Family Trippin in Micronesia with Kids Sea Camp

Yap and Palau: Divers paradise and whole-family eco-adventure must sees

Story and photos By Brad Holland

Manta Ray Bay Resort, Yap. 2016
Yap

Yap and Palau have the strongest cultural bonds in Micronesia, are geographically next door to
each other and both offer unique family travel opportunities. Come here for the natural beauty,
island culture and iconic diving in marine sanctuaries on an eco-adventure.
The Micronesia experience is embodied in nature, culture and conservation. Yap and Palau put
an exclamation point on your family’s trip with something for everybody, divers and non-divers
alike, in a traditional or developed setting.

 

Although these destinations have a lot of advanced diver allure, they come with special cultural
and land-based opportunities for every traveler — nothing says bring the whole family more
than non-diver adventures that rival the experiences of Vertigo, Blue Corner or an Oolong
Channel drift.

 

Each day of a Family Divers package has eco-activities for small children, teen and adult non-
divers — In Yap and Palau that means kayaking through the rock islands or a rich mangrove
forest, taking a WWII history tour or visiting a traditional village, being “local” for a day – learning
about village life or a traditional skills and engaging people on a unique cultural excursion –
enjoying a private beach, snorkeling with manta rays, reef sharks, chambered nautilus and giant
clams, discover scuba diving and blue water fishing, to name a few.

 

Yap will help you forget about bling and the busy world. Here you’ll find a mix of fellow
adventure travelers relaxing in the natural energy that comes with visiting an undeveloped
island. Your world shrinks down to 38 square miles of mangroves and gold sand beaches with a
rainforest backdrop speckled in coconut trees, and your front yard is an glass lagoon. It won’t
take long until nature’s rhythm dominates and you’ll notice your body feeling the tide changes
and the afternoon sun falling behind the island.

 

Yap and Palau offer our modern lifestyle some counterbalance – busyness and our multi-tasking
world gives way to the moment and you might find yourself feeling and trying something new to
you – after all, that’s why we travel, to learn something, engage ourselves and embrace the
world we live in.

 

This is where family time includes understanding our eco-system, what threatens it and what we
can do to change that – then diving or snorkeling with protected animals. Yap and Palau have
taken big steps in marine conservation through locally grown island initiatives. Yap established
the world’s first government-backed manta ray sanctuary that now includes shark and turtle
protection, legislation that leads to these animals safely interacting in uber close proximity of
divers everyday.

 

Kids Sea Camp safely mixes kids and sharks through education and adventure via local marine
mammal experts and professional dive guides in Yap. “Vertigo” is a blue water classroom where
divers of all levels safely interact with schools of reef sharks on a wall dive. Before entering the
water divers and snorkelers learn about the site, shark behavior and how to safely observe and
photograph these animals, as a family.

 

Get some blue sky and clear water “me time” through careful activity planning. Parents dive on
a private boat and dive plan, kids dive with extra guides on their own boats at different sites and
non-divers begin their adventure right after breakfast – paradise for all ages, in and out of the
water, all day.

 

Mixing it up brings the family together in the middle of the adventure. See your kids in a village
on their surface interval and they might tell you that they just swam with a whale shark, while
you show them a local craft that you made at the village center.

 

At the end of the day, photography lights up the dinner table on the backs of SeaLife cameras,
smart phones with GoPro footage or tablets being passed around, while only fragments of the
stories can be heard through the excitement. Parents, kids, divers, non-divers… everyone gets
their adventure, whether you went to the reef, eco-touring, fishing or got your zen on at the spa.
Yap and Palau; do them both and get two countries, two islands, two cultures… in one vacation.
kids-sea-camp-scuba-diving kids-sea-camp-scuba-diving-yap-manta-rayskids-sea-camp-scuba-diving-yap-whalekids-sea-camp-scuba-diving-yap-shark

 

My Palau Kids Sea Camp family trip journal

                                                                                                                                  Palau Kids Sea Camp

Jane Colon-Bonet’s Kids Sea camp Adventure, Palau  trip Journal

 (Friday and Saturday- crossing international date line)

Even though it was 10pm Palauan time we were greeted by some native girls and boys dressed in native attire.  They placed lays on us made of local flowers interlaced in palm fronds.   It was late night when we arrived at The Palau Royal Resort so I went straight to sleep.

 (Sunday)

I woke up this morning still adjusting to the humidity and heat (82 degrees F and sunny).  I went out onto the balcony and I saw a breathtaking view.  For the first time my Mom woke up early and actually wanted to stay awake.  I saw tall limestone cliffs where each inch was covered with lush, green growth dipping into crystal clear blue water.  There was no smog so I could see to the end of the Earth.

We headed down to an unusual breakfast buffet.  It had a combination of American, Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese foods.

We rented some snorkeling gear at Sam’s Tours and headed out to the dock for our boat tour of the Islands and Jelly Lake.  It was amazing!  The boat ride took us through more lush green islands unspoiled by mankind sticking up like heads of broccoli.

Jellyfish Lake was incredible!  This was my first time ever touching a Jelly fish (that didn’t sting).  The Jelly fish in Jelly Lake have lost their ability to sting because they have no need to. Jelly Lake is an isolated saltwater lake with no predators to eat the jellies and no fish for the jelly fish to hunt. Now they rely on internal algae for food following the sun during the day, but at night they go down into a highly toxic (to humans) nitrogen rich layer of water to fertilize the algae.

Later that day we had a BBQ lunch, I made a new friend her name is Calliie she is 10 years old blonde and energetic, plus a certified diver like me.

We all loaded back up onto the boat and headed for a snorkel at Clam City.  The Clams there Mackenzie.  She is younger than me, 8, and in the Kids Sea Camp sassy program.

From Clam City we went back to the resort, explored a bit and then we got ready for our welcome dinner at the Sea Passion resort.

We knew the President of Palau was coming that evening so I put on my best dress.   We had an exuberant welcoming by native dancers and a native ritual of “Calling of the Canoe”.  The President of Palau gave a welcoming speech where he talked about the islands of Palau and how much he enjoyed having us there.  A week before our arrival he had declared to the United Nations that Palau was the first and only “Shark Sanctuary” in the world.  I got to shake his hand and take a  picture with him and all the kids in Kids Sea Camp.

 (Monday)

The second day we had the unusual breakfast again and headed over to Sam’s tours for our first dive.  There I was assigned to the “Whale Shark” boat where I met some of the other Junior Open Water Divers and our Dive guides.

Our first dive took us on a one hour boat trip winding through the Palauan islands to a location named German Channel.  We sighted a 6 foot Manta Ray, lots of corals, a porcupine fish and lots of sharks.  The German Channel is a cleaning station for all fish.  In this area fish come from all over the ocean to stop and allow cleaner wrasses which safely clean large predatory fish that would otherwise eat these smallish fish.  This makes the German Channel a safe and amazing place to view lots and lots of ocean creatures.

The food was OK but the lunch spot was awesome!  We went to private white sand beach with ocean on both sides and large coconut palms for shade on the edges of a dense jungle.  I went swimming and shell collecting with my friend Callie.

The second dive of the day was named “Big Drop Off”.  This dive is a wall drift dive.  Along with many varieties of fish we found a lizard fish and a Nudibranch among the corals and sea fans that covered the wall.

We returned to the resort and got ready for out next evening.  Dinner was served at an Indian restaurant named the Taj.  They served us a delicious dinner of different and interesting Indian foods.  That evening we had interesting Indian dancers about my age.  They did a bunch of dances changing clothes between each one.  Some of the dances had veils and some had little bells all over the outfits – like belly dancers.  They were quite impressive.

 (Tuesday)

Once again we did the breakfast and headed out to the German Channel.   We were met by a lot of rain coming sideways at us like bullets as we sped along in the boat. At German Channel we saw two humungous Manta Rays the size of cars at the cleaning stations, 28 sharks – all different kinds – white tip, black tip and reef – the size of surf boards, a Green Sea turtle and some very interesting sea stars.  An excellent and lucky dive!

We had another fabulous lunch – a chicken bento box.   This time we had lunch at Sam’s Tours because of the rain.

The second dive took us through rough surf to the Blue Corner dive site.  Since I was limited as a Junior Open Water diver to 40 feet of depth this dive was ok.  We saw one puffer fish, two warty sea slugs and some star fish amongst schools of trigger, butterfly, and bannerfish.

That evening we went to the Sea Passion for another exquisite dinner.  That day we had the Polynesian dancers.  There wasn’t much singing like before but there were some instruments like a hallowed out gourd made into a drum and two frayed sticks that sounded like rain and thunder when put together.

That night we went home (back to the hotel) and slept like rocks.

 (Wednesday)

That day I awoke to something very unusual – it was absolutely pouring rain.  We headed down to breakfast and tried to avoid the downpour.  After breakfast we headed down to Sam’s Tours hopped on the boat.  My guide, Alex, warned me that I still needed to put on sun screen even if the sun wasn’t visible.  Once again the rain was coming into the boat sideways as we sped over to German Channel.  That day I wore my wet suit before I even got into the water.

One thing about SCUBA it that if it rains it doesn’t matter because you are below water!  That day I saw schoolmasters, horse eyed jacks, squirrel fish – the usual hordes of schools and corals.  I didn’t see much in the channel unique or extra large this dive.

We had lunch at Sam’s today.  When I got to Sam’s Callie, two other boys, Jefferson and I played a volleyball/soccer game.  We got sopping wet but it was fun!  The rain and the air was mostly warm – about 81 degrees F.

That afternoon we headed out to Blue Corner – also there I didn’t see any unique fish – a large puffer but I was told that the adults down at 70 feet saw quite a few sharks.

The Teen Divers also had a painting lesson with a funny, artist that travels with Kids Sea Camp around the world teaching children how to paint.

After the painting with I did my first night dive.  It was amazing,  I saw several interesting Sea Cucumbers and fish.  All of them were hiding.

That night we had the Yap dancers.  Yap is a very small island just North East of Palau.  We were told we were going to girls dancing but instead they sent the young men with bo staffs.

We fell asleep just as soon as our heads hit the pillow

 (Thursday – Thanksgiving)

It was my first time celebrating Thanksgiving outside of America.  I was told that the locals don’t really celebrate the holiday besides going to church.  Catholic is the main religion.  They do celebrate Halloween there.

It was a sunny day as we headed out on the Silvertip boat to our morning German Channel dive.  There I saw one large Manta Ray going into the cleaning station and a couple of sharks.  I was surprised that the sharks were so large.

I must say it was quite a thrill to be diving with them.  My dive guide told me that in thousands of dives there have never been any issues with the sharks.  They are in the channel as part of their life styles and don’t bother with us divers.

After a fabulous lunch on the beach we went to Jake’s Sea Plane.  This dive spot is an interesting plane wreck with a lot of interesting coral.  It’s down about 40 feet so perfect for Junior Open Water Divers.  There were lots of Parrot fish.   Part of the planes right wing was missing.  I found it 20 feet away hallow and covered in corals.  This plane was a WWII plane – I don’t know who’s.

We did a third dive at 10 feet for 15 minutes where I saw a puffer fish and my first Mandarin Fish.  It was soooo cute.  A native of this area with large yellow lips, green to it’s forhead, blue chin, orange body and blue squarish circles all over it’s body.

We went to Sea Passion for dinner.  We had four turkeys baked four different ways and several other sides like corn bread, mashed potatoes, gravey, corn and cranberry sauce.  That evening we made a sand Manta Ray on the beach about the size of the real deal.  With my guide and new best friends’ boyfreind,  Paul, who made a sand shark with the boys.

 (Friday)

Our last day diving.    My first dive was German Channel and almost as if there was a going away send-off we saw large Manta Ray, Sharks and lots of interesting Fish.  After that dive we went back to Sam’s  for lunch and caught up with our parents.

We went to the Light House dive site where we dove as a family just the four of us with two guides.  This was my father’s 100th dive making him a century diver.  My mother got her century dive in a few days before.  It was a great dive with loads of fire corals, lizard fish and bubbles.

  (Saturday)

Today is my last day in Palau.  I am not pleased to be leaving.  I made a lot of friends in Palau.  I will miss my guide Alex and I wish I could stay.

I went to a beautiful waterfall with my dad.  I went under two waterfalls and jumped off small ledges into a pool of water along the path of the river.  There was lots of mud and one time I actually got stuck.  I think my Keens were a little less pink after that hike.

We went to the stone head garden.  Some looked happy, sad or angry.  There we had lunch.  The usual Bento boxes but this time we had some traditional Palauan food like candied tapioca and fresh coconut milk/meat.  After that we headed back to the hotel stopping at the capitol building.

When we got back we packed up our stuff, took a shower and headed over to Sam’s tours for the graduation ceremony. There was a whole cooked pig!  There was a ceremony for each of the groups: adults, teens, sassy/seals and junior open waters.  Then there was the poem contest.  The poem that my mom and I worked on the evening before got first place (out of like 20 poems).  We won a underwater digital camera.

We then watched the video made my Nick Martirano, who followed us around all week, said our last goodbyes and headed for the airport.  I practically cried all the way there I was so sad to leave.

We arrived at the airport for our treacherous flights to Colorado.  I slept most of the way through it.  The odd part about it was that it started out Saturday, then it was Sunday, then it was Saturday again and finally we got home on Sunday morning at 5am.

Final thoughts

I think Palau is one of the best places for families to go in the entire world.  Kids Sea Camp is a great place to meet new people and learn about the different cultures of the world.

I also think it is one of the best places to go diving.  Magnificent Mantas and Sharks.  Try to go there at least once in your lifetime.  Thank you  Margo Peyton and Kids Sea Camp!

 

 

 

Intelligent Travel (Kids Sea Camp Palau) by National Geographic author Rainer Jenns

Amazing traveling with your kids

Intelligent Travel (Kids Sea Camp Palau) by National Geographic author Rainer Jenns

Anyone with young kids certainly knows about the lifestyle modifications that need to be made in order to raise children. Among other things, you just can’t go out as much or stay up as late as you did BC (before children). And when it comes to traveling, most parents somehow feel obligated to forgo their dream trips or favorite vacation activities for more family-friendly destinations and accommodations that cater to kids.
This seems particularly true in the case of scuba divers, who too often take a complete sabbatical from the sport while bringing up their kids. After all, how are moms and dads supposed to go diving with young children in tow?

My wife and I found ourselves in this boat after our boys were born, and although I still managed to finagle my way back in the water every now and then, Carol and I rarely”‘buddied up” underwater, and we certainly weren’t planning vacations that revolved around diving like we once did.

I learned that compromising our love of scuba diving for the sake of our two young sons proved unnecessary. Not only was I enlightened to the fact that children as young as 10 years old can now become certified divers, I discovered a tour company that catered to families like ours: parents who want a family dive vacation and the kids get a chance to make new friends and participate in their own underwater adventures.  Kids Sea Camp (KSC) was started 14 years ago by Margo Peyton, a travel consultant, dive instructor and mother of two who wanted to bring together like-minded people who love the ocean, diving, beaches, snorkeling, and travel, and offer them the opportunity to share their passion as a family. After initially launching with just one trip and one other family, KSC now offers hundreds of kids and adults each year the opportunity to learn and enjoy scuba each year.  In honor of her dedication toward helping kids and adults gain a greater appreciation for our oceans and creating family diving events around the world, Margo was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2009 and has contributed to 5,000 certified divers to-date.

It didn’t take a lot of persuasion to get Carol and the boys on board. After perusing The Kids Sea Camp list of itineraries, which now include destinations like the Cayman Islands, Bonaire, Yap, Utila, Fiji, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Roatan, Australia, Greece, Florida and the Galápagos, we decided on Palau, which I had been told by the famous underwater photographer David Doubilet has some of the best diving on earth. We called Margo and booked the Palau family adventure.

One of the biggest draws to KSC is the fact that they can fully train and certify any adult or child ten years or older during their trip. Our original plan was to have the boys (who are now 11 and 13) go through the PADI certification program included on the trip. After all, how cool would it be for them to become certified in the waters of Palau, teeming with marine life and practically unlimited visibility?

We certified the kids over the summer so they could join the other teen divers on the trip and take full advantage of the amazing reefs surrounding this Micronesian island. Our kids had a fantastic time experiencing their first ocean water dives with their fellow certified teen divers; however, I did take note of the fact that the kids who were getting certified during the trip had done the PADI e: learning prior to arrival and didn’t miss a beat.

For children under ten, Kids Sea Camp also have programs there’s SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) with lots of underwater pool adventures as well as fun educational in ocean activities. Children ages 8-10 can participate in the PADI SEAL Team Program, a course that only with Kids Sea Camp includes dive time in the ocean where they learn the basics of diving. But regardless of how old they are, the whole point is not just to supervise them, but get them exposed to scuba diving and have them share the experience with their parents and other children their own age.

Palau has some of the best diving in the world, and the good news is that the hassle of getting there is more than worth it. Since we were traveling with Kids Sea Camp, the long flights and three layovers allowed us to get acquainted with some of the other families in our group. Since KSC has been in operation for 14 years now, most of the dozen or so families represented had been on one of their trips before. It didn’t take me long to realize why they returned. The kids, regardless of age, seemed to bond immediately, while the adults shared a quick camaraderie. This really was the best of both worlds for Carol and me: fun with the kids combined with the freedom to pursue our passion for diving.

One of the beauties of Palau is that its premiere dive sites are not particularly challenging, in other words, you don’t need advanced open water training or Nitrox tanks to enjoy them.  The water temperature was a balmy 84 degrees while the visibility on most dives was easily 100 feet.  Even when it rained, which could happen quite suddenly in this tropical region, it didn’t bother us too much since we spent most of our time underwater.

We signed up to explore the islands with Sam’s Tours, and our first stop as a group was to Jellyfish Lake. The marine lake is the bizarre consequence of thousands of years of evolution–over time millions of golden jellyfish were isolated in its waters and they migrate horizontally across the lake each day following the sun’s rays to capture their nutrients. What makes these jellyfish so unique, however, is the fact that you can swim freely among them, since they lost their stingers from never having to fight off any predators.

But perhaps Palau’s most famous dive, and thus most visited site, is the Blue Corner. Before swimming out to the corner itself, we descended to about 90 feet (the kids were limited to 45 feet) to see some magnificent gorgonian fans, anemones, giant clams and soft corals along the sea wall, which stretches thousands of feet down.

We were immediately greeted by a cruising gray reef shark, a precursor of things to come. We floated with the current like a bunch of kites in a strong wind. The concentration of marine life, including large schools of jacks, trevallies, and barracuda swimming all around you was just incredible.

Perhaps the only downside to our first family dive trip was that it set the bar incredibly high for the kids.  With time to savor the wonderful week we shared together and remind them not to expect marine life like that every time we go diving, which we all hope thanks to Kids Sea Camp will become a regular family activity for us from now on.

To read more about  Rainer Jens family travel :http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2011/02/09/family_diving_palau_part_2/

A Presidential welcome for Kids Sea Camp Palau

On a very special person showed up at our Palau Kids Sea Camp, family dive adventure week!

Two years in a row now Kids Sea Camp has traveled across the world for an amazing Thanksgiving dive week in beautiful Micronesia, to the remote islands of Palau.  A week of celebration and giving thanks for the sea.  With a welcome ceremony set with Ngardmau and Emmelakl dancers, music and even a special attendance by  President  Johnson Toribiong himself.   Joined by his chief of staff, and other fellow dignitaries, as well as the FVB, President Toribiong gave a welcome address.   What an incredible opportunity and honor it was for the children and families of Kids Sea Camp to be addressed by the President.  He spoke to them about the importance of taking care of our oceans and how vital the roll of our young divers is to the overall sustainable future of our underwater world. His speech was inspirational to all.  Palau declared its self the first ever shark sanctuary at the UN last year.  Dermot Keane, the manager of Sam’s Tours, sponsor and host for Palau Kids Sea Camp,  says, “the Kids Sea Camp Program is geared on bringing new people and youth into the dive industry”.  Keane also said the program focuses on Marine education and ocean environment and we are very proud to host this event in Palau.  Kids Sea Camp brings great exposure to Palau and awareness as to how family friendly Palau is.  . Marc Bauman also with Sam’s Tours has worked for the past 4 years with Margo Peyton founder of Kids Sea Camp to produce one of the most memorable and educational family dive vacations world wide.

Palau is full of history and culture for adults and kids, learning about WWI and WWII, diving and snorkeling wrecks and reefs, along with meeting heads of state.  Teen divers and adults dived the famous German Channel with manta rays and Blue Corner with reef sharks, turtles and huge schools of fish. The little ones all the while painted with artist Rogest and learned to scuba through PADI Seal Team and PADI Jr. Open Water courses provided during the week.

President Johnson Toribiong will not soon forget the families of Kids Sea Camp as they presented him this year with an original Rogest dotted Mandarin Fish one of the most beautiful fishes ever to be found in Palau.   We are grateful to Palau and Sam’s Tours and President Toribiong for embracing Kids Sea Camp and their stewardship of the oceans and education emphasis on todays youth.  We look forward to our  return.
For more information contact

www.familydivers.com

Palau  Poem!

‘Twas the first day of Kids Sea Camp and all ‘cross Palau
Sea Creatures were stirring, getting ready to wow
The wetsuits were bundled in dry bags with care
In hopes that our boats soon would be there

The children were sleepless, pulled out of their beds
Soon millions of jellyfish danced round our heads
We snorkeled through corals and saw war canoes
Enjoyed dancers at dusk and longed for a snooze

Then out came the dawn and off came the flannel
We sprang from our beds to see German Channel
Away through the rain we flew like a flash
Swam with mantas and shark, which made quite a splash

Then sun atop water which Heaven bestow’d
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below
And what to our wondering eyes should appear
But fantastic Blue Holes and sea life so near!

With Neil and Marine, our incredible guides
The currents took us on magical rides
Past snappers, past sweetlips, past spotted rays (eagle)
Post turtles and triggers and angelfish (regal)

Now whitetips! Now morays! Now lobsters and clams!
Now pufferfish, anthias- We love you, Sam’s!
From the depths of the holes to the top of the wall
We reeled in the glory of seeing it all!

After checking the tires and climbing aboard quick
We sailed through the islands to our daily picnic
As bentos appeared and a fire lit the dark
We were joined by the teens and our friend, a Bull Shark

By: Jennie Savage & Cam Cronwell