Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Honeymoon #6 - Escape to Palau

Many of you, by now, have heard the story of how Nick and I started the tradition of taking a honeymoon every year. The short recap is that three weeks before our wedding date, we found out Nick needed to report to BUD/S the week BEFORE our wedding instead of two weeks after, meaning our weeklong getaway in Mexico was canceled. This was my first Navy-responsible major change of plans, so I didn't yet know how to roll with it. In my frustration and disappointment, I decided that the only way we could make up for missing our honeymoon was to take a honeymoon every year for the rest of our lives. I have to thank the forces that be for mixing things up and, on occasion, creating a Plan B that has far surpassed my original expectations.

Dive Buddies for Life!!
With that first honeymoon postponed, Nick tossed out the idea of us getting SCUBA certified and going to dive somewhere together. I didn't know anything about diving and had never even considered whether it's something I wanted to do or not. But I ran with the idea and set up certification courses for us... in San Diego... in February. It was exactly six years ago this past weekend when we finished our open water course (in 55 degree water, I might add!), and left for Miami for a cruise to dive in Panama and Belize, the first of now half a dozen memorable and very different honeymoons together.

The reason I mention this backstory is because it was exactly six years ago during that first dive course that Nick and I heard about this island nation called Palau. Our dive instructors in San Diego said amazing things about it. There were incredible pictures in our course book and on posters from this place, which was touted to be some of the best diving on the planet. Two years later when I went to visit Nick in Guam, we learned that Palau was somewhere very close to here. So when we got orders to move to Guam, Palau was the #1 destination on both of our lists that we absolutely had to make it to before moving back to the States.

All this to say, Palau, for us, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime type destinations, like Tahiti or Bora Bora are for others. The fact that it was only a two-hour flight each way (about halfway between Guam and The Philippines) made it almost too easy to get to. And given how good we've heard the diving is there, it's one of the reasons we pushed it back until later in our Guam stay... because we've heard that once you dive Palau, diving everywhere else is effectively ruined.

All I can say is that after 11 dives, I am absolutely floored by the amount of things we saw, the size of sea life, and the diversity of living creatures that call these reefs their home. And while I am excited to share the pictures with you, even Nick's amazing talent for underwater photography simply does not do this place justice. There is no way to properly capture the vastness of what you see under water here.  I feel the need to disclose that as I proceed with my humble yet notably inadequate attempt. For example, the photo on my right shows a gray and blue wall of blah. Actually, it is a vertical cliff packed with more colors than I know the names of.

On your right - human-size sea fan! 
I will describe a few of the sites in greater detail later on, but one worth mentioning to get started is Blue Corner, one of Palau's most famous dive sites. Imagine a 150-foot (or taller? I have no idea how big it is) wall that is covered in a football field of diverse corals, with tropical fish of every color combination swarming around. That's on your right. On your left are swarms of thousands of yellow, black and white butterfly fish, schools of jacks and reef fish.... all giving way to the highway of gray and white tip reef sharks, one after the next, passing you by like a car passing a road bike. We easily saw over 100 sharks during the course of our stay.

On your left... one of dozens of gray reef sharks that pass by on shark I-10
And if all that weren't enough to impress, then the wall turns a 90 degree angle corner and keeps going as far as the eye can see up, down, and forward in the other direction. So much to see on your right... on your left... above you... below you... I often caught myself not knowing where to focus because it was all so interesting... so amazing. And yet, all this sea life, all these divers exploring there every day, and each site was remarkably pristine. Palau as a nation has done an incredible job of creating these underwater sanctuaries, preserving this sea life for all to enjoy, protecting the reef ecosystems from overfishing, poaching, and the often destructive impact of human visitors. For example, in Guam, it is pretty neat if you see four or five of these Christmas tree worms (left) on a coral face the size of a poster board. Here we have a dozen or more within one square foot, and many of them are color combinations we have never seen before. Kinda like going to an ice cream shop that has four flavors for your whole life, and then switching to one that has 50. The visual beauty was, in a word, stunning.

Here's a little preview of some of the things we did and saw:

Cloud of fish at Oolong Channel

Swimming with 9 million jellyfish

Incredible diversity of hard and soft corals

Anemone magnificence!

Diving through a cave the size of a football field

Kayaking through the rock islands (Palau is also amazing above water!)

And one of the highlights of my six years as a diver... sharing the ocean with mantas.

After half a dozen years of hearing about this place, it is so satisfying to have now seen it with our own eyes and taken away our own experiences from this underwater fantasy land. I look forward to sharing more stories and pictures with you over the next few days. I hate that our time there is over already, but I am looking forward to reliving all the magic again here. And believe me... I mean magic!


  1. Amazing pictures Peyt! Congrats on six years of honeymoons! I love that idea, we just might have to try the same thing!

  2. Breathtaking!! I am SO glad you got to experience this, and that I got to experience it through your pictures and awesome story telling. I'm glad I wasn't the one swimming with the manta rays and sharks!! You guys are so brave! xo

  3. great pics!! happy anniversary :) we loved palau too, simply amazing!!!


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