesome.

But the Mantas are still the stars of the show. And rightfully so. These behemoths have wingspans in the 12-18 foot range and can weigh close to 2000 pounds, yet they glide with a gracefulness and ease that we instructors wish all of our students could master.

This time of the year (winter/spring), they congregate on the northwestern side of Yap, which means to get there, we started with a high-speed (usually 35mph or so) skiff ride across the bay, but then entered a small channel that took us through the mangroves and the middle of Yap, until we came out in Mi値 Channel to do the dive.

Depending on the tides, there are a number of options. We dove the area four different times and had manta encounters on three of the four dives. On time, we started out at the mouth of the channel near a spot called Manta Ridge and allowed the current and tide to push us in. Another time, we started near a cleaning station and drifted out towards Manta Ridge. But no matter how you do it, there痴 always going to be a certain amount of luck involved, both in terms of being in the right place at the right time, and looking in the right direction.

Probably our best encounter was on our first Mi値 Channel dive as we had one manta who came cruising in close, winged his way around the group, and then made room for a buddy to take his place. The game plan is that you remain relatively motionless on the bottom and let the mantas come to you, so there is certainly a sense of them looking you over as much as you are observing them.

There痴 plenty of other stuff to see in Mi値 if the mantas aren稚 being cooperative. We ran into Six-Banded angelfish, Latticed butterflies, Yellowmask angels, Carpet anemones with clownfish, a Crocodilefish, and even a Green turtle. On top of that, the sides of the channel offer very nice corals to explore with even more fish and invertebrates to find. The vis wasn稚 quite as good as we壇 expected (30-40 feet, instead of the 100+ we hoped for) but the dives were still quite enjoyable.

Between each dive, we enjoyed hot tea homemade breads (made fresh every day at the hotel - a MRB tradition) that were absolutely scrumptious. And we壇 sit around and chat with the dive guides while they chewed their betelnut (not only traditional but they swear it helps keep them warm on the dives as well) and planned the next dive.

Yap痴 also got some really good muck diving, usually done inside O狸eefe Passage (so only a 10-minute ride from MRB) where you池e likely to find mantis shrimp, pipefish, nudibranchs of all colors and hue, blind shrimp with the protective gobies, lionfish, more clownfish, cardinal fish, and various crabs and shrimps. Susan even spotted a Flame angel.

But the highlight muck dive has to be the nightly Mandarinfish dive. We壇 done this twice before and for anyone going to Yap, missing this simply makes no sense.

Mandarinfish are a member of the Dragonet family, and they are a small (2-4 inches long), brightly-colored, very shy fish that痴 hard to find during the daytime, as they池e generally tucked back inside shallow corals. But around sundown each night, they come out of hiding and for about 90 minutes, forage along the reef, nibbling on coral polyps and debris, and then segue into a mating ritual the likes of which seems unique to the species.

As you peek through the branches of the corals the Mandarinfish call home, you値l eventually come upon a male who痴 looking for love. The males are easy to identify since they池e somewhat bigger than the females and are sort of a reddish-orange with green strips. (The females, based on close examination of the shots we took, are green with blue strips, and with some orange-red in the rear of the body.) As you watch, perhaps feeling a bit like a voyeur, the male will come across a female and starts flashing his dorsal to impress her. If she accepts his invitation, she swims over and gives him a peck on the cheek, and then aligns herself alongside his dorsal fin. They rise together from the coral branches up into the water column, writhing and twitching, and when they池e about a foot above the coral, they simultaneously release their eggs and sperm to mix and drift and start the cycle of life. The mating fish then dart back into the safety of the coral branches and go about their separate ways. (Talk about non-committal relationships!!!)

But it痴 truly am amazing ritual to watch. And once you learn how to spot one, you値l start spotting more. Since the dive is shallow, generally not more than 20 feet deep, you can stay for however long it takes. What痴 truly interesting is that once the mating frenzy starts to subside, it ends quickly. And where there once were dozens of mating Mandarins, 15 minutes later you won稚 be able to find a single one.

The other Yap dive that was new for us this time was a shark feed at Vertigo, just south of Mi値 Channel. Aside from being a high-adrenaline dive and a great way to end the Yap diving, we also had phenomenal conditions, with visibility in excess of 100 feet and water a shade of blue that makes you wondered if someone痴 using a color-correction filter because it痴 almost TOO perfect.

We致e done other shark feeds before, some caged, some uncaged, but one of the attractions about this one was that we were going to be able to stay very close to the bait (if we wanted to - needless to say, that was MY preferred spot) which made for some great photo ops.

Once we were all in position, the bait was set (it痴 actually lowered down from a boat that hangs over the area), and then we didn稚 have to wait long. But what was perhaps most amazing to me was how long it took for the sharks to figure out where the food actually was. The smaller fish clued in right away but it must have taken the sharks in the area a good 10 minutes before they could actually figure out where to go to eat. It was fascinating watching them circle and obviously pick up the scent and then cruise back and forth trying to see where the scent was coming from. But once they figured it out, the party began.

We had probably a dozen or so sharks feeding (mostly Gray reef and a few Whitetips) and it appeared that these were the most polite sharks in the world as they seemed to almost wait for each other before they came in to chomp. 鄭fter you, 哲o, after you, 哲o I insist . . .

But when they hit the bait it was classic shark behavior: pectoral fins down, eyes rolled back with nictitating membrane protecting the area, and then biting and shaking the bait to sever off a piece. Then release, glide off and turn, come back, and repeat. This went on for about 30 minutes.

Now something like this is not for the faint of heart. And perhaps the fact that I dive in Shark Lagoon at the Long Beach Aquarium (Blacktips, Sand tigers, White tips, and Sandbars) gives me a false sense of security, but it was certainly a thrill to be able to plant myself within ten feet of the action (I was backed up to part of the reef so I wasn稚 totally exposed) and watch what was going on. And the sharks seemed to know to steer clear of the divers, although on a couple of occasions I had to duck down as they flew by and one time I bopped one on the nose as I thought he was getting a bit too close. But, if you池e comfortable with this sort of thing (and totally ignoring the should-we-feed-wild-animals debate), it was pretty intense.

Our final day in Yap (Saturday) was a non-diving day due to a 10PM flight to Palau. But that gave us plenty of time to walk down to the Stone Money Bank in Ruhl (the giant Stone Money used to be legal tender in Yap and is still used somewhat today), have a final lunch at Ganir (a great little restaurant we壇 discovered just down the road from MRB), and just generally soak up the Yapese culture.

Then it was a short one-hour hop to Palau (they池e only 400 miles apart) where we encamped at the West Plaza Desekel, and spent most of Sunday walking around Koror, having lunch at Furusato, checking e-mail, hunting for souvenirs, visiting the jail (no kidding) to look at storyboards, and discovering that the Palau Aquarium is no longer open on Sundays. Around 5PM, the Aggressor bus came by to pick us up and take us to the boat.

Walking back on to the Aggressor is like coming home. One of the nice things about doing dive travel for a living is that you make a lot of friends all over the world and, with e-mail and the Internet, you can stay in touch with them somewhat easily. So it was certainly nice to see faces instead of URLs.

The Palau Aggressor II (henceforth referred to as the PAII) is a very comfortable boat and certainly lives up to Aggressor痴 reputation as providing top-level accommodations and service. The boat痴 roughly 106 feet long and 30 feet wide and can cruise at 18 knots. Because it痴 a catamaran and it only draws four-and-a-half feet of water, it can not only make good time, but can also navigate passages that some of the other Palauan liveaboards can稚, a fact we came to appreciate mid-trip when weather forced all the boats back up to Koror and we were able to make the journey in relatively calm, shallow inside waters, while the other boats had to take an outside tack, which was much more exposed to the weather and the swell.

All the passenger cabins (there were 13 of us of total) are on the main deck. Cabins 1-8 each feature a lower double and upper single, sink and head en suite, plenty of storage space, and individual AC. Cabin 9, which used to be the photo lab and laundry, is slightly smaller and has a double upper and double lower along with the other amenities. However, it opens directly on to the dive deck so it痴 going to be a tad noisier and a little less private, which is why it goes for a slightly lower rate. IMHO, if you池e going on the PAII, 1-8 should be your first choices.

The main deck also is where the dive deck is located as well as the skiff launch. In addition to the standard photo area and individual dive lockers, the PAII has a dive skiff that痴 the heart of the diving operation. The skiff can fly through the water at around 35mph and makes getting to dive sites very quick. It痴 also phenomenally maneuverable so, since 99% of the diving is drift diving, it also makes pickup a breeze. During the week your BC/reg/computer/tank and mask/snorkel/fins stay on the skiff (which means no lugging tanks back and forth) and you simply change into your wetsuit and booties on the dive deck, board the skiff, which is hydraulically lowered into the water, and off you go. It痴 a really effective system.

The second deck on the PAII was where we spent most of our surface intervals as it contains the galley, the salon, an open-air bar (that we didn稚 use too much), a hot tub (ditto), and an open back deck with tables and chairs. The upper deck is a sundeck (which also didn稚 get much use until the last two days of the trip) with tables, hammocks, and lounge chairs. Bottom line is that this is a very comfortable boat with plenty of hanging out areas if it痴 sunny but also plenty of room to stay inside and avoid inclement weather.

Speaking of which . . . The low-pressure system that plagued us in Yap also caused some problems in Palau. Seas were up a bit, though it didn稚 affect diving too much, but it was cloudy most of the time and it rained off-and-on most of the days. In fact, on Wednesday, the weather had picked up enough that we decided to head back up to Koror as that area offered more protection and gave the option of transferring passengers off the boat if the storm gained further strength. (One thing in the back of everyone痴 mind during times like this is the 2001 Peter Hughes Wave Dancer tragedy in Belize, where 20 people died when the decision was made not to evacuate passengers from the boat in the face of an oncoming hurricane. Operators are now much more cautious in the face of threatening weather.) But by Wednesday night things were calming down and by Thursday we were back down on the German Channel mooring and even got some sunshine on Friday and Saturday.

But we came to dive and dive we did, despite the less-than-perfect weather. Water temp was generally around 82コ and visibility averaged 60-80 feet, with a couple of dives better than that and a couple of dives worse. The lack of sun didn稚 help either.

We started the diving at Lionfish Rock, not only because it痴 a fairly easy and shallow site (in fact, it痴 the only time we dove from the big boat as opposed to the skiff) but also because there are Leaf scorpionfish there galore. We saw 5 in all, 3 of them together at one time which included a juvenile. Leaf scorpionfish are similar to frogfish and it痴 amazing to see how they perch there among the corals, convinced that no one can see them, waiting for an opportune moment to strike at unsuspecting prey.

Our next dive at Turtle Cove provided one of the two shockers for us on the trip . . . thermocline! Jeez was it cold!!! (鼎old being a relative term, of course.) The temp dropped from 82コ to 75コ and while that may not sound too bad, try doing it in a 3mm suit or -as some people did - only in a dive skin. However, there was great stuff to see, including a little juvy clown triggerfish who was even more intensely-colored than the adult version.

We were also able to get in three dives (over the course of the week) at Blue Corner, which is certainly Palau痴 都ignature dive. If you致e never been there, picture a vertical wall lying a few hundred yards off-shore, with ledges (huge flat expanses, actually) at 35-60 and various cuts and canyons in between. The wall literally drops thousands of feet into the abyss and, as you cruise towards one of the hook-in points, there痴 generally a current that痴 pushing in from the deep which hits the wall, climbs up its side, and then careens over the top and dissipates as it heads to the shoreline.

Because of the water movement and the nutrients the current brings, there痴 almost always a LOT of activity going on at Blue Corner, with huge schools of Pyramid butterflies, snappers, jacks, barracuda, and others, sharks of various species cruising in and out and almost 途esting in the current as it sweeps past them, and all around the hook-in, there痴 cleaning galore as dozens and dozens of small wrasses have set up cleaning stations and everyone comes in for the once-over. On top of that, throw in an almost-guaranteed visit from Sweetie, the resident Napoleon Wrasse and you致e simply got a dive that has something for everyone.

On one dive, there was a school of perhaps 10,000 fusiliers moving in unison along the wall. I have no idea what spooked them but in an instant, every one of them bolted at top speed past us so fast that you could literally hear a thundering whooshing noise as they passed by, reversed course, and flew on by again. It was literally something out of 典he Blue Planet and while I thought they dubbed in those sound effects before, I知 not so sure now.

We had another dive at the Corner that was almost perfect - just the right amount of current, vis had improved, dozens of sharks patrolled the edge with some getting very close. But this dive also underscored the fragility of even this area, as we saw a number of sharks with mating scars on them, one with a fairly large chunk of flesh taken out, and two others who had been snagged by humans, one trailing fishing line from his mouth and another with a severed rope attached to his tail.

We also had an amazing shark encounter when we started at Blue Hole and drifted down towards the Corner. As we came to a cut in the reef, perhaps 50 white-tipped reef sharks, seemingly moving as a group, intently looked for a meal along the reef, and stayed fairly tightly-packed. Really impressive and a type of behavior that I致e never seen in that species before.

Due to the weather, we needed to head back up to the Koror area for part of Wednesday, but that gave us a chance to do some wreck diving on the Iro, the Buoy 6 Wreck, and the Helmet Wreck. Of the three, the Buoy 6 is my absolute favorite and it didn稚 disappoint. Getting there is half the fun/challenge as there痴 a fairly prolific reef along the way, the wreck lies in the middle of the channel, and there痴 a constant strong current sweeping on by.

I was disappointed to find that the thousands of glass sweepers normally seeking shelter in the hold weren稚 there, but the wreck itself is covered with life and you can easily spend the whole dive on the boat without getting bored. And once we left and drifted into the shallows, we were met with not one but TWO crocodilefish perched amongst the corals trying to look innocuous.

During the week, we also had lovely dives at Ngedbus Corner, Matt痴 Wall, New Drop, Big Drop, Fern痴 Wall (has to be the prettiest wall in Palau), and Ulong Channel.

At Ngedbus Corner, we saw the biggest Cuttlefish I致e ever seen in my life, easily three feet long. It was female tending eggs. Every few minutes she would gently reach in to a branching coral where the eggs resided and stroke them and aerate them with her arms. The depressing thing about all of this is that when Cuttlefish lay their eggs, it marks the end of their life cycle (octopus do the same thing, and squid have a similar life cycle though they don稚 tend their eggs) so once those eggs hatch the female will die. Very sad, but it also makes you wonder not only how old this particular specimen was (I壇 always thought they only live for about a year) but also how quickly they might grow to be such a large size.

Ulong Channel is known not only for the moderate-to-ripping current that prevails (along with more sharks) but also for being home to one of the largest stands of Lettuce coral in the Micronesia area and, a little further on, three rather enormous giant clams.

As good as those dives were, the two highlights of the trip came at German Channel on two separate but consecutive dives.

For the first dive, the game plan was go down the mooring line and plant ourselves (all 13 of us plus 3 crew members/DMs) at a cleaning station. In the past we壇 seen mantas there as well as sharks coming in to be cleaned. This time would not disappoint either.

The cleaning station (really just a pile of rocks on a sandy plain) sits about 60 deep. We sat about 40 away from it so as not to spook anyone coming in to be cleaned. After maybe 5 minutes or so, a lone Gray reef shark cruised in, circled the rock once, came back in, and then stopped over the rock, dropping his tail and assuming a heads-up 45コ angle in the water. At that point four or five small blue cleaner wrasses leaped out of the rocks and not only began working over the shark but even jumped into his mouth and were cleaning from inside. Needless to say, this is a pretty impressive thing to see happening right before your eyes. When the shark had enough, he shook his head, the cleaners jumped out, he closed his mouth, and went on his way.

For 20 minutes, we sat there and watched this parade of cleaning going on. Then it was signaled to us that it was time to move on. And that痴 when the dive (at least for me) got interesting.

I signaled that I was going to stay a little longer and once the whole group was out of sight, I was able to slide in closer (right up to the edge of the rocks actually) and waited for the next shark to come in. It took another 10 minutes or so but just when I was about to give up due to limited bottom time and air . . . Here comes Jaws for a flossing.

Now I must say that seeing it from 40 away is one thing, but seeing it from 15 away and almost right over your head is quite another experience. And, as you値l see if you check out the photo page, the picture opportunities are much better too. Eventually, I was out of bottom time (and film) and caught up with the rest of the group on the ascent line. But it was a pretty intense experience.

And who壇 have thought it could be topped a couple of hours later?

Our last dive of this day was going to once again be German Channel. As we headed out, PAII Captain Ryan Tennant ordered the dive skiff to slow down as we passed the mouth of the channel entrance. He looked around, turned to the divers, and simply said, 典hey池e feeding. Get in here and get in now.

With that, we all plopped off the dive skiff and into an amazing underwater experience. Everywhere you looked there were fish. Not individuals but huge schools of fish. More fish than you could possibly count. Sometimes the fish were so thick that you couldn稚 see another diver ten feet away from you. There were schools of fusiliers, chubs, skipjacks, emperors, and more, all eating the platonic soup that was in the water, all zooming around in schooling unison with each group of fish someone not colliding with nor merging with another, and they were all totally oblivious to our presence.

We had happened upon the afternoon bite, where every fish in the area was coming in to feast on whatever could be gleaned from the water column. And for over an hour, we were engulfed in this swarming, teeming, darting mass of fish who were simply trying to eat.

For me the most amazing thing was watching the skipjacks. They can distend their mouth and gills and open up a huge maw that simply scoops water (and food) as they cruise along. Amazingly, they ALL seem to not only move and turn at the same time (I sort of understand how the lateral line in each fish controls that) but they all seemed to open their mouths at the same time. And then, as a few moments, they壇 all close their mouths at the same time. Simply amazing to see over and over and over again.

When we all exited the water at the end of the dive, each of us had one of those sheepish 電o-you-believe-what-we-just-saw grins on our faces. 撤retty incredible doesn稚 do the experience justice.

Our last day of diving (Saturday) was spent at Jellyfish Lake. This has got to be one of the most surreal dives that you can possibly make. (It痴 actually a snorkel actually since no scuba is allowed.)

The experience starts with a high-speed skiff run through the rock islands (skiff driver Ike LOVES to pass as close to the rocks as he can) and ends as you approach a small wooden dock in a pristine and quiet inlet. You gather your gear and proceed to hike up and over a fairly steep hill (there are stone steps and a rope handrail to guide you - it takes about 5 minutes) and then you池e on the even-smaller dock (maybe 15 x 15) at Jellyfish Lake.

In front of you is a kidney-shaped brackish water lake, perhaps 400 yards long and 200 yards wide, which is home to millions of stingless jellyfish that are generally the size of a closed fist. The lake is totally surrounded by hills and trees so you are enclosed within it. As you slip into the water, you glide past the cardinalfish that 堵uard the dock, pass by some of the mangroves tress that line the edge of the lake, and make your way out into the middle to search for the mass of jellies.

As you continue to kick (the jellies generally try to stay in the sunlight so their internal algae can grow) you begin to pass a few jellies, then some more, then a bunch, and pretty soon, you池e swimming in the middle of jellyfish soup.

The jellies are pulsing all around you. If they bump in to you, they simply bounce off and continue on their way. If you put your hand up to block one (they feel like a very unique form of Jell-O), they simply keep pulsing, may vary course slightly, and go about their business. But you must take care with your movements since any quick fin kicks or big hand movements can actually slice the jellies in half.

And it痴 important to remember that there痴 a good reason that you池e only allowed to snorkel here, since there痴 actually a toxic layer to the lake about 40 deep. Penetrating that even for only a few seconds can make you very ill or worse. Ironically, it痴 in this toxic layer that the jellies spend the night (it actually fertilizes their algae), and then come back to the surface with the following day痴 sun.

This is a very serene experience. The quiet of the area, the beauty that surrounds you, birds chirping and calling through the trees, the sunlight dancing between the clouds producing crepuscular rays in the water that dance all around the drifting jellies, a bright blue sky overhead . . . if you can稚 find relaxation and solitude here, it痴 probably something that will forever elude you.

This year I noticed two things different from past years. The first is that the visibility wasn稚 as good as we壇 had in the past. Last year we had close to 30 vis but this year was probably more like 10 and the water was somewhat greenish. I assume this was due to all the rain (and runoff) during the week.

But the second thing that struck me was how many small jellies there were compared to what I remember from previous visits. (I assume these were juvies as there were fingernail-sized.) Hopefully this is a good sign for Jellyfish Lake as there was a time only a few years ago when the population was almost wiped out. However, I知 happy to report that they certainly seem healthy now and if the juvies are an indication, their future would seem to look good.

Unfortunately, we only got to spend an hour with the jellies (the PAII co-ordinates with other tour operators so the place doesn奏 get too crowded) but it痴 enough time to really immerse yourself in the experience. As we left the main dock, Ike took us on another high-speed skiff ride through the Rock Islands and back to Koror and the PAII, now sitting on its main mooring. Since we were flying out late in the evening, we passed on the final dive to Chandelier Caves (which I致e never been that fond of anyhow) and hung gear out to dry and started putting things away.

After a final afternoon of shopping, an evening 鏑ast Supper meal with our diving comrades and a fond farewell to the PAII crew, we made our way to the airport and began the journey home, arriving back in LA at 5AM on Sunday morning (the great thing about crossing the International Dateline from the west is that we arrived in LA a mere 4 hours after we left Palau . . . sort of) with fond memories of diving some of the best spots the world has to offer and a resolve to go back again, and maybe THIS time we値l find that Perfect Weather Week that has so far eluded us.


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