Palau is that place for me.
I’ve been visiting Palau every year for the last five years, but it’s always a new adventure, a learning experience and personal growth. This recent trip was no exception.
I returned to this underwater wonder world to dive with new friends, only to find myself panicked 60 feet under water in nature’s most spectacular aquarium. While one of my companions and I were at the same skill level, she came out “on top” and I suffered below the surface eager to escape fifty minutes of crazy anxiety.
I have never in my life panicked like this before. While my underwater breathing was steady and there were no serious physical implications, I was more scared than ever before in my life…panicked that I wouldn’t be able to clear my mask should water seep in or worse, that I’d lose my air source.
So, while I did not enjoy my return to scuba diving adventure, I did indeed relish in the amazing sea life of this Micronesian paradise from the surface of the water. Snorkeling above my buddies as they descended for their second dive of the day, I followed their excursion and tracked their journey from overhead. Like a child in the playground, I danced amongst their suds feeling the tingling sensations tickle while popping large eight inch bubbles and floating effortlessly through the thousands of tiny gurgles emanating from their tanks.
Within 24 hours of my adrenaline induced underwater adventure, we were greeted with the opportunity to enjoy some land excursions as well. Before boarding the tame Jungle River Boat Cruise on Palau’s Babeldaob Island, our guide introduced us to a juvenile version of one of the crocodiles we were expected to see on the river. While my companions and I were shooting off scads of photos with the baby and teenage-size version, it was my turn…and I said to the guide, “How far can I go down on this guy?” Not realizing that my barrier was where the guide’s hand was located, I scaled down and the croc immediately responded by jumping at us with his mouth fully expanded. Screams were heard throughout the forest as my adrenaline was once again aroused. Other than the face to face encounter with this woman-eating reptile, the rest of the day was relaxing and most enjoyable. And, I still had my left arm attached to my body!
As previously mentioned, I am all about trying on new adventures and seeking the rush of life’s thrill rides. Palau always seems to provide such opportunities for first time visitors and repeat guests alike.
So, as a diversion from the water-based activities, Fish ‘n Fins took us out on a unique, new ATV eco-tour, again on the island of Babeldaob. While we all took turns driving, it was our New Yorker friend Bruce that really challenged the course, which resulted in an exhilarating “mud bath” of sorts. The five of us in our vehicle came away caked in mud, but were soon literally pelted in a rainstorm that washed it all away.
As the storm rushed on, our guide had us headed to a beautiful waterfall deep in the forest, to enjoy our lunch. Still soaked from the “mud bath” and “rain bath,” we trekked on, squeaking in our tired, wet apparel to a breathtaking, rushing river and waterfall. As the guide escorted two of my female companions across the violent river, he left the rest of us behind…stranded in the depths and rush of the rock-infested obstacle course. While my Texas buddy Jenny and I wanted to brave the heaving river, we both fell between two boulders and were a little too frightened to make the trek on our own as there was no path to follow. So, we hunkered down and took the rookie route while our companions ventured off on the other side of the river. Eventually, we made our way back to the group, but not without incident…losing a shoe, sunglasses and a hat while we treaded across the raucous water. It was beautiful!
Well, for me, the journey never ends. Detained at the Palau Airport, we all missed our connection in Guam to get us flying home towards our destinations, through Honolulu. Some decided to stay grounded in Guam and take the same flight home the next day. Two of us decided to take the puddle jumper towards Hawaii in an effort to just get closer to home. The 14 hour flight made six more island hops before reaching Oahu, with stops in Chuak, Pohnpei, Pohnpei and Kosrae before the Marshall Islands of Kwajalein and Majuro. As far as I’m concerned, these flights were an amazing investment of my time…as I saw the evolution of cultures at each airport and relished in the many relationships I made along the way.
I know it must sound like I’m whining, complaining and unhappy, but this really was a tremendous journey…addressing my fears, getting through them and feeling more alive than ever. It is with adversity that we learn to grow. It is through challenge that we learn. It is my dream to continue this journey with many more adventures that test my strength.
With that said, it is sometimes the return to home journey and all of those things that are familiar that are the most frightful of all!