Palau: An amazing 7 days of my diving life

Kids Sea Camp in Palau

The wake up call pings in my ear, I slowly turn over to answer it, and it’s then I realize that this will be the beginning of the most amazing 7 days I’ve ever spent as a diver. I’m in Palau, Micronesia- the eight wonder of the world!
Although exhausted from the flight over from the west coast, through Honolulu, past Guam, Yap and finally after some 26 plus hours we all arrive. Upon arrival, the tired guests are met with a warm welcome in the airport and are then shuttled over to the hotel and they all check in and go straight to bed.
On Sunday morning, everyone jumps out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning. Anticipation is running at an all-time high because today we are going to the world famous Jellyfish Lake. A quick boat ride, then a hike- 20 minutes up hill, 20 minutes downhill and at last, you see it- a beautiful, pristine lake tucked deep away in the Rock Islands- a lake filled with thousands of prehistoric jellyfish who do not sting, but wait patiently to be joined for an afternoon swim. Hundreds of years without any natural predators have enabled these angelic creatures to discard their protective stinging tentacles and live an almost uninterrupted life in Jellyfish Lake. We all don our masks, fins and snorkels and slip into the water. Being surrounded by thousands and thousands of these amazing creatures is truly incredible. There are so many jellyfish surrounding us- all we have to do is reach out our hand and we can feel one swimming by. This is something we will never forget.
Just when we think this day can’t get any better, we are treated to a fantastic snorkel trip at Palau’s famous Milky Way reef. Seeing all the beautiful, tropical fish sends our hearts soaring- this is truly paradise and we are so glad to be here. But the snorkeling isn’t the only cool thing about this spot- the shallowest point is made up of limestone mud, a wonderful fascinating mixture that was once exported to spas and salons all over the world. However, now, due to conservation efforts to protect this beautiful land, one must travel all the way to Palau to take advantage of its wonderful healing effects. We all cover ourselves in the mud and relax while we bake ourselves in the sun. Once the mud hardens we slip off the boat and rinse off asking one another- “Do I look ten years younger?”  After our “mud baths”- we all head over to a beautiful white sandy beach where we enjoy a fantastic lunch and a birthday party. Stefan is turning 12 years old. The afternoon is filled with cake and ice cream, songs and laughter, screams of delight and, of course a dip in the beautiful blue water.
That night everyone we all attended the Opening Ceremony, where we were all in for a wonderful surprise!  The President of Palau, Johnson Toribiong, was in attendance along with the Minister of State, Miniter of tourism, Cheif of Staff and Palau Visitors Association board members. The President gave a wonderful speech and then took the time to come around and visit with each kid! What an honor! How many people every get to say that they met the President? Dinner was fantastic and then we all sat down and watched a great performance by the Ngermid dancers. This trip has already been amazing- and its only the first day!
Monday is our first “dive day” and so everyone is up early to eat breakfast and then those that need to head over to Sam’s Tours to get fitted for their SCUBA PRO rental gear. Everyone sets up their gear and then gets on the boat to listen to their in-depth dive briefing. The adult and teen divers head out to begin their two-tank boat dives. Back at the resort, Sydney and Max are just starting the Jr. Open Water program. The SASY and Seal Team kids were having fun as well- learning skills which will help to make them great divers in the future and having a blast painting with Ron Rogest!
During the week, everyone gets a chance to paint and has a beautiful masterpiece to take home at the end of the week. Just something to remember the
Sydney and Max were All-Stars passing with flying colors and earning their certification on Thursday. This was extra special because Friday, was Family Day which meant diving with their parents. The SASY and SEAL TEAMS were in full stride learning the beginning stages of becoming a SCUBA diver. Graduating as Master SEALS were Sofia and Cam. Kids Sea Camp had total coverage with Nick and Tom from Sam’s Tours filming and taking pictures. Also flying around was Annie Crawley. Taking pictures, and video of all the families, kids in programs, candid shots and even working on a project of her own, Ocean Annie, “Dive into Your Imagination”.
The week continued to get better as kids graduated, friendships forged, and stories traded. For the divers, this is where heaven fell into the sea. They enjoyed dives at the “German Channel” which was home to Manta Rays, and other large critters. “Blue Corner” housed big sharks, Eagle Rays, and more Manta’s. “The Drop Off” was an incredible wall with Butterfly fish, Wrasses, Angels of all kinds, brilliant colored coral, Moray eels and much more. With each dive the on going mantra was, “that was the best dive ever”.
As the week began to come to a close each moment became increasingly precious. There was marine art throughout the week with Rogest, treasure hunts for the SASY and SEAL TEAMS, informative talks with Marc from Sam’s Tours and Ron (  Lei )from Palau. There was movie night for the kids while adults went on a night dive. Friday arrived and the much anticipated Beach Party and Poems were finally here. This is always a wonderful way to wrap up a fun filled week at Kids Sea Camp. These poems are always full of comedic and serious takes on the week’s event and individual antics. Talent is always abundant filled of surprises and laughter. Each family writes a poem about their experience while vying for a DC1200 SeaLife camera as the winning prize for the best poem. This year’s 1st place and the DC1200 SeaLife camera belong to Jennie. 2nd place and a DC Mini to John, and 3rd and 4th place receiving a Body Glove dive bag go to Rainer and Sophia. This contest is always tough to judge for everyone has such a wonderful and unique view of the week. To Kids Sea Camp, all are winners!
Saturday was tour day and for most, a guided kayak tour through the Rock Islands sounded just right. Four hours of incredible sight seeing and exploration was breath taking. The tour ended at Mandarin Lake for some snorkeling. It was a perfect ending to a fabulous day. Saturday night was the closing ceremony at Sam’s Tour’s. Another feast, with awards to the SASY, SEALS and Jr. Open Water grads. Many “thanks” were given to Sam’s Tours and their incredible staff of instructors and crew. To Rogest for leading the trip and to Annie Crawley for all her work in capturing the week on film.
As the night came to a close all the families began to load onto the buses. Tears were shed, long hugs given, emails and phone numbers exchanged. Everyone knew that this week will never be forgotten, their new friends missed, and their lives forever changed. For tonight they leave Palau, Micronesia.

Matt Slaughter/OWSI