Guest blogger again
Coming from the friendly, laid back, uncrowded Pacific, and after 42 hours of traveling with little sleep; Manila was a serious culture shock. It is a fairly typical south-east Asian city, chaotic traffic, lots of poverty and swelteringly hot. We got ripped off by a taxi driver pretty much immediately. We stayed at an interesting guesthouse (link below) which is used to fund an NGO which assists street kids. It was a cheap and cheerful place, which we enjoyed except for one thing:
We have been woken every hour on the hour by church bells in Zurich and at sunrise by the call to prayer in Zanzibar but being woken by a Hail Mary at max volume was a first. It’s a Catholic Church which broadcasts all its services to the whole neighborhood on a PA system, including the pre-work 6am one and the late afternoon reciting of the Rosary. Unfortunately, the speakers are positioned in such a way that they pointed directly at our second floor room. And they are LOUD. I would imagine that even the most devout Catholic would not have loved the experience! That said, we enjoyed the guesthouse and would recommend it.
The Phillipines have an interesting history having been ruled by Spain for around 300 years before being abruptly handed over to the US at the turn of the last century. There is also some interesting (and horrifying) World War 2 history. The heat is a bit ridiculous but we managed a bit of wandering around and some tasty meals. Some pics below:
While I’m glad we experienced Manila, not sure we’ll be rushing back although we’ll be checking out a few other spots in the Phillipines shortly.
We arrived in Palau 2 hours late at 3:30 am (thanks United Air) and we had two free days before boarding our liveaboard. Most people have probably heard of Palau because one of the early seasons of Survivor was filmed here and the Jellyfish lake episode was pretty memorable. Palau is a tiny country with about 30 000 inhabitants who mostly live on a few big islands. The rest of the archipelago is made up of hundreds of mostly uninhabited limestone islands the most famous group of which is called the Rock Islands.
As soon as we arrived we were split into two tribes, the Japanese tribe, and the Rest of World tribe. The Japanese tribe outnumbered the Rest of World tribe by at least 10 to 1 and were immediately loaded onto tour buses. Our first free day was a bit of write-off because of sleep deprivation although we did manage to find food and water (avoiding all the dodgy seafood which the Japanese tribe go for). On the second day we took a boat tour into the Rock Islands for some sea-kayaking (top tip: Dave loves it when you wobble the kayak). It was a fairly touristy affair, with boatloads of Japanese being ferried from one stop to the next but we had a tiny English speaking corner of the boat and a fun day out. We lost the photo taking challenge to the Japanese tribe but we were clear winners in the kayaking challenge and the being-able-to-swim-without-a-life vest challenge. Here are a few pictures:
We joined the Palau Aggressor on Sunday afternoon for five days of non stop dive-eat-sleep. It was our first time on the Aggressor fleet which is kind of like a luxury hotel chain for dive boats aimed mostly at Americans. We normally go for the slightly less upmarket, smaller companies but the Agressor worked best for in terms of timing etc this time. The boat was designed for the Palau waters, which have lots of shallow channels, and can operate in only 4 feet of water although it’s pretty unstable in swell. It has a fancy (and slightly ridiculous) hydraulic lift system which raises and lowers the diving skiff which is pretty cool because you leave all your gear on the skiff (cylinders are even filled there) and when it comes time to dive you step aboard and the whole thing gets gently lowered onto the water. It makes liveaboard diving even easier than normal although the skiff rides are quite long. The boat is very comfortable, although a bit too much air conditioning for my liking, and serves delicious food in massive quantities thanks to chef Cam. The crew were great especially the dive guiding. Some boat and related photos:
Palau is famous for World War 2 wrecks, many of which are pretty intact having only been discovered relatively recently; and big current dives due to the tidal currents which run through the narrow coral channels. We did some pretty spectacular dives with plenty of grey and white tip reef sharks as well as big schools of barracuda and other game fish and the biggest tuna we have ever seen. In between these big dives were fairly average wall dives which were pretty but did get a little monotonous after a while. We absolutely loved the dives around Ulong (of Survivor fame) as well as German Channel and Blue Corner most of which involved hooking in with reef hooks (which help you to hang out in current without damaging the reef) watching the predators patrolling and then unhooking and flying through the channels watching the life go by. The turtles (mostly green) were all over the place and very chilled and there were plenty of super friendly Napoleon wrasse (probably because the guides carry boiled eggs for them). We did two great wreck dives (one full of depth charges which the bomb squad is gradually removing) and dived a fantastic tunnel which started at 30 meters and must have been the size of the boat. Water temps were 29 to 31 degrees and visibility 30m plus a lot of the time. Diving pics below and in a separate post:
Overall, we saw better sharks and turtles in Palau than the Solomons and we saw really good game fish but we would probably rate our week in the Solomons slightly above Palau for variety. Palau was a bit lacking in small stuff, probably even worse than the Solomons, although our photography is getting better so you might not notice.
On the last liveaboard day, we did a snorkel in Jellyfish Lake (in the early morning before the day boats arrived). The lake is sea water which has been isolated from the ocean by the rising islands for something like 10 000 years and the ecosystem is now totally dominated by jellies (13 million of them). Bizarrely, the lake is not unique, there are several in Palau and a few in Indo. The jellyfish have almost lost their stings but you can still feel a tingling if they touch your face. It is a surreal wonderland and definitely a must do.
The tribe has spoken so now we’re off to the Phillipines via Yap and Guam….