7:00 AM

The alarm goes off. A really obnoxious ehk ehk ehk. Fletch turns it off and I roll over.

7:30 AM

There’s a knock on our door. I don’t hear it because I’m sound asleep dreaming about this highly unpleasant person I worked with in a dive shop once, who then left to fill a conservationist position at another dive shop. In my dream she’s selling the island’s few turtles on the black market to Indians and Pakistanis who want the shells.

7:31 AM

I wake up to Fletch scrambling out of bed and half asleep mumbling ‘Oh shit.’ He rushes over to the windows and pulls the curtains closed. A Philippine worker is outside, already here to work on our roof. Nothing like someone staring through the window at you butt naked to wake you up in the morning.

7:45 AM

BAM BAM BAM. If someone staring through your window isn’t enough to wake you up then building an extension to your roof certainly is. BAM BAM BAM. He might as well be hammering nails in my head. I’m definitely awake now. I stumble out of bed and find a swimsuit and clothes to put on.

7:50 AM

By the time I make it to the kitchen Fletch has already finished making us tuna sandwiches to pack for lunch. He’s always two steps ahead of me. I pop a bagel in the toaster and set about rounding up all my snorkel gear. Mask and snorkel, check, fins and boots, check. Purse, camera, water bottle, raincoat because it’s always cold on the boats, towel to dry off because again it’s always cold on the boats. Why do towels have to take up so much space? I accumulate so much stuff I begin to think I might as well pack a couple different pairs of shoes while I’m at it. This is ridiculous.

8:15 AM

I barely have time to smear cream cheese on my now cold but nicely toasted blueberry bagel before grabbing it and running out the door with it. We begin the long 6 minute drive to the dive shop, all the way over on the next island. Along the way we stop for Red Bulls.

8:30 AM

We arrive at Sam’s Tours right on cue, and bump into all four of our white friends we have made since arriving here. I think all of the white people on this island either work for Sam’s or for the government. There’s not a lot of them. When we drive around every day we see the exact same handful of westerners walking up and down the main road. We haven’t met many of them yet, but have seem most of them by now. It’s kind of creepy. Oh look, there’s the chic with the curly hair who doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle.

8:35 AM

Everyone runs off to the boats they are working on for the day and Fletch and Kyle realize that they forgot to bring rain coats. I volunteer to stay with our mountain of stuff while they run all the way back to Koror to grab them.

8:45 AM

I’m sitting in front of the igloo coolers full of water and watching people struggle to fill up their water pouches. When you sign up to dive at Sam’s they provide you with a nice little reusable water pouch that probably cost all of $.10 to manufacture. It has a typical water bottle nozzle that you pull open and push closed, and a cap that goes over it. This guy walks up to the igloo, pushes the button for the water flow, puts the water bottle underneath, oh wait the cap is still on, pulls the cap off, pushes the button, puts the water bottle underneath, oh wait the nozzle is still closed, pulls the nozzle open, pushes the button, puts the water bottle underneath, oh wait the flowing water doesn’t actually go backwards through the nozzle, only then does he figure out how to screw the whole cap off. It's painful to watch.

8:55 AM

I watch as our boat, the Hammerhead arrives. I must be looking confused because one of the guys in blue Crew shirts asks me if he can be of assistance. I awkwardly say I'm looking for the Hammerhead, even though it’s right in my line of sight. He asks if I’m on the snorkeling tour, then turns around and scans the docks, finally pointing out the boat I’ve been looking at the entire time. I thank him and hurry off with as much of our pile of stuff as I can carry. Two gear bags, two backpacks, one purse, one lunch bag. It takes two trips but I think that’s everything.

9:00 AM

Fletch and Kyle arrive and a large Palauan lady with hair escaped from what might have been a fro collects all of our Rock Island passes, saying she’ll return them to us after Jellyfish Lake. Fletch can’t find his water pouch and so runs back to the shop to look for it. He returns a moment later with the blue plastic pouch in hand. Guess I didn’t get everything after all. With so many blue water pouches laying around I hadn’t realized one was ours. Oops.

9:04 AM

The boat leaves and the big Palauan lady introduces us to herself, our boat captain, and our boat boy, who’s name I don’t quite catch but it sounds like Monkey. The speed boat starts weaving its way through the rock islands which we are told are made of limestone, unlike the main islands which are volcanic. The scenery is something you couldn’t even come up with on your own if you were to create some fantastical, tropical world in your imagination. Hundreds of limestone knobs stick up out of crystal clear blue and turquoise water, the color of which changes depending on the depth and the amount of sunlight. All these rocks are covered in dense, lush greenery. Some have little patches of beach. Some are just rocks that jut straight up with no shoreline. Some are formed into arches. They are speckled so close together that they create a labyrinth. Think of a corn maze, then make it about ten times bigger, turn the corn stalks into limestone rocks covered in jungles, and turn the ground into crystal clear blue water. That’s the Rock Islands. They are perfection.

10:10 AM

We make our way out to open water, the rock islands becoming less and less frequent. Off in the distance is another close cluster of them known as Seventy Islands. We’re not allowed to go there because it is a conservation are. The area will remain an undisturbed replenishment zone for all plant and animal life. (Quoted from our guide map, I definitely did not come up with the phrasing “replenishment zone.")

10:30 AM

The boat stops at an area near the famous German Channel called Big Drop-Off. Our guide lady tells us she’s going to be leading us with the current and then the boat will come pick us up at the end. Cool, I’ve never done a drift snorkel before. I pull out my gear and put on my hooded vest, already anticipating how cold the water is about to be. I only brought my vest though. I’m not about to be that snorkeler who wears a wetsuit. We are told that there are life jackets under our seats. There is one girl in our group who opts to wear her life jacket. There is also one Asian on the boat. I’ll let you guess who decided to wear their life jacket.

10:35 AM

I’m sitting on the edge of the boat ready to fall into the water, only we are directly over a very shallow bit of reef. I wait for the boat to drift over a deeper spot, then fall in. Chilly water greets me like I’m walking into a giant freezer. I should have been that snorkeler in the wetsuit.

10:40 AM

We make our way towards the wall which is by far the most beautiful wall I’ve ever snorkeled on. The entire thing is bursting with color, alive and heathy. A group of scuba divers descends and begins to swim in the opposite direction. An elderly man bringing up the rear is wearing a giraffe print skin. It’s fabulous. I make a mental note to search for one of those online next time I have time to waste online. Never mind that will never happen while I’m here.

10:50 AM

Our Palauan lady informs everyone that there is a lionfish under a shallow shelf of coral. I dive down to look and immediately am surrounded by half a dozen other eager snorkels wanting to see. I hate being crowded underwater. There’s endless space underwater, yet people tend to turn to magnets, all trying to occupy the same space. I hurry away from the area before even seeing the lionfish. No lionfish is worth being drowned by snorkelers who can’t figure out spacial awareness in the water. There’s a million other things to see on this beautiful reef.

11:00 AM

Under the sea, under the sea, darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter take it from meeee…

11:10 AM

I free dive down a few meters or feet or whatever you call them to take a photo of some pretty purple soft coral (that’s probably the biological name for it). It’s the shape of a cactus and white and covered in vibrant purple flowers (except they’re not actually flowers). I snap a few photos, say hello to the fish hanging out around it, then swim back up to the surface, looking overhead right before I hit the top. The asian girl in the life vest is directly overhead. I swim aside just in time. This is the third time she’s drifted directly above me to see what exciting thing I could be taking pictures of. Coral. It’s just coral. Go away.

11:20 AM

The boat catches up to us but the group keeps going on farther down the reef. I’m shivering by now and several people are getting back on the boat. Stay in the water on this magnificent reef? Get on the boat and warm up? I’m torn. We have the entire day ahead of us still so I get back on the boat and find my raincoat to shield my wet skin from the wind. It isn’t long before the rest of the group joins us and we are off to snorkel spot #2.

11:30 AM

Even closer to the famous German Channel this time, our guide informs us that the visibility here is too murky to enjoy the water. An awkward backpacker who isn’t nearly as concerned as he should be about having his fancy camera on a fast moving boat with no underwater housing mumbles something about how he hopes we can come back to German Channel later. He must’ve read that it’s one of the top dive sites before coming here and figured that snorkeling it would be the same thing. Our guide says we’re going to go to the beach and have lunch now since it’s already 11:30 anyway.

11:50 AM

We zoom through the water, turquoise now that the sun is shining, to one of the limestone rocks that has a little patch of beach on it. Our guide tells us several times that this in Neco Island. A lady on the boat who doesn’t hear any of this tries asking a few times if this is Paradise Beach. Our guide repeats the name Neco Island but the lady doesn’t seem to be hearing her. Finally our guide says she has never heard of Paradise Beach, it must be a name someone made up.

11:52 AM

The boat’s motor stops and we keep drifting closer and closer to the island. The anchor should have caught by now. The boat boy, Monkey forgot to drop the anchor. Our captain chides him in the Palauan tongue and sends the boat into reverse to try again. Monkey drops the anchor, and the rope keeps going and going until the end falls into the water along with it. Everyone has a good laugh.

12:10 PM

After eating our lunch of tuna sandwiches we watch with humor as a group of Chinese tourists start posing on the beach. They always have a vast array of poses to capture which were probably practiced in front of a mirror for several hours before getting in front of the camera. A girl lies down in the sand in a ‘come hither’ position and Kyle runs over to photobomb the picture by mimicking the pose. The guy with the camera excitedly starts snapping his picture instead. Several poses later, Fletch and I are laughing our asses off and the Chinese couple is ecstatic with the result of their photo shoot.

12:25 PM

Kyle asks our Palauan guide, a highly knowledgable lady, why they call it Jellyfish Lake. She doesn’t realize at first that he’s joking. We then ask her what the stupidest question she’s ever gotten is. She tells us that one time a lady brought along several empty water bottles because she wanted to bottle the different blues and turquoises of the ocean.

12:45 PM

Our guide asks everyone if we are ready for Jellyfish Lake and we eagerly make our way back to the boat. The awkward backpacker asks her if we will be going back to German Channel later today. She explains to him that we wouldn’t have actually been snorkeling the channel, just snorkeling an area nearby. People get way to caught up in what guide books tell them to do sometimes. Leave the dive sites for scuba diving.

1:00 PM

We arrive at an inlet on one of the rock islands, the one where the famed Jellyfish Lake is located. There are actually six jellyfish lakes in Palau, but only this one is open to the public. There is a little dock where our boat drops us off. Before we leave the boat our guide tells us that everyone is required to bring a life jacket. Apparently too many Chinese tourists who couldn’t actually swim have drowned here. That still baffles me, why people who can’t swim decide it’s a good idea to sign up for snorkeling tours. I see it all the time. We walk through the entrance gate and then begin to hike a staircase up the limestone wall and back down the other side. I’m glad I opted to wear my dive booties and not my flip flops because mangrove roots are already reclaiming the steps and I can’t help but trip over a few.

1:10 PM

This hike would be simple on any other day but today every step hurts because I still haven’t recovered from working out two days ago and then hiking the waterfalls yesterday. I’m too embarrassed to mention just how sore I am and just keep trudging along.

1:25 PM

We finish hiking down the natural rock wall of the island that barricades the lake and emerge into a clearing with a fairly large lake, larger than I had been expecting anyway. I guess I had something about the size of Homestead Crater in mind. This is about ten times that size though. At the base of the staircase we have just come down are floating docks made up of plastic cubes pieced together. We cluster together on the docks and sort through our snorkel gear while our guide passes around a crate to put our belongings in.

1:35 PM

Off the edge of the dock, I see one lone golden jellyfish floating beneath the surface, glistening in the sunlight. There’s the jellyfish. We can go home now. I know this lake is supposed to be filled with thousands and thousands of jellyfish but I hadn’t expected it to be this big. Thousands of jellyfish spread out over that much space might actually make them harder to find then I had thought. This realization leaves me slightly disappointed.

1:40 PM

Our guide tells us all about how these golden jellyfish have evolved over the years to lose their sting because they have no natural predators here in the saltwater lake. She also tells us that they follow the sunlight, and so we will have to swim out to the sunniest portion of the lake to find where they are clustered. Sunshine is fine by me. I stick my toes in the water, wondering if this will be as cold as the ocean or if the sunlight has warmed the lake up. It is an enclosed body of water after all. I am delighted to discover that the water is as warm as a bathtub. I ditch my rash guard and hooded neoprene vest into the crate of all of our belongings and jump in with my mask snorkel and fins.

1:50 PM

The large Palauan lady leads us across the lake. The first couple jellyfish I see I am so excited by that I stop to take pictures of them. About a third of the way there, a dozen of them fill the frame of my camera. The farther we kick, the denser they become. I begin to slow down my kick, afraid that my fins are going to destroy the fragile creatures. I had heard before that fins weren’t allowed in the lake, but our guide told us to bring them.

2:00 PM

The jellies are now so dense that I can’t help but touch them. They brush against every inch of my skin. They are soft and squishy to touch. Their bubbles are slippery, like some sort of slimy residue should come away on your skin, but it doesn’t. I bop the tops of their bubbles like bongo drums. All the while they keep mindlessly pulsating their way through the water, in every direction.

2:10 PM

This is too much fun. I could play here all day with these silly organisms. The whole experience is purely whimsical. I can’t get enough of it. Skip the pretty beaches on your next vacation, come to Palau and play in Jellyfish Lake.

2:20 PM

What’s really fun is diving down to the depths where the jellyfish don’t hang out anymore (they like the sunlight), then rolling over to face up, and just floating upwards and upwards, face first into the oncoming jellyfish. I remember driving down a country road during a snowstorm at night time when I was little and we turned the headlights off, and just watched as the massive flakes of snow seemingly came flying at our windshield. It’s a bit like that. Only more fun because jellyfish are flying into my face.

2:30 PM

I gently cup a jellyfish in my hands and give it a kiss. I know some uppity people who would say not to do that. The jellies are blobbing their way into my hands and my lips anyway. What’s the difference?

2:40 PM

I could entertain myself here all day. Jellies, jellies, jellies, everywhere I look these weird creatures are filling my vision and tapping their squishy bubbles against my skin. I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy. One blobs its way past my lips, brushing its tentacles against them. I feel a slight stinging sensation on the sensitive skin. They’re not 100% stingless. Bad Squishy.

2:45 PM

My heart sinks a bit when I see the rest of the group starting to make their way back to the opposite side of the lake where the docks are. I follow them reluctantly, then find out that we are going to look at some sponges that can only be seen on that side of the lake. I kick as gently as I can so as not to destroy the jellyfish, slower than the rest of the group who’s off like it’s a race. By the time I reach the other side, Fletch and Kyle are looking for a jellyfish to feed to an anemone. We noticed little white anemones earlier that look like some sort of overturned jellyfish themselves; apparently they eat the golden jellyfish. We find one without too much trouble, then place it next to the anemone. Sure enough the little white hairs latch on and the jellyfish is stuck there. Biology is pretty cool.

3:00 PM

Everyone is making their way back onto the floating docks and so we follow the rest of the group. By the time we get all our gear packed away we realize that we are the last ones left aside from Monkey who is waiting for us. The four of us begin the hike back over the ridge.

3:25 PM

Back on board the Hammerhead I realize with a sickening sensation that I never grabbed my rash guard and neoprene vest out of the crate. I’m at a loss for what to do, knowing that I can’t run back over that ridge without tripping over half a dozen mangrove roots along the way, one of which would definitely take me out. Monkey is just about to step onto the boat and our guide lets him know that I left things all the way over at the lake. He is gone in no time at all.

3:30 PM

In what seems like moments later, Monkey is back with my wet gear. I can’t thank him enough. We leave the little inlet and continue on our scenic journey.

3:45 PM

The boat slows in an area where the color of the water is not quite as vibrant. The shallow white sand is clearly visible. Fletch and Kyle are content with everything we’ve done and opt to stay on the boat for this snorkel trip. I jump in the water, not wanting to miss a thing.

3:50 PM

Fletch and Kyle definitely didn’t miss anything. The coral here is all bleached or dead, with a few small schools of butterfly fish swimming around. It’s a coral graveyard down here. Any other place in the world this would probably be pretty cool. I’ve already been spoiled by Palau’s wonders though and this doesn’t even begin to compare to everything else I’ve seen.

4:00 PM

Bored with the endless landscape of dead coral, I look up to find the boat, thinking I’ll end this snorkel early. The boat is literally right there. Knowing I can get back on at any moment makes me change my mind and stay in the water. There are landlocked kids in Colorado after all. Why let all this beautiful ocean go to waste.

4:20 PM

The snorkel excursion finally ends and I board the boat and repeat the tedious process of trying to warm up. The wind here is nuts!

4:30 PM

The rock islands look even more inviting as the day wares on and a late afternoon drowsiness sets in. The islands with little strips of beach look particularly inviting. I can’t wait to go set up a tent on one of those islands and camp out and go fishing. We weave our way through the labyrinth of rocks, at some times completely surrounded by different knobs of limestone in every direction. This is living.

4:40 PM

Right as I make myself comfortable in a sunny spot at the bow of the boat, we pull into a lagoon where the water is turquoise and opaque. It looks like someone bottled the color of the Caribbean and mixed it with a bottle of milk. Our guide introduces the spot as Milky Way, an area where the limestone runs off into the lagoon and creates a white mud that the locals rub all over their skin. It is supposed to make you look younger.

4:50 PM

I jump into the water, a little too excited to play in the mud. Monkey jumps in with a boogie board and begins to dive down to the bottom and bring up handfuls of the white mud which he piles onto the board. I smear some on my face. It smells like rotten eggs. I hope this doesn’t actually work as people already think I’m twelve years old when they look at my face. Just to be sure I wash the rotten egg mud away. I spot a rope hanging from a tree a few feet away and swim over to see if it makes a good swing. I’m only able to climb up a short ways. I have no upper body strength to speak of.

5:00 PM

Monkey brings the board, now covered in rotten egg mud, back onto the boat and everyone has a party smearing each other with the smelly, exfoliating minerals. Fletch covers my face again, much to the dismay of my nose. I give him a curly french mustache and a goatee. At least that’s what I was going for; it ends up as a crooked smear across his upper lip and a lopsided smudge on his chin. We jump back in the water to rinse our now youthful skin and then make our way back on board to begin the journey home.