Once upon a time we were headed through the rock islands on our way back to Sam’s Tours after a wonderful day of diving at Ulong Channel (again) and Saies Corner (again). Everyone was happy and relaxed after two fantastic dives. There hadn’t been too much current at Ulong Channel, so this time we had been able to take our time and enjoy the topography rather than being swept along so quickly that our surroundings became a blur. Saies Corner had been fairly relaxed as well, with the current only becoming difficult to work with at the corner itself. I’d had to pull myself forward via a few rocks jutting out of the floor between corals, but once hooked in, the show was beautiful.

I was sitting on the boat next to Fletch, Kyle and one of our other divemasters not much farther away. With the sound of the boat engines running and the wind whipping past our ears I couldn’t hear a thing, but Kyle and the divemaster were clutching their sides laughing at something. I glanced around the boat to people watch the rest of our group, then had to look away again very quickly. Pulling myself together, I leaned over to Fletch and told him not to look at the man in the pink shorts, knowing that he’d have to look. He turned away with a grimace but laughing all the same, and immediately called our third divemaster over to the back of the boat. She was reluctant to leave her comfortable perch up front but finally complied. Fletch told her she had an issue to address up at the front of the boat. She looked up and immediately away again, then hurried back to her original spot which had blocked the view of the front of the boat.

Lounged across the bow of the boat was an older French man wearing pink gym shorts and nothing else. He was propped up on his side with one knee bent upwards. The wind created by our speed on the boat was billowing his pink gym shorts wide open like a parachute, giving the entire boat a view of his whole package. Nothing was left to the imagination. And he just laid there with a far away grin on his face.

The next day we showed up for another day of diving to find that we were on the same boat with our same divemaster and the guy wearing the same pink gym shorts. As we were preparing to leave, the French man told our divemaster to wait just a moment, he had to run and do something really quickly. He hopped of the boat and onto the dock and as quickly as he had promised, bent over and pulled off his pink gym shorts. Everyone gaped in horror, knowing all to well what he had been wearing underneath those pink gym shorts the day before. Our divemaster nearly cried. Luckily he was sporting a speedo underneath. No one had ever been so pleased to see a speedo.

I wish that was the end of the speedo man story but I can’t continue on to the breathtaking dives we had just yet. You see, as the boat set off I accidentally looked in his direction just at the wrong moment. He was sitting at the stern of the boat wearing nothing but his speedo. The moment I glanced back towards that side of the boat he just had to be scratching his groin, and in the process of doing so pulling the whole crotch of his speedo off to the side. I turned my head away not nearly soon enough. Damn it not again. Since you can’t un-see that, the only thing to do is pass it along. You're welcome.

The day of diving that followed was magnificent. The best times to dive in Palau are during the full and half moon phases, and that was the day before the half moon. Our first dive was at German Channel, a site we hadn’t been to yet which made me extremely excited. No Ulong area today! We were briefed that we would be hanging out around two cleaning stations for manta rays, and so to be careful that we followed our guides and didn’t unknowingly swim into these cleaning areas and thus scare away all the mantas.

We didn’t have to worry about scaring them away, the dozens of groups that were already there had done that for us. The beginning of the dive reminded me of Koh Tao as we swam across sandy patches, zig zagging our way between endless other groups along the way. A group of Chinese divers were sliding along the sand and simultaneously moving their fins halfheartedly in a kicking motion, stirring up the sand. They had no idea what they were doing.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t a nice dive though. We stopped on the outskirts of the first cleaning station, the one farther from our starting point, and kneeled in the sand in wait for the mantas that never showed up. The mantas may not have, but everything else did. Schools of fish swarmed everywhere. Hundreds of fusiliers schooled overhead, their silhouettes outlined in the rays of sunlight piercing through the surface. Schools of black snappers swam past, their rounded puffy faces and big eyes making them look like animated characters. Large olive grey humpback unicornfish intertwined themselves in along with all the other species, most of them without the telltale horned forehead. Apparently only the males develop the long horn. The occasional blacktip reef shark could be seen in the distance, sleek and graceful, making its way across our landscape. No manta rays though.

Photo courtesy of Kyle

We swam back in the direction we had come, back to the first cleaning station. We stopped here for a while to watch the abundance of fish swim about, and then turned perpendicular to our original path and drifted our way down a shallow bit of reef. The current lazily pushed us over purple and orange and blue corals, over anemones and razor corals. Meanwhile small tropical reef fish swam around their homes, until all too soon, our divemaster’s safety sausage went up and it was time to ascend.

We stopped just off the shore of Ngemelis, an island that is off limits to tourists, and had lunch aboard our boat. Then we made our way to Blue Corner, one of the best known dive sites in Palau. Not even five minutes into the dive, after drifting a little ways along the wall, I had to stop as I was completely hypnotized by my surroundings. Schools of trevallies and humpback unicornfish abounded, but what really had me transfixed were the dogtooth tuna. Tuna are incredible fish, perfectly streamlined and capable of swimming at incredible speeds. They are not much to look at in photos, just a large silvery fish, but face to face they are magnificent. I sat and watched in awe, hovering a good distance from the wall out in open water, completely surrounded by blue ocean and these incredible apex predators.

Eventually I was forced to snap out of my trance and catch up with the group who was nearing the spot where we would be hooking into the reef. Swarming around our corner was an enormous cloud of redtoothed triggerfish: saucer-sized blue fish with elegant billowy fins, a lunate tail, and most importantly, orange fanged teeth. They form aggregations such as the one we were seeing to feed on plankton above the reef. Unlike their bigger relatives, they didn’t charge aggressively to defend their territory, and so we were able to find spots to hook into the reef with the little blue fish hovering around with no more nuisance than moths. Once we were settled in, the more curious few swam up to my mask and stared me down with funny little orange-fanged grins like a vampire's, their fins waving about like little capes.

We saw and watched the dazzling display of fish and sharks swim by. Dogtooth tuna, grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, barracudas, they all made an appearance. All too soon our group started stowing away their reef hooks and swimming off over the plateau. The massive Napoleon wrasse who hangs out in that area came and greeted us, his eyeballs swiveling around intelligently to look at each of us in turn. We swam around the plateau for a few moments, exploring the corals and small reef fish in the area while the Napoleon meandered his way amongst us. Kyle waved me over to a coral bed and pointed out a blue lump of coral amongst all the red-brown lumps. I couldn’t figure out what he was pointing at, but then upon closer inspection saw an eyeball. A stonefish, camouflaged to look like just another glob of coral. I wondered how long it would take an unwary novice diver with no buoyancy control to land on the venomous spines.

Our divemaster decided we should spend some more time hooked in on the reef and so led us back to the edge of the plateau. Once again we anchored ourselves down and flew like kites while we watched in awe as sharks swam right past us without even minding us. One little whitetip reef shark about the length of my arm tilted sideways to show me his belly as he swam inches in front of me. It took a lot to refrain from reaching out and scratching his belly like a cat’s. 

Photo courtesy of Kyle

The signal came to unhook none too soon as a group of Chinese divers was barreling towards us, wanting our spot on the reef. It is common courtesy in the water to stay clear of other dive groups. Don’t swim in front of them blocking their view. Stop and let them pass if they are swimming by. Chinese divers have no concept of spacial awareness or common courtesies. If they want to be in your spot on the reef they will be there. I pulled myself down my line and moved to pull my hook off of its spot. It wouldn’t budge. I looked over my shoulder. At least a dozen divers were directly behind me, dragging their fins along the coral, and wearing colorful, dinosaur-shaped neoprene hoods. I wiggled the hook and tried to pound it out with my fist. It still wouldn’t move a bit. The new group had me surrounded as novice divers chose spots on either side of me and guides helped them place their hooks, hovering in front of me to do so. Surely one of the guides would ask me to leave and I could point out my dilemma. No one paid me any attention. I was invisible. I tried to see past the bumbling divers all fighting for my spot and find Fletch to come help me free the sticky hook. The only person from our group I could find was Kyle. I waved at him frantically, trying to catch his attention. It took a couple minutes but finally he was swimming my way with a confused look on his face. After wiggling the hook around frantically he finally managed to free it and we made our escape from the fins flinging coral in every direction.

We found the rest of the group, swimming along the rim of the plateau. We rounded the corner making our way along above the reef. A little ways along, the sharks and tuna began to work themselves into a frenzy and started destroying several smaller groups of fish. It was a scene straight out of a nature documentary, and left us all bursting with excitement by the time we saw our divemaster’s safety sausage go up, ending the dive.