Saturday, August 17, 2013

Snorkeling Palolo Deep Blue Hole

18 August 2013

NOTE:  NOT my photos - these are all from online.  Thank you to all the various phototographers!

Yesterday, Saturday, it rained.  The non-stop torrential rain that only seems to happen in the tropics.  If you’ve never been in a torrential tropical rainstorm that hammers the roof and floods the streets and yards and streams from trees and roofs and gets inside your brain – well, read “Rain” by Somerset Maugham and you’ll get the feel of the rain.   

So we stayed in our B&B and read, napped, ventured out for a bite of lunch and later dinner, and were generally lazy.  Because no one really wants to go out and get soaked to the skin.  (Thankfully taxis are incredibly inexpensive in Samoa.)

Today is Sunday – and 
on Sunday, just about everything shuts down.  Samoa is a very religious, very Christian country, with churches dotting the city and a missionary convention going on right now.  (Several pastors are staying at our B&B.  It’s, uh, interesting.)  Anyway, most people go to church wearing all white – including children, little boys in white lava lavas and white shirts – although I did see an portly older man in a shirt, tie, and dark pin-striped jacket and matching lava lava.  With sandals.  Because shoes with a lava lava would just be déclassé.

We decided to head to a beach and just enjoy a relaxing day.  The closest beach to Apia is the Palolo Deep Marine Reserve.  (Pronounced pah-LO-lo – don’t know what it means.)  We got a taxi down and arrived, paid the four tala fee (under $2), and walked over to the beach.  And I think both of us were sorely underwhelmed and disappointed.  We both had mental images of white sand beaches and aqua water lapping the shore.  This isn’t anything like that. 

Palolo Deep is essentially a coral beach on a lagoon, ringed by a reef, with an oddly shaped blue hole off toward the edge of the reef.  The far edge of the reef creates the border of the lagoon, and that’s where the waves break.  So the lagoon is very shallow and full of coral fragments, some sand, rock, and all kinds of seaweed.  The water is kind of grey, since it’s so shallow and there isn’t sand to reflect the sky.  The beach itself is broken coral pieces and rocks, and some huge rocks.  It just looked sort of sad and dismal.

We talked to a local man, and he explained that you can walk most of the way to the blue hole – once there, you snorkel around and see all the coral and the fish, maybe some turtles, baby shark, and the like.  The water goes from just a few feet in the coral section to some 80 feet in the middle of the blue hole!  (Basically, you walk/swim over all that whitish area in the aerial photos to get to that gorgeous blue hole.)

We hung out for a while, and talked to a few tourists – Max, from Vancouver BC, and two young people from Chile and Mexico – and then the group of us decided to brave the uninviting water and go check out the blue hole.  

Because of the rocky, corally seabed, a few of us wore our flipflops or sandals to walk out a ways (and I stupidly forgot to take off my pedometer!  ACK!) – then, when the water was about thigh-high, it was easier to just swim, despite the creepy seaweed trying to wrap itself around arms, legs, snorkels.  The coral in the shallow area was mostly dead broken fragments, but eventually we reached live coral and all kinds of fish.  And then we reached the edges of the blue hole, and it was suddenly magical!  All kinds of coral in delicate formations, mostly white or golden yellow with oddly purple tips, or leafy algae formations like lettuce leaves curling under hard coral, or soft corals waving in the current.  Grey damselfish darted at my mask, trying to scare off the fish reflected there.  (Damselfish are very territorial.)  Black and white striped sergeant majors, black and yellow butterfly fish, neon blue or day-glo aqua small fish darting around, parrot fish, and of course angel fish with long trailing fins.

It was absolutely amazing!  All of this in maybe six or eight feet of water, ringing the edge of the blue hole, which just dropped suddenly into a beautiful deep blue where fish could hide in the depths and ignore the humans floating and hovering above.

We swam into the current, then floated along heading back, pushed by the waves.  Back and forth, exploring the edge of the blue hole, seeing the fish come and go, finding new fish with each pass. 

After a while, I realized the waves were getting a bit more forceful and a bit bigger – the tide was coming in so the water was deeper, and the wind was definitely picking up.  So I swam over to a few others, and we agreed it was about time to head back, before we got too tired for the long swim to shore.  And it was a long swim, but we all made it, and were just so excited about this adventure!  There are blue holes dotting the ocean, but not too many can be reached from the shore without a boat.  So this was a special kind of snorkel trip.  And the richness of the coral and the fish made the trip wonderful! 

The only thing that might have made it perfect would have been a turtle – but that’s what second trips out are for, right?

1 comment:

  1. Prohably the palolo worm - not too nice. Indigenous populations in various parts of the Pacific – including Vanuatu and Samoa – use the reproductive portion of the palolo worm as a food source. During their short lived annual appearance in the last quarter of the moon in October and November, worms are enthusiastically gathered with a net, and are either eaten raw or cooked in several different manners. From Wikileaks.