Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sampling Palau’s underwater wonders

Palau is a place teeming with abundant fish and marine life that you only have to wade in knee-length water and fish will be crawling all over your feet. Everyday hundreds of tourists flock here to sample the country’s numerous famed dive sites which made Palau one of the seven most beautiful dive spots in the world.
In fact, this is the only in this place that I have eaten various kinds of fish that I only see in aquariums and in menus of flashy seafood restaurants in the Philippines.
Last week, I sent a text message to Fish n’ Fins dive shop owner Tova Bornovsky if we could go with a group on a trip with a group of divers. She immediately agreed and so I found myself onboard a boat with Micmic Villaflor (of the other Palau newspaper) and seven divers from different countries.

An hour later, Malsol, the boat operator tied the anchor to a mooring bouy in the New Drop Off near Ngemelis Island (they are not allowed to drop it to protect the corrals).
“Are they going to dive here? It’s shallow!” I asked Malsol as I peered into the crystal clear water which looks like some four feet deep. Malsol’s answer was just a booming laugh.

I watched with envy as the divers donned on their complete gear flipped over into the water one by one, leaving me and Micmic with Malsol.
“Snorkel time”, Micmic announced. I slipped into a set of protective mask and snorkel and slowly descended through a side ladder, shuddering when I dipped my head and realized that the sea bed was way, way down below, some 15 feet deep. The current was swift and I held on to the ladder and the rope for life, even if I was wearing a life jacket. I know that if I let go, I would be in the Pacific Ocean in a few minutes.
However I forgot my fear as I marveled at the colorful garden of corrals and all kinds of fish imaginable swimming all around us. Micmic kicked me underwater and excitedly pointed to a huge napoleon fish which I estimated to be over 60 lbs. swimming directly below us. A few meters from where we were, the sea bed ended and a gaping, dark green hole of water which dipped down to more than a hundred meters deep.

We went to two more dive sites, the Big Drop Off where we snorkeled with damsel fishes all around us, giving us a feeling of being inside a huge aquarium, and Helmet Wreck where, even by listening to dive guide Ed Fuja during a briefing, would make a diver’s saliva drool. I just imagined the divers going into the deep exploring a sunken warship during the World War 11. Ed said there were still helmets and rifles and even an oil lamp in one of the small rooms.
An hour later the orange balloon popped out of the water, signaling that the divers will be resurfacing. The satisfied looks on their faces actually made me green with envy.
“I’ve been to several dive sites all over the world but it’s my first time to really see a wonderful wreck as this,” a Japanese diver gushed. The snorkeling experience (my second, actually) left me beat and dead-tired but satisfied. I’ve promised myself that I will not leave Palau without a diving experiencing. But first things first, I have yet to learn how to swim.
When in Palau, your stay will never be complete without sampling an underwater adventure.

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