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April 15, 2013

It was a warm night of camping, and I think most of us were awake before the sun even rose. Ludy called us to breakfast with a conch shell. It sounded like a fog horn. We feasted on sunny side up eggs, bacon, sausage, bagels, and fruit.

Our first activity of the day was snorkeling Ngel Channel. The tide and wind were high and going in opposite directions, so it ended up being a bit choppy and not our most favorite one, though of course there were many colorful fish and a few more species I had never seen having done most diving In the Caribbean. The large Pacific Blue Starfish that dotted the reef were magnificent.

We took the boat back to the beach and went on an amazing paddling excursion through the choppy exposed waters by our camp until we rounded the corner into a placid, beryl bay. We cut between islands and weaved between mangroves until we reached the sapphire waters of Black Tip Lake which is a nursery for black tip reef sharks in July. We didn’t spot any today, but instead paddled into a cave and later the adventurous squeezed under a limestone tunnel again. This time, the adventurous included only me, as there was a way around the tunnel and the last tunnel had several things dangling about half an inch away from our face which was not appealing. This time there was a little more space!

After our paddle, Karen (one of the guests – a nurse from Florida), Jayden our guide, and I took a snorkel just off the beach from our campsite at Blue Devil Garden. It was a much better swim. We saw two large lionfish, some beautiful giant sea cucumbers, shells, and tons of juveniles.

Upon return to camp, lunch was served and afterward we enjoyed a coconut show. Hamilton climbed a palm tree picked eight coconuts, and husked them on a stake he sharpened with a machete. Ellen and I tried husking one, and it was hard! Hamilton made it look easy. It was not a task to try in the Amazing Race.

The tide goes out until around three in the afternoon. It was time for us to paddle again. We followed the shade of the shoreline in search of sea snakes and other critters as we admired the ferns hanging overhead until we reached Shipwreck Bay. The center of the bay was very brown in color from the tannin from decomposing leaves that gets trapped in the area due to the low current. It was the first bay we’ve seen with brown water. The bay was named for a Japanese Lifter Ship that was sunk during WWII. Another lifter ship, which commonly carries medical supplies, didn’t even make into the bay before it was sunk.

In addition to seeing the ship, we saw upside down jellyfish. This is their actual name. They lie on the floor of the sandy bottom acting like an anemone and await their prey. As we paddled out of the bay, we passed by an oyster rock that was home to a few chiton that create the scallop formations in the limestone. Along with the tides, these prehistoric looking animals help erode the limestone, creating the large undercuts in the islands.

We followed the scalloped rock ledges of the Rock Islands, of which there are 300, into the turquoise waters of Kingfisher Bay and finally ended our paddle in Mandarin Fish Bay to see a “salt-water waterfall”, according to the brochure. It was more like a babbling brook. A marine lake drains into the bay and vice versa depending on which way the tide is flowing.

I expected the “salt-water waterfall” to be the highlight, but the best part about Mandarin Fish Bay was the snorkeling. It was fantastic! The turquoise oasis didn’t have a surface ripple in the water and was home to the endemic Mandarin fish that reminded me of a harlequin clown with its pattern and colors…a dark red body with blue and green swirls. The Mandarin Fish was the size of my pinky and hid in coral. Jayden pointed out the first two to me before I figured out how to spot them. I ended up being the only person in our group to see them. In addition to the Mandarin Fish, we were blessed to see several Pajama Cardinalfish which have now become my favorite. I love that half the fish is polka-dot…I love the black stripe that cuts its body in half…and I love its size and shape! Another pleasant surprise were seeing the yellow gobies on the sandy bottom guarding their hole dug by their blind, companion shrimp that was busy coming in and out of its home. I could go on and on about the fish here, but those were the highlights.

After our snorkel we paddled back to camp, enjoyed dinner, and prepared to move camps for the next two days. Apparently we will be camping where The Survivor Palau tribal council was held. Until tomorrow…ETB

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