UNDERWATER WONDERS OF PALAU
I'm not a huge fan of Survivor. But as I prepare to jump into the swarm of jiggling jellyfish, I wish I were. A few tips from their Palau escapades might come in handy right about now.
[1. Sugiyama, guide of Fish n' Fins]
"Just take that leap of faith," Loreen Sugiyama says 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 know 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, their aquatic line-up caters to any water-baby-from veteran divers to us senior snorkelers. Either way, it's like dipping into an aquarium-rain or shine!
"No worries," Sugiyama reassures, when we head out earlier under a dome of cloud. "It never rains for long." I give 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 remain riveted to the bow-spellbound by Mother Nature's surrounding beauty.
[2. Riveted to the bow and spellbound by Mother Nature's beauty]
Palau's famous Rock Islands have that alluring effect. The five hundred 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 glide into a tranquil bay where a colourful coral garden is home to giant Tridacnas clams.
[3. Rock Islands are like mushroom-shaped mounds]
"Some are a hundred years old," Sugiyama claims, "and weigh 250 pounds." My heart quickens, when thinking about these yawning creatures that thrive beneath. But after checking them out, it's easy to see that they're totally satiated by their in-house bounty of coral and tropical fish.
[4. We check out giant Tridacnas clams]
Although the display has superseded my visual expectations, after coming up for air, Sugiyama assures there's more to come. "You'll be blown away by the Cemetery," she jests, as we troll 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 discover this ocean graveyard is anything but lifeless. Schools of tiger and parrotfish give me the eye as they breeze on by. Goat, lion and cowfish soon follow. And feeding this frenzied safari are flourishing sponges and eco-rich coral. Some look like mushrooms, others like clumps of cauliflower. Though I'm not tempted to dig in, the riot of sea life sure is.
[5. Schools of tiger-fish give me the eye as they breeze on by]
Our lunch comes a little later. After a quick skim over the turquoise surface we reach an island that could dub as Eden. And living up to her promise, Sugiyama's weather prediction has panned out. While soaking up the rays on this Gilligan Island look-alike, we dine 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 right now, I'm fixated on the present. It's been a day of visual overload and this final plunge is likely going to put me into overdrive. Jellyfish Lake was formed by the rising seas more than 12,000 years ago has been named in honor of its inhabitants. Millions of these swimmers that have a symbiotic relationship with the sun and algae flap 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 aren't a threat to us.
[6. Jiggling jellyfish]
"Fear not," Sugiyama encourages, as if reading my mind. "It's an experience you'll never forget." And after submerging into this bath-like ethereal lake and feeling totally connected with nature, I realize my tour guide is, once again, true to her word. Like the rest of this day in "Rainbow's End," it's quite the adventure!
IF YOU GO:
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For more information contact Palau Visitor's Authority: www.visit-palau.com
1. Sugiyama, guide of Fish n' Fins
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