Palau 2016 - The beginning
Sometimes nothing goes right. So starts our trip to Palau.
Schedule: United from Charlotte to Houston to Honolulu to Guam to Palau.
We arrive at the airport at 4:20 in the morning, 2 hours before our flight. We checked in the night before so it's off to get our boarding passes. Wrong. Our flight has been delayed due to mechanical problems. Delayed 1 hour, delayed 1 1/2 hours, delayed 11 hours; in that time they could build a new plane. Problem, missing this flight throws off the whole schedule. Ok, what's plan B? Transfer to American Airlines. They have a flight that will get us back on schedule in Houston.
Our United agent leaps into action and rebooks us on American. It's a close connection but will get us back on United at the next stop and back on schedule. Go to American Airlines and stand in line (with our American Airlines confirmation number) for about 40 minutes. Present our AA confirmation number to the agent and all looks good. Wait, there's a problem. Because of the close connection an AA supervisor has to give the OK, agent says he'll be right back. Uh-Oh. Yep, the AA supervisor won't approve our 30 minute connecting time between flights. AA won't let us go. Apparently it's OK for American to schedule a 30 minute connection (they've done it to me) but not for someone else to do it.
Back to United. Our agent works feverishly and comes up with Plan C. Book us on Delta. But now we are to go Charlotte to Cincinnati to Seattle to Tokyo to Guam. Then back on United to get to Palau. But we'll get to Guam too late for our flight to Palau and have to overnight. Oh well. Off to the Delta gate. Seats assigned and starting to relax. Oh No! Flight delayed! 20 minute delay. Still ok. Then an hour. Then, it ain't gonna happen. Plane stuck somewhere else, another mechanical delay. Re-book time. Looks like they'll have to split us up and may not all go same day. Wait, can get us our together but it will be tomorrow. Arrrgh.
Quick, I go back to United front desk. But, to be safe, I make sure I can get back in security area. Yep, "no problem" says the guard. United agent looks at me and cant believe I'm back. Tell her the problem, can they help? She goes to work on her computer. Sorry, Delta has re-booked us and United can't override. Oh well, off to security. Wait, the Delta agent at the gate still has my boarding pass. Quick, back to the Delta desk. A Delta agent looks up and can't believe I'm back. Tell him the problem. He prints a new pass and a Delta supervisor walks me to the front of the security line. Thanks.
TSA scans my pass and alarms go off. According to the computer I've already passed through security. This me must be an imposter. Off I go, first the metal detector and then the body scanner. Pass both. Next the "massage," aka TSA pat down. Looks good. Chem tests on my carry on. Looks good. No wait, let's do them again. Another pat down, another chem test. Pass both. But now I'm on "The List" with TSA. Say goodbye to my PreCheck status.
Back to the Delta gate. Have to go get our bags and hotel. Down to baggage claim. Same Delta agent from check-in is covering bags. "You're back AGAIN?" He gets our bags brought down and gets us hotel vouchers. Thank You.
Next day, here I go again. Told you I was on the TSA List. Another metal detector, another body scan, another pat down, and another chemo test. Even the TSA guys know me by site. By the way, they were really nice about it all. Knew what had happened but said they had no choice. I'd rather have them be thorough. Things are getting better, only one pat down. ...we take off. No mechanical delays. Just long flights.
Overnight in Guam then off to Palau. Hooray, I've got my PreCheck back. No pat downs. Ready to board once we convinced everyone that we really did not have our tickets yet, even though the computer said they had been printed.
Land in Palau. There are people waiting to pick us up. Life is good. What do we want for lunch on the boat? What time do you want to go out? We'll carry your bags to your room. Welcome, welcome, welcome.
Arrived at Palau Pacific Resort, at last. Smiles on our faces.
Tomorrow - more smiles on our faces
Things started and stayed better beginning with our first day of diving,
First, we got to pick out departure time for the dives. We picked 10 am for the first dive. Then the menu for the box lunches looked more like a restaurant menu than a box lunch menu. The crew picked us up and carried us to the dive shop and the boat. For the rest of the week we boarded at our hotel pier.
Dive one was at Oolong Sand Bar. There were more soft corals on this dive then I have ever seen anywhere. Dense, dense, dense. And in great shape. The corals looked extremely healthy. As we moved along we saw more and more fish. The fish life was also dense. There were fish of every type and description. Easily 70 to 100 different species on each dive. Not just a few, but schools and schools of fish. In a square foot we could see 8 to 40 different types of coral. The fish looked similar but different. More brilliant colors, a longer tails and fins, bigger. More variation in coral and fish life than anywhere else, by far. The highlight of this dive was a group of baby shark hiding in the coral. Cute at that age.
Dive two was nearby at Oolong Wall. Our first wall, it was a spectacular one. Now we had a vertical coral and massive numbers of fish as we swam along the wall. Every color coral color combination imaginable. Every time you'd look up there was a new species of fish or coral
In between dives we had lunch and moved locations. The lunch boxes were really quite good. A meat, salad, rice, vegetables, and a little chocolate chewy. Much better than expected. The best part was the huge grins on everyone's face.
The problem with going on a trip is that for every day you are gone, 2 days’ work appears. Now a few minutes to say more about Palau
Palau Pacific Resort is a really pretty place. It is one of the few places I have been where the resort looks as good or even better than the post cards. A big, open, lobby area greats you on arrival. Check-in was quick and efficient. Within only a few minutes we were on our way to our room. And don’t even think of carrying your bags. They are going to deliver them to you. I don’t mind carrying my own bags but with no elevator in sight and our room on the second floor I wasn’t about to argue.
The rooms were very nice. Large bathrooms, good sized main room, and a nice porch. Of course, a/c in all the rooms along with ceiling fans. Being on the second floor we enjoyed a vaulted ceiling. There was even cable tv if you couldn’t live without your daily dose of “reality” programming. Fortunately, the remote had a large off button.
There are a lot of activities even for those that don’t dive. Nature walks, gardens, a fish pond, sailing, fishing, basket weaving, tennis courts, swimming pools, etc.
The grounds are kept in excellent condition. The walkways meander amongst the plants and flowers and through the manicured lawns. Some areas looked like golf courses, other like gardens, and some like jungle. Brought back a lot of memories.
Breakfast was included daily. Quite interesting since there were predominately Americans and Japanese staying in the resort. All our favorite breakfast foods plus a full selection of Japanese food we would consider dinner foods. Apparently, the Japanese don’t segregate their foods into meal categories as we do. Made for some really fun and delicious meals.
For the divers lunch was provided on the boat. A good thing too. We left at 8:30 am, after the first day, and got back about 3:30 pm. Each day they would take our order for the next day’s lunch. BBQ pork or chicken, grilled fish, fired or grilled chicken, vegetarian, and various Japanese meals. Everybody picked what they wanted and it showed up the next day. For a box lunch it was very good, for a box lunch on a dive boat it was fantastic.
Dinner was on your own with about 4 restaurants to choose from on the property. They had special meals all the time but we stayed with the menu items. The special meals were three to seven courses and ran from $65.00 per person to $330.00 per couple. The last was a private meal on the end of a covered dock with a see-through floor to watch the fish and your own private staff.
The big hit was room service. Since we were all tired when we arrived many opted to just eat-in and pay the price. Well the price was reasonable beyond belief. Room service was exactly $1.00 more than the listed menu price. Yeah, that’s one dollar. Why go to the trouble of getting all cleaned up and going down to the restaurant when you can sit in your room and have someone bring you everything you desire. For a buck. And the food was good!
The only downside was the smoking. We were told there were three smoking areas on the whole resort. Put a big asterisk next to that. There may have been only three designated spots but there were numerous smoking urns along the path so the smokers could finish their cigarettes on the way back to their room. So it ended up they hung around the urns and smoked. If you called the front desk the urns disappeared quickly. But then they just showed up in a new spot. We quickly learned the best paths to avoid them
The freeboard on these boats is only a couple of feet. Obviously, big waves are not a problem. Twin 140HP outboards propelled us quickly over the water. A good thing because the rides were about 45 to 90 minutes long. Seas were calm so no one had to hug a rail. They were open boats with a canopy for sun shade. We would roll off the side and re-enter up the ladder. Quite easy once you got the idea. The crew were very helpful and friendly. Our dive master knew the reefs and every critter that lived on them. She’d swim along and not only find something, she’d put the name on a slate so you knew what you were seeing and she made sure everyone got to see it. I’ve been on dives where if you weren’t in the first 3 or 4 divers you never knew what was going on. Not with her. If anybody saw it, everybody saw it. And there was a lot to see.
It’s hard to describe the amount of corals we saw on every dive. It really looked like all those photoshopped pictures you’ve seen. Countless species of corals crammed together coating the reef sides so dense you could seldom see the base of the reef. Almost no bare patches. Fish everywhere. Many you won’t find anywhere else and some you know but not like this. Most of the fish had long flowing fins, bright colors, and enhanced body shapes. Huge schools of a particular species of fish would be swimming just a few feet from a huge school of another type of fish. And the colors were unbelievable. Much brighter than the Caribbean and even the Great Barrier Reef (except the Yongala). To count the species seen on one dive you would need a calculator. And you’d need one each for fish and coral species.
The food was very good at the resort and reasonably priced, for a resort. But one night it was time to go out to dinner for a “special” meal. We hopped a bus (week long pass for $8) and headed off to town. On the way we told the driver where we were going, so he took us right to the front door of the restaurant. Good thing too, as it was a dark alley with no lighted signs on the place. Once in we were looking at what would be called a “dive” back home. Some posters on the walls, odd collections of tables, and a view out the window of…nothing. The waitress brings the menus and we start to read. Quickly it is apparent we have no clue what we are reading. We start to point at things and ask the waitress what they are. Problem, she speaks very little English. Solution, she hands us her iPhone with pictures of all the meals. Great, point and choose. I got Tuna Sashimi as an appetizer ($7) and something I later decided was pork cutlets (also $7). Mary got Shrimp Tempura, Ethan got fried Tapioca Balls, and Morgan got0crab pancakes. Out comes the food. My tuna was perfect. And it would be a dinner size meal here. I picked my main course because the picture looked good. Well the actual food was even better than the picture. In fact, only the Tapioca Balls were not a hit. Fortunately, I had so much food sharing with Ethan was a pleasure. In his defense, every place on the island had Tapioca Balls for dinner. It must be a local delicacy
Warning Graphic Description – But the real reason we came was so Morgan could try Fruit Bat Soup. Apparently, that is a delicacy in the pacific islands. Out comes this huge bowl with 4 smaller serving bowls. Filled with veggies and spices the broth had a whole Fruit Bat floating on the surface, looking up at all of us. He did not look at all happy. As the waitress walks off she says one of her few English phrases, “you can eat the hair.” Ok, that sounded really appealing. We all kind of sit there and look at the soup. It’s disconcerting when your dinner is looking back at you while doing the backstroke. Finally, Ethan starts doling out the broth. It was tasty with a lot of pepper. Then on to the main item, the bat. Ethan gets credit for being the brave one. He tried it first and declared it edible. Then he started getting some for each of us. However, a little excitement came when the wing claw caught on his spoon. There was quite a battle between Ethan and the claw as he tried to get unhooked. Finally, he passed around our portions. It’s not a bad flavor. Very much like stringy beef. Can’t tell you what the hair tasted like because none of us was willing to try it.
The flight back
Palau to Yap to Guam to Honolulu to Houston to Charlotte. It was every bit as long as it sounds. United makes you use your phone or tablet to watch a bad selection of semi- to really old movies. Food is an extra charge. They do serve the usual soft drinks. Not like Delta that fed us on the way out and gave us booze to keep us happy and quiet.
Back in Charlotte we picked of the car and rejoined the land of the Interstate parking lot. Even with the drive home, it was good to get back