Just a little preview…
Just a little preview…
Edited to Add: You can read the post below as I intended. I wrote it earlier this week, to go live this morning, then United Airlines decided to cancel our flight and route our aircraft/crew to Guam. After an hour at the gate, two hours outside the gate (because we got literally kicked out by them saying “Palau people follow us upstairs for more information” “Oh, now that we are upstairs, you wait here for more information” — even though upstairs there is no place to sit and you’re just stand around and the security won’t let you back in the gate unless your boarding pass says Guam), and then another hour (two?) at a different gate, they finally told us we would take an 11am flight this morning to Guam, and from there head over to Palau, arriving there almost 24 hours later than the original plan, and to add insult to injury, our flight was canceled for good, and instead of being a quick 2.5 hour hop from Manila to Palau, let’s now spend 4 hours on our way to Guam, have a huge layover and spend another 2 hours flying back to Palau, making a total trip time of 8.5 hours vs 2.5. We got home at almost 2am, and now are leaving back to the airport at 7am (a little earlier than we need to be there, because a Tagalog speaker in our crew heard them talking among each other that this flight to Guam is now overbooked, so we want to be one of the first ones at check in this morning). Let’s hope no more surprises and tomorrow at this time I am actually in Palau. Wish us luck. (And yes, we hate United even more now than we already did.) Now onto the post that I had originally written:
As this goes live, we have hopefully arrived in Palau, and we’re sleeping off our jetlag.
I can’t believe it was 6 months ago (or so), when we first planned this! A trip to a country I never in a million years thought I would have the chance to go to (a country that I only heard of a few years ago after seeing the second video of “Where the Hell is Matt?”– check out minute 2:46 for the jellyfish lake!), and now, this should be posting after I got there!
One week playing around clear blue waters and diving, diving, diving!
I should hopefully come back relaxed, tanned, and with a ton of new great diving pictures!
Said that, it seems like I won’t have much (if any) internet access from there – I’ll try to leave a couple of posts ready (since there are still a couple of things to say about Jakarta), but aside from that, it should be slow on these parts until I get back next week. Then be ready for amazing pictures!
Country #26, here I come!
Since swimming with the whale sharks was too crowded, we decided to dive instead. No, sadly we cannot dive on the Donsol Bay where the whale sharks are feeding, but people do spot them occasionally diving in other areas (spoiler alert: we didn’t see them diving).
Our first stop was San Miguel Island, which has a lot of macro life, but not much more than that. I saw the largest number of worms here, ever.
Sadly, my camera was fogging up like crazy so most of my pictures didn’t come out (a new order of silica gel packs are on their way to Manila now!). We saw a bunch of different types of nudibranch like this huge one…
I also had my scariest dive experience to date. I’m swimming along minding my own business, then I see something out of the corner of my right eye which made me immediately stop and throw my head/body back: a sea snake, the biggest I’ve seen to date (at least 5 feet long and as thick as my fist!) almost bumped into my face. Did I mention they’re poisonous? (Not that a bite from them is ever fun!) Luckily, I moved out of the way right on time and could stare at it in awe while it crossed my path.
Also saw a giant starfish, and the picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was about 3 feet wide.
The views in between dives were gorgeous…
I got no pictures from the other two dives, at the manta bowl. Visibility was not the greatest, but my camera was way too foggy for anything to come out anyway, but it was exciting!
It was our first (and second) real drift dive! The current was super-strong once you went underwater, and after the first couple of scary minutes where you have no control of it, it was actually a lot of fun, as if you are flying!
We all had hooks we’d use to attach ourselves to rocks and corrals once we stopped to wait for sea life.
Suddenly the dive master points to the side and this GIANT (it was at least as wide as I’m long) manta ray comes swimming by, super gracefully. Sadly, we didn’t spot any other manta rays on this dive or the next dive.
But as we’re drifting what do we see the following dive? A full size whitetip reef shark! It was gorgeous! A couple of minutes later the divemaster spots a baby shark under a coral leaf. Nothing like looking under a coral and seeing a shark 6 inches from your head (I don’t care how small it was – only about 2 feet – I didn’t expect for it to be so close!).
At the very end of the dive I spotted a mantis shrimp, and got a couple of other divers from our crew to fight against the current to see it too. Since I’ve only seen it once before, it was super cool!
Overall we had fun on our dives, but it wasn’t our best dives (I think Moalboal, Cebu, wins the prize so far). I wouldn’t go to Donsol just for diving (the visibility wasn’t the greatest), but if you’re in the area and tired of the crowds around the whale sharks, I’d totally recommend it as an alternative activity!
Swimming with Whale Sharks: Before I get into the details of the trip, I of course have to share this video with you! Sadly, the video doesn’t perfectly show just HOW BIG the whale sharks are, but it’s a pretty amazing experience jumping into murky blue water, not sure what to look for and then suddenly, THIS is in front of you:
Swimming with them up close like that was pretty incredible, when you first see them you just can’t believe how big they are! Overall, however, the experience wasn’t so great. It took us 1.5 hours in the boat before we even jumped in, and when we did, despite watching videos explaining how it’s 1 boat, 6 people limit per whale shark, blah blah blah, it was actually as many boats as can get there on time, 50 people all over the whale shark, swimming around you, kicking you in the face with their fins, etc.
If you caught it from the front and didn’t do the stupid thing to try to get a movie out of it (like yours truly), then you could get a head start and swim with them for at least a minute before being trampled, but from the 4 whale sharks total we saw, on the 3 hours we were out there, the first time, I was messing with my camera to get a picture (and almost got run over by the huge fin on its tail, ooops), the second and third time I got the videos above, and the last time there were already way too many people there to let the experience be enjoyable, but I was able to catch one last picture.
You gotta love Filipinos… (That’s our guide and whale spotter – who needs to splurge on swim trunks when you have briefs?)
Swimming with them was not cheap, it’s P3500 per boat, plus another P300 per person. We decided to dive instead the next day since 3 dives for one person was about the same price for a couple to do the whale shark, and it took all day vs a couple of hours. We were going to try again on Monday morning, but about a hundred college kids came into our resort and we just knew it would make the experience hell.
Flight: Once again we took Cebu Pacific. Tickets for the both of us were P5,200 total after taxes (about $60/person). This was a totally cool view right before landing too! A volcano!
Hotel: We stayed at the Vitton Resort, which was so freaking cute, and at P2,200/night (about $50) for a room with AC, hot water, and breakfast, it was a great deal! The beds were not the most comfortable (but that’s standard here), but the location couldn’t have been more convenient. Right next door to the where you sign up for the whale shark experience, across from the dive shop and right in front of the beach. Not the prettiest of beaches, but it had a great view! And ah, let’s not forget about the pool!
For the cons? They were very slow at responding to emails so we could book it, so for a while we thought we would have no place to stay (we booked our flights back in October). So so so slow. At first we got quoted in dollars with a 15% surcharge for the bank deposit. WTF?? Later she apologized that she didn’t realize we were in the Philippines and gave us a rate in pesos without the surcharge. (And by later, I mean 1.5 weeks after I questioned the amount and finally called the hotel to ask about it, and it was still another 2 days until she gave me the correct amount and bank account info. You would think they would want my money.) If you’re wondering, yes, there’s barely any credit card transactions in hotels here, so unless they’re with agoda.com, or a similar site, you have to make a cash deposit at a bank to reserve it.
The other con? Our last night, on Sunday, around 4pm non-stop noise started. Girls screaming, doors banging every 3-5 minutes, and it didn’t stop until well after 11pm, after we had asked them about 5 different times to make noise outside the rooms (let me clarify that I didn’t start complaining until 9pm, when we were in bed exhausted after a day of diving), and a good hour after we had already complained to the hotel staff as well. They basically had a group of college kids (and college kids here are 16 years old) staying at the hotel, and ALL THEIR FRIENDS who were staying at another location also arrived around 9pm on a coach bus and hung out there, making noise in all the rooms, running around the place, slamming doors NON STOP. We had to be up early (since we still hoped to do the whale shark thing), and this was ridiculous. The fact that the hotel allows non-guests to come in and hang out (and we’re talking about dozens of non-guests, not just a couple of friends or guests coming to eat at the restaurant) is unacceptable.
The next morning at 6am? We wake up with loud banging on OUR DOOR from their chaperones who couldn’t even be bothered to look at their room list and make sure they don’t bang in the wrong door! (Our friend had the same experience, and she was staying in the other side of the hotel.)
We got up in hopes of doing the whale shark, and as we’re on our way, that coach bus pulled up, and all those kids from the night before started streaming back into the hotel (note: NOT on the tourist center, on the actual hotel grounds), while the guy was talking to them on a megaphone (!!!) at 7 o’clock in the morning! Most guests were still sleeping at that time (and I know that’s true because we were the only non-college kid at breakfast). All that crowd joined with the ones that were staying at our hotel, and gathered by guests rooms, and not ONCE the hotel staff told them to tone it down, that maybe using the megaphone or gathering by guest rooms would not be appropriate at 7am (or to be honest, I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to use a megaphone by guest rooms unless you’re announcing an emergency!).
So yeah, screw swimming with whale sharks that day, or even hanging out at the pool until our afternoon flight. We were out of there by 8am, having checked out early because we couldn’t deal with the noise anymore. The hotel staff just gave a “I’m sorry” and left it at that. How about telling the crowd to tone it down and gather at the tourist center where there are no rooms nearby instead? How about not allowing so many non-hotel guests to hang out at night at the place (I could see a small group, but this was ridiculous). So this ruined our last day there, and kind of made the whole trip be a bad experience.
We decided to go to the volcano an hour away and rent an ATV instead, but by the time we got there it was covered in low clouds, and things were super-muddy from the rain the night before, so we scraped that idea as well, and had 5 hours to kill at a local mall. Fun times.
I still recommend Vitton, but before you book it, I would just check if there are any sorority or other type of college trips staying there at the same time, to save yourself some headache and sleep deprivation.
Diving: We went diving the next day with the dive shop directly across the tourist center. For 3 boat dives, including all equipment and lunch, it cost P4,500/person. (Cheaper than the Giddy’s Place dive shop that charged our friends P5,000/person for the dives.) We went to San Miguel Island, and then two dives at Manta Bowl.
I’ll post the pictures of our dives and give details tomorrow!