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Saturday, June 14, 2014

In Flanders Field the Snorkelers Lie

WHERE THE HECK IS PALAU?

It’s about a two hour flight from Guam to Palau on Continental Micronesia’s 737 shuttle.  The plane flies one way between Guam and Hawaii touching down on several of the Micronesian Islands, then flies the opposite way the next day. 

WHEN YOUR SON REALLY ISN'T YOUR BUDDY

We’ve been in Palau for a couple of days and we haven’t seen too much above the waterline.  We’re now diving with a vengeance – 3 dives a day!   According to my certification I am certified to dive to 60 feet.  Here in Micronesia they tend to look at that as merely a signpost – pointing to 100 feet!  I’m spending most of my time staring at my air gauge as it slowly spirals to zero.  I am still the champion (much to my son Elan’s chagrin) at being the first in our group to use up his air.   Since Elan is always assigned as my “dive buddy” it means when I’m done – he’s done.  While he may be my “dive buddy” this isn’t making him a buddy in any other way.  I’ve left instructions if anything happens to me, Elan is out of the will, as he will be the chief suspect in my demise (since, as they say in the cop shows, the chief suspect is the one with the most to lose).   I’m getting a sore neck having to watch my air gauge,  keeping track of where  Elan - my alternate air source -is,  and to make sure there are no large predators in my vicinity; hence having to constantly spin my head in many directions. 

White tip Shark
Today we saw several 5 foot white tip sharks.  This made the entire group - with my exception - very excited.  I used up my air trying to keep several other divers between me and the sharks, until I nearly backed into a hole that was home to a rather large moray eel.  Since I had now used up my air in a super-fast time I figured I might be allowed to return to the safety of the dive boat.  No such luck.  The dive Master offered me some of his!

JELLY FISH LAKE

Jelly Fish Lake
One of the highlight of Palau is Jelly Fish Lake which we visited earlier today. It’s a salt water lake about the size of Lost Lagoon in Vancouver
’s Stanley Park that has been isolated from the ocean for thousands of years.  You hike up a hill to get to the lake and once there you don your mask and fins and swim to the far end.  

When you gaze down in the lake you’re in for an amazing sight.  There are literary millions of jelly fish swimming all around you.   You can’t even see the bottom of the lake for the myriad of jellyfish.  It’s like looking at the night sky in a very dark place and seeing the countless stars. The jellyfish have had no predators for thousands of years and have lost their ability to sting, so there is no danger swimming amongst them.

On the way back to the boat we ran into a large tour of Japanese people heading in the opposite direction.  I impressed them with my command of the Japanese language saying “good afternoon,”  “excuse me” and “thank you” in fluent Japanese.  They all seemed impressed and I was quite pleased with myself until Elan informed me that they were from Taiwan!

Tonight I've suggested that we go to a seafood restaurant.  I’m tired of looking at fish – I want to eat some.

SURVIVING SURVIVOR ISLAND

Being trapped on a tropical island with 7 or 8 other people isn’t quite like being on a team on Survivor.   Elan and I are here in Palau while they’re shooting Survivor: Palau.  There is a production crew numbering well over a hundred here and they’ve taken over most of the rooms on the island.  While on TV it looks like the team camps appear miles away from civilization, in reality they are only a short walk from the town!  Those few of us who are not with show have been restricted where we can go as they don’t want us accidently being caught on camera.  

When we arrived in Palau we were assigned to a group of people who we would share our dives and other activities with.   That group included me, Elan and a family of five from Utah - we nicknamed them the Flanders - after the cloyingly cheerful neighbours of Homer Simpson.  

The Flanders
The Flanders family consists of three teenage boys, a dad and a manic mom who herds them around like a mother hen on crack cocaine.    You could say that they are infectiously cheerful – infectious like athlete’s foot - annoying itchy and irritating - lots of hopping, hollering, shrieking and family high fives.   As Elan said, “No Family can be that cheerful all the time!”  They seem to operate like the sharks they’re so fond of: if there’s food or drinks to be had, they grab them first, leaving the rest of us the scraps.

The Flanders are on quest:  They want to catalog the entire ocean.  They have a list of things they must see, and they scurry from here to there to madly checking off each thing they see:
“Wow, a white tip shark!”  one shouts.
“Where?”  screams  another.
“Over there.” A third responds.
And the remaining Flanders make a bee line over to the purported spot elbowing anyone in their path out of the way
“That’s the sixth one!  Family High Five!!”

The strange thing is that nobody,  and I mean nobody else sees these things!  Now I know I can’t be relied on as a quality observer, since most of my time here is spent watching my ever decreasing air supply, the elusive Dive Master, and Elan’s  fins -  but neither Elan or anyone else in our group sees these mythical fish the Flanders seem to spot - which of course, inspired me to come up with “the game.”

While we were snorkeling I would shout out to Elan, “Look, Look!  Shark!”
And of course all five Flanders would head over in my direction for a look see.
Before they could get there Elan would shout back from the other side of the bay, ““No, No, it’s over here - and there’s two of them – and they mating!”
And of course the Flanders would stop in mid stroke and head off in Elan’s direction.  They never seemed to tire of this game.  The closest I ever saw them to an argument is whether our sightings should count in their totals.

Over three days we did three dives a day, diving into dark caves, WW2 wrecks and countless coral reefs and rocks.   I’m going to let you in on a secret, after one or two coral reefs, they all begin to look the same - like someone had chugged bottle of cheap red wine, devoured a Hawaiian Pizza with Green Peppers - and threw up on the rocks.  Sorry folks, doesn’t sound romantic - but that’s my opinions on a bunch of coloured rocks.  The Dive Masters told me the coral is alive - but I know that’s not true - otherwise the Flanders would have counted them in their totals.

KAYAKING IN PALAU

Yesterday was our last day here on Palau and it was scheduled be a Kayak Tour.  The reason we were kayaking and not diving was that you’re not supposed to fly for at least 24 hours after your last dive – sort of like waiting an hour after eating before you go swimming.

We showed up at the dive shop at the appointed time and looked at the assignment board: there was good news and bad news.  The bad news was we were once again assigned in a group with the Flanders, the good news was another couple:  a middle aged ophthalmologist and his valley girl wife.  

Elan and I had opted for the German Lighthouse Tour, but we were told we would be going on the “Tarzan Tour – as all the other kayak tours had been cancelled due to the filming. Ebvidently the production people thought it might ruin the illusion that the Survivor teams were stranded away miles from civilization when a bunch of Kayaks filled screaming Flanders floated through every ten minutes.  

I was initially a bit leery of going on the “Tarzan Tour” - it appeared a little too enthusiastic for me - considering I’ve got 25 years on the next closest person on the tour.  I asked if they had a “Jane” tour - I’d prefer that - but given no alternative I reluctantly went along.  

Elan watching Jeff Paddle
There were single and double kayaks and Elan really wanted his own kayak, (probably to get rid of me) but the Flanders grabbed all of the singles, even though they would be towing their youngest son behind them in one, so Elan had no alternative but to spend the day grumbling and looking at the back of my head in a double Kayak and criticizing my paddling form. 

The kayak tour consisted of about four 30 – 40 minute paddles to different islands with an hour or so stop at each place for snorkeling and refreshments.  At the first snorkeling stop I thought I heard a 9 year old girl squealing and shrieking.  I asked Elan if a kid had somehow joined our group when I wasn’t looking.   He informed me the noise was coming from the ophthalmologist’s Valley Girl wife.  

Now I’ve heard “low talkers”, and “fast talkers”   but this was a first for me -  a grown woman who sounds exactly like a 9 year old girl!  It made me wonder what the old doc saw in her, but I don’t think we want to go down that road.   And if that wasn’t bad enough, she was bonding with the Flanders!

At the lunch break, I remained behind with the kayaks while Elan went snorkeling on one side of the lagoon while the Flanders, Doc and Valley Girl paddled off to the other side.  It was a beautiful idyllic scene - except for the racket coming from the Flanders’ side of the lagoon.  There was something strangely different about the racket and it took me a few minutes to figure out what it was: The Valley Girl and the Flanders were actually communicating underwater through their snorkels– sort of like mutant dolphins conversing in “twin” talk.  Even our guides who had remained behind with me stopped their own conversation and stared in stunned amazement.

The final destination of our kayak trip was “Lost Lake.” Anything with word “lost” in it is usually a problem for me – and this was no exception.    At Lost Lake we put on our snorkeling gear and began to explore the reefs.  When I popped my head up to see where I was  I found myself totally alone – everybody else had disappeared.  I had no idea where they’d gone! Eventually the guide showed up and took me through the underwater entrance to a little enclosed lagoon where everyone had gone - unbeknownst to me.

Tonight we catch the plane to Yap to become Self Propelled Bait (SPB) when we dive with the rays and sharks.  Hopefully there’ll be Internet there - otherwise you’ll have to wait till I get back to Saipan on Thursday to find out if we survived.

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