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Culmination of a year's worth of CrossFitting: learning to sink or swim

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Scroll down to read about Sean's trip.

Sean's incredible vacation to Palau:

If you asked me to choose my ideal vacation the choice has always been cold climates-- boreal forests, arctic and antarctic snows, mountains of the northern and southern hemispheres. if i am on vacation, then hat and gloves, a weatherproof shell, and a down jacket, are essential. touring skis preferred. I'd stepped outside the mold just once, riding a bicycle across Australia in 2004. acclimating first to the humid heat of northern Australia, and then to the dry heat of the interior, was just plain suffering (but FUN, in a difficult-- fight-gone-bad- type of way: one week prior to landing in darwin, to begin the trek, i was working in Antarctica, fully acclimated to 40, 60 below temps).

2010-- been a few years since i had a real vacation, time to do some traveling. Dave mentioned the magnificent diving of world war ll wrecks and reefs of Palau, as well as Palau's gaint clams (they're GIANT, living up to 150 years). this got me thinking. a new dimension to my travel plans-- humid, tropical heat, ever present water (instead of snow or desert), sandy island beaches. of course there had to be suffering-- in swimming parlance I'm a "sinker". the idea of embracing water sports has always enticed but intimidated… I'm scared of the deep.

After many hassles over flight itinerary (dealt with by my logistical magician partner-- she made the impossible possible), we were on our way to Palau, a small island nation in the southern pacific ocean.

The trip is one I'll never forget. sea kayaking and snorkeling are now part of the adventure repertoire. we chose to make the trip as cheap but adventurous as possible, finding a local wildlife biologist who outfitted us w two ocean kayaks, drybags, but more specifically, detailed waterproof charts, suggested itinerary, and a drop off point to begin our un-guided journey.

For me, day one was spent releasing mind from the fear of deep water, relaxing into a rhythm while harnessed with snorkel and fins. my travel partner was very patient. daytime itinerary always had new island beaches to reach, new reefs to snorkel. hundreds of colorful fish, every size and shape imaginable, giant clams, sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, salt water crocs-- all of it seen while slipping off the seats of our boats and into the warm water, strapping the kayaks to our ankles with leashes, and swimming with the prevailing current.

The most difficult part of our trip was not having fishing gear, having to rely on food purchased from the local supermarket. we were carrying 5 days worth of food, paddling and snorkeling for 8+ hours a day, but couldn't bring anything fresh, except for eggs (fresh food spoiled rapidly in the heat and humidity). i did learn how to husk and crack coconuts, which were delightful to drink and eat, but morning and evening meals consisted of some sort of tinned fish or one of at least 12 different varieties of spam (echhh) and eggs (we consumed the eggs within the first three days). fortunately the local market also sold Tabasco sauce.

The remote islands were home to a rare species of "tropical smooth tail squirrel" (luckily neither of us were freaked out by rats-- they were quite persistent, along with hundreds of hermit crabs). also strange birds, giant fruit bats.

We had to do two rather long open water crossings, the second proving to be quite unnerving as a 3 hour squall moved towards us from the outer reef, raising waves to whitecap and bringing heavy rain. visibility quickly became a problem. the most amazing part of being affected by adverse weather was the water temperature. if you became cold from torrential rain, simply immersing hands or body into the 80+ degree water warmed us right up.

Unforgettable moments-- snorkeling a reef known as "big drop off", the bountiful coral bed abruptly dropping 1,000 to 3,000 feet; snorkeling over a giant manta ray in the german channel; snorkeling behind my partner, like the sinker that i am, and being circled for 15 minutes by three very curious 6 foot long white-tip reef sharks.

If you ever decide to go--

bring tobacco sauce.
watch out for the rare smooth tailed squirrel.
avoid falling coconuts (but learn to harvest them).

For more pictures with captions, go here.