Tomorrow it all ends. We’ve been in the Pacific since January of 2008 and tomorrow we cross an unseen line and will not return. By early June the crew of Discovery will have traveled another 1600 miles west to Southern Indonesia, back across the equator for the 3rd time since embarking from Italy in 2006. We are officially half way through the expedition and nearly 2/3rds around the world. And if the last two trips are representative of the passage of time, it’s all happening way way too fast.
If I could stop this unstoppable clock I would stop it in Palau. The people are generous, always smiling and endlessly kind. There are giant clams that weigh a quarter of a ton and mesmerizing nudibranchs the size of a fingernail. Take a quick hop out to the outer reef and swim with huge schools of great barracuda, mating jacks, many different species of sharks, and a myriad of other wonders in numbers that are staggering. Over the years I’ve become incredibly jaded when it comes to diving. I’ve been spoiled and typically surface wishing I’d just snorkeled rather than donned the heavy gear and spent the hundred bucks. Not so in Palau:
I’ve seen Palau referred to as “one of the wonders of the world”, several of the dives here rate among “the ten best on earth.” Usually these statements are made by authors penning guidebooks or tourism boards trying to attract dollars. But in this case I’m on the bus. Everything I’d heard about Palau is true. And one thing that makes it even more special is the fact that it’s one of the few places in the world where the government and her people are working very hard to protect all the treasures that make the area so special.
In a break from tradition I’m going to combine the last two trips into one log. They were similar only in itinerary (we couldn’t find any reason to mess with perfect), so there’s no lack of material I could write about; but as there has been a distinct lack of hardship of any kind it feels rather pompous given the state of the world’s affairs. I’d prefer to let the photos do the talking and just point out some highlights.
The greatest highlight has nothing to do with Palau at all. We snatched up a new crew member, Sunita Thapa from the Taj, a fantastic local Indian restaurant to step into the role of First Mate. Sunita is a young smiling girl from Nepal with a very old soul. Her presence lifts everyone’s spirits and though Discovery is her first boat job she’s learning fast. Sunita didn’t even know how to swim before she boarded but Sole and one of our guests Bill got her in the water immediately and we’ve all had the privilege of witnessing her learn, which is precious. Watching Sunita take her first strokes was like sharing in the innocent smile and ecstatic joy of a child just learning to ride a bike. In a short time she advanced from short swims to snorkeling along sheer drop-off walls thriving with fish and coral. I’ll never in my life forget the look on her face. It might have been the best “first” on the expedition.
Jody and I joined guests Luke, Bill and Marc for the first scuba-diving I’d done in ages. Once a favorite past-time I’ve pretty much given it up for free diving. But my god- the diving in Palau blows you away. I’ve never seen such massive schools of fish and so many, many strange and beautiful creatures. Everywhere you look there is something of interest and every time a dive ended I looked at my watch bewildered that the time was up.
Some wind showed up finally on the second trip, along with some brief squalls. It gave me a chance to get used to the strong pull of a kite again and also give brief lessons to our friend Randy as well as a long-awaited lesson for Sole in a large sandy-bottom lagoon that allowed her to crack the kite around with little concern for getting hurt. We rarely find good places to teach out here but it seems Palau does indeed have it all.
Jody and Randy gave me a belated birthday gift with a helicopter ride over the famed 70 islands, which is the only way to see them as they are completely closed to any boat traffic (and have been since the mid 50’s). Here’s the view. Needless to say, I enjoyed my present.
Tomorrow morning we leave Palau. Another paradise left in the wake, another place we will likely never see again. On our horizon lies Indonesia, which sports over 18,000 islands in the world’s largest archipelago. Our first stop will be in the Banda group off the west coast of Irian Jaya. It’s one of the hardest to reach places on the planet and because of its isolation has the ocean’s greatest coral and fish diversity.
I know of no boats that take the route we will travel, which there is likely a reason for, but we can’t bypass this area. A few weeks ago a diver was eaten by a crocodile. Manta rays and whale sharks visit regularly and the area boasts the best macro critter populations that exist. That’s not something we want to miss. 1600 miles to our eventual destination, Bali. I can’t help but imagine we’re at a crossroads. Half of it all behind us, half of it out in front. A long trip into another world.
“Technology is the knack of arranging the world so that we don’t have to experience it.” Max Frisch