Ocean First in Palau & Yap 2020

Ocean First   Jul 05, 2022

After many hours of travel, a stop through Guam, and a lot of bad movies (well...some were good!) we all managed to arrive to Yap, our first destination. We transferred to Manta Ray Bay resort at 0-dark-30 (actually it was 3am) and received our first sleep deprived briefing while on our way there. After a short nap for some and a longer one for others, we all enjoyed some much needed sustenance from our pirate ship restaurant! Larry, Tony, Linda & Don were already there when the rest of us arrived and were heading off to the boats so we'd all have to catch up that evening. Our first day of diving for everyone went off without a hitch and everyone got to enjoy some much needed relaxation with fishes.

Our 4 days at Manta Ray Resort were a great way to start the trip! The boutique hotel was right in the harbor next to our wonderful mandarin fish dive. It was one of the best dives that most of us had ever done, as there were so many individual mandarines that each of us got our own and most of us got to see them have a "little" sex! We also enjoyed our manta cleaning station dives and the shark dives. While the visibility wasn't great at Yap, the critters and reef made up for it as did our wonderful guides and captains.

At Manta Ray Resort, the quirky pirate ship restaurant was amazing and the drinks were well received. The resort did a wonderful job on Paula's 70th Birthday cake which we all enjoyed! We had a lot of fun meeting up with three other Ocean First customers who just happened to be there on their own after their whirl wind trips around the pacific. It's crazy who you meet all the way around the world! Many of us also enjoyed the company of the two resort kitties...they certainly enjoyed us feeding them ;-) In addition to the diving and fun with firing the cannon (congrats on your 500th dive Steve) we were able to see a bit of the island either by kayaking through the mangroves or on a cultural tour to learn about their stone money, ways of life, and enjoying a cultural stick dance by a local village. We had a great time in Yap but were ready and excited for our next destination...Palau!

Well...I guess the next destination was actually Guam for our forced 15 hour lay-over from 3am to 6pm! All I can say is that the hotel had nice beds and a very good Italian restaurant, free laundry machines, and an actual SUV limo to pick us up. Oh well...it was what you would expect a stop like that to be, and then we were off to our next late night flight to Palau. The Guam airport is a great location to get your booze for the boat though! ;-)

Upon arrival in Palau we were whisked straight to the Palau Aggressor II and it's AMAZING crew. Our captain, Jim, was a very young guy and many of us weren't certain if he was the actual captain until several days in. The main steward, Andy, was absolutely wonderful and kept us perfectly coordinated during the trip (minus figuring out how to actually get us to stick to 60 minute max dive times). The food was spectacular and constantly changed and had variety as they dealt with everyone’s dietary requests. I have never seen a crew work so seamlessly together and share ALL responsibilities so that all the staff could lead dives. Because we arrived at night we were not able to see the islands until the morning, but once we did everyone was blown away by their beauty. The Rock Islands are spectacular and a great place for Larry to celebrate his Birthday!

Now down to the dives....holy cow! Totally amazing!!!! I've used that word a lot in this summary but that is how the trip went as a whole...AMAZING! We started off with a couple WWII wreck dives that were just so/so....not! One of them had a mass of anemones with tomato clowns on a tower. During the week we saw so many notable critters – sharks (grey reef, black tip, white tip), disco clams, giant clams, nudibranchs, eels, turtles (hawksbill and green) – it’s hard to list them all! I think we all would agree though that the manta dives at German Channel were some of the best we have ever done and will always be remembered. Eight mantas at any one time circling around us for 30+ minutes, feeding, swooping, being cleaned. Your head was on a swivel and you couldn't figure out which way to look! On top of that we had Larry the Napoleon Wrasse who was the most curious fish ever, and Harry the bumphead unicorn fish who liked to drink bubbles. Just when you think it couldn't get any better we had the opportunity to experience a people cleaning station... the small blue striped wrasse would clean your hand if they had to but were way more interested in cleaning people’s mouths and ears! We even had the great squid/tiny octopus rescue happen on the boat after several night dives. Finally, we had the opportunity to dive Chandelier Cave. Seeing the stalactites in each chamber was beautiful and the lighting while swimming out was like something out of a movie. Thank you so much to Mikki for allowing us to use her lasers to "tickle" the sharks and for taking the time to teach us all about sharks in her presentation, it added so much to the trip. Also, a huge congrats to Linda for achieving her 750th dive while we were in Palau!

While Jellyfish lake was not diving, it was still a wonderful experience and a chance to stretch our legs out a bit. Most of us had gotten pretty used to eating non-stop and only using our finning muscles by that point so hiking up the many VERY TALL stairs was a bit tiring but we were rewarded with a sight that not many people ever see... millions of non-stinging jellyfish swimming all around you. It was so amazing (I can't think of another adjective!) swimming around them, holding them and watching them – kind of like the best screen saver ever.

Our land tours in Palau were just as impressive as the dives. Those of us who went on the WWII historical tour in Peleliu had the opportunity to go through the Japanese bunkers and tunnels at 1000 man cave (watch out for the bats and crickets). We were also able to pay our respects at the Memorial for US soldiers and see the museum. Once back on the main island, many of us rented cars and drove around the island to see various government buildings, the stone monoliths, and hike to a waterfall – it was 595 man-made stairs each direction. We only got lost a couple of times but each time we saw more of the island...haha! Palau and Yap are so full of culture, traditions, WWII history, and beautiful topography that it was wonderful to have that as part of our experience.

At the end of the trip we headed off once again for a late flight out of Palau through Guam and then home – we went through Guam 3 times on this trip! It was an amazing two weeks filled with adventure and diving, as well as wonderful relationships.Thank you all so much for joining me on this wonderful trip....I hope we can travel again soon (maybe to Grenada in Feb 2021, New Zealand/Western Australia Sept 2021, or Galapagos/Machu Picchu July/Aug 2022)!