Eric, Hideko and I went diving off of our dinghy today. We have been sitting right next to one of the more famous Palau dive sites since we got here but have never dove it. A case of, "oh we can dive that spot anytime, let dive over there instead". I didn't want to miss it in the long run though so we made a point of it today.
The dive site in the anchorage is Chandelier Cave. It is an underwater cave that has three (four depending on how you count) chambers with air pockets and a maximum depth of 60 feet. It is pretty dark in the cave as there is no overhead illumination, just the faint blue glow from the underwater entrance. It is pretty errie.
I took the video rig in while Eric ran the reel. I had two lights on the video and a backup and Eric had a primary and a back up. Hideko was set as well but after the first chamber her mask was giving her problems and she signaled that she was going back out. Eric stayed in chamber one while I buddied out with her.
Eric and I spent about 20 minutes exploring the cave and the various chambers. There is not much to look at in the dark limestone interior but just the strange lightness enclosure is an interesting experience. The structures inside the cave are intriguing and there are some small fish here and there hiding in the black water.
On the way back out my lights shut down. the lithium batteries have an astonishing propensity to die within a minute of each other if turned on at the same time. When the lights went out Eric was at 50 feet coming up from the absolute back bottom of the cave and having troubles reeling in the line, so his light was pointed at his lap. After floating in the dark at 40 feet for a bit my eyes adjusted and I could see the faintest blue glow from the entrance. It was an experience.
Once Eric got the reel under control I turned on my back up light and then after we were in synch I shut it back off and returned to filming. The footage is amateur but interesting. I'll try to post a clip.
After a surface interval we set out to one of the ship wrecks in Malakal harbor. Hideko ran surface support and Eric and I did the dive with the video again. It was a nice wreck but the vis in the harbor was pretty bad, maybe 30 feet. fun dive all the same with a 120 foot bottom. We stayed around the deck level at about 100.
Back at the big boat I loaded the footage into Vegas for some editing so see what I could cut together.
We had planned to go diving with Sam's today but we discovered that Hideko was on her last day of visa validity, and though it was a close call, we decided that extending her immigration credentials took precedence over scuba.
Parker, the local cruiser cabbie, dropped us off at the Immigration office above the police station. We had to fill out a form and run across the street to pay a $50 extension tab. On return with the recipt we were issued a 30 day extension. Hideko gets one more 30 day extension and then if we want to stay longer we have to fly her to yap or tokyo or something for a day. then she can come back in for another 90 (at $50 per 30 days).
US citizens get a year before having to depart. Hideko has a green card but that didn't make any difference. Other than USA, RMI and FSM, all nationals of other countries get 30 days in Palau and can extend twice for a total of 90.
After getting Hideko extended, which was pretty easy, we brought the big boat in to Sam's for fueling. We came in on a half tide and parked on the north side of the dock near the fuel pump. The dive boats are out during the day and most of the dock is available. You have to watch out for some shallow rocks just north of the dock at any tide. We came in close to the double raft of power cats at the end of the dock and settled in with no problem.
Ramil helped us top up the gas jugs for the dink, the diesel tanks and the starboard water tank. At $3 a gallon we were pretty happy with the tab after paying some pretty radical prices in the hinterlands from whence we came.
The Whistler crew, hideko, Miki and I as well as Zack from another boat in the anchorage made way to the sushi place below Taj for dinner. That's a long name, "The Sushi Place Below Taj", but it is all anyone has been calling the place and we can't come up with the name. I'll post the proper name asap.
It was the best sushi we have had on Palau, which only rate ok to good depending on what you ordered. Some things were very good butt the toro was severely lacking and not doing the toro right is a sushi sin in my book. The tab was sushi like (large). We had fun and the staff were great so I would rate it a neutral.
We spent most of the day today getting caught up on Internet tasks. It is possible to totally unplug (I've seen folks out here who have done it) but if you have any possessions, property or interests back home you will need to keep tabs. If you don't the banks, storage facilities, tenants and other suspects will decide you are abandoning your possessions and take action to claim them for themselves. Perhaps slowly over time, but never the less.
Credit Cards are famous for giving you a balance, which you dutifully pay, and then charging you interest on your next bill (which you don't check for 6 months because you "paid the whole balance"). Then they charge you interest on the interest, late fees, damage your credit and when you finally discover what is going on you owe them a thousand bucks on an 18 dollar balance and they have canceled your card. The world does not understand an individual who doesn't check mail daily and wants to do things over the internet with a once a quarter check in rate. Pessimist or realist, you decide.
End soap box.
The internet here on Palau is painfully slow much of the time. It often takes an entire afternoon to update your computer or book a single airline ticket or pay a couple of bills online. We have recently realized that we have been simply trying to use the limited pipes into and out of Palau at the same time as everyone else. After school things get tough, after work they get unbearable. A rainy Saturday, just forget it. Mornings are by far the fastest time of day if you want to be productive.
End second soap box
It is Tuesday and that means Kramer's spaghetti night here on Palau. Kramer's is always happening and is a big expat hang out. Spaghetti Night is a great deal at $4.50 for a plate piled high with Spaghetti Bolognese and yummy garlic bread.
The restaurant is named after the 1800s Kramer, who was a German researcher. He produced the definitive early works on Palau natural and cultural history. The owners of the restaurant are Jane, a lovely Palauan lady, and Rene, a German guy who is a popular character around Palau. Unfortunately for us Rene is off to Peleliu for a month soon to feed the Philippine Survivor film crew that has taken up residence there. Too bad the contestants won't be enjoying Rene's great cooking.
We spent a lot of the day working on the Internet after a nice breakfast at the Palau Royal Resort. The PRR is close to Sam's and has a nice spot with a little man made beach and dive shop with dock on the property.
It was a threatening morning. A low was passing north of us and building, bringing the wind north and the clouds dark. We planned to head back to Sam's in the afternoon.
Our first order of business was to have the cake Hideko had made for breakfast. Chocolate cake and espresso, the breakfast of champions. We had discovered that Jeanette has almost as vicious a sweet tooth as I do so we invited Dancer and Whistler over to join us.
It was a fun morning but it cost us a knot or two on the trip to Sam's. While we dawdled things got nastier out. Not terrible and we missed most of the rain, but there was a swell coming down the lagoon from the north, and of course that's where we were heading.
We did our best to duck behind the rock islands as we went but not having te local knowledge or the draft of the dive boats, we could only follow them through the more obvious deep water bits. We did make one fairly nerve wracking pass in 9 feet of water with the big chop rolling on the bow.
Once we cleared the pincers guarding the west entrance to Malakal harbor things settled down. Whistler was not far behind as we motored into the yacht anchorage and picked up a free Sam's mooring. It was nice to be back in port though we missed the Rock Islands already as well.
It was a bright and busy morning. Nick, the video pro from Sam's Tours, sent me a text saying he would be out today to work on my video skills, our new friends on Dancer took us up on an offer to go diving (they have hundreds of dives in Palau so our offer was really a thinly veiled request to soak up some of their expertise), and our old friends on Whistler also gave a dive excursion the thumbs up. We were expecting the weather to deteriorate but as of 9AM it was a lovely day.
We got everyone aboard and made way for the sand bank by German Channel. It was low tide so we had to take the long way. It was interesting to see a 0 tide, the German Channel really looks like a public work at this level of water. The coral rocks are piled up on either side in a neat line rising above the shallow reef. The channel is 3 foot in the shallowest spots at this point.
Whistler followed us out today and everyone had fun relaxing and swimming in the anchorage while Nick and I did a couple of training dives. We wrapped up around 3PM and the rest of the group, with Jim from Dancer and I doing surface support, went out to German channel to look for Mantas. Jim and Jennette have a monstrous 20 foot (or there abouts) Zodiac with a 25 hp Yamaha. We have a 25 as well but the waterline makes a big difference. I could plane with Miki and Hideko, so Jim made me trade Hideko for Eric. Then neither of us planed. Jim of course was carrying Hideko, Jenette, Pepe and Julie at the time.
We made our way out to the cleaning station buoy and let everyone out. Jim and I hung around talking with Ray, a Palauan from Peleliu Dive, while our divers proceeded to spot two manta rays, both of which stayed with them for quite some time. Made me question the logic of filming coral for two dives... Of course I learned a lot and will be better equipped to shoot the mantas when I see them next, but boy, sorry to have missed it this go round.
As we waited for the divers the sky in the east got blacker and blacker. We have a closed low in the area with nasty SW gale force winds at times. The floats began to pop up after about 45 minutes and we picked up all of our divers (was that 6 or 7?) then rushed back to the big boats.
Then it hit. We had zero vis and pounding rain with 25 knots of gusty wind. Hideko kept her wet suit on and brought the anchor up as I drove back along the track line with the wind challenging our heading and way. We managed 6 knots into it and got back into our favorite anchorage just as things began to let up (of course). We anchored a little closer to Dancer with their permission and now have much better westerly protection.
It was a great day with a bunch of fun people and even the squally trip hope was a good opportunity to rinse gear. It is still raining a bit and time for me to get the next weather report...
It was overcast and rainy most of today. We started Miki's Advanced Open Water course and did her navigation dive under the boat while Pepe scubaed around the various coral heads in the area. It was a nice relaxing day. We are hoping to get in one more day at German channel before retiring to fuel up.