Sunday

Evolution turned out to be a wonderful little gem of a dive resort. There were three main dive shops that Lonely Planet recommended we go through. Fletch did a nice job of emailing the three of them until we were able to narrow it down to Evolution Dive Resort. That was definitely a good call. The beach front room was everything you want in a room when you’re divining. A big, clean, comfortable bed, and an extra bed to lay out all your stuff on, a clean bathroom with a hot shower, and a little balcony to hang out wet gear. The dive shop was well organized, we simply gave them all of our gear and they kept it in crates and made sure it was on the boat for us. The staff was friendly and attentive, constantly asking if everything was alright, the guests turned out to be a fun and wonderfully outgoing group of people, and the restaurant had good, fresh food. Evolution was everything you need in a dive resort. Their TripAdvisor reviews honestly didn’t do them justice.

On our first day of diving the alarm clock went off at 3:30 AM .Thank goodness Fletch had forgotten to change the time zone on his phone. I got to go back to sleep for another hour.

At 5:00 AM we stumbled out the front door and into the dive briefing on the beach. It was really nice not to have to go anywhere or mess with our gear. Everything was taken care of. Similar to Thailand, we loaded into a smaller boat which took us out to deeper water where the big, water strider-like boat was anchored. As the sun began to rise we headed towards Monad Shoal, the only known thresher shark cleaning station in the world that’s within recreational dive limits. I think it was even featured in Shark Week this past year.

We descended with our local guide, Geno, into the chilly water. The visibility was murky, the morning still dark, and before I’d even had time to fully adjust my buoyancy, Geno was pointing out into the blue, where a long, ribbon-like tail was disappearing from view. My heart skipped a beat in excitement and I was fully content that I had seen a thresher shark, even if it was just the tail. Even though it was a thresher shark dive, there’s never a 100% guarantee of seeing what they say you will see. The ocean is wild and unpredictable. That wasn’t the only shark though. Every couple of minutes Geno was pointing at another shark in the distance, and another, and another. They weren’t even that far away from us, the water was just too murky to catch a clear shot on my little camera. But they were beautiful. Thresher sharks look like the Disney cartoons of the shark kingdom. They have beautiful long tail fins, as long as the rest of their bodies, and large, cartoonish eyes. They are magnificent creatures. 

Photo of one of the many thresher sharks I was able to catch with my little camera. 

A higher res photo of a thresher shark stolen from a Google image search. 

Towards the end of the dive I caught a glimpse of my first devil ray as well. They look like manta rays but a little smaller, sleeker and quicker. This one was slowly gliding up towards the surface like a graceful dancer, before streaking away like a bolt of lightning.

An hour later, after non-stop thresher sightings, we ascended and headed back in to the resort. There was just enough time for breakfast before catching the boat again for the day trip. I ordered scrambled eggs which arrived peppered with fresh tomatoes and fresh peppers, and a bananofee, some concoction of coffee and bananas as a shake. It was actually really good. I was so happy for fresh food. Living in Palau for a year really scared my perception of fresh food. Suddenly I couldn’t eat enough of it, afraid that next week I would be back to empty produce isles at the grocery store.

Evolution's banka

The day trip convened at 9:00. We returned to the same boat we had been on just a few hours previous and headed out on a 90 minute ride to Dona Marilyn Wreck, a Japanese Cargo ship that was sunk by Typhoon Ruby in 1988. The captain of the ship had refused to drop the anchor in a sheltered bay, and instead carried on the journey to Tacloban, thinking he could outrun the typhoon. Huge waves caused the ship to list starboard, capsize, and sink at 2:00 in the afternoon on the 24th of October.

The wreck was cool, but our dive was crowded by too many novice divers. When swimming into a light current, all you have to do is streamline yourself and the water rushes around you instead of pushing you along with it. As we were moving along the hull of the ship, I was hovering forward, motionless, faster than the newbie couple in front of me was kicking. Our three minute safety stop was also fun. All the groups on our boat were ascending at once, in a current, so the 5-meter mark on the mooring line was crowded by at least 20 divers all trying to hang on, all trying to kick themselves in place and instead kicking everyone else in the process. As soon as my three minutes were up, I moved my hands in a swift wave together to maneuver myself away from the line. Hands really aren’t used in scuba diving, but it seemed more polite than kicking everyone in the face. Stereotypical Mr. Hotshot Diver (there’s always one) reached out is arm to try and grab me, thinking the current was pulling me away and I was waving my arms for help. Thanks, buddy, but I’m actually just moving away from this mess, and you kicking me in the face.
Lunch was served during surface interval. The kitchen was nice enough to pack me a special lunch when I told them I was vegetarian. They put it in an ice cream container for me. For a minute I was excited to have ice cream with my name written on it. But inside was a lovely curried pasta with veggies. Sometimes it pays to be vegetarian. Most of the time it is a hassle, and I end up picking ham off of sandwiches, only to be left with cheese and mayonnaise on white bread. But Evolution made a lunch that to me was much nicer than the pasta with hot dog bits that everyone else was eating. I was full long before the ice cream carton was empty, but kept picking the veggies out afterwards because I couldn’t let good veggies go to waste. There are kids living on spam in Palau after all.

Our second dive was a swim through at Gato Island. What a fantastic dive! It is currently in my top five dives of all time. We started out swimming through the cavern. Geno pointed out some massive purple lumps inside, the size of large melons. I stared at them for a good long while trying to make sense of what I was looking at. I couldn’t discern what they were, so I asked Geno later and he said they were slugs of some sort. Weird. As soon as the light at the end of the tunnel came into view, we saw the silhouettes of white tip reef sharks circling around the mouth of the cave. Sharks in the tunnel! It doesn’t get any cooler than that. As the group of divers made their way out, one of the sharks got cornered off to the side and circled nervously, looking for an escape route. It was beautiful to watch, but you could sense her tension, and I was happy for her when she found an opening to slink away through.

After we exited the swim through, the dive just kept getting better and better. Geno was on point, showing us something new every couple of minutes. Countless nudibranchs I have never seen before, each different from the last. Most places I have been, you see one or two different kinds consistently. Here, each one was different. 

A pair of banded pipefish.
Commensal shrimp on bright orange soft coral.

A peacock mantis shrimp, nine inches long at least, was out threatening everyone by waving his raptorial appendages over his head. They can accelerate those with the same velocity as a gunshot from a twenty-two caliber rifle (incase you haven’t already learned that from this web comic by The Oatmeal I keep telling to you read). He was in a very feisty mood, making him all the more fun to watch. I couldn’t take my eyes away, and only did because someone made the generic sign for squid/octopus/cuttlefish. We had just been talking about cuttlefish, so I was hoping it would be one, but it was just a family of squids. I say that as though a family of squids isn’t awesome. It is awesome. It just wasn’t the cuttlefish that was on my mind. 

"This is why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal, because in the presence of such extraordinary light and beauty, it embraces darkness. It is Genghis Khan bathed in sherbet ice cream." - The Oatmeal

Just a squid. 
Everyone came out of the water with huge smiles and talking a mile a minute about everything we’d just seen. We couldn’t even list it all. It was an amazing dive. I have about a hundred more blurry photographs to prove it.

Back at the dive shop it was happy hour. Two for one drinks, which for me meant lots of gingery goodness. We ordered dinner while we were sitting there, and I once again stuffed myself on vegetables way past the point of being full. I’ve always enjoyed healthy food, but I never thought anyone could love vegetables this much .

We made friends with a girl who was walking down the beach, half of her blonde hair was shaved off and the other half was in dreadlocks. She had an incredible assortment of stories, all from traveling for the past four years without a penny, just working from one random job to the next. She was currently on a boat that had sailed in, but had had to make a detour to Cebu because of a broken mast. Her previous eight months had been spent working on a farm in Tonga, which Fletch and I picked her brains about, that being a place we want to visit. Why Tonga? We were browsing Google Earth the other day for islands near Fiji and saw a beautiful trench off of a little island called Tonga. Further research showed us that it had nice diving and a migration of humpback whales every summer. That was enough for us. So imagine running into a girl who just left the same tiny island. We were eager to hear all about it.

We made friends with another couple staying at Evolution who were from Holland. The four of us decided to go for a walk down the beach in search of a 24-hour bar that some of the locals had told us about. A local dog named Bruce decided to show us the way. The beach turned out to be really cute, with lots lots of bars and dive shops along the walk. It was a lot like Koh Tao really, Koh Tao ten years ago before any roads or hoards of drunken backpackers. Bruce stopped about halfway down the beach, suddenly more interested in a cute girl dog then our mission to the bar.

We found the 24-hour bar, but not the atmosphere we had been searching for. The bar was not only a bar, but a full restaurant with a pool table and lounge areas. The ambiance felt like an old Mexican restaurant with weird lighting. But the main thing that turned us away were all the little kids running around, from about the ages of three to thirteen years old, pretending to play pool, jumping on the tables… The bar was well known for a wall that everyone throws their shot glasses against. So we wove our way through the little kids, ordered a round of shots, threw them against the wall (I missed, no hand eye coordination here), and left.

A bar on the beach drew us in with its bean bag chairs, and we relaxed there instead over a few drinks before heading back to the resort for the night. We found Bruce exactly where he had gotten distracted a couple hours before, and he walked us home.