This morning I woke up around 6:45 to the most spectacular sunrise right outside my window. I quickly raced down to the beach to try and get pictures of it, but they just don’t do it justice. I had heard that the sunrise would be really good, because the stars were so clear last night; I am so glad I got up in time to see it.
Breakfast started at 7:00am, and I had cereal and milk and toast. I met a group of English travelers, and made a few new friends. We planned on going reef snorkeling after breakfast on an activity, but instead I decided to dive.
The dive shop is down on the beach, and run by a Fijian man and woman. Because I am not certified, the dives require one of the divemasters to supervise me for the whole dive, and I can only dive to a limited depth. Also, generally these ‘Discover’ scuba dives are more expensive. We worked out a really good deal that I would pay FJD$100 for the first dive, and then $85 for the second (USD$95 total).
He took me on my first dive of the day to the Pinnacle, along with another man who comes here to dive every year. I had a minor personal freak-out when we starting descending, because for some reason being deep underwater feels a bit claustrophobic or something (I am not even claustrophobic…), and its scary to be listening to your breathing, and easy to panic yourself. I was thinking all about how I was stuck underwater, and everything that could go wrong, and overthinking my gear, and just freaking out. Being deep is a bit of an adrenaline rush. I calmed down after a few minutes of steady breathing, and started enjoying myself instantly. We probably went down 15m, and the sea life was really awesome. The water was deep, but the coral bed was so thick that it really wasn’t far from the surface. You could look down between the corals into spaces between each one. The divemaster stayed with me the whole time while the other diver went down 30m, and let me touch almost everything. He brought fish bones and fed the little fish and white tip reef sharks. The sharks were between 3 and 5 ft long, and their jaws were super strong looking. They were very curious about us, especially about the fish the divemaster fed them. I was able to touch the sharks, and I can’t believe how sandpaper-y they feel. There were also thousands of fish, of every different kind, everywhere- above me, below me, beside me. I saw a lot of the famous fish I have seen in aquariums, living in their home environment. There were even big brown/black and white cod, with the big lips and fat bodies. I played with fringe brittle stars that crawl on your hand; they were absolutely everywhere. My favorite thing was the huge moray eel we found sticking out of the reef. It was the softest, coolest thing I have ever felt, and it actually wasn’t aggressive (although it looks like it could be, with that creepy opening and closing teeth-lined mouth). My second favorite thing was the responsive sea anemones; little fish, like Nemo, hung out in the sea anemones just like I have seen in pictures. You could touch the sea anemones and the fish would move to a different part, and sometimes the anemones would stick onto you, and other times they were suck themselves down into the coral. I could probably spend all day putting my hand in sea anemones, and playing with them, and making them move around, because they are so cool looking and soft and alive. It makes me wonder how exactly they can sense my intrusion, and how they know to retreat. They are one of the coolest things EVER. We spent about 38 minutes below.
Before lunch I hung out with one of my new English friends on my front porch, and we just chatted for awhile. She was a marine biology major at uni, and then she worked in research for television, and now she is traveling a little before she goes back to England to start a speech therapy career. We talked a lot about her upcoming trip to the States; I told her she had to get some Mexican food when she went through Texas, and that she could ride a donkey down into the Grand Canyon, and that she needed to have her culinary experience in the Deep South when she passes thru New Orleans and Alabama. It really made me miss home telling her to get some boiled peanuts, gravy and biscuits, and fried chicken. We also talked about some cultural differences between Europeans and Americans; it is very clear that Americans are in much more of a hurry to begin their lives, and start the American dream, than the Europeans. There are so many Europeans that just take years off their young lives to travel around, while Americans feel heavy pressure to go right to college after high school, look for jobs as soon as college graduation happens, and get settled into a routine. I feel the pressure to know what I want to do with my life as soon as I get home from this trip, and I know so many others like me who feel like if they aren’t working they aren’t being productive. SO MANY Australians I have met have taken a gap year between high school and college, and even more take a break after university ends. I sort of wish the ‘gap year’ thing was more popular in the states; the only person I know to have ever taken one from home was a girl who was accepted into Harvard for the following academic year. I am not sure what she did, but I bet it wasn’t as dynamic as some of the activities the Australians I have met have done, like volunteering in African schools, or working as camp counselors in the US, or living with families around Eastern Europe. Quite a few travelers I have met have taken years at a time to travel this part of the world; I have talked to more than several people taking 3 and 4 years to travel (my question is who pays?). They figure out how to make it happen, even with limited funds, and often make it a working holiday. I would love to take a page from the Europeans book and do a couple more months of traveling after I graduate at Wofford, but in a lot of ways feel pressure that in order to compete with the other graduates I will need to be going right out into the workforce, or right into more school… Anyway, lunch was around noon, and we had fish and chips: trevally and REAL potatoes (not cassava!). After lunch I walked down to where the ladies were selling their handicrafts and bought a little Christmas ornament angel to remember this island.
Around 1pm I went out with the female divemaster to Kuata Wall, just on the other side of the neighboring island. This was an even better dive than in the morning, because the reef was SO SO SO beautiful. The coral was like coral you see in pictures, or in magazines. Every different kind of coral: fan coral, coral that looks like a table, coral that looks like a blanket, and so many others. It was absolutely unbelievable. I thought the coral at big aquariums was exaggerated to look beautiful, but this coral was real, and even more beautiful than anything I have ever seen in an aquarium. The colors, along with the thousands of colorful fishing dashing around everywhere, were magnificent. We went down about 20m on the side of the wall, and looking back up from down there was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. The reef was HUGE, and looked even more monstrous from below. I was so overwhelmed by it; I have never seen anything like it, and I am still in awe even hours later at the reality of it. While we were down there we saw some huge puffer fish (not puffed), but I enjoyed looking at all the little fishes, of every color, hiding in the coral the most. I also saw another little reef shark down on the bottom, but he stirred away from us. I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed the dive; I have a warm feeling from glimpsing something so beautiful not many people get to see. I wish I had an underwater camera, but even then I feel like I would not be able to capture it. We were underwater for about 35 minutes.
After the dive I did a little laying on the beach and reading, and at 3pm had tea time with my English friends. We chatted for awhile about so many different things, and the conversation was light and easy. I put in some more beach time, then around 5pm I headed back to my bure for a little evening nap. I slept so well with the sounds of the swells and rustle of palms, and woke up just in time for dinner at 6:30. We were served mackerel and some kind of pork, and yummy rolls. I stayed down near the dinner area and met a girl from Hawaii who is also traveling alone; it was nice to bond with an American, and she and I talked about how we could not be gone from home as long as a lot of the people we have met stay gone. She and I both agreed that traveling for years would feel completely worthless and unproductive. I really had fun talking to her, because even though we are from really different areas of the US, we had a lot in common. She and I talked a lot, too, about how grateful we were that the Fijians were so welcoming to visitors, and that many visitors to the islands should stop complaining about trivial little things about the islands (‘we had to sit on picnic tables at dinner’, ‘the soup was a little cold’, ‘the power was only on for a couple hours at night’, ‘someone was mowing the lawn during my massage’) because we are guests of people who are doing the best they can with what they have (and doing a damn good job if I may say so myself). In my opinion, being a guest in someone’s village resort is not the same as going to a 5-star hotel, and it is ignorant to bring Western expectations about how things should be. I am really enjoying myself, even if there are mosquitoes and things aren’t completely perfect by Western standards, because I am at a beautiful place with Fijians who are happy to host me, and because I am supporting a village that depends on Wayalailai resort for its livelihood. I am worn out now, though, and because the power goes off around midnight want to make sure I am actually ready for bed by then tonight J. Until next time…