Location: Palau

Today I went diving with manta rays. Let’s just start out with that fact.

The crew was split into three groups- one kayaking and hiking, two chilling on Argo and going into Korror, and the third group went diving. We were headed for the outer reef via the German Channel, which exploded into existence during WW II to turn a four-hour ride around the reef into a one-hour cruise straight through the reef. Captain Full-Throttle-Donald uncharacteristically slowed down and pointed out a pair of mantas cruising along, so we decided to dive the area and search for more. The reef on the side of the channel was full of life. Giant schools of jacks shadowed overhead, pairs of butterflyfish flitted around the coral, grey reef sharks, and black tips would eerily slide in and out of view from all sides and up from the drop-off. Then we followed our local guide off the reef and hovered in open water where there was a good current bringing up premium manta food. A shadow in the distance, the guide motions enthusiastically for us to head in that direction, and out of the blueish tint emerges the dark, sleek bodies of six manta rays. They look like the most hydrodynamic magic carpets cutting the water apart. When they find a patch with good food, they start doing backward spins over and over and over again. Every time I would stare in amazement, thinking it would be the last time I’d see a manta flip- and then one of them would do it again. Purely fantastic. One floated up by me and turned its belly towards me and started gracefully pushing its wings up and down, so I put my arms out and did the same movement as I swam along with it.

Next, we cruised over to the Blue Corner, and we splashed on what was, for a few of us, our first wall dive. Swimming out over the edge of the reef and going from 30-85 ft next to the wall knowing there is 1100ft below you, is a crazy feeling. Almost compelling to fall deeper and deeper along the wall. A Napoleon Wrasse about four feet long followed our pack of divers around and would silently pop up right next to our faces to check us out. On our third dive, I crafted a reef hook for myself out of paracord and an extra-large carabiner I had in my bag. Definitely, one of the best days of diving I have ever had. Thank you, Palau.